The missus is a lifelong animal lover, but when we had to vacate our swanky, expensive riverside flat in Teddington and move to dreary, dismal Finchley, way on the opposite side of London, our landlord said no pets. The missus pined for a canine presence, and hit on the idea of providing temporary dogsitting.
Our third guest (the first two made no particular impression in me during their brief stays) was a golden cocker spaniel called Safi. The afternoon she arrived, she staked out what she apparently imagined was a safe place on the stairs between our two floors, and was too frightened to make eye contact with me, though I addressed her in a friendly tone. When she did finally decide that I wouldn’t harm her, it was a revelation. She put her paws up on my knees and looked at me beseechingly. I’d never bonded with an animal like that.
On Sundays, we commonly went for a traipse on Hampstead Heath. We took Safi, and she seemed pretty pleased to be with us. I understood better than ever what people liked about dogs.
There was a school with a big playing field about half a mile away, on the other side of the A598 a block or two up from the West Finchely Tube station. The missus and I had gone there a few times to kick a football (that is, soccer) ball around. A few days after we visited Hampstead Heath, I took Safi over there for a nice runaround.
And within around three minutes, lost her.
For five minutes, I dashed around the periphery of the field shouting her name, achieving nothing but the umbrage of neighbours. I thought of breaking the news to her family that we’d lost her — that I’d lost her — and was beside myself. I didn’t want my wife to know, of course, but had no more ideas.
Looking like the last person anyone would ever want to encounter on getting off a train, I dashed down to the Tube station to try to borrow a mobile phone. I think I may have had one at the time, but hadn’t taken it with me. Predictably, nearly everyone recoiled in horror when I beseeched them to let me use theirs. One guy, who fancied himself Mr. Streetsmart, said, “Not bloody likely, dude.” In ordinary circumstances, I’d have given him an earful about how stupid — how self-conscious and effortful — “dude” sounded coming out of his British mouth. These weren’t ordinary circumstances.
Someone finally allowed me the use of her phone. I called home, expecting that my wife would be beside herself too. She wasn’t. Safi had walked herself back to our house on Chiselhurst Avenue, through an unfamiliar neighbourhood, across the always-busy A598, and scratched at the front door until my wife heard her and let her in. I burst into tears of relief.
She left us that weekend. A friend of her family came to collect her, and to care for her for the few remaining days of her family’s holiday. As he carried her away, my wife corroborated my own impression. “She doesn’t want to leave us.”