You have to stay, Ben

2009-11-10 00:00

SOARING thousands of feet above the ground, all I can think about is Ben, sitting in a box in the hold. I should have remembered to put cotton wool in his ears. I smile as I think about how Ben taught me a lesson in holding one’s head high even when wishing the ground would open up and swallow me whole. He did his business in the outdoor restaurant and I had to nonchalantly clear it up with big wads of toilet paper and dispose of it in the loo. Walking back and forth past the dining businessmen, with smelly wads aloft, was not my idea of a dignified moment. Now, gazing down at Midmar and the rolling hills below, I don’t care; I am processing my goodbyes.

We leave for New Zealand in December. As if that sentence isn’t heartbreaking enough for us and for the loved ones we are leaving behind, we have to say goodbye to our faithful dogs, one at a time. I am flying Ben to Oliver Tambo airport where I will meet my friend Bev. We will head out to Middelburg, to hand Ben over to my friend’s mother, who has kindly agreed to adopt him. I had run out of possibilities in Maritzburg when an intuitive moment led me to ask Mrs Bradley, who agreed without hesitation.

I have been showing Ben images of Mrs Bradley in my mind’s eye, and saying: “Mrs Bradley is going to be your new mum.” I showed him mental pictures of her patting him and feeding him, and wondered if he was receiving them. Ever since he was a highly strung pup I have talked to Ben, because he was my “child” before I had my human children. He has an awesome vocabulary, for a dog. He knows “Go and do your wees and poos” at bed time (and preferably not at airports), and “sit” and “water” and “You have to stay; I will see you later,” said in a drawling coo. This time I know I will have to omit the see you later bit.

I have been teaching Ben the words “Mrs Bradley”. After an afternoon and a night in Middelburg, Ben and Mrs Bradley are starting to bond. We are in the warm kitchen and Ben is sitting gazing into my eyes with his big brown knowing pools and I say to him: “Ben, where’s Mrs Bradley?” He turns his head to look over his shoulder at her, his body still facing me. My friend Bev bursts in from the passage. “Hey wait, I overheard that. Do it again,” she says. Ben is gazing at me again. I repeat the question and once again he looks over his shoulder at her. I knew it; I just knew that this dog is incredibly intelligent. I hope his intelligence helps him to understand that kind Mrs Bradley is going to be his new mum. He will never understand why I am leaving him. We have been best friends for 10 years; the best 10 years of my life. I met my husband and had two wonderful children in those years, and he was always there to share in the love, the joy, the fleas and the fun.

The day arrives when I have to say goodbye. I am a snivelling wreck, my handbag full of soggy tissues. I hug him and walk to the car. He follows. I say: “Ben, you have to stay,” and I close the car door, the floodgates opening. Mrs Bradley calls him and he walks to her side and sits serenely next to her as she pats him. We drive down the driveway and he doesn’t run after the car. I am incredibly grateful for the home she is giving him; it couldn’t be more perfect. But that doesn’t stop my heart from breaking. I thought I would see him through his old age.

 

• Kate Richards is a full-time mother and freelance writer.

 

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