We have a slight difference of opinion on that point. Mika is – theoretically – in love with every hot bitch anywhere in the world, or at least in Plittersdorf. (I used to be just as bad when I was young, I seem to remember, but that’s neither here nor there). Otherwise Mika is as non-discriminatory as a draft constitution when it comes to – er, hot bitches viz. age no bar, colour no bar and race no bar, even looks no bar, the only bar being possibly the species. The lady in question should at least be canine, I’d always thought, until I saw Mika trying to cajole – not coerce – one of Kasia’s elder sister’s cats into playing doctor games with him – and getting a bloody nose in the process.
Talking of coercion, there’s no coercion in love in the canine world. Dogs are gentlemen, as a rule, and will never bite a female. I’ve seen tiny female dogs yap away huge hulks of boxers and huskies. Especially when she’s ‘hot’, it’s the female who does the choosing. I’ve heard of a male dog sodomising another male dog just to show who’s king – it was a Leonberger that did it to a German Shepherd. And I’ve seen three male dogs – including Mika – pile on to the back seat of a tiny Fiat in hot pursuit of a lady’s – hot – West Highland terrier. Took self and two other passers-by to untangle the heap, I remember.
A question that I often ask Mika is: Do you have no shame? What is shame? Mika says. There is no shame in love and hunger – Mika says. There is no shame in bites, scratches, yelps and ultimately running away with your tail between your legs. There is no shame in licking your wounds – and other things – in public or in private. And to live for another day and another bitch (to steal Scarlett O’Hara’s punchline).
You see, love and survival are absolutely interrelated issues in the canine view of existence. You need a pack to survive. The pack has to love you – especially if you’re not the alpha dog, who rules by fear. You might be the lowest in the pecking order – originally discovered among chicken – but you still need to be loved, because they’ll bite you out of the pack otherwise, which is the same as death. Ergo, the opposite of love is death. Death is the difference between a little love and no love. Ultimately one dies of lovelessness.
That is why me and Kasia – short for Katarzyna – we form Mika’s pack. As such Mika is ecstatic every time one of us returns, even if it’s just from the cellar or from taking out the trash. In the canine view of life, danger begins right from the stairwell and we – or one of us – might be eaten up by rabbits or squirrels or moles or any or all of those creatures of the dark the moment we set foot outside the door of the flat. Mika never believes when we tell him that we’re just going to do the groceries and will be back in half-an-hour. He assumes the worst. That way he’s just happy to see us – alive. What a simple way of being happy.
Conversely, if we ever happen to leave him with the dog sitter for more than three days, say, he waits for the first 24 hours, mourns for the next 24 and then assumes that we are dead and that he needs a new pack – what luck, he has got a new pack or what’s a dog sitter for! He just transfers his love from the dead to the one who is alive and well and giving him his food and collecting his droppings and wiping his ass if necessary – as simple as adopting a child from the Third World, only the other way round.
Joke is, Mika will be mourning for the dog sitter for the first two days after his return, making us despair – has Mika stopped loving us? No, he has to begin trusting us all over again, trusting that we won’t get lost and go missing and put him through the whole ordeal of re-arranging his loyalties – the other name of love – all for the sake of survival.
It is of course Kasia – short for Katarzyna, which again is naturally only a nom de guerre (French), Künstlername (German) or stage name (English) – who is Mika’s real love. Kasia was supposed to be my real love too, or that’s what I’d told her at the time of our marriage. And then Laura came along, around a year later, weighing just three kilos and two hundred grammes and I had to tell Kasia that I’d married her under false pretences, the real love of my life was Laura. And then when Laura was around eight or nine, Gypsy came along – that’s Mika’s predecessor and a Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen, Mika being a Grand or a larger version of the same…
Ever seen a Basset Griffon? The longest thing about Mika are his ears. He’s a large dog on short legs. When he trots his front part, middle part and the rear sway from side to side like an Indian goods train on wobbly rails. His paws look as if they’d been designed for baroque furniture. He’s got mournful eyes, a mouth full of dangerous teeth and bad smell and a tail like an ensign. He chases everything from flies in the living room to public buses on the road. And he’s got a voice as deep as Nat King Cole’s – with a touch of Sinatra.
As I said, Kasia is Mika’s true love. I love him desperately but that’s of no consequence. Nothing is of any consequence, it seems. I had this strange dream about Mika going to heaven – heaven looking exactly like our small and dingy flat in Plittersdorf, complete with the nondescript surroundings of an erstwhile fishing village – well, Mika had gone to heaven and who do you think comes along to greet him and says: ‘Hullo, Mika, welcome to Heaven. I’m God.’
‘Is that so?’ Mika replies, ‘Nice to meet you. Have you seen Kasia anywhere?’
That, I realise, is love. Neither divine, nor human, just canine.