A warm day, a juicy bone and other doggy company – excluding Lola, who was at times the bane of my life – and I couldn’t think of anything better. Today, our cousin Simba came for a visit with Sooz’s sister, Di. Since Di and Dave arrived on the scene several months ago, Di and Simba had become regular visitors. It had taken time to understand our new family members, but over time I’d grown accustomed to them and looked forward to their visits.
Lola, however, was still unsure about Simba and in typical Lola's style – when she heard them arrive – she’d do her disappearing act to her favourite bush in the garden. I heard her muttering under her breath about foreigners and Simba being too boisterous for her liking. That was Lola for you… as I’d learnt over the years, it was hard-to-please Lady Lola.
I, however, loved Simba’s, visits. He liked to play, unlike Lola, who did everything in her power to outlaw such idle pursuits. We’d chase each other around the deck and into the garden, or play tug of war with a ball and rope.
Today we exhausted ourselves earlier than usual, due, in part to the heat, so Sooz offered us a treat. We followed her to the trampolines in the indoor-outdoor room, waiting eagerly, that was until I saw what she was offering, bones the size of a pea! If she was expecting to keep us busy while she and Di caught up on news and drank their way through copious amounts of tea it wasn’t going to happen. I uttered my disbelief to Simba.
‘Sorry about the bone, Simba. I don’t know what Sooz was thinking when she brought these. Last week, she brought home a huge marrow bone for me.’
Simba looked up, and drool spiralled from his lips to his paw that held onto the scrappy piece of bone he’d started chewing. ‘Woeful! I feel for you, Paddington. I love marrow bones too. I like to bury them for a week or two… it adds to the flavour.’
I nodded. ‘Yum, there’s nothing better than rotting marrow,’ I murmured, ‘Tasty.’ My mouth filled with saliva at the thought. ‘I must ask Sooz to only get those ones in the future.'
‘Di always gets them for me, Paddington. I don’t particularly like this type,' he pushed the bone away with his nose. ‘Not that I would give it back… I wouldn’t want to hurt Sooz’s feelings.’
‘She means well.’ I dropped my nose back to my bone and pushed it over. I worried a lump of gristle with my front teeth. When it loosened and came away I swallowed. ‘There isn’t much meat on mine… what about yours?’
‘Nothing to shout about,’ grumbled Simba.
I hated moaning to my cousin about our meagre bone meal, but I was embarrassed. I made a mental note to talk to Sooz about it.
We munched for a while longer until both of us had pretty well ground our bones to fine granules. I looked at Simba from under my fringe and thought about what Lola had said about him being a foreigner. I’d asked her about her comment on a previous occasion, but she’d never given me a satisfactory answer. I had to admit to being curious about Simba’s origins, as his drawl was nothing like my other cousins, Aston, Nelson, Bella or my friends at the dog club. The need to know now became paramount and I felt our relationship was solid enough to ask him. I took a deep breath. ‘Simba, do you mind me asking you a personal question?’
He looked up and I saw wariness in his eyes. ‘Sure,’ he mumbled hesitantly.
Why do you talk with such a weird accent? You don’t sound like my other cousins.’
‘That’s because I wasn’t born here.’
‘Oh…,’ I hadn’t thought about that, ‘…where were you born then?’
‘Now that’d be telling.’
I stared at him unsure how to respond to his answer. ‘I’m your cousin... why can’t you tell me?’
I was puzzled further by the ‘no messsin’ remark. It was becoming obvious I didn’t know much about Simba, and I certainly didn’t understand why he was being so difficult. If you couldn’t talk to family who could you talk to? I gave him my tried and trusted hurt expression, the one I use on Sooz when I need her sympathy. It worked every time on Sooz, he, however, wasn’t buying it. I peered closely at the odd expressions crossing his face. He looked riddled with indecision about talking to me, and I wondered what could have happened in his life to make talking so difficult.
He opened his mouth, closed it and opened it again. I thought it was coming – and waited, and waited, but no, he closed it again. So I pressed him further. ‘I won’t tell anyone… I promise.’
‘It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you about my previous life, it's just that the past is sometimes best left in the past.’
I didn’t know what to make of this. ‘Everyone has a past… for instance–’
‘Paddington, I’ve heard your life history.’
I didn’t have a problem talking about my past. Without it, I wouldn’t be the well-rounded character that I’d heard Sooz talk about when she praised my talents to everyone who visited. However, I closed my mouth and waited while he gathered his thoughts.
‘I don’t remember too much,’ he paused. I waited with anticipation. ‘I left Ireland when I was a small pup.’
‘Ireland. I’ve never heard of the place. Is it far?’
‘Yes, a long way away.’
I saw a glint of sadness cross his eyes. He shook his head of, what I could only imagine were bad memories, and looked back at me.
‘Along with my brothers and sisters we were taken from our mother to a dog hostel in England–’
‘TAKEN…!’ I stammered, ‘…from your mother without her approval?’
He glared at me. ‘Paddington this is difficult enough to talk about without you butting in. Do you want me to finish or not?’
‘Sorry Simba. I was taken aback when you–’
‘Sorry… go on.’
‘As I was saying, we were rescued and taken to a better place in England. I don’t remember much but I believe our mother couldn’t feed us… it was tough for her.’ He paused and I waited and waited… it was hard not to say something, but I held onto my tongue. Finally, he started talking again.
‘The people were nice at the hostel. They were looking for families for all of us, which was no easy task considering we were a litter of five. I had a number of people interested in me, but I wasn’t ready to go out into the scary world and prayed they wouldn’t pick me. I also got a bad feeling in my stomach about a couple of the people… you know how it is – a sixth sense my mother called it.
‘Did your mother suss the people out like my mother did?’
‘Mother didn’t go with us. We were taken from her–’
‘OH HOW AWFUL,’ I howled. I remembered my mother getting all her children prepared to go out into the world. We were confident, well rounded pups that were willing and eager to go to our new families because of her. Poor… poor Simba.
‘Can I continue?’ he looked irritated as he stared at me.
‘Yes of course, I was going to say–’
‘Paddington, let me finish.’
‘Where was I… oh yes, I worked it out quite quickly that by cowering in the corner of the room and showing indifference to everyone that paid attention to me I was left alone. Two men changed their minds about me because of this ploy. I was laughing at how easy it was – they thought I lacked confidence – little did they know!’ I heard it said that men, in particular, didn’t like that trait in a pup. Anyway, my plan was working really well, and so I bided my time evading most while evaluating others. And then Di and Dave arrived, and I knew instantly they were for me. It was love at first sight.’
‘Really! How did you kn–’
‘Yes,’ he snapped, not letting me finish. ‘When they left without me, you can imagine how I felt. I’d worked hard at making them love me. Lots of kisses, rolled over for a belly rub, smooched with Di, followed them around – you know the usual stuff. I thought I was home and hosed – but they left me there. I howled and howled for them to come back. I didn’t give up on the howling. The nice people at the hostel didn’t know what to do with me. How could Di and Dave not want me? I went to bed that night with the question rolling around my brain. After all I’d done to convince them I was the one, where did I go wrong? It looked like my carefully constructed plan to choose my family, had failed.’
‘But they came back, didn’t they. They must have… right?’
‘Well obviously they did…,’ he rolled his eyes, ‘…otherwise I wouldn’t be here!’
‘Oh, of course,’ I sighed in relief at this piece of information.
‘I had resigned myself to never seeing them again and waited nervously to be taken away, as my brothers and sisters had been.
‘You were alone!’
‘The last to go…,’ I shuddered at the sadness of it, ‘…how awful.’
‘Totally and utterly ALONE!’ he muttered. ‘Only as somebody by themselves could be,’
I glimpsed the snigger on his lips and realised he was clowning with me.
‘Do you want me to finish?’
‘It was a day or two before I saw them again but they arrived one day and took me home with them.’
Simba smiled at the memory before continuing.
‘Well, things were going quite nicely. I’d made myself comfortable, took on the usual chores… you know the ones, guarding, seeing off undesired strangers, ripping up the mail, doing my lessons, chewing the odd sock and undies, playing chase me for the wrist watch if you want it back, and of course eating unwanted scraps–’
‘I like that chore,’ I said butting in.
He frowned at me. ‘Many months later Di took me for a number of visits to the vet. I didn’t think much about it at the time, until one Saturday we were all in bed, having a lazy start to the day, you know how it is on weekends.’
‘Oh yes… we do that too.’
‘Well I was lying on my back in the middle of them, dozing while enjoying a belly scratch. They were talking about a trip. It didn’t grab my attention until my name was mentioned. I dropped my head to look at Di as she said I was booked to go once all my injections and tests were complete.’
‘Go… go where?’
‘I asked that very question. Well they didn’t take a blind bit of notice of me but I was now listening to every word. I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard them discuss a big move we were all going to make to the other side of the world. I was happy I was included and imagined us all travelling together. Then the bombshell hit. and hit hard. I was booked on a plane which was due to leave soon, and I was going alone. Can you imagine it? ALONE!’
I was hanging on his every word. ‘Alone,’ I repeated, the dreaded, alone word.
‘Yep… alone!’ He paused and looked at me. I locked eyes with him but was too scared to ask a question in case he snapped at me. The longer we stared at each other the harder it was for me to hold my tongue.
‘They were talking about a plane trip.’
‘I’ve been on a plane… oops, sorry to interrupt.’
He glared at me. ‘But you haven’t travelled half way around the world – have you?’
I shook my head while thinking about the trip I did from Northern New South Wales to South Australia when I was eight weeks old. That was a pretty big journey for a small pup. ‘I was alone!’ I whispered.
He dismissed my comment, or didn’t hear me, or both before continuing.
‘Anyway, sure enough, without anyone asking how I felt about it, I was bundled into a crate and given to a heap of strangers for a very, very long flight, to a place everyone called Down Under.’
‘That’s because we live at the bottom of the world,’ I said all knowing. I remember hearing Sooz explaining this very thing to Angel once. It made perfectly good sense to me at the time, and still did.
‘Actually, this place is called Australia, Paddington, if you didn’t know.’
‘Of course I know,’ I didn’t like what he was inferring. ‘I was born here.’
‘You are dense at times. It can’t be both, it’s either Down Under or Australia... you can’t have it both ways.’
‘But…’ I stopped. He’d floored me with that. ‘It’s just another name people use, that’s all. No need to get thingy.’
‘You talk about my funny sayings. What the hell does, thingy, mean?’
We looked at each other, and I was just about to explain when he broke eye contact as he snapped at a passing fly.
‘Flies,’ he grumbled. ‘I’ve never seen so many in all my life.’
‘Didn’t you get them in Ireland?’
‘Not like here.’
‘Oh… I wonder why that is?’
‘I have no idea… do you want me to finish my story or not?’
‘Yes of course.’
‘The journey in the hold of the plane was noisy and my crate was cramped. No room for manoeuvres. I hated it.’
‘I didn’t like it either–’
‘A nice person got me out for a walk when the plane landed. I thought that was it, that we’d reached our destination… but no. I was loaded back into the crate and into the hold and had to endure another awful takeoff. Scary! Finally, after what seemed like years, we landed at a place called Tullamarine and I was picked up and loaded into a vehicle and taken to prison.’
‘PRISON!’ I couldn’t believe it. ‘That’s awful. What did you do?’
‘Not much I could do. The people were nice. I was fed and looked after, but it’s not nice living behind barbed-wire fencing. I was starting to wonder what I’d done to Di and Dave to make them hate me so much. Then one day, one of the ladies who cleaned my cell had a chat with me while giving my coat a brush. She said my parents were constantly on the phone asking after me… my spirits lifted instantly. I had renewed hope I’d see them again.’
‘Di and Dave of course. I was so relieved when I heard their names. I asked the obvious questions – when could I go home to them? Nobody told me a thing. They just patted me and said I had to serve my time.’
‘That’s how it is in prison… or so I’ve heard.’
‘Then one day I was taken from my cell – they called it a kennel, but it felt like a cell – and loaded into the crate, put it into the back of a car and I was taken back to the airport.’
I held my breath wondering what was coming.
‘Yep… you guessed it, another plane journey.’
‘Oh how awful for you.’ I couldn’t begin to imagine what poor Simba must have gone through.
‘You’re right, awful! The only good thing was the flight was short. When the plane landed I wondered what kind of prison cell awaited me. As you can imagine, the conversation that day about the trip now seemed a lifetime ago. It was actually only weeks, but it was a long time in my life to be away from my family. I was starting to think they’d spun a yarn just to get rid of me.’
‘You landed,’ I urged in a hope to keep him on track with the story.
‘Oh yes… the plane landed and I was removed from the cargo hold and taken into a large hangar. You’ve never seen so much hustle and bustle that went on in there.’
‘I remember that happening to me!’ I said excitedly. ‘And then I was taken into a smaller room where Sooz collected me.’
‘Well that’s what happened to me. Di and Dave met me, and it was wonderful seeing their happy smiling faces.’
I noticed his eye's tear up and I turned away. Poor Simba, his emotion was still raw. ‘Did they take you straight to your new home in Lobethal?’
‘Yes, and then of course I met you, Aston and Lola. She’s a strange one isn’t she…? I’m not sure I understand her. How do you live with her?’
‘Oh, you know. Lola’s okay, she just has a few funny ways, that’s all. Once you get to know her she’s not so bad…’ I didn’t really know why I was making excuses for Lola. She could be rude and nasty when she wanted to be.
‘I had a piece written about my travels in a magazine,’ continued Simba. ‘The little pup from Ireland that made it to England and then emigrated to Australia. I’m quite famous now.’
‘So am I. I’m the only Bearded Collie to have travelled through the outback,’ A large paw hit me on the nose.
‘Paddington, it’s not always about you… this is my story. Next time you can tell me about your outback travels… Okay?’
‘So, Paddington, that’s my journey so far. I’ve come halfway around the world to end up in South Australia. I must say, I don’t mind it here, although that accident when I put my foot through the glass window dampened my spirits a bit.’
‘But you’re okay now… aren’t you?’ I remembered him having to wear a cast for weeks.
‘Yes, I’m absolutely fine now.’
He stood up and stretched. How about you find that ball with the rope, and we have a tug of war.’
‘Yes… that’ll be great,’ I jumped off the trampoline. ‘Now where did I put it? Oh, I think Lola may have moved it, she sometimes does that. I’ll look on the deck if you look in the garden…...