The Short Sweet Life of Nameless

The childless couple did not name her, first because she was a dog and second because they didn’t own her. Nameless was just a tolerated scavenger, a pitied-upon beggar, an overstaying visitor, but never an adopted pet. All the same, she became more than just a visitor or pet for the couple.

When the husband first saw Nameless, he shooed her right away. The emaciated dog moved back, slightly limping. The husband felt pity for her, but he could not let her roam near the hut because the wife was afraid of dogs. When Nameless stopped on her track and looked back, the man threw a stone at her. She ran away whimpering.

The husband left for work. He hired himself out to other people because he never had enough money to have a farm of his own. The wife worked with him, but on that day, she was left at home because she was feeling under the weather.

The wife was a devotee of the Virgin Mary. She had two portraits and three statuettes of the Virgin in her altar, near the front door. She prayed the rosary every six in the afternoon, hoping that by doing this, the mother of Jesus would have mercy on her and bless her with a child.

If the wife had an additional plea, she would offer another rosary at another time of the day. At about ten in the morning, she knelt down in front of the altar and prayed for her immediate recovery from the fever. She was on the fourth sorrowful mystery, the Carrying of the Cross, when she heard a scratching sound.

She finished the Hail Mary she was reciting and listened. The sound was coming from the kitchen, accompanied by a whine. The wife felt cold, and the hair on her nape stood on end. She clutched the rosary beads tighter and continued praying, uttering the words louder. To her horror, whatever was causing the eerie sound did not seem deterred by the exorcizing power of the holy rosary.

The wife mustered all her courage and went to the kitchen. She assured herself that it couldn’t be an evil spirit because it was too early for creatures of darkness to come out. She gasped when she found a dog. It might as well be an evil spirit. She was scared of dogs. When she was still unmarried, a puppy nearly tore the thumb off her hand.

Nameless was outside the kitchen, but the wife could see her because the walls were made of bamboo slats spaced half an inch apart. Nameless was trying to reach a piece of fried fish that had fallen on the earthen floor. She was wiggling her tongue in vain between two slats, and her teeth and nails were causing the grating sound.

The wife shouted at Nameless to go away, but her words had no effect on the dog. Nameless even started to gnaw at the bamboo slats. The wife took a piece of firewood from the hearth and threw it on the wall. The dog yelped and left.

The wife wanted to make sure the dog was gone. She peeped through the wall, and found out that Nameless had merely retreated several meters away from the hut and was watching the kitchen. The wife whimpered in frustration, but as she observed Nameless, she became less frightened of and more concerned for the dog.

The dog was most likely a nursing mother. Her hind teats were swollen pink, the nipples dark brown and shriveled. The wife wondered how the pups could survive; their mother seemed to have not eaten anything for days, weeks even.

The childless woman decided to give the dried fish to the dog. She pushed the door slightly ajar and threw the chunk outside. She then locked the door and peered through the wall. Nameless was staring at the offering on the ground, but she did not run for it. She walked left and right in an arc; if the food were in a fully open space, she might have circled it. The wife called for the dog to come near, but upon hearing human voice, the dog jumped back.

“I won’t hurt you,” the wife said.

Nameless remained distrustful, not advancing.

The wife felt tired, so she went back to the altar. When she was finished praying the rosary, she checked the animal. The scavenger was gone, along with the chunk of dried fish.

A few days later, the wife saw the dog again. Her fever was gone, but the husband and she had stayed home because it was Sunday, a day for going to church and resting. They were having lunch when they caught a glimpse of golden fur at the back door.

“That dog again,” the husband said with annoyance.

“I know that dog,” the wife said. She then told the husband about the scratching sound and the chunk of dried fish. She added, “Give her our leftover later.”

“No,” he said. “We’ll give it to the chickens.”

“We have enough corn for the chickens,” she said. “Let the dog have some rice. She’s pitiful, so skinny. Her pups must be starving.”

“All right,” the husband said, shrugging.

After eating, the husband placed some leftover in an empty coconut shell and whistled. Nameless appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, wagging its tail and staring up at the bowl the husband was holding. However, Nameless kept some distance between her and the man. When he came nearer to her, she backed off.

“She’s terrified of people,” said the wife, who was watching at the window. “Her masters do not treat her well probably.”

The husband put the coconut bowl down on the ground and walked back to the hut. Nameless still did not come near the food, her rheumy eyes watching the man warily.

The couple retreated into the hut, out of the dog’s sight. After half a minute or so, they peeked outside. Nameless was gobbling the food, and when she noticed that the couple was observing her, she ran away even if there was still some rice left in the makeshift bowl.

“Whose dog could she be?” the husband said. “Those irresponsible owners. If they can’t take care of their pet, why keep one?”

“She must be homeless,” the wife said.

“No. She has a home somewhere. If she’s abandoned, she wouldn’t have lasted long. The drunkards at the center of the village would have butchered and eaten her by now.”

Nameless kept on coming back to the hut. Whenever the couple was around, the husband would give her table scraps. Even the wife was eventually feeding her. Because the wife didn’t want dogs to get near her and the dog didn’t want to get near people, the two got along fine.

The wife noticed one day that Nameless’s teats had shrunk back to normal. “She must have weaned her pups,” the wife told the husband. “And I see her more often. Maybe she stays here all day, guarding our house.”

“I won’t give her much credit,” the husband said. “She comes here for breakfast, and she probably leaves as soon as we’re gone.”

The wife sighed. “I think you’re right. You can’t expect loyalty from a stray dog.”

When the couple returned from work that day, they found their neighbor waiting for them. She was fuming. “Your dog bit my husband!” she told the couple.

The husband and wife were taken aback. “What dog?” the wife asked. “We don’t have a dog.”

“You don’t have a dog?” the woman said in a sarcastic tone. “What do you call that mangy thing loitering around your house?”

The couple looked at each other, glad to discover that Nameless was guarding the hut.

“Now don’t deny it,” the neighbor said. “You own that dog, and you have to give us money. The dog looks unclean. My husband has to get antirabies shots.”

“I’ve told you,” the wife said, “it’s not our dog.”

“Then why was it sleeping at the back of your house, under the chickens’ nests?”

“And why was your husband at the back of our house?” the husband said.

The neighbor’s face flushed.

“Know what,” the husband added, “our eggs have been missing lately.”

“Now you’re accusing my husband of stealing eggs from you? Don’t evade the issue. Your dog bit my husband in the calf, and you have to pay. That’s what we should talk about here.”

“Please,” the wife said. “We don’t have to fight. I’m sorry for what happened to your husband, but the dog you must be referring to is really not ours. It’s a stray dog. It goes everywhere it wants to. If you need money for the shots, you may look for the dog’s owners. They probably live in the center of the village.”

“No,” the neighbor said. “The dog attacked my husband in your yard. You are responsible. I want the money today. My husband is going to the city early tomorrow. He has to see a doctor.”

“Why do you keep on harping about money?” the husband said. “Your husband need not see a doctor. The village healer charges only a small amount. He can cure even snakebites. Dog bites are nothing to him.”

The neighbor raised her chin. “We’re not done yet,” she said. “I’ll report you to the village council.” She marched back to her house.

The couple shook their heads.

“I hope nothing bad happens to her husband,” the man said. “But he had no business poking around in our yard while we’re away. That dog did the right thing.”

“Dear,” the woman said, “do not speak or think ill of our neighbors. Let’s leave everything to Mary.”

The neighbor didn’t push through with her threat, and nothing bad happened to either dog or bitten man. The couple grew fonder of Nameless, and they continued feeding her every morning. One dusk, as they were coming home from work, they found her waiting for them by the front door. She was wagging her tail and whining softly.

“She loves us!” the wife exclaimed.

The husband tried to pat Nameless on the head, but she ducked and retreated a few steps. The husband chuckled. “Doesn’t want to be touched, eh? Your golden fur’s too precious for my dirty hands?”

“Her heart needs to be healed,” the wife said. “We will help her. She will trust people again and let you touch her.”

The dog never let the husband—or anyone, for that matter—touch her. But she became loyal to the couple, guarding the hut whenever they were off to work and eventually even at night. She recognized them as her new masters, but because the couple knew they had no rightful ownership over the dog, they did not let themselves become too attached to her. They did not give her any name, and the husband stopped trying to pet her.

Asking around, the couple found out that a grouchy family owned the dog. They raised dogs not as pets but for their meat. When they were supposed to butcher Nameless, she was able to get away, though not before taking a heavy blow on the skull. They ran after her, but Nameless, bleeding and woozy, was able to lose her trackers in the woods.

When Nameless reappeared in the center of the village, she had transformed into a cunning thief. Whenever she found an open back door, she would raid the kitchen. Homeowners would just find their pots open and the food inside spoiled and half-eaten. She would always be present in gatherings, rushing to anything that fell off the table, ramming her competitors aside or sinking her teeth into their shoulders. She had become so adept at stealing that she came to be known as Takaban, the vernacular term for “food thief.” Among the people the couple talked to, no one could remember the original name of the dog.

Nameless stayed almost round the clock in the couple’s hut. With regular meals, she became healthy. Taut muscles formed beneath her skin, her fur became shiny, and her eyes became clear.

When the couple started to see her less often, they became worried. They wondered if they had done something wrong, or if Nameless had found a new, better home. They realized what was going on when Nameless started to grow unusually big. Her cheeks became puffy and the length of her body became rounded.

“She’s having babies!” the wife said, excited for the dog, but she became pensive when she thought of her own wish to be a mother. “The dog is more blessed than me.”

“Don’t say that,” the husband said, hugging her. “Mary will eventually answer your prayers.”

“Maybe Mary doesn’t really understand me. We have different situations. She got pregnant without a husband, while I can’t get pregnant even if I have a husband.”

“Don’t lose hope, my love. Mary is listening. She just wants us to be patient. She knows the right time to give us a baby.”

After several weeks, Nameless gave birth at the back of the hut, under the chickens’ nests. Though Nameless wasn’t particularly beautiful, her young were. She had chosen a dashing mongrel to be her mate. She was a nurturing mother, too. None of the four puppies got sick or perished until she weaned them.

The couple could not afford to feed more than one pet, so all the pups had to be given away. One by one, they were taken by their new masters, brought to homes where they would grow loved. If Nameless was distressed with the loss of her children, she did not show any indication. Sometimes, she would not be around when the puppy was handed over. If she was present, she would stand back and stare at the human beings, neither friendly nor hostile.

After some time, Nameless became pregnant again. The pups this time had patches of gray, for Nameless had mated with a big black dog. He was old and had nasty scars on his face, but he was an alpha male. His territory comprised two streets and twenty-five houses.

Though times were not better, the couple decided to keep one of the four new puppies. They chose the most spirited. It turned out, however, that the pup had inherited too much of his parents’ wild streak. He had an appetite for raw flesh. Whenever a chick strayed from its mother, the pup would snatch it with his mouth and munch it down, sparing nothing, not even the claws and beak. So when someone asked for the cute, perky pup, the couple gave him over only too willingly.

The couple noticed that Nameless was growing old. Her golden fur had dulled in some parts, and her whiskers had turned white. Nevertheless, she remained agile. When she became pregnant again, she even gave birth to five puppies.

The couple gave away all the puppies except one, and this time they chose the gentlest. But as what happened before, the pup didn’t stay long in their possession. The couple had to give her to the original owners of Nameless. The abusive family had learned where Nameless had taken refuge, and they demanded that the childless couple pay them for “taking” their “pet.” The couple, of course, could not afford the amount—and Nameless could not be made to return to the dog eaters by whatever means—so the family declared they had to take one pup every time Nameless gave birth. With heavy hearts, the couple agreed.

“Poor pup,” the husband said. “They will surely butcher her when she grows up.”

“Don’t worry,” the wife said. “I will pray for her. I will ask Mary to protect her.”

The husband nodded. “The next time the dog gets pregnant, we better keep two or three puppies, to make sure at least one grows up under our care.”

The next time never happened. Nameless just stopped eating one day. She would merely sniff the food and walk away. In a couple of days, she lost so much weight that her skin seemed to be sticking straight to her bones. Her eyes became red and rheumy. She lay on the ground most of the time, chin resting on forelegs.

“She’s not just being picky,” the wife said. “She’s not eating anything at all. She’s starving herself to death.”

“She must be sick,” the husband said. He walked to Nameless to check her, but before he could come close, the dog stood up and walked away on wobbly legs.

Tears fell from the wife’s eyes. “She still doesn’t trust people,” she said. “How can we help her if she doesn’t want to be touched?”

The husband served Nameless newly cooked rice, but she still didn’t touch the food. He killed a chicken and cooked it, but even the bones and hot broth, Nameless’s favorite, failed to entice her to eat. The wife prayed the rosary twice that day, one for herself, the other for Nameless.

The next day, Nameless disappeared. The husband whistled for her, looked for her around the house and on the street, but no Nameless came out. The couple learned from their neighbors that several other dogs nearby had stopped eating, and the animals had been found dead in the woods days within one another. The couple searched for Nameless in the woods, but they found no dog, alive or dead. Grief-stricken, they went back home.

“I think I know where the dog went,” the husband told the wife.

“Where?” she asked.

“To her original owners,” he said. “She went back to them to die. She wanted to die where she was born.”

“Why would she do that? This is her home. If she knew she was dying, she would choose to stay here, to be buried in our yard.”

The couple went to the center of the village to investigate. The dog-eating family said Nameless had not returned to them. They also said they had not heard of any dog around that had stopped eating or been found dead recently. The couple did not know whether to be happy or sad with the information.

No one ever found out what truly happened to the dogs that wouldn’t eat. Some people said the dogs must have suffered from an infectious disease. A few suspected they were poisoned. Others believed a malevolent spirit took their souls. Not all the dogs in the area were affected, and among the victims, no common factor could be identified. The bizarre case kept the neighborhood speculating for a day or two, but after that, the people went on with their lives and forgot the dogs.

Nameless, however, remained in the couple’s thoughts. One night, the wife was praying the rosary when Nameless came to her mind. She was saying, “The fourth glorious mystery is the Assumption of Mary to—”

She paused, and then joy filled her face. Not yet finished praying, she rushed to the kitchen and told the husband, “I know now what happened to the dog!”

“What?” he asked.

“The Virgin Mary saved her. The day before the dog went missing, I offered a rosary for her, and Mary answered my prayer.”

“But if the dog got well, why isn’t she back?”

“No, she didn’t get well. She died.”

“I don’t understand,” the husband said. “If the dog is dead, how is she saved?”

“She rose to heaven,” the wife said. “Body and soul. That’s why we didn’t find any remains.”

The husband was not able to say anything for a while.

“Do you believe me?” she asked.

Without much conviction, he nodded.

“What you told me is true,” she said. “Mary answers all prayers, maybe not in the way we want, maybe not as soon as we ask, but she does. She never says no.”

The wife went back to the altar. She kissed the statuettes on the forehead, knelt down, and closed her eyes. Clutching the rosary beads close to her heart, she continued praying.

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