Down on My Legs

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(or "Gone with the Dogs")

by Rolf-Peter Wille

Something, quite obviously, was wrong. As during the time of the plague strange phenomena could be observed in the behavior of certain species; and in the year of the Pig this does not come as a surprise. Before the Chinese New Year on Dihua Street, amongst the multitude of peanuts and people, a peculiar energy was noticeable as some sellers were chanting the praise of their wares in rap rhythm. My wife, I call her Sophia and she likes to bargain, bought two sacks of peanuts. Of course this is Taipei City.

But even the countryside has changed. You would believe the countryside to be a quiet place. Wrong! One can hardly imagine the cacophonous concerts we are listening to during those long early morning hours when we hide in bed unable to rise and shine. There is the powerful network of dogs reminding me of the 101 Dalmatians. Some barks travel from distant villages or mountains; some bellows seem to originate in our very bedroom. It is one gigantic chat room. Yet, chatting those dogs are not. They bark, they grunt, they wheeze, they cough. And now they discovered a new old vice: howling. What a bizarre atavistic behavior! Those heart tearing, those endless howls! Are these beasts remembering their wolfish ancestors? Are they mourning their long lost freedom, their slavery under the yoke of us cruel humans?

But this is not the only network. The bird family is by no means less obnoxious. Whoever said, birds are singing? Not here! They are bitching, arguing like those market ladies of Limoges, immortalized by Mussorgsky in his Pictures at an Exhibition. Sometimes one of them wins and commences to preach a long sermon, a sad soliloquy, always repeating the same admonishments in a monotonous, high-pitched dirge, a special bird mantra. Add to this the various sounds of the human species, the popp, popp, popp of the basketball warriors, hitting the ball on the ground and screaming excitedly at each other..., add the construction noises, the garage doors announcing their openings, the awakening motors, crying cars and babies, and you can imagine how tired we are when we get up.

Yesterday morning we decided to lift our spirits by hiking to a holy site. The walk leads through the jungle, over a wild mountain creek and up again to the Golden Soul Pagoda. Near the riverbank we met the retired general smoking a cigarette and reading the latest edition of the Taipei Herald.
“Look,” I said to Sophia, “he’s reading the Herald.”
“Fool!” replied my spouse. “Have you no eyes in your apple? Can’t you see he is reading Le Chien?”
“Bullshit! It’s the Herald!” I argued and, for rhetorical emphasis, gave her an encouraging whack with my umbrella.
Having settled the affair in an agreeable manner we arrived at the pagoda. What a lovely view across the valley towards the distant mountains! But not yesterday. It was raining cats and especially dogs and the burning incense in front of Buddha mixed its smoky aroma with the muddy vapors emanating from the wet soil.

When we retreated from the temple complex my ears were attacked by an infernal growl. Then, suddenly, a second animal started to bark quite ferociously.
“What’s going on?” I asked my wife but when I looked around she had disappeared.
“Sophia!” I shouted. “Where are you?”
“Whoof, whoof!” was all I heard. Then I saw my wife on the corner of the road. She looked differently. Like a person with osteoporosis she appeared to have a stoop and her neck stretched forward in a horizontal pose as she barked back at the beast.
“Stop that, Sophia! Let’s go home for lunch!”
“Are you coming or not?!”

I did have no choice. Alone I walked home and had my soup of sweet potatoes with ginger roots. Sophia, surely, would come later. When she did not arrive by 1PM I took a bowl of hot potato soup and walked back, through the jungle, to the pagoda. I started to curse violently as I stumbled through the thicket with the hot bowl in my left and an open umbrella in my right hand, but the umbrella I surely would need to chase away those dogs. Near the riverbank I saw the retired general again squatting on his newspaper. He had aged considerably, was smoking a cigarette and his skin looked brown and leathery. At first I mistook him for a tree trunk.
“Do walk carefully.” he said. “The road is slippery today.”
“Thank you.” I said.
“And enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you.” I said

I heard the barks from quite a distance. There were certainly more than just two animals. My wife, it seemed, had been happily adopted by a large group of greedy beasts bellowing, howling in concert, chasing after my soup.

I did have no choice. I went down on my four legs and shared my food with everybody.

(The “I” and the “wife Sophia” are entirely, the dogs somewhat fictional characters)

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