Tomorrow is Today – Rohini Deb, Kolkata

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This death was too insignificant to matter to anyone else – it was after all a stray dog in a lane little more than a garbage dump behind her three-storey flat, where she had found him when she followed his cries. She felt regret and guilt. She’d see this dog every day. It would come up to greet her every morning as she left for work, and every evening when she returned, no matter how early or late. She always thought she’d bring him something to eat. But she was always either running late or too tired. “I’ll bring you something tomorrow, promise!” she’d say. Now there wouldn’t be another tomorrow to procrastinate to. 

Although life had now left the dog’s eyes, Srishti went over and over his last few moments. Tears slipped through her lashes as she pictured the big brown eyes looking up at her as he drew his last raggedy breaths. The dog had still made feeble attempts at wagging his tail, and she had still had nothing for him. “I am sorry, you sweet thing.” Srishti whispered, now sobbing, as she sank on to the ground, gently placing his head on her lap and stroking around his eyes.

The ‘dog’ – she had little else to call him, one of the many she saw every day, nothing to distinguish him from the many strays on the streets. But no, she did not want him to be forgotten. “I’ll always remember you,” she breathed, and then hesitated before sighing, “I promise. This promise I will keep.”

“Madam! What are you doing? He is dead.” Srishti recognised the voice of their residential colony’s guard, whose harsh tone had disrupted her thoughts. She looked up into his weather-beaten face, a frown creeping on to her own face, half a mind to tell him to be more sensitive, when she realised she didn’t know his name either – had never bothered to ask.    

Bhaiya, what is your name?” she said. Clearly it wasn’t the response he expected as he eyes widened in surprise, “R-ramesh, Madam,” he stammered, joining his hands in greeting. “The dog is dead,” he repeated, now in a softer voice, as Srishti noted the break in his voice.

Suddenly she realised how hollow her grieving was – she who was sorry for the dog at his death had been at the verge of giving a man, whose companion the dog had been, a moral lesson. She recalled how the dog always sat by the guard, who shared with him scraps from his meagre meals. Srishti lowered her eyes in shame, and in a small voice, asked, “Do you know what happened?”

Ramesh lifted his arm and gestured in the distance, explaining that he had left for home this morning after his night shift, when he came across the dog injured two streets away. It had most likely been a speeding car. He carried him back here so he could die in a familiar place.

Just when Srishti was wondering why Ramesh had then left the dying dog, as if reading her mind, he held up a packet of biscuits, and said “I had gone to buy Cracker. It was Jimmy’s favourite biscuit.”

That’s when it dawned on Srishti that the dog wasn’t just a stray. He belonged, and he was loved. And he had a name. And she wasn’t going to forget it. Wiping her tears, she got up and dusted the back of her jeans. Today she would make the time. She looked at Ramesh and asked, “Did Jimmy like the garden?” referring to the somewhat neglected community garden at the centre of the residential colony.

Ramesh understood what she was trying to say and he broke into a wide smile. “Madam, please wait. I’ll be right back.” As he was leaving, she called out “Bring one for me too.”

Within minutes he was back with two rusty spades, which Srishti reckoned he fished out from the shed in the garden. She took off her scarf and wrapped Jimmy in it, and took his now limp body into her arms. She had to choke back another rush of tears as she realised how light he was, skin and bones. Her words echoed in her head, “I’ll bring you something tomorrow.”

They carried him to the community garden, dug a hole for him, placed him in it, and covered him up. Srishti picked up the golden yellow flowers scattered on the ground, gifts from the heavily laden Amaltas tree blooming in the spring time, and placed them around Jimmy’s grave. Ramesh put down the packet of biscuits, and in a croaky voice said, “Thank you, Madam.”

***

“Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!” Srishti was furiously muttering under her breath as she rushed down the staircase of her flat. She was running late.

Just as she was passing the open door of the ground-floor flat of Mrs. Shankar, about to break into a brisk walk, the 75-year-old widow called out, “Srishti, did you have the time to pick up some flowers for me?”

Drawing in her breath sharply, Srishti said, “Oh no! Aunty, I forgot! I don’t have the time now. I’ll pick them up for you tomorrow, promise.” Mrs Shankar had asked her earlier this morning when Srishti had gone out for groceries to bring some Amaltas flowers for her from the community garden to garland her husband’s photo – they had been his favourite, and it was spring again.

Mrs Shankar, gently waving at her, said “No problem, dear! Sorry for troubling you. I usually ask Ramesh to help me, but he has gone to his village for a week.”

Ramesh, Amaltas, favourite, tomorrow – these words stirred her memory. Srishti stopped in her tracks and turned around. “No, I am sorry. I’ll bring them to you right away.”

And within minutes she was back with an armful of flowers. “Thank you! Thank you! God bless you!” Mrs Shankar gushed.

Srishti suddenly felt choked up and embarrassed, “Please, Aunty! This was nothing. It only took me two minutes.”

Mrs Shankar replied happily, “You are very sweet. Now, leave quickly! You are getting late!”

Suddenly feeling light and happy, a spring in her step, Srishti turned around, thinking this was so easy, living today, without the burden and guilt of tomorrow. Looking down at the one golden yellow flower she had kept for herself, she said, “Thank you, Jimmy.”  

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