I was born in a family setup where desires were altered around monthly budgets. So naturally there were never expectations of personal pets because I was well aware that it was too fancy of a desire to fit in the perennial deficit monthly budget. People had animals in their houses only inside the television. It looked like a fascinating idea, but I never desired to have one for myself or maybe I did. The financial situation of my house turned us two siblings into monks, we had mastered our needs and expectations. Though our parents never discussed their financial strains with us, the absence of quality furniture, rickety doors, and windows, and the monthly screaming of the landlord on my mother’s face for rent, gave us a fairly good idea. I don’t remember asking for anything other than ice cream from time to time. Maybe once or twice a month.
One evening my elder sister brought a rabbit home. Her friend, the pretty one, had too many of them so she gave some of them away to friends. I did not have many friends in school or the neighborhood. My sister had always been popular, so I was known mostly as ‘her brother’. There was a serious lack of personality in my appearance, nothing excited me enough to get a reaction on my face, but having a small white rabbit in the house was a different level of happiness. It showed on my face. I was happy to have a friend to play with, finally. The kids from the neighborhood were happier. “Madrid” was the first pet in our gully, so the other kids were curious to play with the rabbit. The name was much debated and dissented. In the end, we agreed upon Madrid, inspired by the football club Real Madrid. I didn’t know Madrid was also the name of a city. I wasn’t even much familiar with the football team. It felt cool and my new friends from the neighborhood liked it as well. In addition, we decided to call him “Maddy” for short. Initially, I wasn’t good at taking care of it; neither would my sister let me do it. She had no trust in my pet-caring abilities, which I must admit was a fair observation.
Eventually, I learned, we got to spend a lot of time together and we formed a bond. Rabbits aren’t very needy like dogs, at least mine wasn’t. We used to see people training their pets in cartoons and tried to do the same, but it didn’t work. Maddy was big and healthy and had his specific way of doing things that justified his name. He would eat everywhere in the house but poop and urinate in the kitchen. He was like a toddler, petulant and playful and quite daring. We never caged him nor did we try to put a leash on him. He would run as if he owned the house. Mr. Maddy rejected the food below his standards and refused to sleep anywhere except beside myself, on my bed. He had one dangerous habit of teasing dogs, making them chase him, and then crawl back inside the house through a hole in the main door. Maddy wasn’t fond of bed sheets either. He would jump on the beds, bite and tear small holes in them. Not just mine, but every sheet on every bed. My mother was sick of it, and of cleaning his residue from the kitchen floor every day. Despite these shenanigans, she adored him. So much so that when he died, she could not eat for two days. None of us did. I could not gather the strength to even see his body when I heard it was in pieces. Despite the absence of actual memory, my brain couldn’t stop imagining the multiple variations of the mutilated body of my beloved pet. Each variation was a subject of nightmares. Each nightmare was a first-person point of view of how he must have felt while being torn to pieces. The imagination of a loved one in pain is also painful, that’s something I learned from his death. It was his daring act of playing with dogs that got him killed. This time the main door was open and Maddy was chased by dogs from my lawn, all the way to a field where he was finally mutilated and killed.
From that point of time, I hated dogs, all of them. I had no issues with them before, though I had to live in terror of being chased by them on my way home from the school bus stop. It never actually happened to me but I saw it happen to others and did not want to be in their place. But, killing my buddy was unacceptable, it was criminal. It did not even make sense. Those dogs did not eat Madrid, they just killed him. That puzzled my nine-year-old brain. When I asked about it, my mother said that there is animosity among animals. Cats kill rats, dogs kill cats and rabbits, and so on. Hatred is a part of nature and killing is not just limited to the food chain. Those words of horror got imprinted on my consciousness. With time I got over his death and my hatred for dogs. But I could never get over the grim reality of the natural world.
It has been seven months since I started my college education. I was doing B.Sc in Chemistry in a prestigious college of reputable Delhi University and living with my classmate Anuj in a disreputable Paying Guest accommodation. Our room was snug, confined, and overpriced, like every other PG in the area. Naturally, we had to manage our expenses accordingly and could not afford to spend on luxuries. Even though my family was much better off than in the previous decade, I just couldn’t develop the habit of casual expenditure. I was what normal people would say ‘cheap’ and ‘stingy’. But so was Anuj, and hence the friendship. We bonded over going nowhere and doing nothing.
One day I got home from college and to my shock found a small black puppy in the room! It was sleeping right below my bed. I looked at it with displeasure and immediately called Anuj.
He explained that a friend of his girlfriend had rescued the puppy and left it with him as she was going to her hometown, somewhere in Andhra Pradesh. She planned to adopt it after her return and until then it was supposed to live under our roof. He asked, “if it was okay to keep the pup for two weeks?” Of course, it was not okay. Apart from the fact that I disliked dogs, it’s not easy to take care of a pet. It requires time, effort, and discipline. And knowing about our discipline, the dog was certainly going to die of hunger. You see, we would skip breakfast just because we were too lazy to get up in the morning. Anuj contested my objection with the logic that we had more friends in the PG and they can all look after Cuba. Now I completely understood why my sister was skeptical about letting me take care of Maddy. Just like my childhood self, none of the guys in the PG were responsible enough to even take care of themselves, taking care of a pet wasn’t just out of the question. It was out of the syllabus. But I didn’t argue and let “Cuba the pup” into our room. My reasonable dissent would upset my unreasonable roommate and his supposed soul mate. My next few days were dedicated to avoiding the “puppy eyes”. The bitch Cuba would come and sit around my leg, every time, but I never cared. I would just sit on the bed and use my phone while others try to feed the little beast, which by the way was a difficult task. I am not sure how old she was but she was old enough to not live on milk and too young to eat heavy food. Finding the right combination of food was necessary so Anuj started taking suggestions from other friends, who had no experience in this matter whatsoever. It was just like taking relationship advice from people who had never been in a relationship. Unfortunately, that’s what people do and maybe that’s what led to Cuba’s death. But the food and their incompetency weren’t entirely the reason, other factors were a part of it too.
It was the month of January, which is very cold in Delhi. Anuj had made a kennel out of cardboard boxes and laid thick clothes on its floor to keep the puppy warm but she would never stay inside for long. She would start walking around, she was restless and would show it in a slow painful howl. After a week, Anuj and friends took Cuba to a vet and it was found that there was some issue in her stomach. That’s where her restlessness came from, it must have been an agonizing pain. I don’t know the details of the sickness, I was still not over the death of my rabbit so I mostly maintained my distance. Vartika, Anuj’s girlfriend would constantly inquire about his health, not Cuba’s but his. They were school sweethearts and were planning to get married after college when one of them gets a job. I never understood the logic behind this plan. Honestly, I never understood the logic behind most of their words and plans and sometimes even teased Anuj about being too naive. He would mostly ignore my advice, complaining about my cold pragmatism. He was right, I was pragmatic. Though I had a girlfriend, my approach toward relationships was forever changed by my parent’s separation. Of course, I never told my friends or girlfriend about it, because in actuality it had just been a few months meeting these people and we barely knew each other.
After nine days and nights, we finally learned to take care of Cuba, of course with the proper guidance of the vet. My grudge towards dogs wasn’t over but then she wasn’t a dog, she was a small puppy. I even started playing with and feeding her, and unlike Maddy, she was fond of me from the very beginning. It was like making friends with the enemy which I found isn’t impossible if you spend enough time with them. Both Madrid and Cuba were very similar, apart from being different species, the only difference between them was their color. Madrid was white and Cuba was black. Unfortunately, our relationship had the same faith as Anuj and Vartika. It wouldn’t last long. One cold night, around 2 am Cuba started howling in agony. This time it was loud. Anuj sat on the floor and kept her on his lap and started comforting her while Vartika was on call comforting him. The howling didn’t stop. It just got slower and slower and my grudge towards any kind of animal ended with her silenced howls.
Anuj and Vartika were in tears and decided to name their “never to be born” first child…Cuba.