The wind blew across the Woomera campsite with hurricane force. It roared in from the north, lifting the sand and thrashing the tents, that others managed to erect before it struck.
I watched from my comfortable vantage point on the back seat of the car, while my pets struggled with their tents. Pet Pete looked up at the sky, while his clothes tugged and pulled against his body. It looked like he was praying to someone above to rescue him. Foolish, I thought. The wind listened to no man.
I’m hungry. My stomach grumbled loudly. How long was this going to take? Didn’t they realise a growing pup needed regular sustenance? I barked to attract attention. They didn’t hear me. But, as I watched, it looked like they were starting to make headway.
Later… much later… I barked again. The tents were up and it looked like pet Sooz was walking towards the car. About time, I thought when she opened the door and looked in on me. I stretched towards her wagging my tail.
‘Hello Paddington. You must be starving?’
‘Yes, Sooz. When’s dinner?’
‘What about a walk and a wee?’
‘Can I have my dinner first and then go for a wee?’
‘I’ll get your lead.’
‘But Sooz, aren’t you listening?… I’m starving!’
She ignored me and clipped the lead to my collar. Our heads bent against the wind and dust, I led her to a bush across from the tents. ‘Turn around Sooz. I need privacy.’
‘Come on Paddington, hurry up.’
I wondered sometimes about Sooz. How would she feel, if I watched her performing her ablutions?
I squatted, kicked sand over my offering, the way my mother taught me, and led her back to the flapping tents. My other pets were cooking dinner, but tonight there wasn’t any lingering around a camp fire to eat. The wind made that impossible and so it was gobble the meagre rations offered and early to bed, to escape the howling wind.
I slept fitfully, my head full of places we’d visited and friends made along the journey. I tried to remember home… it was weeks since we’d left and I found it hard to picture the house and my bed in Pete and Sooz’s room.
I wonder if Lola’s thought about me. Lola… dear old Lola… did she miss me, the way I missed her? Dear… dear… old Lola.
A sudden unpleasant vision surfaced into my head. Teeth… long sharp incisors, digging into my throat, or hanging onto my ear, the cuff of a paw, being rolled over and stood over with teeth bared, the way she pinched my bones, the way she sniggered when I passed by… dear old Lola indeed!… She didn’t like me, so I doubted she missed me.
I woke with the feeling I’d not slept. My head ached, my stomach growled, I was thirsty and needed a wee. While I thought about my discomfort, Pete roused everyone and I became excited, when I heard him tell Sooz we’d get home that day.
Home… a permanent place to rest my head, how nice would that be, after all these weeks on the road.
Once breakfast was over and the vehicles packed, we set off on the final leg of our journey. I curled up, as was my way, on the back seat and put my head on my paws and slept.
A familiar sound and smell woke me. The car slowed and turned into a driveway, bumped, veered to the right, then the left, bounced over a further bump before coming to a standstill.
I raised my head to look out the window. The house looked exactly as we’d left it… Woof… woof… woof… I barked in excitement. ‘We’re home.’
Sooz laughed. ‘You remember where you live Paddington?’
‘Of course Sooz, why wouldn’t I?’
She opened the door and picked me up. ‘Come on Paddington, let’s find Lola.’
I galloped to the door. ‘I’m home, Lola… Lola,’ I rushed through it, when Sooz pushed it open. ‘Lola… Lola… were home.’
Lola sauntered around the corner, wagging her tail and I jumped at her, sluicing my dribbling salivating tongue across her ears, then I made for her face.
‘Gurr… gurr… Paddington, what have I told you about jumping on me?’
‘Lola, we’re back… I missed you.’
‘Stop it… Paddington keep your tongue to yourself or do I have to bite you?’
‘Lola, did you miss me? I missed you… I have so many things to tell you. We’ve been on a great road journey and we saw lots of animals, and many deserts…’
‘Paddington, I don’t want to hear about it now. I have to fill Sooz and Pete in on important matters, while they were away.’
‘Oh… okay… but can we talk later?’
‘Later… much later.’
‘Aren’t you glad to see me, Lola… a little bit?’ I sluiced my tongue across her ear when she turned away and found my ear in her teeth.
‘Paddington you’re only back five minutes and already I’m wishing you weren’t.’
‘I’m sorry Lola, but I’m so pleased to see you.’
‘Calm down you two,’ said pet Sooz stepping into the indoor outdoor room her arms loaded with gear. She was unloading the Toyota, our home of the last few weeks, and here I was making a fuss. I needed to help.
I followed her back to the car. ‘What can I do?’
‘Take your ball inside,’ Pete dropped it in front of my nose and I dived on it. Where had that been? I remembered looking everywhere for it and thought I must have lost the darn thing.
‘Paddington has more toys that he knows what to do with,’ said Pete his arms full of my things.
‘Wow… Are those mine? I want that one… Pete, give me that one…’ I jumped up his legs, scraping my claws down his trousers, while trying to reach my toys.
‘Come with me,’ said Pete.
I followed him into the indoor outdoor room and he dropped my toys in the toy container. I rummaged through my things looking for something to entice Lola to play with me.
‘Don’t even think about it,’ she sat on her trampoline watching our pets cart gear from the car into the house.
‘It’s so nice to be home.’ I told her climbing onto my trampoline. ‘I missed you Lola. I met a few nice dogs on our trip, but none of them are like you Lola. Lola…’
‘Paddington… shut… up.’
It was dark by the time the pets finished unpacking and putting everything away. We’d all eaten and they’d gone to bed complaining about being exhausted, leaving Lola and me curled in our comfortable sheepskin beds.
I’d slept most of the afternoon and now was wide awake. ‘Lola…’
‘Will you tell me about Gromit?’
I heard her mumble and then she changed position scrunching, scraping and digging into the duna for comfort. Finally when she’d gone still, I asked her again. ‘Lola…. Please.’
‘What do you want to know?’
‘How did you meet Gromit?’
‘Gromit lived here with the pets before I came along. They adopted me as a friend to him. But it never really worked. He was set in his ways and I was…’
I waited patiently for her to continue. ‘You were what?’
‘I was getting over my life as a show girl and wasn’t very enamoured by Gromit. I soon found out he could do no wrong. He was a goody to shoes and Pete and Sooz idolised him. However, I got him into a fair bit of trouble and showed him a thing or two about life, while showing them he wasn’t a complete saint.’
I listened spellbound. ‘Like what?’
‘Let me think… there was a particular incident with a fox… I remember it as though it happened yesterday. We were out the front of the house and I smelt it. You probably haven’t come across fox stench yet Paddington, but when you do, you’ll know all about it.
I said to him ‘Come on Gromit, let’s have some fun and chase that fox.’ He didn’t want too.
‘No, Lola the pets wont like it.’
‘Oh come on Gromit,’ I said to him. ‘What harm can we do. Look they’re busy gardening, they wont miss us.
‘So did you convince him?’ I asked.
‘It was touch and go, but in the end, yes. Anyway I led the way down the driveway to the road. I struggled through the fence and he was about to join me, when we heard Sooz calling us. I had fox stench up my nostrils and I could taste that smelly old fox. I knew they would thank me, if I caught it. When we reached the fence into the next doors property, Gromit hesitated. Sooz was screaming her lungs out.
‘Come on Gromit,’ I urged.
‘No, we must go back. Sooz will be mad.’
‘Don’t we stupid… we’ll be heroes… take no notice of her.’
‘No… no, I can’t do that.’
‘Come on… we’ll lose the fox.’
‘No… you go and I’ll cover for you.’
I couldn’t believe it when he turned and walked away, back to where Sooz stood looking fearsome in the driveway. Boy can she yell. But that Gromit, I have to give him credit, where it’s due, he took an awfully long time walking up that driveway to her, buying me time to resume the hunt.’
‘Was she very cross?’
‘Cross… are you kidding?… She was furious. I rushed off after the fox and the next thing I know they’re out looking for me. A girl can’t do anything, I thought. They’d have thanked me if I’d have got that old fox.’
‘So you didn’t catch it then?’
‘No… to much time slipped by and it got away.’
‘Did you get into trouble?’
‘Yes and no… I think they were relieved to get me back. Boy, did I give it to that Gromit dog, though. ‘Coward,’ I said to him. ‘What are you made of?… pandering to the whim of a pet.’
He never said much and we kept our distance from each other for awhile after that… Our relationship was fraught. And I know the pets blamed me… well with good cause, but I needed to show Gromit he could have a life outside of his life with the pets. Anyway I got another chance to lead him astray.’
‘You did… how?’
‘I took him walkabout. He was so well behaved it was sickening. He did whatever Sooz asked of him. Gromit do this, Gromit do that… He needed me to break him out of the rut he was in.’
‘What did you do?’
‘The pets were in the garden. They’d forgotten about us and so I took him onto the road and up to the scout hut. We were sniffing out the scent of a rabbit. It had been taunting us in the garden for some time and I wanted to get it. Gromit kept looking back down the road.
‘For goodness sake, they don’t even know we’ve gone.’
‘We shouldn’t be doing this Lola,’ he said.
‘Lighten up Gromit, you’ll be old before your time.’
‘Sooz will be angry.’
‘You worry too much. Come on.’ We ended up on the main Greenhill Road and that’s when it all went wrong. A man stopped to try and pick us up. ‘Run Gromit… run.’ I yelled at him.
‘How terrible… did you get caught?’
‘No. I turned around and raced back the way we’d come. Stupid Gromit carried on down the main road. I don’t know what he thought he was doing. Anyway, there I was making my way home, when a familiar car stopped in front of me. Pete was behind the wheel and Sooz… Oh my, she didn’t look happy. She kept asking where Gromit was.
‘He’s left home,’ I told her.
‘Lola, you’re nothing but trouble.’
‘Me… ha. That Gromit dog is soft. If he’d have followed me, we wouldn’t now both be in trouble.’
‘Come on Lola,’ said Pete. He picked me up and put me in the car and we went looking for Gromit. What a woos.
‘Did you find him?’
‘Of course. Gromit went to a total stranger. The man could have been a thief or murderer. But no, Gromit didn’t think about that. Far too trusting that dog. Anyway, it turned out the stranger was okay, he read the telephone number off his tag and rang the pets to tell them he’d left a dog called Gromit with a woman on Greenhill Road. We turned up at the address and sure enough there was Gromit, being petted and loved by the lady that lived there. He’d won her over, he always managed to win everyone over… as I said, he was a goody to shoes.’
‘Did you go on anymore adventures?’
‘Not for awhile… she watched us like a hawk after that.’
‘So… was Gromit a coward?’
‘No, Gromit wasn’t a coward. He’d been trained to obey and obey he did. We’d had a different up bringing, and over a period of time we had a mutual understanding of each other.
‘I wished I’d have known Gromit.’
‘You might still do Paddington. He visits occasionally.’
‘What… do you mean… like a ghost?’
‘You’ll see. Now pup can we go to sleep.’
‘Yes… thank you Lola… see you in the morning.’
Her gentle snoring reached my ears. I lay awake thinking about her story. I would look out for Gromit. If he visited I wanted to meet him. After all, he was a brother, if not in blood, in name. With that thought I stretched, rolled onto my back and fell into a deep sleep.