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Authors: Eva Hornung

Dog Boy (23 page)

BOOK: Dog Boy
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Outside the centre, he got White Sister to wait in the gardens, acting like any old stray, while he walked right into that forbidding white building, his heart leaping up his throat and trying to strangle him.
 
He froze, ready to flee. Three closed doors, the door behind, and the stairwell ahead. The tall windows would be useless, he knew that already. He listened to the door behind him close, making sure no lock clicked, and clutched his club, legs apart, knees bent. The woman behind the desk stared with bulging eyes as her hand crept up to hold a small piece of cloth in front of her face. She tapped, leaned forward, and wailed into the empty air above her desk,
‘Dr Pastushenko, you are needed in reception!’
She was scared of him, and he felt a little better.
The entrance echoed and stank. Soap and something acrid. The woman smelled of sweat and some unfamiliar tang. Not flowers nor fruit nor meat. Not animal. The high walls were freshly painted but the iron balustrade leading up to the next floor was chipped and flaky. He could smell children’s home, old bad feelings, a hovering sadness. He could hear the children still shrieking outside and the drumming of young footsteps on the floors above. He couldn’t smell Puppy.
‘Dr Pastushenko!’ The woman squeaked, leaning to put her mouth down near her desk from behind her cloth. Her eyes slid again and again to a door beside the balustrade, so Romochka watched it too and waited.
He was startled when a young woman burst in from another door entirely, wafting eddies of a chemical and flower smell into the space. She had a swathe of shining brown hair as long as his own, but curly, not tangled.
She bounded in, past, then froze like a young elk to stare at him with dark eyes. Her hand too rose to her face, then she deliberated and lowered it. There was a silence as she drew him in.
‘Dr Ivanovna! Dr Ivanovna! Do something. Please! I have been paging and paging Dr Pastushenko!’
‘It’s OK, Anna,’ the elk woman said softly. That voice. Mellow, rich, all colours. Not shining like Pievitza, but glowing. Coals. Romochka reeled: if Pievitza had a Black Sister, this elk woman was she. She smelled like a woman who is with a man and carries herself and him together on her body to warn off others. But she had nothing of the harm and hurt of Pievitza. He was scared now, bewildered—and worried that he would forget how to find Puppy.
‘Brother Schenok!’ he croaked.
‘Aaaaaaah,’ said the voice, low and clear. ‘We really do need Dr Pastushenko.’
Romochka’s heart beat hard. Puppy was here, somewhere, or she wouldn’t be so knowing.
An adult step clattered on the stairs and, as a man’s legs appeared, a dry, rasping voice shouted,
‘Anna, I am here! Ouj…what is that
smell
!’ And with that last word he appeared and stopped short. Elk woman turned to him as Anna fluttered behind the desk.
Elk woman smiled, breathing through tiny intakes.
‘He wants his brother
Puppy
!’
The man started at the word. ‘
Puppy
,’ she said again, as if goading him.
There was a long silence.
The light from the stairwell windows was behind the man, and Romochka couldn’t see him clearly. He was tall and lean, and it was his smell that elk woman had in her keeping.
‘Your brother is here,’ he said, his voice sere and rustling like autumn leaves. ‘He is well cared for.’
When the man stepped forward, Romochka saw his eyes first. They were grey, clouded with a mixed sadness and yearning, but kind. He came quite close, and although he didn’t seem to notice Romochka clench the club, he knelt and took on an unthreatening pose. He was close enough for Romochka to smell his true smell in his scalp and see flecks of white in the thin straw-coloured hair. This man had no qualms about holding his nose between thumb and forefinger and speaking in a nasal rasp.
‘What is your name?’ he asked. It was the first time any of them had addressed him directly, and Romochka wished he had a dog snarling next to him, keeping them at bay. He dithered for a moment, wondered whether to bolt, growl or swing the club. All three. Then he blushed.
‘Romochka.’
The man stood up.
‘Natalya, let us take Romochka to see his brother.’
She laughed, eyed the man from under her lashes, and the three of them set off together up the stairs, with sweat springing from every pore on Romochka’s body. He walked to one side of the man, the safest place. The woman looked faster and seemed more determined. Underneath a muted reek of adult male, the man smelled of leather, soap-scrubbed hands, and…wood. Autumn. Romochka had never smelled anyone like him.
IV
Pravda Moskvii
, 10 June 2003
MOSCOW DOGBOY CAPTURED
Moscow child protection authorities have confirmed rumours that a latter-day Mowgli was caught in recent weeks around Zagarodiye on the northern outskirts of the capital city. The two-year-old boy was first sighted barking and running on all fours in the company of a pack of wild dogs.
Experts say that he has lived with the dogs since babyhood. He is very small and malnourished, with noticeable hair all over his body. He is able to run at great speed on his hands and feet. He uses dog sounds exclusively.
The age of Moscow’s dogboy makes him a rarity. Recent cases of older street children living with animals are well documented. However, while feral children actually raised by animals have been a recurrent subject of fiction, all previous real-life instances on record are of disputed authenticity.
Nothing is known about the long-term physical and mental effects of an early life with dogs. Our Russian dogboy will be kept at the Anton Makarenko Children’s Centre, where he will be studied by leading scientists while receiving the very best of care. The dogboy’s progress will be of considerable interest to the scientific community worldwide.
Dr Dmitry Pastushenko put the newspaper down and sighed. If only it were that simple. Three weeks ago this story would have been sufficient; now they would have to make a statement. A dogboy with a brother just didn’t seem to be the real thing. Yes, he was exposed, now. Open to ridicule, and not just on the subject of dogboys. His smug confidence! His hopes.
His views. He had said more than once over dinner that the human was an animal at heart.
Healing young humans involves getting the animal part right first—making sure that shelter, food and loving touch are a given in any child’s life.
What did that really mean? The memory of his own voice mocked him.
Indeed, we never completely dissociate from our animal selves; think of how we use animals in art, or as metaphor. Animal myths and legends—avatars, significant interaction between man and beast. You have to agree these stories articulate something fundamental.
He had actually said that, his voice urbane and convincing.
He looked up from the paper. His office was full of animals. He collected ancient animal artefacts: small bronze or stone figurines. He even collected the mass-produced bears carved out of wood that could be found throughout the Ismailovo market; and he liked cuckoo clocks.
Yet just now he felt an upwelling of revulsion at everything animal.
‘Of course we are animals,’ he said out loud just as his Mayak cuckoo clock whirred, pumped its bellows and sang out the half hour. He knew what he meant by this. Animal was the basis, the hidden foundations; but human—that was the building, the amazing sculptured artefact of personality.
Three weeks before, Dmitry had been smarting from an early-morning argument over a dog. Natalya wanted them to get one; he hated the thought. One of their neighbours owned a Moscow watchdog, ovcharka crossed with Saint Bernard, ‘which gives them,’ Yuri Andrejevich had insisted, ‘strength, intelligence, wiliness and
surprising
agility.’
The dog was called Malchik. Dmitry, bored almost to tears by his neighbour’s adoration for it, had once theorised to Natalya that attachment to animals revealed some deficiency or need dating from early childhood. Attachments between species were nothing more than projections, and in that sense it was revealing that Yuri had named the dog ‘Boy’. A human who became fond of a dog was expressing a disorder or deprivation in the same way as a lone rabbit that bonded to a faun. Or a cat that suckled a hedgehog. Unfortunately, for some reason this had strengthened Natalya’s resolve that they should have a dog.
Dmitry also felt contaminated by contact with animals. He held his breath in the SPF animal house at the university laboratory. He shuddered at the feel of hair over alien musculature, even on a laboratory rat. He washed his hands immediately after touching any creature. This morning he had finally admitted as much to Natalya and instead of comprehension and sympathy, he caught a glow of triumph. When he added over breakfast that he also feared he might be allergic, he had to turn away, knowing he would lose his conviction if he looked at her.
Natalya laughed, her lovely voice ringing. ‘Oh you
wish
you were allergic.’
Dmitry, genuinely stung, stated then and there that he loved animals but something about them made him uncomfortable.
He went to work churning; it seemed they would be getting a dog. Natalya always got her way. He knew his discomfort demonstrated a proper awareness of the philosophical and scientific divide between man and animal, but he had been unable to express this. As always in Natalya’s company, he lost clarity and eloquence. No one argued with Natalya; most people did the bidding of that marvellous voice and soaked up the sunshine of her approval, her certainties, without even questioning whether they ought to be listening.
Yet he considered Natalya, for all that she was a brilliant paediatrician, a bit nutty. She was the only scientist he had ever met who’d asked him his star sign. It was the first thing she said to him and he still remembered with discomfort the smile, the keen glance she gave him, as if his answer had given her some new knowledge about him.
Such a naïve village soul, Natalya. Such childlike certainties, despite her intelligence. He would have asked her to marry him but he couldn’t think why she would say yes; he was stunned she had even agreed to move in with him. But it was he who furnished their apartment.
I left my stuff at home
, she’d said, and he had never had the courage to ask why.
His childhood had been hard compared with Natalya’s. Perhaps that was it: people who have had a hard childhood are more likely to realise that pets are a foolish indulgence.
The
hypocrisy
of dog-lovers! Russian kids were dying every day on the streets—Natalya knew this as well as he did—yet there was a public outcry over exterminating dogs. What other city in the world would fund the castration of strays? Propose rewarding pensioners for feeding them? Despite all this, according to Natalya, happy Russian women had dogs.
Natalya had been the perfect daughter (a talented gymnast, intelligent, warm hearted); she was now a compelling lover (independent, passionate, fascinating) and would become a brilliant wife (albeit less domesticated than some). She was going to be a wholesome mother, beloved aunty and most Russian babushka of babushkas: and all this quintessence of contemporary Russian womanhood was incomplete without a dog.
Dmitry smiled and sighed. He’d do his best to delay it for a while. And that very day the dogboy arrived, and Natalya dropped the subject.
 
When he first saw the tiny, hairy child crouched half naked, shivering in the corner of the militzia van, Dmitry felt an upwelling of revulsion and pity. Then, as he pulled back a syringe of tranquiliser, a strange thrill of delight tempered by shame. This was a frontier. Voilà! The human animal: a living manifestation of a failed attempt to cross over that great divide.
The child bared his white baby teeth and snarled, a useless defensive display. Dmitry shuddered.
You dog-lovers, with your sentimental anthropomorphic fantasies—you should see this.
Of all the mangled and stunted children Dmitry had worked with, this one struck him as the greatest tragedy and the most amazing survival. He found himself horrified, yet hopeful that the ‘raised by dogs’ part would prove verifiable.
 
‘Let’s call him Marko.’ Dmitry walked into Natalya’s office after lunch and stopped short. Her body was taut, her back turned to him as she typed: she had rearranged her desk set so that she could look out of the window, not at the door. Who else would do that? Who isn’t a little defensive in their office? She tapped faster at the keyboard and waved a hand apologetically. Her hair was a rippling copper swathe covering her shoulders. He could smell her shampoo. Dmitry hovered behind her chair, eager for her to approve the boy’s name. He also wanted to ask her whether she had had any new thoughts on dog ownership but it occurred to him, on the basis of previous inexplicable reasoning, that she might think today’s events had advanced her argument somehow. And he wanted to kiss her. To disperse the discord of the morning. ‘A fighter’s name—commemorate his Romulus-like early years!’
BOOK: Dog Boy
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