“Bhaiya I’m sleepy!”
“Shhh….! Any minute now, sleep all you want after that.”
If my memory serves me right, it was raining heavily that day. Three o’ clock in the morning and everyone was wide awake- we didn’t get to see that a lot in our house. ‘We’ as in me and my cousins- Rafi, Zahra, Ayaan and Nabil were essentially the most notorious mischief-makers in town but it was different that day. We all had our ears pricked up for the tiniest of sounds, preferably doorbells- three in a row. Pin drop silence was essential.
“Bhaiya I need to go!” squealed little Nabil.
“Ufff! He was sleepy earlier and now he needs to go!” protested Rafi.
“Why don’t you like, take him to the bathroom or something?” Zahra’s fake accent was on the loose again. I opened my mouth to yell a warning at them but the doorbell did that for me. I could see their faces light up one by one. Not yet!
Then there were two more bells- Now! In a fraction of a second I yanked the door open with all my strength- and all six of us exploded in cheers!
“Choto chacha eshe geche!!!”
“Ey little ones, long time hey! Come here you…” Choto chacha’s soothing voice was drowned by yet another excited shriek that pretty much shook the entire colony. Behind our favourite uncle was our entire troupe of relatives smiling from ear to ear. Eid was days away, but we were jumping around as if we had spotted the new moon right then. After all, it was Choto chacha all the way from Ethiopia- the best at getting us presents and simply unbeatable at telling stories. He travels a lot and comes to Bangladesh every five years or so but there is no room for awkwardness. You could tell him anything and everything. But there was only one little problem; nobody could ever get a straight answer out of him. For example-
“Chacha have you ever seen the Northern Lights?”
“Listen kids, you guys won’t believe what I saw in Rome! It was a temple of the Goddess….” Yes he saw great things in Rome but does the story ever go back to Greenland to show us the Northern Lights? This has been our little inside joke for years.
However, chacha interrupted my trail of thought, “Ey Nahin, why don’t you fetch me the basket from the back seat of the car?” I swear I saw somebody mouth ‘present’ at me.
Well this sounds interesting
“Right away!” I said aloud and ran to get the basket (the gift) Hey, something squirmed and writhed and whimpered inside the basket! I kept the basket on the floor, and out came the cutest thing ever. It had a shiny reddish brown coat, long droopy ears and cute puppy dog eyes. Well, what else has puppy dog eyes except-
“But you’re not keeping it inside, mind you…”- began Ammu but who cares? We were ecstatic and simply uncontrollable. Eid, we thought, had arrived a few days earlier in our house. We fell asleep within an hour though.
After the initial sugar rush surrounding our new puppy (Zahra and Nabil wouldn’t leave him alone) came the more important questions. “So, where did you find him Chacha?” I asked as I huddled around him to listen.
“You see kids, dogs have acute senses. They can tell you when trouble might be approaching. There was this time when….”
“Chacha, please.” Rafi beckoned as he cradled the little red gem in his arms.
“If you really want to know then here goes- he’s a Ugandan wild dog, aren’t you boy?” our ‘boy’ let out a mild woof in agreement.
“He’s…he’s trained?” Ayan spoke up.
“No, just intelligent” Chacha chuckled.
“His kind roams around in packs, and when together can shred basically any animal to pieces. They ambush gigantic elephants usually but harmless when alone. Legend has it; on nights when the moon is full… the Ugandan wild dog disappears. Nobody knows where they go, and none ever will.”
Chacha probably sensed the panic on Zahra’s face “But hey, he’s only a pup and he loves you kids. So don’t worry.”
Naturally, my father refused to believe in any of that.
“Between you and me” he said when the two of us were out on a morning walk “I think your puppy is a Setter, and your Chacha definitely didn’t fly him from Ethiopia.”
Well, no surprises. -I thought as I was walking the dog concerned.
“Actually when we went to fetch him from the airport, we saw the puppy rolling at his feet right in the middle of a VIP terminal!”
“Didn’t anyone notice?”
Papa studied my surprised face for a while and explained, “Ah don’t ask, a puppy roams around in an international airport and nobody even cares. Such is the system of Bangladesh.” Beside me, my new dog trotted along; his eyes laughing in amusement. Papa’s hypothesis seemed more than logical. I simply decided not to think about it too much.
“That’s it! We’ve had enough ‘your puppy’ and ‘here boy’s for a lifetime. Let’s name him!”
When we got home, there was a fiery little debate crackling in our fireplace. My dog was being named in his absence, but not anymore. Puppy in arm, I sat on the carpet along with everyone else.
“Blaze, maybe? Name’s got substance, mind you.” Rafi announced. To my relief, everyone shook heads frantically.
“He’s such a cutie, call him Rusty please” –that made everyone glare at poor Zahra. Apparently, sugary names like Cherry, Brandy and Lovey were already rejected.
As usual, Ayaan was very quiet. But he too came up with something- “White Fang, I loved that book.” At this, my puppy looked me in the eye with a genuine plea. “No, he doesn’t like it”- I have no idea why I said that.
White Fang? Wait a minute…
“Cherokee!” I said a bit too loudly, and it felt great.
“You want to name him after a Red Indian tribe?” asked Choto Chacha “Fair enough, his coat is red.”
“Cherokee was a brave dog from White Fang.” Ayaan told him (kid actually takes time to read, bless him) “He fought till the end.” That’s when the most unlikely person showed support. “Yes, Cherokee! Cherokee!” squealed Nabil.
The little red darling, now Cherokee, licked my hand in unmistakable gratitude.
In a few days, Cherokee became an inseparable part of our family. The little cuddlebug was growing fast and ate almost anything happily. He would bark, whine and coo at us ever so sweetly, play fetch with the kids and sometimes impress us with his best behavior. All the people who visited us on Eid absolutely adored little Cherokee.
However, something really strange happened before Eid.
That night, we hosted an open air iftaar party cum dinner on the occasion of Choto Chacha’s arrival so naturally a lot of guests came over. It was the most beautiful sight- our friends and family enjoying in the lovely moonlight. After washing up and cleaning, our domestic help came running to Boro Chachi.
“Khalamma, Cherokee’s missing!” Abdul was out of breath and looking paranoid.
Trust me, we didn’t leave a single stone unturned, or the tiniest of places unsearched. Later at night Papa led a search in the entire neighborhood, but no sign of our Cherokee. We pretty much wept ourselves to sleep that night.
He was seen on the porch three days later, his mouth covered in fresh blood.
At first we thought that other dogs had injured him. But when Abdul washed his face there were absolutely no wounds! It could be a cat, mouse or some sort of a small animal, except Cherokee never attacked any of these. “Why he gets along fine with the three kittens next door” I said, as I sent Rafi to enquire. “All three kittens are alive and kicking” he said. However, Cherokee was merry as ever. He played, frisked and barked as usual; as if nothing had ever happened. It did create a small stir, but then we got busy with Eid preparations.
The same thing happened next month. Cherokee magically disappeared and came back after three days. More blood this time, and no injuries. Dadu checked her calendar to find that it was full moon when he vanished. This time the elders took the matter seriously.
“This is serious” said Papa “Where does he go? Hope he doesn’t harm anyone’s pets.” We told him that we asked everyone who kept pets in the neighborhood, and that we got no news of any animal dying. Mejo Chachi, who was a doctor even checked hospitals for cases of dog bites. None of the attacking dogs were puppies. “What did you do, my friend? Where did all the blood come from?” Cherokee though, was oblivious.
Meanwhile, Choto Chacha was away on a trip with friends and came back a few days later. My cousins and I wanted to tell him what happened but just didn’t get the time. Our uncle was getting married in less than ten days!
It was Chacha’s wedding night and the workload kept us on our toes. A garland here and a betel leaf there, the entire house exploded with festivity. Even Nabil was assigned a task of sprinkling rosewater on stage. In spite of that, Cherokee’s strange behavior was always on my mind. So I gave my cousins a little pep talk.
“Its full moon tonight” I told them, “if Cherokee is to go anywhere this month, it’s today.”
“What can we do about it?” asked Zahra as I filled her hand with henna.
“Keep an eye on him, don’t let him slip away. If you guys get busy then get the nearest person available to do it. Just don’t let him out of sight.”
Soon, our surveillance got us unexpected results. It was discovered that Cherokee was not eating anything, as if keeping a fast. Abdul tried to feed him everything from beef to dog food, but he simply wouldn’t touch the bowl. But his behavior was as pleasant as ever. He even rolled on the floor and demanded a belly rub from me.
At about 8pm I noticed a stir among the girls- mainly Zahra and some other relatives. One of them held a desperate looking Cherokee in tightly her arms. “Apu, Cherokee has been fidgeting from the last ten minutes. I didn’t let him go anywhere” she reported.
“Let him go, I’ll take it from here”- with these words, I prepared myself. Minutes later, Cherokee slipped past everyone carefully to the gates of the community centre. My little espionage had begun.
The community centre was coming alive with a disarray of sights and sounds. I took a last peek at the inner gate; Chacha was busy paying a ‘gate fee’ to cheeky kids from the bride’s side. But with Cherokee’s little adventure at hand, joining in the fun was not an option anymore. I took a deep breath and stepped outside.
The chilly December night had a mystic lure to it. Cold cutting wind blowing from all sides made me shiver in my blue lehenga. The excited shrieks coming from the community centre, the sounds I left behind had reduced to a faint, uncanny murmur. The sounds came in waves, like intoxicants; like eerie chants from a temple far away. The little yellow cluster of decorative lights dared not interfere with the mystery of the moon. In front of me in the all-engulfing moonlight, my little Cherokee kept running ahead like a lunatic. It was 8:30; the ceremony would start any minute now.
That’s it, we’re not going further boy.
He stopped dead on his track. An unbearable silence followed.
“Where are you going boy?” Something, said my sixth sense, seemed terribly wrong.
Cherokee slowly turned around to face me. And I still have trouble sleeping after what I saw that night.
Instead of his cute, pebble like dark eyes there were two steady balls of flame burning in empty sockets. A strange, unearthly light came out of them; a light from the other, more sinister side of life. He stared fixatedly at me with those cold dead eyes, his body firm and motionless. Those demonic eyes looked straight into the soul.
Cherokee was no longer the puppy we knew. He had become something else, something paranormal.
“Don’t go any further” said a familiar, soothing voice. “You won’t be able to bear the sight of what is to come.” Choto Chacha’s hand firm on my shoulder made me whirl around in tears.
“You see Nahin, our Cherokee is a very special dog. He can see things…those…beings that our eyes can’t perceive. He lives on their blood.”
“Chacha, where does he go every month? What does he kill?” I found myself crying in his arms, thinking of all the strange things- the airport incident included. I joined the dots in my head and suddenly everything had started to make sense.
At the airport, he simply chose to remain unnoticed by everyone else. Everyone but us.
“Cherokee may be a little…different from other dogs. But he loves us for what we are. We should return that love and accept him for who he is” Chacha was in his wedding attire, as handsome as ever. “There are many things on heaven and earth…”
We looked on as Cherokee disappeared in the mist.
After living happily with us for about a year, Cherokee was found on our porch one morning. Only this time, the injuries were beyond repair. It took the last bit of his strength to stand up to this certain something. His lifeless little body showed clear signs, signs that he had fought till the end.
Our Cherokee had lost this time, to an opponent stronger than he…