The three agents from the distant Ossyrian Confederation- one disguised as a middle-aged human and the others as a pair of frisky young Chihuahuas- had chosen an animal shelter near the Kentish seaside town of Margate as a likely locale for initiating their crucial research into the nature of that peculiarly human virtue of hope. That first foray had seemed to be an unmitigated disaster as a maddened Mastiff had shunted any semblance of virtue aside in a slobbering attempt to maul the diminutive Alfie who, though standing his ground (he knew perfectly well that the mesh separating him from the Mastiff was sound), nevertheless returned the insults of barked violence in an angry cacophony that would soon have had all three Ossyrian agents escorted to the nearest exit.
Just as all had seemed lost, Alfie’s wing man (wing dog??) Ajax focused the disheartened group’s attention in a different direction. ‘Look over there!’ he signalled, and – moving out of sight of the doomed Mastiff – the group quietly approached the object of Ajax’s sudden interest.
The elderly woman bore all of the signs of a human at the far end of a difficult life. Dishevelled white hair, sallow complexion over deep crevices etched by relentless work, worry, loneliness, and a multitude of ‘aches and pains’, along with a musty unwashed smell readily apparent to the dogs; all mumbled the same tale of poverty and neglect. ‘She’s been with us for nearly a year,’ the bright-eyed shelter employee said as he opened the door of an enclosure reeking with the smell of fresh antiseptic, ‘and soon, I’m afraid…she’ll have to be put down.’
Ignoring him, the woman stepped inside and paused, gazing at the small cross-breed cowering in a corner, visibly shaking with anxiety. ‘Be careful, ma’am! She’s been known to bite.’ The woman chose to ignore the warning and approached the small dog before pausing, once again, only a few feet before the terrified creature. Not much to recommend yourself, she thought wryly…and it was true. Though kept clean by the kindly employees of the shelter, the cross-breed’s face was disfigured by a pronounced under-bite and her matted grey fur was mottled by what appeared to be bald spots of angry scar tissue.
Noting the woman’s interest, the employee sadly explained, ‘This poor little lady was seriously abused by her first owner; all over now, but those scars you see, well, they go pretty deep…if you know what I mean?’ Oh! I do…I do know what you mean… the woman sighed and, scooping up the ravaged mongrel, ignored the sharp nip to her forearm as she enveloped it in a deep embrace, lightly stroking its mottled pelt.
To the stunned amazement and utter delight of the employees at the animal shelter the adoption of the mongrel, who would proudly respond to the name ‘Mitzi’ for the rest of her life, proceeded smoothly. As she and her new owner were escorted to the shelter’s exit and handed the complementary packet of doggie necessities many of the carers had tears in their eyes but others were smiling…
+ + +
Awaiting the fish and chips – but sans dogs. NAIB
The three Ossyrian agents sat in reflective silence; each savouring the delightful taste of his fish and chips eaten outdoors with a view of Margate’s small harbour. ‘Batter loaded with calories, enough hydrogenated fat in the oil to block the Canterbury Road, and salt on the chips to send one’s blood pressure off the chart…but oh so goooooooood!’ Alfie chirped. The others merely smacked their lips in hearty agreement; Ossyrian cuisine had nothing on this!
‘T’? Something really important happened this morning at the animal shelter…but I’m not sure what it was…’ Ajax’s honest confusion had, at first, been shared by all and the lunchtime debriefing had been punctuated by long, if thoughtful, silences. ‘I think…I think I’m beginning to understand,’ ‘T’ signalled, ‘though I have only read of it in terrestrial books as what just occurred would have been impossible in the home world.’ ‘What is it?’ Alfie’s expressive ears trembled with anticipation even though the conversation was entirely telepathic.
‘See,’ ‘T’ began, ‘in the Confederation there is no injustice and almost no suffering. When suffering is encountered it is simply cured, as if it were a kind of medical condition, and that is the way it has been for many thousands of revolutions around the inner sun.’ He sighed, ‘There is nothing wrong with that…but here…here suffering is a very real thing and must be dealt with…or not.’ Remembering the tragic Mastiff, the two Chihuahuas glanced knowingly at each other as ‘T’ continued, ‘The old woman and Mitzi the cross-breed mongrel had each suffered and each recognized a kinship in the other. Denial would have resulted in judgement and judgement in alienation leading to rejection…and further suffering. But the woman had learned a marvellous lesson! Suffering can also function as a kind of doorway…a doorway, which, when passed through in the company of another, leads to a bright kind of love forged in fearless, though tender, knowing. The humans had to invent a special word for this that is, at the same time the highest and the lowest of all of the many types of love. It is called compassion and where this type of love exists nothing is ever able to undermine, much less extinguish, hope…because compassion flourishes precisely in that place where hope had previously seemed impossible.’
The Chihuahuas, having swallowed the last few chips and licked the last bit of salt and oil from the throw-away Styrofoam plates, nodded their dawning understanding; suddenly slightly envious of the tear glinting in the corner of ‘T’s eye.
(to be continued)