The night got subdued by the charming sun and its rays were lifting the dark veil off the city. The birds had got wind of it and were preparing for the day ahead, calling out each other to make sure their kith and kin were near them and safe. The mist in the air was typical of the weather during that time of the season. The group of five, the ‘little ones’ had gathered around the chemist’s place and were, near the open under-flowing sewer, stretching after the couple of hours sleep they had had after barking, running around and growling. The elderly aunty, who always fed them at six in the morning in her sport shoes, came out of the opposite building with bones in her plastic bags. This was nothing new. Since years she had been feeding them every morning - be it sun or the rain. The dogs started wagging their tail upon seeing her emerge out from behind the inaccessible gates – gates beyond which they always saw her disappear but could never go beyond them for the watchmen. All gathered around her, looking upon her wanting her food more than the attention except Zoey-Ma. Zoey-Ma was also in the group, hungry like all of them but not wagging its tail; for it had none. Only a tiny structure resembling an under-grown tail sat at the tip of her back but she was able to jut it around to show her affection

The other four were characters funny in themselves. The white haired Master, that is the name given to him by a wealthy man from
the same building, behaved weirdly in front of food. First he would run towards it, smell it, and then run away from it as he has suddenly renounced the worldly and bodily need of eating. Then would start running after cycles, rickshaws and two-wheelers and would come to the food only after spending sufficient time fooling around. His companion, the docile browny, had a good appetite matched by only Zoey-Ma. Browny was brought into this area around eight months ago from nowhere and was left to fend for himself. Master always dominated him and even barked and bit him whenever it seemed Browny was garnering more attention (and food). The one with tattered hair, her area being a little far away – near the gym, was good friends with all of them but usually used to be away from them. She hardly used to eat anything but had a long hairy tail. And the last one was Zoey-Ma’s daughter. Her physique was very similar to Zoey-Ma except she had a longer tail. Zoey-Ma was the leader of them all and also the hungriest one, not just today, but every single day.

While aunty was feeding them bones one by one, Zoey-Ma suddenly noticed another group of dogs on the road running upwards. They also were fed by aunty every morning but their sight was enough to charge her and forget the food. She started barking and running towards them. Master joined her. They didn’t go too near to the other group but had by now come onto the middle of the road unlike earlier when they were near the edges. The barking and fighting was also an everyday affair. That’s what it looked like to aunty. She ignored them and went near the other group to feed them near the large gate which opened to an empty ground. She had just left the five behind when a whizzing car came out of nowhere and hit something hard, severed a bit, and went away without stopping to find out what it had hit or run upon. Aunty hadn’t wore her glasses and she couldn’t figure out what had happened and she proceeded to feed the other group.

On the next two mornings, aunty couldn’t spot Zoey-Ma at the usual spot for morning food. The first time it happened she ignored it considering that one of them always disappears in the nearby buildings sometimes and is not out of the ordinary. The second day it happened in succession it got her worried. She couldn’t do anything in the morning herself as she was well beyond fifty and not sure where all she should go to find her. Three hours later, at around nine in the morning, while heading to the office she asked the sabzi-wala to be on a lookout for Zoey-Ma. The sabzi-wala was another regular who used to feed them and had fed grand-dad’s and grand-mom’s of Zoey-Ma. Till afternoon Zoey-Ma wasn’t to be found anywhere and the sabzi-wala started a search for her with his elder son. They couldn’t find her in the usual places. They finally found her in the same open sewer where they used to gather in the morning near the chemist’s shop. She had been lying there. Her hind legs were not working anymore. It looked as if she had been hit very hard at the hips and was unable to move even a few inches on her own. For two days she was lying there without food and without water under the melting sun and no one from her own group ever hinted at her. Her pain couldn’t be felt by him but he had treated her as his own daughter and family member. Somehow in the evening he got hold of aunty and she called the animal welfare ambulance from nearby and Zoey-Ma was gone. No one was aware what will happen to her and whether she will be able to walk ever again – with or without legs.


But for Zoey-Ma pain and suffering were nothing new. Only two rainy seasons ago she had given birth to healthy puppies which were as soft as teddy bears and as clean as fur. A young man had recently moved into the building and used to feed them regularly in the morning and sometimes used to catch hold of the young ones and take them in his hands. But the young ones were so young that they could never recognize him and used to run away on seeing him and used to bark at the milk vessel of his taking it to be their enemy. His early morning habits had made him well known to aunty and decided to share the timings of their feeding the dogs – she in the morning and he in the evening. But that happened later on. Probably three of her puppies were there with her. One by one they started disappearing and the young man wondered how this could happen when their mother was around them all the time. In the evening he got to know that a couple of them had been given away for adoption so that they would lead a comfortable life by caring and loving people. But no one ever thought of Zoey-Ma. And one morning, when the young man went to feed Zoey-Ma and her only remaining puppy, she came running to him squeaking and wailing that her puppy was missing. He knew Zoey-Ma well and soon understood the reason she was behaving like that. His frantic searches led to nothing and it was only a couple of days later that he came to know that even the last one was adopted by someone from the slums to which the sabzi-wala belonged. Zoey-Ma had pinned her hopes on the young man to bring back her puppies but over time got used to her loneliness and pain.

Around a month down the line the ambulance brought back Zoey-Ma in the afternoon and left her on the road. The four from her group weren’t able to recognize her and started barking at her as if she was a new comer to the area. She had spent the time amongst new but caring faces but in an unknown land. The sabzi-wala spotted her and immediately went to fetch her. She wasn’t able to walk even now. All she could do was drag herself with her hind legs rubbing on the ground. He summoned his son and asked him to take her to his home. They kept her with them the whole day and fed her. The next day they brought her out and kept her in the open but fenced space next to a milk booth, which was next to his own vegetable stall. The young man got to know of her return when he went to feed them in the morning when aunty was out of station. And he spotted Zoey-Ma. She was very clean, but had become thin and her legs made his eyes water. She was the same Zoey-Ma who used to make every dog’s tail go between his legs and fight with the whole group to get the lion’s share of food. And she was the one who had come to him asking for his puppies. Now she was crippled. Her unstable and wobbly gait clearly showed her discomfort.

She was now a stranger in her own land. She recognized him with the peculiar sound which he used to make to signal his arrival every morning and evening. But she couldn’t wag her non-existent tail anymore for her hip had been rendered useless by the blind driver of the speeding car. She drank milk from his vessel and dragged herself to the corner of the fenced space. She started digging in the dirt as if she could so easily bury her troubles and herself in this world. Her own clan had failed to recognize her though they did later. The wealthy man who had named Master was happy as ever as long as Master used to come near him and extend his paw for him to shake. He probably used to satisfy his ego every day by making a stray dog follow his orders. The wealthy man never squinted his eyes or strained his neck to catch a glimpse of Zoey-Ma because for him strays were to be loved as long as they were playful and healthy. Zoey-Ma was named after Zoey, her own puppy who was adopted by someone far away. After a few minutes she sat there, alone, with her snout pointing upwards and mouth open, exasperated, thirsty and longing for and wanting, not love, but only care. 



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