It was deathly quiet again this morning. Reminiscent of the COVID-19 lockdown in February, this morning was free of petrol fumes and free of snarling traffic noise. South Australia had been COVID-free for seven months prior to the weekend. Recently, I got so cocky I bragged about how normal life here was. I even chided my neighbours for their hesitance in returning to Adelaide when they had the chance during a long lull of zero cases in Kuala Lumpur. Now, they can’t return as they are experiencing another serious wave there. Correction. Now, they won’t return since we are also now in a major six-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown. Kudos to the South Australian government. They have imposed a hard lockdown. It was reported in some quarters that these measures are extreme. Considering that there have been just 23 cases linked to the “medi-hotel” cluster, of which 17 are within the family of the security guard employed in the state’s medi-hotel system, and considering that there are zero cases on the first day of lockdown from over 20,000 tests carried out near the clusters, it does feel like the state premier has over-reacted to the threat. But, most agree it is better to be safe than sorry – just look at the woeful American experience. It is inevitable for the virus to escape into the community and as long as the country welcomes back returnees from overseas into the CBDs, spending their 14-day quarantine in the cities’ hotels, then this cycle of wave-on, wave-off will continue. It seems we are as cavalier and ruthless as the 14th-century Mongol army that hurled plague-infected cadavers over the walls of the besieged Crimean city of Caffa. The city folk did not stand a chance – the Mongols captured Caffa without having to brandish their weapons. We know it is nigh impossible to contain the virus in the confines of a hotel – the frontline workers have to return home to their families, or work that second job after hours – thereby providing an avenue for the coronavirus to leave the hotels. How do we prevent aerosol transmissions through the hotel air-conditioning systems? How do we expect these workers to be 100% vigilant at all times? Allowing returnees to come to the cities gives me the feeling that we are just like the Mongol army.
Luckily, we decided we qualify as a business that provides “essential services”. So, we can remain open for business. The cops may disagree. They may say 99.999% of the things we sell are non-essentials but hey, we sell face masks! For the first time, they are mandatory in South Australia. Hooray! It was with Murray’s nod that I imported some from China when things looked dire in April. I remember asking Murray at the time, should we? 要吗？He nodded and bowed politely. Yes. No one looks to buy face masks from my shop, we were stuck with dead stock. Murray had not been in my good books until now. But, today he is our hero! We can continue to trade just because of this one product alone! Who is Murray, you may ask. Murray is First Son’s pup, born in Murray Bridge. The state premier went overboard by decreeing that we can’t engage in outdoor exercises and that means we can’t walk our dogs outside either. But hooray for Murray! The police this afternoon agreed that since we can travel to the shops to buy our groceries once a day, and since walking is a form of transport, there is nothing wrong with me walking Murray to the shops. One thing is obvious though. If you’re a coffee addict, then you’re stuffed. Coffee shops are not allowed to trade during the lockdown. Only bottle shops can remain open to look after the alcoholics – we cannot have them feeling down in the dumps; they are known to be “moody” without their regular liquor boost.
Murray has to spend his lockdown with me. He can’t take it being restricted to the office or First Son’s little apartment all day. In his home, I imagine all he has to entertain himself is to bark at the traffic below his third floor apartment that overlooks one of Adelaide’s finest parks. But here, he has much more to occupy his time and amuse himself. He loves chasing the chooks, but they have not taken much notice of him ever since they discovered he is just all noise. He may growl menacingly, he may scratch frantically at the fence but they behave as if he’s invisible. Even when he barks crazily like a mad dog, they don’t hear him at all. Poor Murray, he doesn’t know he is being ignored. He acts like he thinks they are all afraid of him, he genuinely believes he’s the king of the backyard. But the old hens, they just give a little shake of their ever-growing fat behind and slowly walk away.
When he is let out of my house, he soon disappears behind some shrubs. Murray hides when he does his poo, never in front of me. He is not shy to pee in front of me but poo? No. When I do mine, he understands why I close the toilet door too. We are polite with each other and know to allow ourselves some privacy during poop time. Once, I was too hasty and caught him smelling his own poop. I suppose that is how we can check on our own health sometimes.
Lately, he has been less inclined to run after tennis balls. He will play “fetch” a few times with me but there is never any hint from him when he does not want to play anymore. You’ll know when he is disinterested – he will simply not return with the ball. “Murray, Murray, where are you?” He makes the decision about which game to play. “给, give, Murray.” The ball will be precisely placed on my palm if he wants to play “fetch”. But, if he wants to play “goalie”, he will agitate side to side abruptly like a football goal-keeper who is about to face a penalty kick. Murray follows the EPL with me; it is not surprising that he can leap high and fast to stop a ball heading past him.
Often, he is just as keen to destroy the poor ball. To save it, you will need to ask him to give it back. He knows to drop it right at your foot. When I am engrossed at work, he will drop it on my foot repeatedly to remind me he is waiting for my turn to throw it. Sorry, Murray. I have quite often forgotten you are still there under my chair. It may be many minutes later before I realise I have left him tensed and poised, ready to pounce to block my next kick. He loves to accompany me at work. I do ask him for his opinion when there is a need to make an executive decision. More often than not, his input is not required when I am merely performing the menial tasks. So, he can be caught napping but hey, let us not blame him. Today, it is 37 degrees but the air-conditioning has not been turned on. We are an environmentally-friendly business. Some of my cynical Penang friends think I am just a scrooge, saving on my energy bill. Well, let us not entertain their idea for now.
Before I forget, let me show you Murray’s office. He has a nice chair to occupy when he wants to remind us he is the chairman of our company. Most times though, he would rather be at my desk supervising what I do. He has admonished me a few times for being curt and unfriendly with horrible customers who are horrors to deal with. Horace comes to mind. I am sure Murray prefers to work with me. First Son does not offer him any biscuits during morning tea breaks but I do! “Want some more, Murray? 还要吗?” Murray will nod his head unambiguously, of course.
Murray shows me the way to place The Mrs in a happy mood from the very first moment she comes downstairs in the morning. He makes her feel like she is the most important person in his life the way he greets her. No, much more than that – he treats her like she is the only person in the world. Yes, that is how he tells her she is precious. Cherished and loved, unconditionally. No matter how hard she tries to leave her bedroom silently to surprise him, his ears prick with the slightest creak of the timber floor and the small lift of his head from my arm informs me he is fully alert of her impending arrival. He will jump off the pillow from my work desk and race to his sofa chair to grab his security blanket. His tail will be wagging as frantically as the mee goreng seller fanning his charcoal fire, eager to greet her like a long-lost best friend. He forgets he was with her last night, lazing on her ample body like a cherub whilst watching Netflix’s Bloodline S3 E8. He will give her his most adorable look, with those big round doe eyes as he bites on his security blanket. He is clever enough to know that shielding his sharp teeth will avoid any inadvertent cuts to her hands during his uncontrolled and frenzied morning welcome. He makes her feel incredibly important and indispensable with his insatiable desire for her hand to pat him continuously. Any attempt by her to remove her hand from hugging him will see him clawing it back towards his body. I should try that tonight. Will it work for me? Will she feel the love from me? Will she reciprocate like the way she pats and hugs him?
Murray knows when it is knock-off time. I can’t explain it, but he knows when I call it a day. Before I even close my laptop, he will be up on his legs, doing the Adho mukha svanasana or downward dog pose. He is very good at it, and unlike me, he has never attended a yoga lesson. My only yoga lesson was a free one, an introductory session whilst I was holidaying in Singapore. OK, Murray, our work is done for the week! Let’s go out and have some fun! Fun for me is the necessary duties in my neighbour’s garden. Clean the pond, and check on the filter. Water the fruit trees with the pond wastes. Feed the fish. Murray knows these chores must be done first before we can play. I can see him gnawing at a sun-parched bone, holding it upright with his front paws. Very good dining etiquette, Murray! He enjoys it like it’s the best rib-eye steak.
Murray loves scratching himself on the lawn. He has a tendency to go berserk and start running round and round the teardrop shaped putting green, growling away like a broken lawnmower that won’t start. I find him most endearing when he smiles and exposes his ugly teeth as he rubs his whole body on the synthetic grass. Bless my good neighbours for insisting on the fake lawn. A tedious job prevented! I lost my argument that fake grass does nothing to invigorate a sense of freshness that cut grass gives us. But that was before I found out that the green leaf volatiles cut grass give is their way of screaming out their distress at the damage inflicted on them. The “green” scent is a distress signal!
When it is close to dinner time, Murray loses interest in the games we play. He doesn’t have a watch yet his sense of time is uncannily accurate. He just knows when to abandon our game and rush home. He knows to sit at the door to be picked up. He understands he is not allowed into our home with dirty feet. It is routine for me to wash his feet first in the laundry tub. Murray offers his leg, one at a time, for me to wash. Clever boy! No one told me how to wash his bum – I don’t even know if it needs to be washed. I hope I am doing it correctly, wipe with a sponge and hose off with running water. We have dinner together. Having said that, I should correct myself. We start our dinner together, I should say. It only takes a minute or two for him to finish his meal but I am a slow eater. A meal lasts me 30 minutes easily. He is patient though. Once he knows there aren’t any second helpings for him, he will hop up onto his sofa chair and wait for me to do the dishes.
The Mrs gets special attention at night. Murray simply knows how to please her. No one gets his attention at night bar her. Her lap belongs to Murray during Netflix time. The Mrs feels especially wanted and loved. Hooray for Murray. I have learned from him how to please The Mrs. It is so easy! Murray is always agreeable, he never argues with her. To him, she is always right! Completely right. Why didn’t I know that before? Before we say goodnight, Murray wants me to play chasey with him. I will run around the coffee table after him like how The Godfather chased his grandson around the tomato patch in the garden. Murray, I won’t collapse and fall down like The Godfather, right?