Volume 15 - Issue 12
December 2017
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Posted on: Dec 20, 2017


A first person account by a canine survivor of the recent hurricane in the US

by Ms. Radhika Brahmanandam

Maria Takes Me Out

“Come on, Nikku,” Maria coaxed. “You can’t hide under the bed now. The hurricane won’t come here. The weatherman says so. Come on, baby, don’t be scared,” she cooed.

I whine. My tail is well between my legs. It has been raining continuously since late afternoon yesterday and there is something in the air that tells me that worse is to come. I hate rain and thunder and this one, my doggie instincts tell me, is going to be a whopper of a storm. But my owner says the weatherman is confident the hurricane will pass by without making a landfall. He has all these latest equipment and so many experts working with him. He must be right.

After all what do I know - I am just a doggie!

I walk out from under Chief’s bed where I have been curled up since morning into Maria’s waiting arms. I give her a huge lick.

Chief is Maria’s father – retired Police Chief Juan Antonio, whom everyone still calls Chief out of respect and love. He was an awfully good policeman they say. Respected by colleagues, admired by the community and dreaded by criminals, Chief is now well over seventy. (I am nine years old myself; so in human years, I am pretty close to his age too!)

Paralysed from the hip down for over a decade because of an encounter where he was shot in the lower back, Chief has developed breathing difficulty of late and needs frequent breathing support from a nebuliser.

Maria is his youngest daughter and is always fussing over him. And over me, too! I love Maria. Plump and pleasant, she loves to eat and whenever she snacks, I get something too.

The rain has let up a little, and Maria quickly slips a leash on me. I love this part of the day and I excitedly run up and down the living room to the front door. Maria laughs and gives me a gentle pat on my head. “Just a short walk, baby,” she warns as she opens the door and we step out.

The air outside is heavy. I am not OK with this. My hairs stand on end and a low growl comes from deep down my throat. “Come on Nikku!” Maria pulls impatiently and I trot warily beside her.

We cross our neighbour’s house. There is a big sign he has put up on his lawn – LET’S BUILD THE WALL, it says. This sign has always confused me. Rex Woods has enough walls in his house – which wall does he want to build? Why does he call for others to help him out? He seems pretty strong and well built.

He is there right now, trimming the hedge. When he sees Maria and me, he deliberately turns his back and continues his work. Maria sharply exhales. “This one hates Mexicans, Nikku,” she mutters to me under her breath.

Chief came over from Mexico many years ago and set up his family here, in the United States, where Maria and her siblings were born and raised.

I Meet Daisy and We Discuss About Our Doggie Instincts

“Nikku, how are you? Bad weather coming up,” I hear a friendly bark and turn around to see Daisy coming on a walk with her owner, Nalini. Maria and Nalini stop to chat, and let us both loose on the park while they sit down, after quickly wiping the wet bench. They always have a lot to talk about, and mostly it is about Nancy, the black woman who lives across the street.

They don’t seem to like her and the only reason I can make out for their dislike is her skin colour. I find this a little hard to understand. How does skin colour matter in friendship? Daisy is a golden Labrador retriever and I am a black one, and she is my very good friend.

But then, what does a doggie know?

Daisy and I do have some fun running around the park, but the grass is still a little slippery from the recent rains. Also, the heaviness in the air still seems very ominous to us (I am glad she shares my feelings on this one), and we return very quickly back to the bench where Maria and Nalini are chatting.

The first drops of rain start again, and this time we can hear another noise too – the whoosh of heavy winds. Our tails go right back under our legs.

“What happened, baby?” Maria looks down worriedly at me. I frantically circle her and pull at her windcheater. “Okay Nalini, I guess I got to go. Nikku has been acting odd all day,” she said, slipping the leash on to my collar. “Oh, Daisy too!” said Nalini. “Let's go then, Maria. See you tomorrow”.

Maria and I start walking quickly as the rain gathers strength. She draws up her hood to cover her head. Outside the church, she briefly stops for a quick second of prayer, before we continue rushing back home, past the mosque and the temple.

I remember last Sunday when Maria had tied me to the little tree near the church wall while she went in to pray. I could hear the prayer from within: “Our Father in Heaven, Holy be Thy name...”

Just across the street, the temple bells chimed in rhythm to the Arathi: “Jai Jagadeesa Hare, Swami Sathya Sai Hare - victory to the Lord of the Universe” even as the call for prayer arose from the mosque – “Allahu Akbar - God is the greatest”.

“Hey Nikku,” Daisy had called out to me as she was walking back with her mistress.

“Why do humans need different religions to praise God?” I was puzzled too.

The people in all these places of worship seem to either praise God or teach Love. Why at different places? Isn’t there just one religion, the religion of love and one God, who is omnipresent?

“I don’t know Daisy!” I had answered back. “I am just a doggie.”

“Come on, Nikku, don’t slow down – let’s make a dash for it before the rain becomes heavier,” Maria gives a gentle tug on my leash. We both run back to the house just before the heavens open up in a huge downpour.

The traffic signpost is shaking ominously and trees are swaying with manic energy in the fierce wind. I quickly shake the water off me as we enter the house.

The Hurricane Hits Us!

“Maria,” says the Chief worriedly, pointing to the TV. “They are now warning that the hurricane has changed course and is headed straight down here. They are advising that we evacuate and move to a safer place. How will you move me?”

“Papa, don’t worry,” says Maria. Placing a gentle hand on his shoulder, she says, “We are well stocked up on food and drink. Did the shopping round just this morning. But, but…” a worried look comes to her face. “If our power is cut off, we have just about enough fuel for a day. And Papa, you need the electricity for your nebuliser. Let me just quickly step out and get some gasoline for the generator.”

“No Maria. The weather seems terrible outside. Let’s wait a little longer, maybe the rain will let up a little.” Chief peers apprehensively out of the windows near his bed.

The rains continue to pound us. Maria suddenly seizes her raincoat and cap and giving Chief a quick kiss on his cheek, says, “Papa, the gas station is just a mile away. Let me dash across for some fuel. I should be back soon. Nikku, take care of Papa!”

I whine and pull at her coat. This was not the right weather to step out. ‘‘No Nikku, I have to go. Take care of Papa ok? Good doggie!” She opens the front door and a gust of air comes whooshing in along with some leaves and branches.

She closes the door decisively. We could hear the car as she moves out of the garage and into the road.

The wind seems to be getting louder and louder. We wait for Maria to return, but more and more time seems to have passed with no sign of the returning car.

Chief is getting restless and worried. I am now shivering with the cold and a strange fear and hide under his bed. Something is wrong with Maria! I know for sure! I howl softly.

The wind now sounds like a train whistle. The lights start flickering. There is a sudden big bang and the sound of crinkling glass. Our living room window has just been broken and with a huge thud, something falls in. I run quickly to check…oh a part of the signpost on the lawn next door has broken off and been hurled by the wind as a missile at our window. I can see the words “THE WALL”, on the wet board. The rain now enters our house through the open window.

There is a sudden distant “plop”, and the lights in the house go out. I quickly run to Chief’s bed. He puts out his hand and gropes for my head in the dark. “Good dog, Nikku, good dog!” He pats my head. I climb on to the bed with him. The rain and the wind coming in through the open window are making us both very cold.

It’s been more than ten hours since Maria stepped out. I know that something is very wrong. She should have been back hours ago.

Chief starts coughing heavily. He links up to his nebuliser and starts breathing through the mask. The water is now all over the house and many of the furniture is floating around. The wind has stopped its eerie noise outside and all we can hear now is the steady rain. The rising sun throws light over the house and I whine again. The water is now almost up to the height of the bed. I can hear Chief coughing more frequently.

I Begin the Rescue Operation

I make a quick decision. Jumping down into the water, I start swimming out through the broken window. Ouch! Was that a piece of glass that cut my left front paw?

The man next door is just getting onto an airbed he has blown up. I quickly swim over to him and tug at his trouser. “Hey what’s the matter, old chap?” he says bending over me. I have never heard him speak earlier. He does not seem to be as sullen and hostile as before. I tug again at his wet trousers and bark urgently, pulling him towards the direction of our house.

He seems to understand. He quickly pulls me onto the makeshift raft and comes into the house opening the front door. Chief is now coughing uncontrollably. Rex quickly gathers him up in his strong arms and puts him on the raft. “Let's go, Chief,” he says. Chief gives him a stiff nod of thanks.

Truce declared.

As the raft gently bobs down the road, we look around at a city transformed into a river by the storm surge that followed the hurricane. A boat is coming in the opposite direction. Thankfully, they are the first responders, and they quickly take charge. Chief is taken into an elderly care centre that is taking in people who need special care during the catastrophe.

Rex and I float on to the community centre where hundreds of people have been put up. Suddenly I realise my paw is hurting more and I whimper. Rex looks down at me. “That’s a nasty gash you have there, old chap!” he says. “Let’s see what we can do”.

Gathering me up in his strong arms, he takes me to the big hall. My tongue comes out in surprise. There are so many people here – camping on makeshift beds, with little bags of stuff all around. Children sleeping, babies crying, and people, old and young alike, tired and scared.

I stiffen. Putting my nose up, I start sniffing. With a quick excited bark, I leap out of Rex’s arm and dart through the beds. Maria! I can smell dear Maria!

Oh there she is, on a bed in the corner! There are a few beds over there where the injured have been placed. A nurse is there too, taking care.

Maria is Finally Back and Miracles Happen!

Maria has this bandage around her head and she is lying down, eyes closed, face pale and drawn. Rex follows me. I jump onto Maria’s bed and start licking her face. Slowly she opens her eyes… “where, where am I? Nikku, hey Nikku, stop!” she laughs weakly, as I literally drench her face with my tongue.

The nurse comes over and gives me a little shove off the bed. Hey, isn’t that Nancy? “Maria, you are awake!” she says gently. “Some men had brought you in a while ago. You had a deep gash on your forehead. How do you feel now, dear?”

Maria looks up: “I was driving down the road. It was dark and raining heavily. The last thing I remember seeing is a branch breaking off from a tree alongside the road just as I was driving past.”

Suddenly remembering, she sits up with a jerk – “Nikku, Papa! Where is Papa? Where is he? I need to go to him.” She tries to get off the bed. Rex puts out a friendly hand and gently holds her back.

“Chief is fine,” he said. “He is being taken care of in the elderly care centre.” Maria stiffens when she sees him. I quickly leap up and lick Rex’s face, my tail wagging. Maria looks at me in puzzlement and surprise. I know what she is thinking. “Nikku, he is the enemy!”

Nancy laughs. “Maria, Steve just told me that Rex rescued Chief from your house and made sure he was taken to the care centre. Your father is safe, don’t worry”.

Turning to me, she says – “Hey Nikku, aren’t you the brave one, bringing Rex over to save our Chief? Let’s take a look at that paw of yours. Seems to be a bad gash”. Gently and expertly she bandages my wounded paw. Maria looks at her, tears suddenly springing to her eyes. Her eyes follow Rex as he briskly walks away and the tears flow faster.

“Nancy! Nancy! I have been looking for you!” Nalini comes into the room, with Rishi, her son and a little girl with a very wet doll in her arms. Nancy gives a little start on seeing the girl.

“Terri, sweetie! Oh sweetheart, thank God you are safe!” Running to the little girl, she sweeps her into her arms and kisses her all over, tears streaming down. “Mom, Rishi and I came on a boat here. Big boat,” said the little one, holding out her arms to show the size of the boat.

Nancy hugs Nalini who pats her gently. “Hey Nancy! I knew both you and Steve would be extra busy during emergencies like these and went over to your place to check if I could help. I brought her over to my place. She and Rishi are great friends, they have been playing right through. The first responders brought us down here when the rain got worse this morning. I have been looking for you ever since…”

Nancy wipes away her tears. “One of my friends who was on the rescue boat said your house was empty. I have been so worried about you all. Oh thank you so much for taking care of her!”

Maria looked up at Nancy with growing admiration “You have been taking care of all of us while worrying about your own little one?” Her eyes filled up with tears again. Nancy smiled weakly, burying her face in her daughter’s bushy hair and hugging her as though she would never let go.

“Masha Allah,” says the lady on the next bed, looking at mother and daughter. “Yes, Praise the Lord!” assents Maria. Nalini nods and says “Jai Sri Ram”, wiping away her tears too.

I look around; there is only one caste, the caste of humanity and only one language – the language of the heart, isn’t it?

But then what do I know? I am just a doggie!

A Month Later...

It’s now been four weeks since that awful weekend when the hurricane battered our city. Chief, Maria and I have just returned home. Maria has a Band-aid on her forehead. I have a slight limp, which the vet says will go once the wound heals. Chief is fine, and jovial as always! My hero!

Maria slips a leash on me and we go out on our walk. The signs of destruction are all around, with the debris of broken branches and walls and roofs still lying on the sides of the roads. We walk carefully past the rabble, just glad to be alive and glad to be together again.

Rex is on the lawn as usual. He is planting fresh bushes since the old ones are all gone. He lifts his hat as Maria and I walk past, and Maria gives a friendly wave.

I think back about Nalini and Terri, Maria and Nancy, Chief and Rex. A lot has changed. So many things have been destroyed, but not all destruction has been for worse, it seems to me.

But then, what do I know? I am just a doggie.

The half broken sign still stands on Rex’s battered lawn. It has just two words left - “LETS BUILD”.

Illustrations: Ms. Sri Vidya, Kuwait
- Radio Sai Team

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