I miss Murray today. I got up at the usual time before the pendulum clock struck seven times in my mind. The made-in-occupied-Japan clock stopped working years ago. The Mrs threw it into the green bin but I salvaged it for whatever emotional value it still gives me. I can still hear its loud ticking and metallic strikes, sounds that I mostly fondly remember, but that is because I was never an insomniac. Its six o’clock strikes in the evening, however, were the most dreaded sounds during my early teens. It meant I had to go upstairs to close the venetian windows in the haunted shop house. It was usual for me to feel the hair on the back of my neck stand whenever I rushed past my grandma’s huge photo above her altar. That photo seemed to grow bigger as I grew bigger. Grandma’s eyes followed me in whichever direction I ran. Even when I tip-toed. But, I digress, let me return to Murray. It didn’t feel usual this morning. Murray wasn’t downstairs wagging his tail with his precious teddy bear hanging from his teeth. He bites on it so that he doesn’t inadvertently bite my hand from his enthusiastic welcome. He was not here to greet me like I have just returned after an eternity from a faraway place. His teddy bear is his first toy but it is the only one that has survived intact. I reckon his first toy has a psychological hold on him, maybe he can relate to Linus’s security blanket in Peanuts. Almost all his other toys were consigned to the rubbish tip very early on. His monkey will follow soon – it has been completely gutted and has only one limb left. “Monkey” used to be chubby and happy but he lost his squeak ever since the white fluffy cotton inside him was devoured by the ruthless pup. The plastic part that squeaks when he tramples on it or shakes it violently like a wounded prey has long been bitten into small pieces. The family room was just quiet, stuffy and stale with a faint scent of sambal oelek, after yet another 40-degree day yesterday. Murray had gone home with First Son the night before. He didn’t even look back to say goodbye. There was no woeful look on his face to tell me he didn’t want to leave. There was no “thank you” licking, no tail behind his legs to show his sadness that he wasn’t asked for his opinion to stay or go. He just sat obediently to be leashed and led away. First Son turned the light off at the porch and locked the front door. At least he said “bye” to me. Murray gave me nothing, not even a nod.
Hooray for Murray. I read that the prices for pooches have almost doubled during the pandemic. Murray has turned out to be a fantastic investment! The lockdown had desperate people yearning for companionship, what better loyal friend than a pet dog, right? I love my gold fish but guppies aren’t puppies, not quite as cute and cuddly. I have always kept fish, right from primary school days. In fact, that was how I unfriended the boy who lived next door. He climbed over the back balcony wall and swapped my beautiful hand-selected goldfish with his inferior ones. His reaction when I challenged him? He swapped back what was his, the smartypants smirked and retorted. What an urghhling. He showed less grace and feelings than fish. When an old shubunkin I had was dying, its mates gathered around her and comforted her with their long tails. One old companion of hers curled its body close to hers for quite a long while, as if to hug her with palliative care. Yes, fish have feelings and a level of consciousness that seem to understand that death is upon them. Similarly, chooks also know when the stench of death is near. A few years ago, my chook run was penetrated by a fox. I used to accept that carnivorous animals kill but only for food. No matter how violently or bloody, death was seldom quick for the prey. I wrongly believed that in the animal kingdom, it is only human beings that kill for fun. Witness the gladiator, the matador, the safari hunter, the circus, the Melbourne Cup, the Royal Ascot, the Queen’s Cup steeplechase, etc, etc. I was shocked to learn that a fox kills for fun also. I lost three chooks that morning. I lost faith in animals. Dolly lost her head, but otherwise, their bodies were not eaten. All day, the surviving chooks were both very quiet, as if in deep mourning. That evening, I witnessed Brooke, my brown chook, extending a comforting wing around her companion as they perched together, fearful of the impending darkness. Poor Reddy, like me, has not been the same ever since that trauma.
I fell in love with a black puppy that I met at a rubber plantation. “I want it, Pa!” Pa said no, that was going to be someone’s dinner one day. They killed dogs by stringing them up on a tree and bashing them until they yelped no more. Those poor loyal dogs trusted the gangly balding bloke whom I called “Ah Song”. Tanned and hardened, he had hands as strong as a vice, and eyes as cold as steel in winter. “Why doesn’t he put his dog in a gunny sack and drown it in the river?” Pa didn’t answer me. But, that conversation changed his mind and he gave the black puppy to me instead. I called him Shiny on account of his black shiny hair. He was my only pal at home. Whenever I got my hair pulled by a couple of bigger sisters, I’d go to Shiny and tell him about those bullies. That was how I became a cynophile. Cynophile, a dog lover, not sinophile. The Mrs is Chinese, I suppose I can be described as a sinophile too. But she calls me a thu-fei. Unfairly, I should add. What is a thu-fei, you ask? It’s bandits in Mandarin. You know, in kungfu movies, they are rogues dressed in black desperately in need of a good bath and they predictably die in the first few seconds flailing against the hero in white. I got into trouble with The Mrs once for being a fool. She reminded me our wedding anniversary is in March. Every year. Last March, I said “No way! It’s either in February or October.” “Not funny!” she yelled. It’s actually a true story. My very close friend who is as dear to me as a close brother, related his story to me. Richard and Cindy were married in Sydney in October 1979 but his dad misheard they were going back to Penang for their wedding in February that year. In Shanghainese, “Ding huang” is an engagement whereas “Cheak huang” means a wedding. They went back to Penang for their engagement but it became clear to the bride she needed to have brought along her wedding gown! Everyone thought it was their wedding day, a tea ceremony was included too. Theirs is a beautiful love story. Last year, they renewed their wedding vows on a love boat. Pre-pandemic, love stories on love boats were enviable. Next March will be my Ruby anniversary with The Mrs. Surely, it will be safe to take the COVID vaccine and go on a love boat too?
My love for Murray is unlike Shiny’s. It was not love at first sight. I wanted his brother instead. Murray was previously known as Harley, his brother was nameless – the weaker one, but more adorable. I could have doubled my money too, had there been no objections to having a dog at home. You see, The Mrs is an airulophile, a cat lover. But, Murray has turned her around, she now loves dogs too. What’s the word for someone who is both a cat-lover and dog-lover? Fickle? The Mrs holds vetoing rights. Her “no” is louder than mine! She didn’t want a dog. She offered many weak excuses. “Our old carpet would be ruined with dog pee.” “Our old furniture would be scratched.” “Our tiled floor would be dirty with mud-caked paw prints.” But, The Mrs too has fallen in love with Murray. Love that grows over time is the stronger love. Those who fall in love at first sight can also fall out of love quickly. What we call puppy love, a brief fascination or crush for someone when we were very young. But let us not decry our first love, Sigmund Freud recognised the durability of first loves. Why do we refer our childhood crush for someone as puppy love? Could it be that we understand how a puppy loves? With utmost loyalty, unbridled admiration and unconditional respect for us? Maybe even as great as worshipping us? Can we love our puppies as much as they love us? Murray insists on sitting on my lap during office hours. It is a wonderfully warm and fuzzy feeling especially during the cold wintry days. But, it’s not so comfortable in summer. It is another 40-degree day today, I can’t imagine Murray would want to be enveloped by me at my desk but then again, why not? The puppy loves me! But I should teach him not to fart right into my arms as he has been prone to do lately. Murray, it stinks! But, he doesn’t give me the gelid look even as I try to push him away.
Murray loves me. I know. He is amazingly caring, sometimes I think he is a nurse. When he visits, he unfailingly checks on my wound. There is a bad gash on my knee, I don’t even know how it got there. I think I woke up with it a few days ago. Murray inspects it with his nose, and gives me that reassuring look that all is well. The other day, he prompted me to change the band-aid after refusing to stop sniffing at it. I can tell he cares a lot. But, Murray, I wish you won’t ever feel compelled to kneel for your favourite Arnott’s Scotch Finger biscuits. You know, I will treat you some anyway, right? Hooray for Murray! Just like my pet fish and chooks, the pup shows being human isn’t necessarily being a human being.