It had got dark earlier than usual, and the park looked like a dark-green canvas with splotches of white. Sheru was sitting cross-legged, ladylike, facing a girl swinging on the swing, as if guarding her. But he saw me a fraction of a second before I saw him. And in that time, he had wagged his tail, got up, and started limp-running to intercept me on the walkway.
As I had come to the park after some time, I was delighted to spot him. But he, on the other hand, was full of unfathomable, inexplicable excitement—per usual. He shoved through a gap in the sharp hedge and blocked my path. I took off my mask and earphones and kneeled down to meet him.
“Where have you been, you rascal?” I asked, even though it was I who had been delinquent. “How are you? Are you alright? Having fun?” I hugged him and ran my hand all over his body, patting and rubbing him down, feeling his ears, giving a couple of light spanks to his tush. I didn’t realise when the girl from the swing had sidled up and stood over us observing the proceedings.
She was nine or ten, lanky, tall for her age, boy-cut hair, hyperactive, constantly moving— touch this branch, pull that leaf … Her sudden appearance surprised me a bit. But I regained my composure and smiled at her as I played with Sheru. I reckoned she was just curious.
Since she was so intently looking at us, I thought I’ll make some polite conversation.
“No, my pet.”
Now, that really wound me up. Sheru is everybody’s sweetheart and nobody’s pet! He’s a shining example of a community dog—friends with all who come to him with love in their hearts. So, how could this twig of a girl claim ownership over him? I somehow checked my appearance and voice and countered, “But I’ve known Sheru for years!”
“She’s a girl.”
It took me a moment to get what she was saying. But—just to be clear—I asked, “What?”
“She’s a girl. Her name is Labrody.”
“What??” I think my disbelief escaped in my voice.
This girl was full of Bazingas! Once again, I had to catch my mental breath, and putting on a fake smile, I said, “Heh heh! He’s a boy, not a girl.”
“No, she’s a girl.”
That wiped the fake smile off my face. OMG, this kid! I debated in my mind the ways in which I could prove my argument that Sheru was indeed a boy—all of them led to jail. So, I changed my tone and said gently, “Of course, he can be a girl too! He can be whatever he wishes to be!”
Then turning to Sheru, I asked, “Sheru, what do you want to be? A boy? A girl? Or something else?”
Sheru hadn’t stopped wagging and wriggling in my arms. If he could, he would, I’m guessing, answer, “Dude, IDGAF!”
Knowing when an argument is over is a great art, and I knew this one was done. There was no way I could convince the brat. So I stood up, gave Sheru a few more pats, and said, “Go, play with your friend,” and continued my walk, still reeling from the shock.
I crossed that spot thrice more. And each time I saw the girl swinging on the swing and Sheru sitting on the ground, ladylike, facing the swing, as if guarding her. And each time he turned around to see me and wag his tail. And each time I gave him a knowing wink.