It took two weeks to heal my wounds, about two months to grow my fur again and more than two years to become a little braver than I was. The cat adapted to me and used to come to my mat. We teased each other, finally took to each other, and before long we were sleeping together. Sometimes Vasya started to lick my fur as if I were a little kitten although my body was harder and several times bigger than hers. When Vasya reached my ears, it was funny because my fur was long there and she would crane her neck and poke out her tongue, which sometimes became buried in a jungle of my fur. At that point, she would gain leverage by boosting herself on her forelegs and plunging deeper with her rough, raspy little pink tongue.
The cat was very smart and even I, a dog, must admit this fact. On the street, she could quickly size up any situation, and if she saw a dog looking as if to menace her or indeed sprinting in her direction, she could always elude him easily, darting away to safety in a tree or a to the dark little cubbyhole along the ledge that stood atop our basement. However, as she and I were friends, whenever she would see me running toward her, Vasya would stand her ground and stick to her place — to the horror of the passers-by. They cried “Run, poor cat, run!” but we always met each other and started to play together joyfully. I always followed the other cats on the street, pretending to stalk them. If it wasn’t Vasya, it was fun to run barking after them until they would disappear somewhere up a tree. So, whereas Vasya and I were playmates, the others were just there to bring out the ‘dog’ in me. But sometimes they didn’t run away; sometimes they would hiss and arch their backs. When they did that it made me confused and I didn’t know what to do. Usually, I went away because I really was afraid of conflict.
Mom, who had opposed me first, became proud of me. “You will never find on any street such a beautiful, bright, black and white dog,” — she said to her friends and neighbours, — “and do you know how clever she is?”
Once the girls brought me into a club of dog breeders to test my intellect. They, along with the instructor, checked how I crossed the road, executed commands, reacted to different words and gestures, and was able to find a hidden piece of food. It was exciting to detect a delicacy concealed in a towel or a jar! I did it quickly. When the girls and the instructor counted my points, they glanced at me in amazement and exclaimed: “She is a damned genius!” “However, it is really not so strange, — the instructor added. — Mongrels adopted from the street very often turn out brainy and the most faithful. Their life teaches them”. Yet, in the bottom of my heart, I knew I was special, because otherwise, Sveta would never have taken me with her from the school! And that day my new family got a new reason to be proud of me.
Unfortunately, I was a coward. I was afraid of loud noises, other dogs, men, sticks and umbrellas. Had somebody beaten me with an umbrella? I didn’t remember and didn’t want to call it to mind. As for other dogs, if one of them came to me on the street, I flew away to my girl or Mom. When I was near their hard snouts and sharp, rough paws and didn’t have a way to run, I remembered that I was a DOG, showed my teeth, and then, with fangs bared, tried to prove that the other dogs had made a mistake on underestimating! The girls laughed at me at first because I looked so helpless and harmless, but one day I got a real chance to prove my true grit.
Ira received guests — two guys from her class, they drank tea and conversed together in the room. I stayed in a hallway near the very big shoes of those guys. They seemed unusual for me because nobody in the family wore such big footwear. I had given up chewing the shoes, and just crouched on my haunches in the traditional way of dogs, and thought about something good. (Remember what they say about us: we are “happy for no reason!” Well, sometimes it’s true. Don’t people envy us for this? I think so.) At that very moment, I suddenly heard a little noise from the other side of the door. It seemed as if somebody had cautiously crept up the stair and was standing close to the door. I pricked my ears. Then I noticed that the guys had forgotten to close the door tightly! Somebody started to open it and wanted to go in! It was so awful that I started to bark with all my power of despair! I had never barked so loud, frantically, like a grim death!
Somebody run away. Ira and the guys burst into the hallway and found me trembling, with eyes full of horror, still roaring and… with a puddle of my shame streaming from under me… They were so touched of my disregard of self! What could a little dog do against a criminal? They saw that I was absolutely frightened, but ready even to die for them, and my heroic barking drove the villain away.
Sometimes we all went for a walk to a park or a forest in the suburb. In the city, they put a leash on me, but in the courtyard near our house and in the bosom of nature let me run free. They knew that I wouldn’t run very far and would always come to the call. Sveta even devised her own special whistling for me. After years they let me walk about the court alone: all the neighbours knew me very well and loved me, and I only needed to bark one or two times under our windows, and the girls or Mom would open a door for me.
“She is so wonderful and always listens to me so carefully that I even want to ask her sometimes: Dina, please, close the window, it’s windy! Or: turn on a kitchen stove — as she if was a human!” — Sveta said. I wasn’t, but I had the special intimacy with Sveta, and everyone meant: Vasya belonged to Ira, but it was obvious that I was Sveta’s dog. Whatever the claims this way and that, I loved them all and accepted Mom as the Unconditional Leader.
Those were marvellous years and in spite of my having to wait for them every day near the door — never knowing for sure where they had gone (and forever nagged by that trembling fear that they might not return — once abandoned, always abandoned, we dogs expect). I felt happiness which only a dog with its sharp senses and infinite patience can understand. Those human beings who claim to love, I have learned, will wait for a while; a long or a little while, it depends; A dog, once its heart is won, will wait forever.