♦ Scroll 12
Dogs were sniffing at the garbage behind the pub where three men had been drinking since noon. One of the dogs whined, and began tugging at the pants of a man who just came out from the back door. He was carrying in his hand a flashlight, shining it back and forth as though he were searching for something. Seeming to find nothing, he went back inside and told the three men that he had found nobody outside. One of the men said that he certainly had heard a yell, turned his head back to the T.V., and took a sip from his beer. The dogs behind the pub found a plastic bag of discarded meat trimmings, and began fighting for bigger pieces. In the meanwhile a monk in a purple robe on T.V. suddenly started shouting, "I'll kill you, I'll kill you!" While I was distracted by the spectacle on the television, one of the dogs from the alley rushed through the back door, skidded around the billiards table, and started barking frantically at the TV screen.
"Get that dog out of here" shouted the bartender, and dogs on TV joined in barking. The dog from the alley dashed onto the TV and (I'm not making this up) leapt into the scene and disappeared. If life is indeed like a dream which is relived, then which is real, life or dream? The other day when I was in a jungle, submerged to my neck in a shallow but cooling stream, watched a school of tiny fish approach my bare white skin and begin swimming around and around, as if deciding what to do with me. I was one of the fish watching over me. I tried to catch at the fish but it slipped away, hovering again above my body. These days are like that—hovering curiously, hovering above myself, waiting for a bell to ring and wake me up. Then perhaps I'll become one with the fish, one with the dog who disappeared into the screen, perhaps one with myself. But, let's get back to the bar and the dead woman, with whom I had been together for some time, chasing fireflies, in my previous life or dream.
I wonder who killed her and why she had gone to that house in the first place. I suppose I'll never know, but one of the three drunkards told me that a purple-robed monk had brought her body in and left her on the table, saying she was at the back door. I suppose he might have known why she was in that 'house of optical illusion,' where only customers with special glasses were allowed to enter and no one was allowed to leave. The last time I had seen her, she was looking for someone in a lobby of an international airport. I surmised that she was leaving for good, but there was no way to be sure. The fact that she turned up dead a week later, not three streets away, is something I can't understand, even though I've heard of that "house" on the gaudy and up-to-date street. I never can imagine why she was lured to that sort of crowd—sleeping all day, moving about only at night—bleeding each other dry like spiritual vampires, with eyes shining only for each other, mouths like petals fallen to the earth in an unlit garden, and hands fit only for necks of glass.
True, I moved among them for awhile but realized that I was losing my sense of direction in a bizarre place where everything looked distorted, or doubled, or magnified, or dwarfed, where there was no landmark like a mountain or a river, but only artificial stars. What I really wanted was to break ground of a new territory of truth. I signaled to the bartender to bring me another beer, and as he turned to me he looked frightened. The dead woman had disappeared from the table behind me and in her place stood a stone white dog with bared teeth and eyes like black onyx. I blinked in disbelief, but the dog wagged her tail to me. Then, all of a sudden the three drunkards started singing out, "How much is the doggy on the table...?" as if it were a fluffy little poodle rather than a fierce guardian of hell. It was at that point that I understood everything that had happened over the past several weeks, and I knew that it would only be a matter of time before the truth would reveal like a meteor shower.
Last evening while I was staring at the huge orange-like sun the thought occurred that soon I would have to return to my own country. It had been years since I had dug that hole in the field at night, and now know that it was deep enough to throw in all my belongings unnecessary for my navigation home. Only I wish my homeland were unchanged despite the war. There were too many dogs out there fighting with each other for small pieces of meat for their lives. Outside of this bar, I mean, they had long forgotten how to get home as well and, like me, were always fighting for scraps of something. I walked out into the alley, where the homeless and dogs were living together. I wondered how they shared the place to sleep at night, and how the dogs had decided which humans to own. For us, it is never as simple as the dog family who have the sharp sense of smell and directions and the keen insight into human minds—in a word, not so gullible as humans. That's why I've decided to return, finally, to the first hole I dug in the earth behind my home—to return to that lack of something. Perhaps it is there—or perhaps it is not—there is only one way to find out.
(Photo by James C. Hopkins: Dawn in Kathmandu)