Saturday, 12 February 2011

Boy and dog: an anecdote

My three-year-old son, Jamie, has a unique and fascinating relationship with our six-month-old Labrador puppy. Theirs is a deep personal sympathy, a spiritual affinity, a genuine meeting of minds. As far as I have been able to tell, they regard each other not as members of two different species but as peers and colleagues, intellectual equals, comrades in all of life's hilarity, mischief, and sadness.

Jamie has developed a number of independent theological and philosophical theories about his relationship to Kola. Though some of his conclusions might sound extravagant, he is completely in earnest, and I have never had any serious grounds to contest his claims. On various occasions he has put forward all of the following theses:

(1) That he himself was a dog in an earlier life, before becoming a human;
(2) That Kola was a human in an earlier life, before becoming a dog;
(3) That the two of them are twins (I take it he means spiritual twins, since their physical resemblances are not much to speak of, unless you count personal hygiene);
(4) That he is in fact secretly the dog, while Kola is secretly the human. The fact that each plays out the alternative role (Jamie speaking and using cutlery, Kola wagging a tail and chewing up the trampoline) is all just theatrics, an elaborate daily vaudeville for their own secret amusement.

Today there was a striking example of their curious spiritual affinity. Overcome by a sudden profound sadness, Jamie threw himself on the bed and exclaimed: “Kola doesn’t like me anymore.”

“Of course he likes you,” I said.

“No,” he insisted, “I saw from his mouth that he doesn’t like me.”

“Don’t be silly,” I said, “you know Kola loves you.”

But my poor troubled boy was resolute: “I saw from the writing on his tongue that he doesn’t like me anymore.”

I'm pretty sure – and I record it here for posterity – that Jamie is the first person in the history of the world to use this evocative metaphor of the writing on a dog's tongue. We speak of a person wearing his heart on his sleeve: in the same way, is not the heart of the dog rendered legibly on that eloquent pink papyrus, the slobbery scroll of the tongue?

The story did, however, have a happy ending. Twenty minutes later I asked Jamie about it again, and he shrugged the whole thing off: “Oh,” he said, “don't worry, Kola loves me. Sometimes he hates me for a second, then he loves me again.”

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