[The prequel to this post is Fire! Fire!]
“If the house has burned down, I’ll go to India.” Zeynep, was curled next to me on a floating wooden platform. She lives in a wooden cabin at the lower side of the forest bordering my house. Mountain spring water gushed below us, a cool, splashing solace. “Oh no! I left my passport in the house!” she said, slapping a delicate hand to her forehead.
It was the Sunday of the fire, and along with a good few in the valley, we had fled to a series of trout restaurants on water. Frankly, in the panic it seemed the safest place to wait. Zeynep’s cat was scrunched in a plastic crate in front of us. Rotty the sick dog was lolling unhappily by the river, nose oozing. The platform was a raft, an open-air Noah’s ark.
“Ah, you can get a new passport. It’s not hard,” I said, and wondered what I would do if my house was now a charred heap of clay. Go to England? Find a van and drive? But what about Rotty? She really was too sick to move.
A waiter arrived and shunted plates around. We stared aghast at the heaving table of food in front of us. No one was in the mood to eat.
The trill of a phone sounded. It was incongruously cheery on this most heavy of days. Zeynep fumbled in her bag and picked out her mobile.
There was a silence. Then a nod. “Really? Are you sure?” She spoke slowly, curls bobbing.
Once the call was over, she pulled her sunglasses from her face, and looked at me. “The wind changed at the last minute apparently, and the fire jumped the road and over to Musa mountain.”
“Nope. We’ve been saved. For now. We’ll give it an hour and then we’ll go home.”
And just as quickly as my home was snatched away, it was handed straight back to me. But I had already let it go. Perhaps that was the design.
That night, I returned to my mud home and slept, albeit it fitfully beneath the stars. The smell of smoke scratched at the inside of my nose. Musa mountain burned on, the fires gouging orange holes out of the darkness like satanic torches. Rotty the dog wheezed and puked beside me, the parasite inside her wreaking some invisible havoc. She was no more than a basket of fur-covered bones. And I felt oddly bitter. Because if there had been a choice between my dog and the house, I’d have burned that house myself.
The next morning the temperature dropped. But the humidity was a clammy veil that clung to everything. I stepped into my kitchen dragging Rotty behind me. For the second week running I cracked an egg in a glass. Stooping, I pried apart her canine mouth and poured the egg in. I wondered if Rotty could talk, whether she would tell me to back off, to let her die. She swallowed the egg with a blink and a gurgle.
Rotty’s parasite required a harsh chemical treatment, one not available in Turkey and which necessitated an extensive amount of wheeler-dealing to obtain. A week earlier, thanks to connections in the animal protection world, my local animal welfare group located a bottle, and worked round the clock to get it to me. It had arrived in a mysterious package at my vet a few days prior. I had driven to collect it on my motorbike feeling I was in possession of some secret cure for cancer.
I hated administering that poison. Rotty hated taking it. But after a week of being deep fried in a 40–degrees-in-the-shade heat wave, the upheaval of the forest fire, plus the unexpected sorrow I experienced for my dog, I was incapable of any reasonable decision. Thus, I followed the mainstream advice. Rotty was to drink this poisonous elixir for 28 days non-stop. Any failure to complete the cycle would mean the parasite would gain resistance, and she would probably die.
Around midnight the next night, Rotty and I climbed under the mosquito net and onto my gazebo. I had just administered the poison. My little dog slumped onto the carpet and promptly vomited all over it. I was so tired, so in dire need of sleep, I turfed her out of the net. I heard her next to the platform, coughing and spluttering.
A few hours later, at the crack of dawn I awoke. Sitting bolt upright, I peered through the mesh hunting the shape of my dog. But I couldn’t see her. Scrambling out of my duvet, I clawed at the netting, throwing it over my head. I scanned the land. No sign of my dog. A well of panic opened inside me, fathomless and murky with the faint but lingering whiff of death. I began running this way and that, hunting for a tuft of fur, the brush of her tail, an ear. There was nothing.
The sun pushed up pouring its heat over the treetops in a burning torrent. Breathing hard, I ran to Dudu. This was Rotty’s favourite haunt, though I simply couldn’t envisage how she could have made it all the way across the orchard. She could hardly walk.
“No, she hasn’t been here. If she had, she’d be sitting right there in front of the gate wagging her tail.” Dudu pulled a plastic stool out and poured me a glass of water. “Perhaps she wandered off and fell.” She patted me on the shoulder sympathetically.
Fell. The thought took but seconds to spawn a family of terrible imaginings. I sat down and burst into tears. “If she doesn’t turn up by tonight, she’ll have missed her medicine. She’s so sick. She’ll die,” I sobbed.
Within ten minutes I had left Dudu’s. When I pulled the gate it scraped on the concrete, and I caught Dudu’s expression, one of utter dismay.
As the sun thundered over the eastern half of the sky, I began the greatest dog hunt my valley has seen. I have no idea how many kilometres I walked that day, but it must have been a good ten at least. Charging over the rocky landscape, I crawled through brambles, stumbled into ditches, and shinned down every water gulch I could find. No Rotty. My smock stuck to me. My trousers turned from purple to dark brown.
The sun burned westward and the shadows stretched ominously. I carried on searching. As evening spread its gloom over the vale, my heart began to crack. I phoned my local sound healer friend Yvonne. “She’s gone. She’s gone!” I spluttered into the mobile. My friend agreed to treat her from afar.
Finally at nine pm on Wednesday night, I fell under the mosquito net and onto my bed. The exhaustion pulled at every muscle. But I slept little. As the sky turned from black to grey, dread plumbed my guts. Rotty had missed her medicine. The parasite now possessed an advantage. But perhaps that was no longer the urgency. Perhaps she had broken a limb somewhere and was slowly dehydrating.
Three days passed and they opened and closed like heavy, rusty gates. I spent most of them, machete in hand, going not-so-quietly barmy. Sometimes I enlisted friends to the cause and we hacked through the area searching each tiny goat trail. But each day ended exactly like the first. Once night had strangled the last drop of light out of the sky, I would collapse under my mosquito net, whimpering on and off.
At last I gave up. Three full days without food or medicine in temperatures over 40 degrees was hopeless. I made a little funeral for Rotty and said my goodbyes. I honestly didn’t know anyone could feel so much grief for a dog. It stretched on and on as far as I could see, a bleak and colourless moor without so much as a rock of meaning or a peak of hope. I no longer wanted to travel Europe in a van without my furry companion. I no longer wanted to make mud homes. All had been subsumed into the Nowhere again.
Yet even there, I could sense something else. It was far far away. Like the faintest glimmer of dawn at the farthest most point on the horizon. A strange sort of liberation. Because when it’s all gone, you are free. Free to be anything or anyone you please.
Four days and nights after Rotty had left, I cleared out her things; pillows, leashes, bones, and stuffed them all in a bag ready for the dustbin. Her kennel squatted there mocking me. I placed some flowers in a bowl of water, and laid them inside, so at least I had something new to look at instead of thinking about her face poking out.
It was one in the afternoon. Scorching. I walked into my house and turned my computer on ready to broadcast this miserable news on Facebook. The computer whirred and flicked to life. Then my phone began ringing. I almost ignored it. Absently, I pulled it toward me and spied Zeynep’s name.
“Hello?” I spoke tentatively into the speaker.
A heightened voice poured into my ear. Zeynep was nearly screeching with excitement. “Kerry, Rotty’s here! I’ve looked three times because I couldn’t believe my eyes. But she’s here. Sitting under one of my bushes!”
It took a moment for me to find words. When I did I hurled them into the phone in random clumps. “You’re kidding! Oh God..! I’m coming... Now!”
Five minutes later I was staring at my pup in utter disbelief. She was flaked out in the shade wagging her tail. On inspection I saw she was skinny and had scraped her leg somewhere. But apart from that? I had to say she looked healthier than when she left. Her nose was completely clean. No puss or blood. And it was gleaming wet.
Once again, within a week, life gave back what it seemed to snatch away. As if to remind me how tenuous it all is. And that within this all-obliterating chaos, miracles continue to swirl.
My vet was so happy to hear of Rotty’s return, he drove up to the mud home to give her some intravenous assistance.
“She hasn’t eaten a thing, but she must have found water somewhere,” he said feeling each inch of her abdomen and squeezing her flesh between his fingers. And I smiled at the serum bag hanging from one of the wooden limbs of my gazebo.
“What’s her chance of survival?” I asked. But I was calm now. Because she was home. And I’d already given her a funeral, so everything from here on out a gift.
The vet inhaled and exhaled. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s all about her liver. If that recovers, she’ll be OK. And you’ll know if the liver is healing, because she’ll start eating. She’s fighting. You’re fighting. But it’s anyone’s guess.”
Four more days passed. I should have ordered another bottle of the poison. But my heart wasn’t in it. If she was going to die, let her die in peace, I said to myself. And I swear she winked at me when I uttered those words. But she refused to eat. I tried everything, fresh meat, eggs, fish, milk. She was beyond disinterested.
Then suddenly, she deteriorated. She was listless. Her eyes distant. This time, however, I had reached a smoother plateau of acceptance. No more chemicals. No more forcing. Perhaps she’d just come back to say goodbye. Besides, now I believed in miracles again, so I decided to call on the Great Unknown, the mysterious and unprovable.
“Can you give her one final healing?” I asked my friend Yvonne over the phone as the sun slipped behind Grandmother Olive.
“Sure, I’ll let you know as soon as I’m done,” she said.
At 7 pm a message pinged into my phone to say the session was over. At 8 pm I placed a small bowl of liver in front of Rotty. And to my complete amazement she stood up, albeit shakily, and chomped down the lot.
She has eaten every day since.
What a garden of surprises our muddy planet is. Things live and die, and rise from the ashes. Fires can randomly change their course. A dog returns from the dead. A teacher might lose her way and camp on a hill, only to wind up building herself a mud home. Five years later she hears the wisdom carob whisper "Let go of everything," it says. She doesn't want to. Because her space is intoxicating. Precious. Then the bulldozers come. She wavers. The fire comes. She acts. The morning she goes online to put her house up for sale, she learns there has been an attempted coup. So she waits two days. Posts the ad. 45 000 people visit the page in three days...
And as darkness rolls through this beautiful land, it's not hard to see why The Mud Home attracted so many. The diamonds of this country are right. It's time to run to the hills.
Life on planet Earth is a wilderness unto itself. A Great, sometimes terrifying, Unknown. Yet within that chaos there is a road. It winds this way and that, through forests and vales, leading us to safety. But that road isn't tarmac. It's made of dirt. Or earth. Sometimes even mud.
Atulya K Bingham
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