FÚ-QÌ OUTWITS THE STATE
‘Daddy, Papa, when can I get a cute little fluffy puppy?’
Mid sentence, Papa turned to her, offhand, but smiling. He tousled her hair.
There was a collective gasp, silence, then a muffled remonstrance from a mother at the table. Hattie, stopped in her tracks, paused, then burst out in a giggle.
….and raced back to her playmates at the birthday party.
Somewhere, far above, the gods took note of this exchange, and filed it away for future reference.
The idea had been to walk off lunch. It was the first hot spring day in Beijing, and to postpone the inevitable return indoors, and further goggling at computer screens for the children, and naps for the grown ups, the two families, eight in all, sauntered by Rome Lake in Shun-yi, one of the fast burgeoning satellite suburbs of the new China. Hattie, no longer the cute giggly poppet, but now a surly Goth teen, glowered with her equally pained friend, Zoë. Tillie, Hattie’s sister, two years younger, tried to join in, but was swatted like a fly. Noë, Zoë’s older brother, an alien in the eyes of the big girls, kept well away and talked to his dad. Martine, his mother, talking with her hands as a real Frenchwoman must, engaged Peter and me with gossip. Excepting us, it was a surly, disparate group; the sudden onset of heat after a brutal winter fueled grumpiness.
We had walked for only a few moments, when the gods remembered.
Picture the tiniest of dogs, possibly black, but possibly not, because of the dust. She’s having a high old time, charging along the trail and into Hattie’s path. A universe of new smells and sensations assault her. She tumbles and sprawls. She is filthy. Hattie gives chase, with a smile: yes, a rare smile. The puppy, surely not old enough to be properly weaned, turns to her. Hattie swoops down, and the little animal jumps into her lap. Her pug like nose quivers and stumpy tail wags furiously.
Peter and I quickly exchange glances.
‘Oh shit’, we mouth, almost simultaneously.
All gather round with great excitement, as Hattie, now on the ground, pets the dog, who is chewing determinedly on her finger. Even Tillie, scared by dogs, even tiny ones, is curious, though she doesn't get too close. (She loves large horses for some reason. Maybe she thinks of them as machines.)
We then noticed a small box, lying close to the lake. Something was moving. A brown, fluffier version of the black dog was worrying something submerged in leaves and twigs, a white dog, in a bad way, bleeding at the mouth. We scooped up filthy lake water, but the white dog couldn't respond. By now, Hattie had gathered the brown dog, which was panting furiously and drinking the grimy water cupped in our hands.
There were many dog walkers promenading around the lake. Pet dogs are a recent phenomenon in China, where they were traditionally either feral guard dogs or dinner. With the new young, aspirational middle class resulting from the economic boom, a dog, more specifically a designer dog, was fast becoming a cool accessory. Martine approached a trendy young couple, with a red setter straining at a leash. They looked scornful. Why would we want to bother with those? Farm dogs! Nobody wants those. Crazy lao-wei! - foreigners. There were similar reactions from others, but eventually, the name and location of a vet was obtained.
Before we went there, we had to get something straight. Of course, we could not abandon these already abandoned puppies. What kind of message would that give to the children? But Martine, Jeff and their children were leaving Beijing within a year, so a new pet was not practical. As for us, we lived within the third ring-road in Beijing, where there was a strict one-dog policy in place, and any dog, in order to get a hùkõu (permit), had to be small. Therefore, a choice had to be made. It was evident the white dog would not survive. Hattie jiggled the two others on her lap, and methodically examined the dappled brown dog, with a thicker mane but lethargic air, and the frisky rough and tumble black dog. It is hard, at any age, to play God, but the decision was quickly made. Three dogs, box and humans piled into a car and a cab, and proceeded to the vet.
The vet was a reserved, yet kindly man, no doubt used to dealing with foreigners and their sentimentality toward small fluffy animals. He examined each puppy in turn. As we had surmised, the white dog was beyond help and needed to be put down. Even Tillie, no dog lover, gave a little wail. The brown dog was found to be delicate, and medicine was prescribed. Peter arranged for her to be housed and fed for the next week, with the promise that we would try to place her. The black dog was given a quick once-over and pronounced healthy. The vet estimated that the puppies were a mere three weeks old. ‘Would they grow much’ we asked - and the reply was always, no not at all. She was far too young for inoculations, he warned, and thus should probably be a house dog for the time being. Armed with a blanket, a box and puppy formula, not to mention a puppy, we peeled off from our friends.
Outside, there was a pressing matter to resolve. What would our dog be called?
‘Muriel’ said Peter.
The girls made a face. ‘Lucky!’ Hattie riposted immediately.
‘But that’s such a cliché’, I burst out, despite myself.
Peter, diplomatically, resolved the issue. ‘Fú-qì is Chinese for lucky. It means, literally “good fortune”.’ (福 气)
And so Fú-qì it was. Fú - (second tone) Qí (fourth tone) quickly got anglicized to Foochee (to rhyme with ‘poochy’). Later I sent out messages informing all of the new addition to the family. I wrote ‘Fú-qì, means ‘lucky’. A concerned parent wrote back. ‘It doesn’t rhyme with ‘lucky’, does it?’.
In fact, it became open season for names. Though she always answered to Fú-qì, our dog has become used to a bewildering array of monikers: Etta, Fuqietta, Nummie, Nummeletta, Poopiwoop, Miss Edna, Choochi-woo………..as long as we were bearing meat, it didn't seem to matter.
Peter had a colleague and dear friend, Lisa, who had managed to do the impossible and house two dogs in central Beijing: one from Brooklyn, and a one-eyed one found on the street. She delivered a crate. This dwarfed the diminutive Fú-qì, and we piled in old blankets and toys, and, and acting on a tip from Lisa, a ticking clock under the blankets as a surrogate heartbeat from a missing mother, to calm the lost and found baby while she slept.
Before bed, supper and a bath. The formula was mixed and fed to Fú-qì in an eye-dropper. Her grip was impressive - this was the hungriest of dogs. I wondered if the delicate milky compound could possibly satisfy such need, and whether the glass might crack. The bath had a squealing obbligato; the size of dog bore no resemblance to the decibels. She was matted and grungy, and the shower water soon turned black. Paradoxically, the blacker the water became, so did the pooch. One white paw shone in relief, as did a fetching white patch on her breast. And revealed was a tiny sprinkling of white hairs on one haunch, which only served to make our new little family member even more distinctive.
We dubbed Fú-qì ‘Queen of the Night’ that first night. Her cries at being dispatched to the crate and ministered to by a ticking clock were heart-rending, and her coloratura was impressive in one so young. Peter and I lay in bed, wondering at what had come to pass. We were not dog people. I had always characterized myself as a cat person, even though I had never had one. Growing up in Britain, the most buttoned-up nation in the world, folk would gush sentimentally over the fate of an abandoned animal, yet farm their children out of boarding school at the age of six. I had despised a boyfriend of my mother’s, incapable of any meaningful human interaction, yet the love of his life was a maudlin attachment to a threadbare and territorial poodle. But as Fú-qì chorused well into the night, I figured that the gods had sent another challenge to follow on from unlikely parenthood, commitment, stability and all those things that I had vowed would happened to other people, not I. I was learning, not before time, to go with the flow.
The following morning, a Monday, was action central. Peter and the girls left at the same time, the girls on two separate school buses and Peter whisked off by his driver, Mr. Liang. It dawned on me, working from home, that Fú-qì, who needed feeding every two hours, was to be my charge.
We had scrambled for interim supplies the night before, the local supermarket in our compound had yielded up cat litter, that Fú-qì immediately resisted. I had not realized that she was months away from being toilet trainable, and we lived in a spacious duplex apartment on the 17th floor, whose front door opened to a small hall, with an elevator, which deposited us into a grandiose lobby that could be taken for a skating rink. An hour later, Fú-qì treated me to her first bowel movement. I had managed to contain her in a guest bathroom, a charmless blank space. As I approached to scoop it up, I recoiled in horror. Like a scene out of ‘Alien’, the doings were moving - yes, what Fú-qì had deposited was definitely wriggling and making a vague progress across the floor.
We had been living in Beijing for two years. For the first year, I had dutifully taken two language lessons a week, three hours each, which had left me exhausted and drained, unfit for any of my own work. Experienced China hands were scornful of this. ‘You’re not going to learn anything this way. You need to sign up for a full time University course’. But I had come from London, where I had been running the music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School for five years, and I wanted to get back to some concentrated composition. I also didn’t have the emotional connection with China and its language that Peter had. I reasoned that if I wanted to immerse myself in a language, it would be Russian or Italian, languages with far more emotional and musical resonance for me. So after a year of struggling, of being laughed at by the daughters, who always went very quiet and proffered no help when taxi drivers got helplessly lost in the burgeoning new neighbourhoods springing up all over Beijing, I renounced the language and engaged with China by learning a musical instrument, the Yang-Qin, a butterfly harp. So, apart from a few navigational basics, and some commonplace phrases, I was essentially helpless.
I did not know the Putonghua for ‘worms’, for example.
So I called Peter’s office. Of course, he was dashing off to a meeting, but managed to convey a message to Lisa, our dog-whisperer, who was in an important meeting herself, but obviously found the wiggling stool more compelling. Her driver was dispatched and I was ferried to her vet, braving the Beijing traffic, with a curious and frisky little dog, whom I was terrified was going to void further inside the immaculate interior of the plush chauffeured car.
Naturally, nobody spoke any English, and after every third word an impasse was reached. I would text Lisa, who moments later, would call and speak to the vet. I learned later that she was popping in and out of her meeting to help us out. Fú-qì was inspected thoroughly, and presented with a handful of improbably fluorescent green pills. With hand gestures, mime and much help from Lisa, I was assured that within 36 hours, Fú-qì’s stool would cease to roam.
By the way, ‘worms’, or to be more specific, nematodes, which was Fú-qì’s complaint, in Mandarin is xiànchóng - 线虫. You never know when you might need it.
The next emergency struck at supper-time, at home. In all the unexpected turmoil, we had forgotten that the upcoming weekend was a long one, and we had booked a flight to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, to see pandas. As Fú-qì needed formula every two hours, and was much too tiny for a kennel, we had a problem. Peter took to the phone, and I to e-mail. We had two nifty friends, a younger couple, who we thought of first. But Shai, a journalist, and Alisha were going away too. However, they were full of excitement about our doggy adventure, and when Shai mentioned wistfully that they would love to have a dog, we gave them the details of the vet in Shun-yi. Sure enough, Fú-qì’s sister, the brown dog, was in the window - and the following week she found a home with our friends. She - named Tai - now resides in Hong Kong, in a busy household with two small children. We had solved one problem, but not our own. Late that night, after ever expanding degrees of separation, a student acquaintance of somebody-or-others arrived to tend Fú-qì, welcoming diversionary therapy from writing a graduate thesis.
Imperceptibly Fú-qì installed herself into our household. There was a big rite of passage a few days later, when she managed to jump off the sofa and start to explore. The vast expanse of the tiled hall floor terrified her. Jolted from our appointed rounds, we would hear wailing, and the dog was flattened out on the edge of the floor, quivering. Eventually, with much coaxing, she would muster herself and creep towards us. She much preferred the sanctuary of the carpets, where we repeatedly found mementos of puddles and worse. We liked collecting unusual carpets, either from Bukhara, or eccentric ones with Cultural Revolutionary slogans woven into them. Certain of these, in time, grew more fragrant than others. Were there diapers for diminutive dogs, I wondered?
Soon thereafter, she managed to crack the dropper during feeding time, and she took to more solid fare with alacrity, making me wonder what in fact she had been eating before she had found us. Her confidence and adventurous spirit soon meant she had the run of the apartment, even if the stairs took many more months to negotiate.
We found a vet who was closer to home, though still a drive away. Even as an adult dog, she still associates transport with medicine, and is a nervous passenger. She regarded Mr. Liang’s black limousine with terror. The vet’s practice was geared to expatriates, which was to prove extremely useful when Fú-qì was later to be exported, along with all of us, to the USA. I often wished I were a dog throughout that process, as her immigration was so much simpler than mine. Initially though, we were inadvertently given bad advice that would lead to problems later. Fú-qì would need a hùkõu (permit) once she was six months old, but we were advised to delay her application until she was old enough to be spayed (compulsory in Beijing), as a spayed dog got a substantial reduction in fees. We were reassured that our dog would not grow too much, as there were severe size limits for domestic dogs within the inner limits of Beijing. We lived within the third ring-road, until recently the gateway to the open country, by this time there were seven. The summer break was imminent and we were to go to Shelter Island in New York state, but of course we could not take the dog, as she was too young to be inoculated. So our vet recommended a kennel, with open space and individual care. We were away for six weeks. During that time we had regular reassuring bulletins on Fú-qì’s progress, and a few grainy photographs, which showed her growing fast, and developing more distinctive facial features.
Schools restarted mid August in Beijing, and we always returned a little grumpy, exiled from our magic island to sweltering dusty urban sprawl. A few days later Fú-qì was delivered from her kennel.
A knock at the door. No time to take in her escort. A black blur shoots through our entrance hall to the farthest point of the living room beyond, crashes onto the sofa, bounds back, semi-leaps up at me (no time to complete the gesture), attempts to lick Tillie, rebounds back to the far sofa, and again, completes several victory laps in record time. Then she stops in front of us, panting, and squats. She pees, she pees a river, a fragrant lake, a torrent - for once on the floor, not on a choice carpet - maybe there’s no time. Phenomenal. Can this be Fú-qì? It doesn’t seem possible. Tillie, whose aversion to dogs flares up at the sight of this manic hound, utters piercing screams and bolts for her room, slamming the door.
Even though we don’t recognize her, she recognizes us. There is a barrage of licks, leaps and lashing tail. She has grown a tail! It is superb. It curls back on itself, a wand of black velour, highly articulated and expressive. From having a little pug nose, she has a noble snout, angular and handsome. And her ears! They are signifiers of multitudinous emotions, which we later try to interpret. They have arcane codes and logic like highly evolved semaphores. Her coat is marvelously soft, and it gleams. She is quite a mix: collie, sheep-dog, the tail of an Akita perhaps, her head is maybe a little small for her body and she has a quirky underbite, half grimace half snarl. She is lithe and athletic. And cooped up in a 17th floor apartment.
The regime has to be iron-clad. A walk around the compound every morning timed to the family’s departure. A lunchtime walk. A longer walk in the late afternoon, maybe to a nearby canal, despite the filthy paths. A late night stroll. Still accidents occur and certain carpets get favoured. It is hard to connect an accident with immediate retribution of rushing out of the flat, gathering keys and paraphernalia, calling the lift, waiting for the lift, traversing the monstrous lobby and getting outside to the few patches of manky grass, and making sense to the puppy that this is where business should be done. It’s just too confusing. What’s the problem when those carpets will do just fine?
She becomes, through no fault of her own, a lovable tyrant. The girls are detailed for walk duty, but they are hopeless, dithering in the hallway, giving the dog a chance to void. Once she does it in the lift and when we try to dash back into the flat to mop it up, the lift is spirited away. And on one occasion, someone drops the leash and the dog hesitates getting out of the lift, and she herself is whisked away, with her whimpers fading as she descends down the shaft. There’s a perplexed compound guard at the bottom, holding a struggling dog. We get a stern lecture which I don’t understand. I smile a lot in China. I always assume it’s disarming.
With Fú-qì now back in the bosom of her family, three challenges await. First she has to be spayed. With hindsight we would have loved her to have puppies, but it’s the law in China and without it, she can’t proceed to challenge two: her hùkõu. And potentially the biggest challenge of all: we know it’s our last year in China, and we will be moving to the States at the end of the school year, so the dog and this Brit are in the same boat.
It wasa shame to see our unruly puppy temporarily disabled with gauze around her nether parts and a cone of shame. But her resilience soon returned her to full friskiness. The next challenge, the hùkõu, turned out to be a roller-coaster ride, and more intractable than we could have predicted.
We had delayed dealing with this until the dog was spayed, as the vet had advised. It was possible that the whole issue could be avoided since foreigners with dogs were not much bothered by the authorities, but Fú-qì needed to be exported, and thus the permit was essential. There had been a summit meeting involving the local experts: Peter’s driver, his secretary and our cook. It had been decided that no foreigner should get involved with the police, as this would be complicated. Nor was there a reason for the dog to be presented in person, though it was surmised that the traditional Chinese dislike of black dogs would be a disadvantage. It is thought that black dogs are the unquiet spirits of wicked souls come home to roost. And if that weren’t enough, the Chinese also favour the meat of black dogs when it comes to keeping warm in the winter, so in older days, a cold snap meant that black dogs would disappear. This came home to me one day when escorting Tillie to a corner store on a neighbouring market street. Lining the way were tiny stalls with old couches visible in the back, where the shopkeeper would sleep. One was a butcher's shop, where the meat was displayed on a table in the street. Above the meat was a rudimentary pulley mechanism that jiggled a piece of string tied to a scrap of folded paper that acted, not very efficiently, as fly deterrent. This shop, inevitably, was Fú-qì’s favourite, and she alway wanted to linger. The butcher was a strapping, slightly rotund fellow, customarily strutting in front of his stall, in a striking floor length brown leather apron with a cleaver at the ready. Tillie had Fú-qì on the leash, and as we passed the butcher looked the dog up and down and addressed Tillie, assuming she would understand.
‘Piaoliang. Hun hao chí!
which even my rudimentary language skills understood as ‘Pretty! Delicious’.
‘Hold the dog close and keep moving’, I hissed into Tillie’s ear, and we locked step and marched past, a tight little trio, all the time nervously eyeing the cleaver.
Thus, armed with the certificate of spaying and a picture of the dog, our trusty housekeeper Xiao Wang was dispatched to the police station to apply for the permit. She was summarily sent home. The dog was too big. In fact, Fú-qì wasn’t so big - 20 pounds, but, after the next consultation with the cook, the driver and the secretary, it was decided that the picture distorted her size. Next, an artful photograph of Fú-qì was presented, one that revealed her compact stature and her sweetness. We had some outsize designer Chinese chairs, and Fú-qì was posed, in the middle distance, against these. Meat was dangled out of shot, making her open her mouth as if she were smiling. Once again, Xiao-Wang was cast out by the authorities. The dog was too big. This was patently ridiculous as there were labradors, poodles and many dogs that towered over Fú-qì living in the compound. Clearly, there was a back door by which permits could be bought, but we were stumped.
Peter had an idea. Working for a multinational foreign bank has its advantages. He figured to enlist the help of the bank’s head of security. Mr Zhang was an imposing figure, six foot eight, with a nightclub bouncer’s physique. His family had an impressive pedigree of security connections, his father had been one of Chairman Mao’s bodyguards. One, of course, could not approach such a trivial matter full on with so imposing a gentleman, but Peter was well versed in the ritualized and opaque customs that got things done in China.
The next day, he made a rare appearance in the part of the building where the security team were ensconced. He looked vague, a little lost. He made eye contact with Mr Zhang, smiled, and, with an absent, yet casual air, returned to his office. As the big boss, he calculated that would do the trick.
It did. A few moments later, Mr Zhang filled the doorway, inquiring if all was well, and if anything was needed. Peter welcomed him into the office, and said, no, not at all, and engaged him in small talk. It went well: family, food, the glories of autumn in Beijing, the imminence of Shanghai hairy crab season (a prized delicacy) and an impassioned discussion about finding the best places in Beijing to eat them: a chummy bond was formed over the discussion of food, always a winning topic. At the close of this, with repeated mutual courtesies, Mr Zhang asked if there was anything he could do for Peter.
‘Not at all’ he said.
Mr Zhang replied he was at his service should he require anything, anything at all.
‘Well….’, Peter started - ‘but no, it’s far too unimportant to bother you with something so trivial’.
Mr Zhang affirmed profusely that he would help, whatever it was.
Pulled from Peter by Mr. Zhang was the subject of Fú-qì’s hùkõu. Mr Zhang professed himself delighted to be of service, and he would sort it out forthwith.
A few days passed. More pleasurable conversations ensued and Fú-qì’s permit was said to be in progress. After a few more days it was still in progress, and there was absolutely no problem. Progress was progressing well after a week or more insisted Mr Zhang, even if things were slightly complicated. Peter read between the many lines when Mr. Zhang made the fatal statement: ‘The problem is not big’.
Clearly, the concept of ‘face’ was now part of the mix. ‘Face’ is said to have originated in China. The twentieth century writer, Lin Yutang, in ‘My Country and My People’ (1935) puts it more elegantly in English than I could ever hope to:
‘Interesting as the Chinese physiological face is, the psychological face makes a still more fascinating study. It is not a face that can be washed or shaved, but a face that can be "granted" and "lost" and "fought for" and "presented as a gift". Here we arrive at the most curious point of Chinese social psychology. Abstract and intangible, it is yet the most delicate standard by which Chinese social intercourse is regulated.’
So, even though Fú-qì’s permit might well be an impossible problem, it was inconceivable that Mr Zhang could retreat, or be able to retreat, from addressing the insouciant request that Peter had cast his way.
A few more days passed. No one knows by what labyrinthine route events came to pass, but they did. I had a phone call from an unusually hassled Peter (in the throes of post financial crash regulatory chaos) that Mr Zhang would be appearing to take the dog to the local police station. I leashed her up. There was another call, almost immediately from an even more hassled Peter: I would need to go in person, as Mr Zhang - all six foot eight of him - was afraid of dogs.
Shortly afterwards a large Black Maria with tinted windows purred to a stop. Mr Zhang leapt out, dwarfing me and Fú-qì. He drove for a very few minutes, and escorted us into the police station. Two stony-faced functionaries gestured me into an inner sanctum. Clearly, we were expected. Inside, I was greeted by a friendlier face in a crisp uniform: it seems he was the police chief of our administrative division. He and Mr Zhang greeted each other fulsomely, and had an animated and seemingly playful exchange, possibly about Shanghai hairy crabs. One of the functionaries wordlessly directed me to a chair. Mr Zhang stood slightly behind me, to one side. Fú-qì seemed to instinctively sense that matters of grave import were afoot, as she meekly sat down next to me, leaning in, and applying pressure to my leg. I placed a reassuring hand on her back, rather wishing for someone there to place a reassuring hand on mine.
In front of me was an easel with a flip chart. I examined it closely. The chart consisted entirely of pictures of dogs. I looked in vain for a close match for Fú-qì, and then I realized that small breeds were at the top, increasing to the largest at the bottom. Then it dawned that the dogs seemed to be colour coordinated. All the black dogs were at the bottom, and thus automatically the largest - Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Doberman Pinschers and so on. There were no diminutive black dogs. All the small dogs were white and beige. I felt this was most unfair to Fú-qì, who was sitting, expectant and demure, and looking particularly diminutive next to Mr Zhang. I wondered if this was how black dogs of any size were perceived by the Chinese.
The police chief gestured to the stonier-faced of the functionaries, who strode to the flip chart, picked up a long wooden pointer and rattled off, at great speed, an impressive patter that was punctuated by rapping the stick against pictures of dogs. He seemed loudest and most emphatic when he swished the stick to the bottom of the chart, where the black dogs were. I, of course, did not understand a single word, but knew instinctively that I needed to show that I was deeply apologetic at not understanding the intricacies of central Beijing dog policy: in short, I needed to eat crow. I bowed my head down, and repeated, at intervals, like a mantra, in my faulty Mandarin:
Wo zhī dao. Duìbuqî - meaning ‘I know, I’m truly sorry’ - sorry, with the connotation of being unworthy.
Eventually the tirade ceased. The police chief gestured and the functionaries left. I rose, and the chief, smiling suddenly, patted my shoulder. I bowed deeply and clasped my hands together in a gesture of humility. I deemed it was now safe to smile. The police chief then escorted me outside and suddenly crouched down to dog level, playfully touching Fú-qì’s head, caressing her and remarking that she was a very beautiful dog. This I found, almost more disconcerting than the stiff ceremony I had just endured. A functionary appeared in the courtyard with a piece of card, bearing a picture of Fú-qì. It was the hùkõu.
I thanked Mr. Zhang, and gestured that I would walk home. Fú-qì and I needed to decompress. Peter mentioned that Mr Zhang had let drop, very subtly in passing, that he was interested in Scotland and had tasted and enjoyed whiskey. So a choice, expensive single malt was procured.
Fú-qì, our dear pooch, was now exportable. That third challenge turned out to be a piece of cake. Our last months in Beijing flew by, culminating in a round of farewells and parties. The vet proved invaluable at guiding us through the paperwork and vaccination requirements needed to repatriate Fú-qì. Our dog was sent back to the kennel for a week while we packed up the flat, and then was flown from Beijing to Amsterdam, where she had a eight hour layover at an outdoor kennel. On completion of the transatlantic leg, we awaited her at our house on Shelter Island.
It is a beautiful summer evening. The light starts to coalesce in preparation for a sumptuous sunset. There is a soundscape dominated by the percussive rasp of the cicadas. Peter and I sit on the porch, sipping gin and tonics, relishing the fresh island air and surrounded by different degrees of green. The girls loiter and squabble, they are on tenterhooks. Suddenly, a van rattles up the drive, turns and reverses, so that the back door is facing us. A jolly lady hails us, we sign a paper and she opens the van.
A black blur shoots out like a missile and aims herself at each of us in turn. We are licked, swiped, scratched by a flurry of paws, swished by an excited tail. The girls squeal, and this time Tillie, having been patiently trained by Fú-qì, submits to her attentions with good grace. After several victory laps, Fú-qì stops, as if to take in her new Arcadia, sniffs, stretches luxuriantly, and rolls over on her back, legs akimbo. Her coat is marvelously soft, and it gleams. She is lithe and athletic. And free, free to pee in the New World (not just a choice carpet), rule us, her little empire, and bark to her heart’s content.
© Julian Grant 2014