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Thursday, 12 April 2007

Flea Market Pup - Page 5

Written by Kip Sikora
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I had decided against going to Cuenca, but then Vince told me he had just arranged a ride with his neighbor, Oswaldo, in the back of a vegetable truck leaving Saraguro at 4 AM the next day. He was heading there in search of a turkey chick, and had plans to fatten that bird for a home-style feast come Thanksgiving in the jungle. Turkeys are somewhat rare in Ecuador, but Oswaldo was bound for one of the larger markets in Cuenca, and it had been reported anything could be found there, save the homemade shotguns sold much further north in Saquisili.

Vince's turkeys, he ended up with four of them, didn't fare so well. Three starved to death and the survivor didn't exactly fatten up. All things considered, however, it probably made for a more accurate portrayal of that fabled first Thanksgiving. Despite the generous gifts from their Native American neighbors, Pilgrims, or rather their birds, didn't benefit from factory farm growth hormones.

Rue was lost while in the care of some neighbors in Tuncarta. Vince went to the states for a couple of weeks, and when he returned, she was gone.

Otis was a great dog, loyal to the point of co-dependency. I cured his ringworm with iodine and a bright yellow, sulfur based paste, which suffocated the fungus but left him with equally bright yellow spots where it had been applied. Eventually his fur grew back and he was no worse for the wear. I taught him to howl and to come to a whistle. If he was within an earshot, he came full bore until he found me. He woke me up two or three minutes on either side of 6:17 every morning, and came with me to the schools where I taught. Living alone in a remote village, in a mud house thousands of miles from home was intense, and never before had I felt the truth of ‘man’s best friend’ so acutely. The community came to associate me with his constant companionship, and like all good dogs, he saw me through dark hours of anxiety and loneliness.

Sure, he did the kinds of mischievous things all pups do. He was fond of cow hooves. Not the neatly packaged kind, but the freshly severed, bloody kind, and he had an uncanny knack for finding them. On three or four occasions he raided the neighbors cuy pen, feasting on cuyes and rabbits. Each time I paid them for their animals, and I pretended to be mad at him, but he knew it was an act. Each time they threatened to poison him, but I knew as long as I paid them for their loss it was an idle threat. One night he destroyed a beautifully handmade headdress given to my landlords as a gift by friends in the Amazon. There was no pretending that night, but bygones were soon bygones, and I did my best to forget about the luxuriously colored crown of rare feathers he had torn to pieces. My best memories, however, are the countless afternoons and miles we logged in the mountains behind my house.

It was during these treks that he acquired his most memorable nickname. He wasn't a swimmer, but streams, puddles and ditches filled with water really flipped his switch. Without warning he would take off as if shot from a cannon, plowing through mud, sand, cow patties, flimsy fences, whatever was in his path, to reach the water on the other side. His energy was boundless, unrefined, and such reckless abandonment eventually earned him the title of Andean Cannonball. Chasing sheep and harassing cattle also lit the cannonball fuse, but he learned to be cautious around livestock after several close encounters with hooves and horns.

taita danielI went to meet my mom in Quito and when I got back to Saraguro, my gut told me something was wrong when he didn't come bounding to the shrill call of the whistle. I set out on foot to look for him and, meeting one of my best friends in the road, was greeted with deflating news. Taita Daniel, forged by 70 years of hard living, told me Otis had been hit and killed by a car while I was away. I broke down in tears, and what amazed me was that he was crying as well. Not because of Otis, but in reaction to my sadness. I will never forget that.

I finished my time in Saraguro, but it wasn't quite the same without Otis. Though gone in physical form, the Andean Cannonball still roams the night. Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky for a reason, and it is perhaps there where his dog soul, along with countless others, dwells. He wasn't meant to leave the Andes and was perhaps reborn alongside 500-year-old trees in the realm of the cloud forest spirits. Maybe he went straight to Hell on account of killing those cuyes and floppy eared bunnies. Whatever the case may be, he was too loyal to be gone for good, and I know I will find him again one day, somewhere every bit as unlikely as a rice sack in Ecuador.

©Kip Sikora

(Page 5 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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