‘Humph,’ I couldn’t stop the annoyance dribbling from my lips. ‘Lola… they’re home.’
I’d heard the car pull up at the front of the house and the sound of their voices before Lola did. She lifted her head from her paws and struggled to her feet as their voices reached her fading hearing.
‘Well… if they think we’re rushing to welcome them home… humph. They disappear without as much as a word. Those horrid bags came out, got loaded into the car and pets and bags gone, disappeared, vanished! We’ve spent weeks worrying about them and they turn up laughing and joking. Lola where are you going? Lola, I thought we were going to ignore them! Lola, come back. Lola…’
I watched her rush to the door. After all we’d said about sticking together over their disappearance and showing them how much we disapproved, and then she goes rushing off to greet them. Well – not – me. Someone had to show them and if it had to be me, then so be it.
The front door closed with a crash and I heard Lola’s pathetic whimpering. She was probably a dribbling mess by the sound of the noise coming from the indoor-outdoor room.
‘Hello Lola. How are you girl?’
The sound of Sooz’ voice drifted to where I sat in the kitchen. Lola’s thumping tail sent my stomach rolling with disgust – what a turncoat.
‘Where’s Paddington?’ Sooz again.
Oh, so she hadn’t forgotten me then!
I felt my tail itching to wag a welcome. Perhaps I might go and see what was keeping them from coming into the house. I pushed up and sauntered to the open door. Sooz was fondling Lola’s quivering body, while Pete was busy talking to our cousin, Simon. Thank goodness we’d had Simon to look after us. Who knows what would have happened to us if not for Simon and his friends Ruth and Kevin. So much for loving pets like Sooz and Pete!
‘Paddington, there you are.’
Sooz dropped to her knees and I forgot all the agro from moments before and flew into her arms. ‘Sooz, where have you been? Don’t you know how worried I’ve been?’ I sluiced my tongue over her face and she buried her nose into my coat. ‘It’s so good to see you Sooz. You must never go away again – never!’
After several minutes of forgiveness – on my part – she stood up and I greeted Pete. ‘Hi Pete, I need to talk to you later about your absence. Poor Lola was a nervous wreck when you left. It’s not fair on her, especially at her age.’
‘You’re looking fat, Paddington.’
‘Humph! You’ve only just got home and already you’re picking on me.’ I forgot his words though as he scratched me behind the ear. ‘A bit to the left – hmm – to the right – hmm – that’s so good.’
‘Okay. Let’s get these bags unpacked and then we can tell you about our trip,’ said Pete to Simon.
‘Let me give you a hand,’ responded Simon.
‘Thanks mate. Hope the dogs behaved for you.’ Pete drew in a large breath as he dragged Sooz’ suitcase up the stairs and into the bedroom. ‘And you didn’t have too many problems with the house?’
I followed after them as they discussed the last few weeks. Pete could have asked me, I could have filled him in on everything. The storm that brought down the tree on the deck, Lola’s bad behaviour, the rabbit incident – well perhaps it might be best not to mention that – and the time we were left behind when our cousin, Simba and Aston, were taken swimming to Mt Pleasant. Aston blabbed everything to me: the fun they’d had racing after sticks, diving into the water and chasing each other around the dam. I nearly didn’t talk to Simon again after that – but was prepared to forget the incident if he gave me a larger helping of dinner. I applied the ‘I’m still hungry tactic’ which generally worked when I batted my eyes and drooled at his feet.
Lola was curled up in her bed, while I sat on the big bed watching the bags being unpacked and everything put away. Why did they need so many clothes? It took ages but it was nice to see them back, and while I gazed after Sooz as she busied herself tidying the mess, I devised ways of making sure they never left again. I eyed the suitcases – I could start by chewing them, I decided.
Some-time later we all assembled in the sitting room and made ourselves comfortable to listen to Sooz and Pete report on their trip. They certainly went to lots of place, Turkey, Greece, France and England.
They met lots of dogs on their travels. In Turkey Sooz mentioned all the homeless dogs that lived on the streets, surviving on the charity of restaurant owners who dispensed scraps to them. I couldn’t quite fathom this situation and by the sound of Sooz’ voice, neither could she. She mentioned the government tagged homeless dogs to indicate they’d been de-sexed. TAGS IN EARS! DE-SEXED! (I wasn’t sure what they meant but it sounded painful), I choked when I heard this revelation. How awful for them. I didn’t understand why people in Turkey didn’t adopt the homeless dogs. Didn’t they understand the importance of a dog’s role on their lives – obviously somebody needed to educate them. I looked at her. ‘Not you though Sooz, you’re not going anywhere – remember our talk?’ I said with conviction.
Out of all the places she spoke off, the place called France intrigued me the most.
Dogs, it appeared, were happy in Paris, France. Sooz raved on about the dogs in the park, their walkers and the dogs they met in restaurants. RESTAURANTS! Wow. Paris people obviously knew how to treat their dogs. A dog called Samiya was getting lots of mention and praise. She was a Golden Labrador and sounded very impressive. I was miffed that Sooz and Pete went on holiday to fraternise with other dogs, especially Samiya, who’d obviously made a big impression. What was wrong with us? I needed to talk to Sooz about her behaviour. But even though I felt betrayed, I couldn’t help being intrigued. Dogs allowed in: restaurants, shops, café’s, buses, trains, supermarkets. I couldn’t believe it! We weren’t allowed in any of those places here.
Sooz, I’d noticed, was talking in a strange way – foreign sounding. She must have picked up an accent – she sounded – funny. As she continued talking I felt my eyelids droop. I yawned – it had been a big day – if I closed my eyes I could rest but still listen.
I woke with a jolt and sat up quickly. What had I missed of Sooz’s story? Where was I? Nothing looked familiar. I was sitting on the grass in what appeared to be a park. It was no ordinary park – nothing like park at the end of our road – no this park looked different, instead of lots of trees there were statues of horses and people and along its edge towered old buildings – the likes of which I’d never seen.
I gazed around me. In one direction a strange glass pyramid rose in front of a long queue of people, and in the other a boulevard stretched for kilometres. A fountain caught my eye. Water! I loved water. I shook my head and blinked my eyes to clear my vision. Nope the fountain was still there and I was still sitting on the grass.
The female voice startled me and I turned to search her out. A group of dogs arrived with their pets, frolicking freely on the grass close to where I sat. Standing directly in front of me was a large Poodle.
‘Bonjour Monsieur, I have not seen you here before.’
‘S-sorry.’ I pushed up to my feet. It was rude to sit in front of such a vision. ‘Are you talking to me?’
‘Oui, who else would I be talking to?’
Oui – what did that mean?
‘You don’t sound French,’ the poodle continued. ‘D’ou viens-tu? Oh la la, sorry I forget my English for a moment. Where are you from?’
‘Where is that?’
‘Everyone knows it’s in South Australia.’ Was she for real? What a stupid thing to ask.
‘Oh la la. Why would I know? You are lucky I speak English.’
‘I’m not English,’ what a cheek, ‘I’m Australian.’
‘It’s the same thing. Most of you foreigners are so unsophisticated. Us French dogs, we ooze sophistication.’ She batted her eyelids. ‘What’s your name?’
‘I’m known as Brigitte. Paddington! Strange name – wasn’t there a bear called by that name?’
‘I don’t know! It’s not a strange name,’ I snapped. How rude of her to pick on me about my nationality and my name.
‘Well it’s nice to meet you, Paddington. ’
‘Likewise!’ I decided to be polite. ‘Where am I?’
‘What a silly question, Mon Cherie. You’re in Paris.’
‘PARIS!’ I remembered Sooz talking about Paris. ‘No I can’t be. I was at home in the television room listening to my pets talk about their holiday.’
‘I’m sorry for you, Mon Cherie, but you must be delusional because you are in front of the Louvre in Paris. Did you hit your head?’
‘No, I didn’t hit my head.’ Or at least I don’t think so.’
A male voice called Brigitte’s name and she turned her attention to a tall man who beckoned her. ‘My pet is calling for me to go. Au Revoir my hairy Australian friend.’
Hairy! What kind of a thing was that to say? Just because she looked glamorous with her funny hair cut! ‘Did the parlour make a mistake when they groomed you?’ I shouted after her.
She turned and glared at me. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well from where I stand, you seem to have had a very uneven haircut.’
‘This haircut is the height of fashion here in Paris. Never – ever – be rude about a girl’s haircut or you could get into big trouble.’
Something in her tone warned me to watch my tongue.
‘I must go.’
‘Don’t leave me,’ suddenly I didn’t want to lose my new friend. ‘I have nowhere to go.’
‘What do you mean? Have you lost your pets?’
‘I told you, I live in Adelaide. Can I walk home from here?’ I couldn’t stop the whimper escaping my lips. ‘I’m scared!’
She came over to me and licked my nose. ‘Follow behind me, Mon Cherie and I will see what I can do to help you.’
I watched her trot over to her pet with her nose and tail raised. I’d never met another dog quite like Brigitte. She was a real lady.
I trailed the group at a safe distance. By the various backward glances I was getting, Brigitte was obviously telling the other dogs about me. They were a mixed bunch, small fluffy breeds to pointers, golden retrievers, borzois, boxers and bull dogs.
Most of the dogs walked off lead. I was amazed at how they knew when to cross at the lights. Being a country dog, I’d never had any need to worry about traffic lights and walking signs. I watched with interest as they stopped at the kerb and waited for the green man before crossing.
We walked across a bridge.
‘The River Seine flows below you, if you’re interested.’ Brigitte looked back at me with a smile.
‘Thank you.’ I replied in my best voice.
‘We have a river in Adelaide called the Torrens – just thought you might like to know,’ I murmured loud enough for her to hear.
‘Oui, Mon Cherie.’
Her beautiful accent was hypnotic. I’d never fallen in love, but with Brigitte I felt I could. We walked through narrow streets until she stopped outside a large green door. The group of dogs and people dispersed and Brigitte turned back to me. ‘Wait here, Paddington. We are going out to dinner shortly and you can join us.’
The door opened into a large courtyard. I wanted to go with her, but did as she said and sat by the door on the street side.
I didn’t have to wait long before Brigitte and her pet stepped once more through the door.
‘You seem to have a new admirer, Brigitte,’ said the pet.
‘Oui, Cherie. I attract all sorts. I think it’s my good looks,’ I saw her gaze lovingly at her pet. ‘Can he come to dinner?’
‘It looks like he’s following us,’ said the pet.
Brigitte winked at me and I trotted behind them.
‘This is the Rue Saint Germein if you’re interested, Paddington.’
‘The Rue what?’ I hated showing my ignorance but I had no idea what she meant.
‘The Road, Paddington. Oh la la, it seems I have to educate you.’ She tossed her head swaying the bobble of her hair backward and forward. ‘We are going in here, it’s a lovely little restaurant called Vegenende – the food is exquisite.’
‘I can’t go in there!’
‘Dogs don’t go into restaurants at home.’
‘You are not at home, Mon Cherie. Just follow me and do as I do.’
‘Good evening Jon-Paul, your usual table?’
‘Yes thanks Philippe. It appears we have an extra mouth tonight.’
‘That is fine. You are not alone with your four legged companions. We have a table of three guests with their Labrador.’
‘Sounds great. Put us next to them.’
I wondered what kind of place this was. Sooz and Pete never took Lola and me out to restaurants with them. I would have to ask them about that when I saw them – if I ever saw them again – oh dear what if I never made it home! I suddenly felt bereft and alone.
‘Squeeze down here, Paddington and I will make sure you eat.’
‘Thank you for looking after me Brigitte.’ I needed to let her know how I appreciated her kindness.
‘Sorry?’ I swung my head and locked eyes with a beautiful Golden Labrador.
‘Are you English?’
Not another dog mistaking me for English. ‘NO! I’m Australian.’ I snapped, regretting the severity of my tone instantly. ‘I’m sorry to snap.’ She gazed at me with happy, friendly eyes, making me feel even worse.
‘Are you French too?’ I asked as she wriggled closer to me and licked my nose.
‘Nein. I’m here on holidays from Germany with my pets. My name’s Samiya. What’s yours?’
‘Paddington. I live in South Australia.’
‘You’re a long way from home, Paddington. My pet often talks of a trip she made to Sydney. She wants to visit Australia again and take us with her.’ She gestured at the man sitting opposite his female pet.
‘I’ll give you my address and you can visit.’ I suddenly relished the idea of receiving overseas visitors. ‘We have a large house and you could even stay. I’m sure my pets wouldn’t mind – that’s if I ever make it home to tell them about you.’
‘That would be great. It’s good to have contacts when you visit foreign places. Give me your details and I’ll pass them onto my pets.’
I told her my address. ‘Samiya, that’s an interesting name.’
‘It’s Arabic. What about yours? I’m sure I’ve heard it used before. Wasn’t there a famous travelling bear with your name?’
‘Yes, I think so, but I’m not really sure.’
Samiya sluiced her tongue over my face. ‘Cheer up Paddington I’m sure you will get home.’ She wriggled over to her pets and I watched hands come under the table to caress her head and ears. How I yearned for Sooz and Pete to do the same to me. I put my nose on my paws feeling sorry for myself and whimpered.
‘Mon Cherie.’ Brigitte dropped a piece of buttered bread near my paws. ‘Eat Paddington. You will feel better with food in your stomach.’ She pushed it closer so that I could stretch forward to pick it up. ‘Bon appetite.’
‘Thank you Brigitte.’ Eat! How could I eat at a time like this? I was lost and alone and might not have anywhere to sleep tonight. I could end up in the gutter, cold, hungry, unloved, never to feel Sooz caress my ears – ever again. My eyes filled with tears. I was alone… alone… alone…
‘Paddington… wake up, Paddington.’
I felt the gentle touch of a hand on my head. ‘Wake up.’
I blinked at her.
‘It’s okay, you were having a nightmare.’
I was back. It was Sooz looking at me. I quickly checked around me for Brigitte and Samiya, there was no sign of them. ‘Sooz. Oh I’m so glad to see you. You will never believe where I’ve been.’ I licked her fingers as they passed near my nose. ‘I was in France and there were lots of dogs, one in particular called Brigitte, and another one called Samiya and they took me to a restaurant…