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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Good Day

A Good Day
By Katrina Heimark

Lima was a city of noises. It was a city of screeching tires, the rush of car horns and the rumbling of motorcycles. Papers and bags rustled in the salty wind that swept around buildings, alleys, and highways. The wail of trumpets, accompanied by promises of eternal love, poured over radio airwaves and seeped through car windows. Dogs, perched on rooftops, voiced their disapproval of the chaos passing by below them. Whistles escaped from the pursed lips of street vendors, taxi drivers, and even pedestrians as they tried, in this chaotic city, to capture anyone’s attention. 

A scraggly dog was oblivious to all this. His curly ashen fur added a fullness to that body that stature otherwise lacked. The dog’s pointy ears were folded over just slightly and extended much too far from the top of his head. Ears were his principal feature, but his modest snout was his best characteristic. It was long, but not too long, ending in small black button nose, which was covered in several scars. He was missing a few teeth, but few got close enough to notice. 

He was a strange looking dog—his back legs were so long that he leaned forward, as if he were walking downhill. His hips were slight; their bones protruded from his back, forming two small knobs right in front of the base of a bushy and busy tail erupt. His feet were disproportionately large, and his front legs were slightly curved inwards. He would sit down once and a while, to scratch a patch on his neck where had no longer had fur, and his tongue would hang out lopsidedly when he did. 

But had anyone ever really focused on his eyes, they would have seen a completely different dog. They would have seen inside those dark sparkling pools a sort of composure that was different from the sum of his uneven parts. They might have even seen a hint of kindness, a drop of loyalty, a hunger for reward. Maybe they would have seen a good dog.   

This morning found this lopsided dog busily trotting along a side street, while he approached the hustle and bustle of Lima traffic. 

“Toooodo Bolivar, Universitaaaaria, La Catoooolica, San Maaaarcos!”(1) Shouted the already hoarse cobradores,(2) their head and limbs protruding precariously from the bus as they tried to convince people to get on.  

As the dog approached Bolivar, he slowed. The traffic was intense at this hour, and he noticed. He turned the corner and weaved through students carrying backpacks, mothers taking their uniformed children to school, and many people with bags, briefcases and the occasional suit. He sniffed a few bags as he walked by; it was definitely time for breakfast. 

He smelled the sweet perfume of a jelly-filled roll in one small paper sack, and took just one moment too long to enjoy it.  WHAM! A hand slid into the back of his head, knocking open the eyes he had so carelessly allowed to close. “Perro cochino!"(3) bellowed a man! A knee slid into his ribs, and pushed him into a passer-by. The woman, in turn, lashed out at him with a stabbing heel. The dog whimpered loudly and galloped off before he could hear, or feel more threats. Had he been more alert, he might have even been able to grab that piece of breakfast after all.

He galloped off until he came upon a stop light. He paused, not because he was out of the man’s reach, but because he had looked toward the on-coming traffic. Cars and buses sped by with horns blaring; they all had to beat the light this morning. The dog sat down. Someone his age certainly knew how to gauge the noises of Lima. The light would change soon enough. 

Tires squealed and passengers lurched forward as the buses came to a halt. No one seemed to notice the dog quickly running to the median, following the university students as they crossed the road. The dog continued along, this time much faster. He knew where he could find an easy meal. 

Turning onto an obscure side street with graffiti espousing hatred caused by an upcoming election, he came upon a man in white. The man was short, like the dog, and was filling a large white cart with baked goods. Saliva dripped from the dog’s mouth as he sat down. 

“You’re a little later than usual, Chusco(4)…Let me see what I’ve got for you this morning.” The man rummaged around his cart, careful not to stain his white coat. His head was covered by a baseball cap with a municipality logo on it, and the back of the coat stated “Registered and Inspected by the Municipality of Pueblo Libre.”(5) He wiped his hands on his dirty blue jeans, and pulled a smashed empanada(6) out of a small bag. “Looks like I’ve found something,” he muttered. The man’s eyes sparkled as he threw the pastry to the dog; a smile protruded from underneath his long, skinny nose. Chusco gulped down his breakfast in one bite, turned, and wagged his tail in appreciation as he trotted off. He knew better than to ask for more.


The best place for lunch in this dog’s part of the city was in Plaza San Miguel. Not by those nice stores; he never had any luck getting compassion from anyone who shopped there. No, it was behind the plaza, in a seedier, run-down mall complex that he went for lunch. The workers at Chi Lau’s Chinese Restaurant always recognized him, and threw him scraps from the chicken or pork they were preparing. He always went before the lunch rush--it ensured him more scraps, less fights with other dogs, and maybe even a bowl of water. One day he was late, and only received a measly portion of day old rice. It had made him so thirsty he had never been late since. 

A young man was outside; thick hair tussled about a large forehead. He was thin, but well built; his tanned arms protruding from a dark colored shirt. He looked up at the dog as he moved the trash cans to the back door of the restaurant. “No food yet, Pulgoso"(7) he stated, laughing at the fact that he was talking to a dog. He smiled as he opened the door and disappeared inside. The dog sat attentively at the door; ears perked, mouth at the ready, reflexes tense. When the man didn’t return after a few minutes, the dog circled three times, and found a piece of cardboard to lie down on. He closed his eyes. 

Soon smoke began to billow from the chimney, and the smell of soy sauce, grilled pork, and fried rice filled the air. But it was the growls from a stocky black dog that woke him from his dozing. She was much bigger than he was, but he bared his teeth anyway--he was not about to lose his spot in the lunch line. He jumped up in a flash, ready to confront her. His hair stood on end in a futile effort to make himself look as big as possible. She wasn’t fooled. 

Her black coat was as black as her eyes, and she barked with a meanness that only hunger could provoke. She growled and stepped closer and closer, in an effort to steal his prime position next to the garbage cans. The dog began to bark--a low, deep rumble that emerged from his throat--this was his territory. She started for him--taking a snap at his neck. Barks exploded from his modest snout; the sound echoed off the concrete walls. 

The man opened the door to take out some trash. Pulgoso saw his opportunity. He backed as quick as lightening into the kitchen. As the door closed behind him, he shouted a triumphant “Guau Guau!”(8) back at his adversary. He licked his lips and turned, saliva dripping from his chin. The entire kitchen turned wide-eyed to stare. A dog was in their kitchen. A barking dog!

Before anyone had time to react, the dog jumped up onto the counter, reaching for every bit of food in sight. He scarfed down an entire chicken breast, a bowlful of thinly sliced pork, lapped up a watery substance with eggs, inhaled some vegetables and began to gnaw on a tough piece of beef, while evading the prying hands, the pokes and pulls from the men in the restaurant. He snapped back at them, showing his missing teeth; he was not about to get off that counter. 

The men were just then rushing for a broom when a high-pitched voice erupted from just inside the swinging kitchen door. “What is going on!?” The restaurant manager had rushed into the kitchen as fast as her little feet could carry her. Her faced turned darker and darker shades of red, as her eyes were as wide open as the size of the hard-boiled eggs that disappeared inside the dog’s mouth. “What the hell is a dog doing in my kitchen?!” She screamed, even louder. “Get! Him! Out!” She grabbed the nearest kettle lid and chucked it across the room at the dog. Pulgoso expertly dodged it. 

The man who had opened the door had since gotten a broom and began to sweep Pulgoso and the entire contents of the table onto the floor, in a desperate attempt to save his job and his reputation. He sure didn’t want to touch the dog, the combination of the fleas and the dog’s fierce hunger were overpowering. The woman’s screams became more intense, as the man’s efforts seemed more and more futile. “Get this dog out of here this second, or you will beg for scraps!” 

A loud whack on his curved rump sent the dog him flying off the counter. Pulgoso scurried around the room, avoiding the barrage of pans, lids, and the ceaseless thrashing of the broom. He inhaled the food that had fallen on the floor, grabbing at a pig’s foot just as he received a final push from the broom. His nose smacked into the closed back door. Before he could do anything about it, sunlight blinded him, and he was outside.
The enormous black dog was waiting for him, and stole the pig’s foot from right out of his mouth. Pulgoso didn’t mind. He was too busy ferociously wagging his tail as he loped away from the parking lot. He had gotten a great meal.

He slowed down as he reached another street, inspected the stationary traffic, and crossed by inching his way behind the motionless cars. He approached a park filled with shady trees, and found a nice sunny spot on the sidewalk. He sat down, panting, and surveyed the area. The food began to settle, and he lay down, closing his eyes as he stretched his legs. Every once and a while he would look up in a stupor; car horns or passing bicycles rousing him from his sleep. As he lay his head back down, his tail thumped the ground. So far, it had been a good day.

(1)The names of streets or locations along a bus route. The bus workers shout the names of the roads they drive down so the passengers know where the bus goes, as there are no maps of bus routes in Lima.
(2)A bus worker who collects the bus fare from the passengers already inside the bus. He/She is also in charge of shouting the bus route, as there are no signs or posted routes in the city.
(3) Dirty dog!
(4) A Peruvian word for Mutt.
(5) Many street food vendors are authorized by different Municipalities in order to reduce the amount of informal laborers in the country.
(6) A small pie, often filled with ground beef, egg, raisons, and onions.
(7) Flea-bitten dog
(8) The sound a Spanish speaking dog makes. It is very close to the Bow Wow of an English speaking dog.

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