Dust-hazy Bangladesh sun beats on heaps of brick and bright laundry draped over bushes. Ponds shimmer full of hyacinths and lotus bursting purple from mud. Wet children triumphantly claim these treasures. Birds peck and hasten from the tarmac as we roar past. Thousands of mahogany trunks lie stripped and processed like torsos or bones by the road, ready for purchase. A million scraps of plastic bag drift across the ground like tired ghosts. Our nun chaperones inform us that this town is called Balucha – place of bears. I wonder what it was like fifty years ago?
Here is a big dead dog on the road. Our driver carefully steers the car around it, but I shout and he stops. I run to the body. He was loping along seconds ago. I see his blue tongue drooping, his big grey bollocks, the little puddle of liquid behind him. There is no blood. Is he even dead? I drag him by the forelegs onto the pavement, and crouch close, self-conscious because people are watching me, but I need this moment. I want to take him all in. I see the fleas wriggle on his flank, see an old scar above his tail, run my hands over his warm black body. It reminds me of the moment I first noticed the whorl of hair spiralling out of my baby son’s scalp: I realised that it was my duty to etch that whorl in its minute perfection into my memory forever.
We are on a bridge. I look over the edge. Far below is rippled mud. Normally I would spend a long time in this liminal moment with the thing that is dying or just dead. But here, I am stranger in a land where things die prolifically and no-one is sentimental. I gesture to a grey-haired man: can I do this? He nods, tilts his head towards the river. What if the dog is still alive, I think with horror. Then I hear the soft mud calling, the water promising to gently lick, and without hesitating I heft his weight over the edge and watch him fall through space. For a moment he is suspended, floating soft in the air as perhaps he did in his dream before dawn; then his body smacks down onto the riverbed with a heavy splash, sun glint on mud splash, and I run back barefoot along the dusty bridge to the car and get in, shaking.
No-one says a word. Mum hands me an antiseptic wipe. Eventually Felix says, “What was he like, Mummy? Was he like Bua?” and I say Yes, he was a bit like Bua.