Back in Hay-on-Wye, I went downstairs on Tuesday morning to find Sue’s dog, George, nosing around behind the garbage bin in the backyard. What on earth was he doing? Maybe he’d cornered a cat-but no, Sue said he was a gentle dog; or perhaps he’d found a bone-no, he was amply fed with pedigree dog food. Something fishy, though, was definitely going on behind that bin. Sue wasn’t in the house, and even though George and I had come to a kind of understanding about my presence there, I was not about to entangle myself in his affairs regarding whatever lay behind that bin.
This is George, the Labrador:
George was a big dog; a big, black dog; a big, black dog with a loud, deep-throated bark: not the kind of dog one ought to cross. When I first went to Sue’s house, I quivered in my boots at the sight and sound of him. Sue assured me that he was a softie really, that I needn’t be afraid and that he would not harm me.
I took her word for it, and everything was fine, until the day after my initial arrival when I went grocery shopping. Sue had gone out and when I returned to the house, George wouldn’t let me in.
“Woof! Woof! Woof!” His deep-throated bark stopped me in my tracks as I was about to put my foot over the threshold.
My shopping bags were heavy. What was I going to do? I had no idea when Sue would be back. George stood in the middle of the living room starring at me. I starred back.
“Remember me?” I said feebly. But George just continued starring at me, as if daring me to step in.
As I stood there wondering what to do, I was transported back to my childhood when I used to live in Manchester. I was about seven years old, and a big, black dog, called Laddy, lived next door to us. He might have been a Labrador, I don’t know, but he did look a lot like George.
Laddy was not a problem really but for some reason, after years of dog-children harmony, me and some of the other children who lived in our neighbourhood decided that it would be a good idea to start teasing Laddy. I can’t even remember now what that consisted of; all I know is that one fine day, Laddy retaliated. I wasn’t even teasing him at the time. I was just coming out of our house and going to school. Laddy and his owner, Tony Tough Guy, were coming out of theirs, when out of the blue, Laddy jumped on me and knocked me to the ground! He was such a big dog that his front paws landed on my chest and his head was above mine. When I fell, he was on top of me and I thought he was going to rip me to shreds. I screamed my head off and it was a lucky thing that Tony Tough Guy was right there to call him off. Thankfully, though, he didn’t bite me.
Everyone knew why Laddy attacked me but it wasn’t really fair because I wasn’t the only one who teased him, so why me? Whatever the reason, I didn’t need anyone to tell me to stop teasing him and that was the last day that any of us did.
Now, here I was so many years later, starring at a Laddy look a like and I didn’t know if he would retaliate, as Laddy did, if I dared to step into the house. So, George and I stood starring at each other until out of the blue, as if he’d gotten bored, George just turned his back and walked away, disappearing into the kitchen. I waited a few seconds to make sure he wasn’t coming back; and when he didn’t return, I ran inside and sprinted up the stairs, shopping bags and all. George didn’t bother me after that but I still kept my ears pricked up in case he decided to change his mind.
I watched George for a few minutes as he pawed at the narrow gap between the wall of the alcove where the bin was kept and the bin itself. Even if George didn’t get me for interfering, whatever was behind that bin might, so I was taking no chances.
I set about preparing my breakfast. Sometimes George would walk away from the spot but then he’d return a few minutes afterwards and resume his nosing and pawing. Yes, something was definitely lurking behind there.
Presently, Sue returned, and George was still at it. She went outside and pulled the bin out of the alcove, and there, to our surprise was:
A hedgehog! A real, live hedgehog!
“Oh, I wonder where that came from?” Sue said. She raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“I have no idea.” I had never seen a real live hedgehog before, only ones in storybooks: hedgehogs and badgers and things like that featured in a lot of the stories that I read as a child. (Dear reader, now that I am an adult I want to write some stories for Caribbean children that have Caribbean animals in them, animals like the mongoose and the iguana and the lizard and some things like that because if you’re a Caribbean child you’ll be more likely to see a real mongoose running across the road than you are to see a real hedgehog hiding in your back garden!)
It seemed as if George considered his job done because now that we’d also discovered the hedgehog, he ambled off and ensconced himself on the settee as was one of his favourite things to do.
Once I had taken a photo I would have gone off about my business too but luckily for the hedgehog, Sue was quite the animal welfarist and her job was not done until she had put some drinking water in a discarded plastic fruit punnet and placed it close by the hedgehog. She then racked her brain as to the wisdom of putting some dog food down for the hedgehog and not being certain whether or not it would be good for the hedgehog, she decided to find out first from someone else who might know.
I don’t remember if the hedgehog ever got fed pedigree dog food but it must have felt sufficiently well cared for because over the next few days it made its way inside the house. I was getting up for work one morning-or night, depending on how one prefers to classify 2:30 am-when Sue called to me on my way down the stairs, warning me to watch out because the hedgehog was in the kitchen near to the stove.
But I didn’t see the hedgehog beside the stove. It wasn’t under the dining table either, or under the bench, or beside the fridge or anywhere else that I looked. Sue told me later on that she had found it in the living room. I was surprised that George didn’t attack it once it was out in the open but Sue said he would never do such a thing and reiterated that he really, really was a very gentle dog.
And then Sue made an arrangement for the hedgehog to go to another home, and I don’t know if the hedgehog did move in the end because I moved a few days after that and then Sue moved also; so the house was left empty of people and animals and shut up completely until, like a book, it may perhaps be opened again one day, ready to have its next chapter written by whichever humans and animals happened to find themselves living there.