No one in any of the stores actually saw the dog get run over. Kamal vaguely heard the car screech-thudding away but didn’t pay attention. He was focused on picking out the caked dirt from between his toes. The highway was on higher ground than the shops and he was oblivious to the burnt-caramel dog sprawled on the street, its guts spilling out like some unquenchable secret.
A while later he noticed some street-kids swarm onto the road, their subdued shouts rousing him enough to go and investigate. He spotted the slumped brown form from a distance, the boys hunched around it, poking and prodding. Kamal vaguely knew them all, he had seen them—boys and dog—sniffing around the dumpsters.
By then the boys had dragged the dog to the side of the road. Kamal could see blood pooled in the middle of the road, bright on the yellow lines. There were russet drag marks on the dark tar leading to where they hunkered down by the dog and small globs of matter spotted the uneven red. Kamal swore under his breath. They should have left it there, so the next overloaded truck or bus whooshing by finished the job. How long could the damn dog live?
The dog’s stomach, surprisingly, had not ruptured. It had probably been a small car, not heavy enough to kill the dog. What it had done, however, was to squeeze the torso enough for the dog’s bowels to pop out through the butthole.
Kamal stood on the other side of the fallen body as the boys straightened up. They were smaller than he was, the youngest of them almost a head shorter. They resembled each other in their uncared-for look: scabby, sore-filled arms and legs, snot-dribbled faces, dressed in rags, string, bent safety pins. One of them had long greasy hair, scrunched at the base of his head in a ponytail. Ponytail took a step towards Kamal. “That’s our dog,” said the boy. The stick in his hand tapped the earth near the dog’s head.
Kamal looked at him without flinching. “That’s nobody’s dog. Don’t try bullshit me.”
The stick stopped tapping and began drawing long, slow arcs in the yellow dust. “We brought it here,” he said.
“Yeah? Well then, help me take it further,” said Kamal. The boy seemed to be thinking about it and looked back at his friends, as if trying to gauge from their reaction what his should be. “What were you going to do with it?” Kamal asked. There was a still, drawn-breath quality to the early afternoon sun, as evening waited to jump in. Before the boy could answer Kamal, the dog moaned, the sound almost human in despair.
Kamal knew kids that age. He didn’t want to give him too much time to think. “We could go down to the store and get a sack or something. Roll the dog onto it, and we’re in business, we just pull it along.”
One of the other boys spat on the ground. “I’m not going around pulling no damn dog.”
The dog moaned again. Its eyes were filmed over, a milky opaque gaze hiding the usual serene brown. Ponytail stared at the dog uncertainly and then at Kamal. Kamal’s voice was barely above a whisper. “You’ve brought it this far. We can save it.”
Ponytail kept his eyes on the dog as he spoke to his friend. “You were happy enough pulling it a jiff ago. You don’t want more, buzz off then.”
“Oi, you playing nursemaid to that dog? What’ll you do once you get it down there? Suck it’s titties?”
Ponytail looked up. “Don’t you smacktalk me, you chudir bhai. “
Kamal bent down and picked up a rock. He stood still, arm slack against his side, hand close-fisting the rock. He was older than them, bigger. He worked in the store which gave him clout. But there were three of them and no one else around.
Before it could go any further, the third boy spoke, “Come on, leave him!” He tugged at his friend. “He always been crazy—leave him to the dog!” The boy resisted, then turned on his heel. “Johir and his doggy mamma, titty sucking licky fucking,” he screamed in a falsetto and the two of them ran off, screech-birding their way down the slope, through the gate, into the campus.
Kamal and Johir looked at each other, and the boy threw down his stick. Kamal opened his fist letting the rock thud softly onto the ground. The dog had begun to shake uncontrollably. It tried to bark, but all that came out was a guttural gurgle, as if its very voice was in the grip of some great malady.
Kamal threw out, “Wait there,” to Johir and ran towards the store. He grabbed a used sack from the back, and a plastic tray. Johir was on the ground beside the dog when Kamal panted back. He sat beside Johir, and pulled out the lime green plastic tray from under his arm. Carefully they spread the sack beside it. Kamal lifted the red and pink fleshy tubes snake-coiled on the road and placed them carefully on the plastic tray. The blood had already begun to clot, ruby jam seeded with dirt. The dog’s gut felt heavy and squishy as he lifted it, the body unwieldy. As they pushed and tugged, the sacking kept getting shoved away. Johir held the sack down on the ground while Kamal pushed the dog onto it.
The two of them grabbed onto parallel corners of the sacking and began pulling. It was easy enough with the two of them. The dog was silent now, the steady quiver of its body broken now and then by a strong juddering that ran through it as if trying to survive in deep winter.
“You taking it to the store? Will the boss let you keep it?”
They had almost reached the storefront. Their passage had cut an uneven trail on the dirt behind them, as if some giant snail were making its way home. Kamal felt thankful the store was set away from the other shops and this was the lazy part of the day—there was no one to see what they were doing. He hadn’t thought of Forid mama’s reaction to the dog before this, so far he had been operating on an instinct that only allowed him the planning of the next few minutes.
“I don’t know,” he said to Johir. “I’ll have to try.”
* * *
Forid had hired Kamal to work at Modern Departmental Enterprise three months to the day when the dog got run over. That very morning he had given Kamal a raise. His wife’s brother sent Kamal to him; so far he had not been disappointed. The raise was deserved and he knew how desperately Kamal needed it.
Modern was separated from the other stores in the Gate One line by the gate itself. Gate One, the main entrance to the campus, rose black and imposing and was the only gate diligently painted every year. The black metal shone: the marker for the black tar road of the outside world to stop and the red brick pathways of the campus to begin.
The secure promise of the gate was broken by the half-built wall that stemmed from it. The wall extended about twenty feet on either side of the gate, and then there was just grass and vegetation and the occasional pile of eroded bricks. The bamboo, wood and tin frames of the stores clung to the wall desperately, the wall’s stability holding them up until the temporary frames could be transformed into something sturdier. Forid’s store had been one of the first to build side walls in cement as solid and gray as the main wall.
Of the shops bordering the campus entrances, Gate One stores were more lucrative. Gate Two was near the student halls and Gate Three at the far south side of the campus near the Third and Fourth Class employee housing. Gate One was a block away from the teacher-officer residences; it was safe to assume they were wealthier. The Gate One stores stocked higher-end groceries; and Modern was the only one on campus which sold goods people could do without quite well.
At first Forid had stocked almost the same things as all the other Gate One stores; gradually he introduced ‘luxury’ items. Made-in-China stamped teddy bears and dolls; Tibet pomade jars; perfumed coconut oil; cheap makeup; the cheapest of costume jewelry; ashtray-photo frame-penholder-in-one ceramic ornaments. The Khalammas wouldn’t do their fancy shopping at his store; they went to the city twenty miles away. But it was the servants who mostly came by to pick up groceries, and the girls always lingered at his store a few minutes.
The store would not have been possible without the help of his former employer, the Science Dean. The Dean’s wife had insisted that not only should Forid be found a job (as was the custom for longstanding boy-servants), but he also be loaned the capital for business. The Dean often liked to pronounce on how Forid was a successful experiment in vertical mobility.