Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Momentito Guatemalteco 4: La Perrita Perdita


10:24 am

We are walking down the street in Panajachel, checking out all the woven goods for sale in long rows of vendor tents.  Our bellies are full of our breakfast of beans and eggs and plantains and a pre-breakfast of Mennonite-baked carrot bread.  We had descended on the bread like vultures after putting off eating it until we could sanitize our hands post-chicken bus.

From between two stalls emerges a dog, which appears well-fed, is wearing a tattered light blue collar with paw prints, and is mostly black with a white stripe between its eyes, white lower legs and paws, and some white around its neck.  In short, it looks a lot like Owen.  I say "awwww herro perrito" in my well-practiced dog voice and make a "ts ts ts" noise, at which point the dog's brown eyes meet mine.

It begins trotting alongside us down the main road in Panajachel.

10:26 am
The dog is still walking with us as we turn left back toward Kim and Nichelle's hotel to get our bags.  I wonder if the dog lives near the hotel, if it's a boy or a girl, where it's owners are, and if I could fit it in my suitcase.  I make a joke that it can smell its cousin on my clothes.

10:28 am
The dog is scampering delicately over a concrete slab that covers a man hole in order to continue walking with us down a side street.

10:33 am
We are back at Kim and Nichelle's hotel and the dog is still hanging with us.  I feel guilty about attracting its attention in the first place and wonder if it's hungry or thirsty.  I think of Owen and immediately forget all knowledge of Pavlovian conditioning and for that matter, simple logic.  I reach into my purse and pull out a small piece of leftover Mennonite-baked carrot bread and put it on the ground for the dog to eat.  It gobbles it up.

I turn around to follow my friends up the stairs and immediately hear the clicking of claws accompanying us.  Kim makes the sound of a broom to shoo the dog away and it hesitates, clearly considering the risks and benefits of any further pursuit of friends with carrot bread.  After a moment, the dog follows us up both flights to the door to Kim and Nichelle's room. We all groan and quickly walk in, shutting the door and the dog outside it.

We hear a rhythmic whine outside the door which, loosely translated from Spanishdog, means "please let me in, friends with delicious carrot bread."  My friends laugh that I thought the dog would go away and I laugh too, embarrassed but sure that the dog will give up once it realizes it can't get into the room.

The whining outside the door has stopped and I'm relieved.  Surely the dog has gone home.

We open the door to leave with our backpacks and the black and white dog is sitting patiently outside.  "Maybe it's thirsty?" I say, looking for an excuse that alleviates me of some responsibility here.
"I'm pretty sure it lives at a lake," Jenna says.
We walk down the stairs and, now predictably, the dog follows us down.
"At least it can't get on the boat," Jenna says.

We arrive at the boat dock and are told it will cost 15Q to go to Santa Cruz.  Our canine companion nervously walks down to the edge of the water and drinks from the lake.  I am relieved, since clearly it just wanted some water the whole time.  We board the boat with our things and I take a seat on the left side, closest to the dock.  Our black and white companion, however, is finished drinking, cautiously walks across the wooden planks, and sniffs at the air between it and the boat, whining once again.  Guilt spreads in me like it can only in a total dog fanatic - I know I should not have solicited its attention and simultaneously want desperately to make it my pet.  The dog's whining continues as it paces laterally along the side of the dock and periodically inches forward and backward to the edge as if to assess the distance to the boat and the material makeup of the air and water between it and us.

The dog sits, and I can see for the first time that it's female.  She stops whining and lays down on the wooden planks outside my window.  The boat Boss tells us that, actually, it will be 25Q to go to Santa Cruz because, apparently it's out of their way to stop there.  My angst about the dog makes me irrationally angry about having to pay more than I was told but I fork over the money anyway, á la chicken bus.  I avoid all eye contact with the dog, my conscience aching with remorse.  The longer we sit and wait for more sucker tourists to get on the boat, the harder it is for me to not cry and to ignore the dog's soul-piercing gaze.

The boat is nearly full and The Boss unwinds the rope from its attachment to the pier.  The dog immediately stands and resumes her pacing and edging and whining, only louder, faster, more high-pitched and frantic.  The boat drifts inches away from the dock and the dog's cries only get louder and faster and exponentially more pathetic as the distance between her and us - and by us, I mean me - widens. I glance back at the dock and see her looking around in confusion and desperation at the end of the dock.  I feel a mix of relief and intense sadness as I imagine her going back to her home.

I hear someone say, "she's not going to jump off the dock, right?"

The dog on the dock, before things got really bad:

The dog has jumped off the dock.  A wave of gasps moves from the back of the boat to the font as the splash sends a stab into my stomach.  I remember how nervous the dog was just to get a drink of water from the lake.

Another American girl yells, "don't turn on the boat!" and we all realize in horror that the dog is swimming perilously close to the boat's rear propeller.  I think back to middle school lessons about why manatees are endangered and feel a surge of nausea and duck my head in fear of witnessing the dog's gruesome and untimely end.

Luckily while my head was ducked, The Boss shooed the dog away from the back of the boat and was able to put a safe enough distance between us and the dog to start the boat and pull far enough away for at least the olfactory connection between the dog and I to be severed, if not the emotional one.  She is paddling right, arcing back towards the shore.  We exhale and and remarks fly about the close call, and my friends jokingly remind me of the perils of dog-whispering.  I, of course, am wrecked from fear and guilt and cowardice, and my laughter teeters on a precipice between heaves of humor and tears.

Kim yells, "oh my God!,"  pointing behind us.  I lift my head and follow her fingerpoint.  "She's stuck!"  Now, all heads in the boat turn back and to the right of the boat to see that the dog is stuck in the rope mooring another motor boat in the lake.  She is paddling, going nowhere.  Any relics of humor or not caring are lost, I burst into tears, burying my face in my hands and my whole face-hand complex into my lap.  It's possible I am actually on the floor of the boat, as there is nowhere farther away to go.  I killed the dog I killed the dog I killed the dog.

Ever the quick thinker, Mariah yells, "We have to jump in and save her!"  As I cry helplessly into my lap, Mariah and a French stranger/friend start removing layers of clothing, starting with their shirts.  They are clearly willing to strip off any and every piece of clothing necessary as Mariah moves toward the window to dive into the lake.  Just as she unbuttons her pants, the dog seems to move in a direction that isn't toward the lake floor and we can see that she has managed to free herself, swimming in the opposite direction.

I am still a hot, sobbing, mess.

The boat stalls in confusion, The Boss and The Captain clearly confused by all the crying and near-stripping. I am now laughing and shrieking and still crying as my friends recount the poor dog's second near-death, even as she paddles the last few meters to dry land.

A middle-aged man, who is tan and has longish gray hair parted in the middle and who is probably from California walks toward the back of the boat.  We assume that he has had enough of our antics and emotion and has decided to bail.  He reaches the back of the boat and says something to The Boss that prompts him to command The Captain to turn the boat around.  We immediately protest, extremely concerned that we may yet pitch this dog a third strike if we get anywhere close to her again.

A game of telephone happens in which one of the girls overhears the Californian man say something about 25 quetzales for the dog, which gets passed to the one-shirt-less French girl who tells Jenna, who tells Kim, who tells Mariah, who is still putting her top back on, who says to me, "oh my God, he thinks that's our dog."  We realize in disbelief that this man thinks the dog is our pet and we immediately infer that he thinks we are the worst human beings on the planet.  Specifically, that we would rather let our very cute, very loyal dog be chopped by a propeller, get stuck in a slow drown, and go hungry rather than pay the equivalent of $3 to bring it with us on our lakeside vacay.

Much yelling and arm waving in Spanish and English commences, one of which eventually gets through to the Man with Good Intentions and without Faith in Humanity.  It may have been my crazed voice rising above the din of protests saying, "DON'T YOU THINK WE WOULD HAVE TRIED A LITTLE HARDER IF THAT WAS OUR DOG?!!?"
He replies, "Oh, sorry," and goes back to his seat at the front of the boat.

The boat starts up again and we see with relief that the dog has not been tempted by our near-return to risk her life again.  In fact, she is trotting back toward the dock, her back to us. I am feeling so terrible on so many levels, taking full responsibility for all of the dog's brushes with death, for yelling at the man, and for giving him any reason to believe that we were actually the kind of people he thought we were.  I quickly realize there were many reasons: the dog's steadfast loyalty to me and my carrot bread, our almost heroic measures, and my copious tears being only some of them.

Our boat is moving away from the dock yet again.  I can see the black and white dog on the dock, approaching a group of gringos we know from Celas Maya.  In my last glimpse, I see her shake off just like Owen, white-striped face to white-tipped tail, spraying Lake Atitlan water all over a girl who we all know to be kind of a negative Nancy. Against my best attempt at logic, all I can think is, "I love that dog."

1 comment:

  1. i'll laugh if you accidentally run into that dog again