The loss of a close friend is always extremely painful. If this friend happened to have four paws, like Bonzo, the bereavement even changes the way you view your two-legged acquaintances.
Bonzo was getting older and his sense of smell was getting worse. One afternoon, with my weak eyesight, I was able to spot a rabbit prancing about the fields close to our house, but he couldn’t feel it or see it, though he seemed to have been astutely and carefully scouting the area. He finally managed to catch sight of the rabbit. He ran off in pursuit, but he looked like an old man, legs shaking, who was trying to catch up with a strong young lad.
He was getting weaker and weaker. It all seemed to suggest that he wouldn’t live much longer, so one day I vented my woes: “Why is it that good honest dogs live shorter lives than people!” Take that 50-year-old merchant woman, Dzumal, a sweet-talker and swindler; well, she’ll still be around for another 10 or 20 years, beguiling gullible people, while my 13-year-old Bonzo may have only a few months left to live. Shouldn’t it rather be the other way around?
Little by little, he became slow and lazy. In winter in heavy frost, I would often run along with him down the street, because if I would let him run free, he wouldn’t feel like moving faster and would get really cold.
He wasn’t able to go on longer walks anymore. In the end, I even had to carry him down the stairs to go outside. An elderly lady, who would frequently see me in the company of Bonzo near the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków, asked me once: “What’s going on with your dog? He’s so lovely! He’s fallen ill?” Regretfully, I couldn’t communicate to Bonzo: “People are asking about your health!” If he were able to understand those words, I’m sure it would have made him happy.
I had really gotten used to enjoying walks with him through the Bielany and Krzemionki districts of Kraków. Therefore, later if I ever ended up there alone or with somebody who was completely neutral to me, and talkative at that, I would feel very uncomfortable.
He became ill, he suffered, but he didn’t woefully moan or groan as many people in similar situations do. Perhaps he also didn’t have high hopes that his caretakers would sympathize with him more if he would make them realize the pain he was suffering with his moaning.
When he was lying on the kitchen floor, barely moving, perhaps awaiting the end of his suffering, I would break away from my writing every quarter of an hour to see how he was doing. I think of all the people that held vigil at the bedside of many a scoundrel, so why shouldn’t a kind-hearted dog have a close friend at his side in what are perhaps his last hours, to lighten his heart even a bit and thus lighten his agony? I silently watched him, yet he could barely see me anymore. Only once did he wag his tail ever so slightly to my utter joy as well as my regret, because he was, after all, saying goodbye to me in a way, but for a terribly long time.
Still, I wasn’t at his side at that moment when he heavily sighed for the very last time. As I watched him lifeless, I thought to myself: “Now all that I have left are less valued and less loyal friends – people.” I didn’t feel like talking to nearly anyone for an hour or so. At the beginning, I even intended to refrain from eating anything after his death, if only for the day. After all, many a dog had starved itself grieving the death of a human, so why shouldn’t I, a human, abstain from overindulgence right after the death of my close friend, a dog?
Zosia, a young graphic artist, brought me great joy when she compassionately asked: “So your Bonzo passed away already?” It was also then that her girlish beauty and charm appealed to me much more than usual. On the other hand, others would triumphantly state: “So your dog’s dead!” After all, all kinds of ruffians ‘die’, yet amiable creatures ‘pass away’.
Several people very close to me have died since, but I haven’t thought about the death of any of them with such emotion as the death of Bonzo. None of his dog friends were at his side when he was giving his last breath to express sympathy and regret with their quiet whimper.
Since my nephew quickly buried Bonzo, I felt regret at first that it wasn’t I who had carried his body and that it was not I who dug a hole in the gardens of the Pauline Monastery to bury it. At least he was put to rest close to home. As a result, I didn’t have to grieve over the fact that it wasn’t I but somebody else who had the sad pleasure of carrying his dead body. Despite all this, the thought that I wasn’t there when he was being buried tormented me to the point that I finally preferred to convince myself that it was I who lugged my deceased companion in a sack, on my own shoulders, heedless of the fact that he was heavy, wondering at length: Where should I put him to rest? What would he want? On a hill? By the water? I would then recall rather precisely how sad I felt when he had disappeared in the ground and I had nearly convinced myself that it was all the truth. I even forbade myself to place any doubt in that truth! And if somebody were to ask me at that very moment: “When was the last time you felt moved by something?” I could have replied with utmost sincerity: “When I was carrying Bonzo in a sack!”
I didn’t go to see Jadwiga to lend her money. I was afraid she’d say: “I would be so grateful!” Those are empty words that only irritate me. Would she indeed be grateful? Only dogs are grateful!
I found my wardrobes, cupboards and any trinkets that constituted my supposed possessions to be quite irritating, just needless junk. After all, dogs or horses have nothing. “How amusing it will be if I ever move,” I thought. Will it be worth the trouble to transport from one place to another all sorts of furniture or pots and pans, which tempt me to enjoy greater comfort, or to lounge about or indulge in food? And maybe I’m supposed to go about boasting how much I’ve collected? Is it really to my benefit that I almost always find something to eat in my pantry? If I had ever found it empty as many times as Bonzo found his bowl empty when he was thirsty. If I had ever better learned to face shortcomings with greater serenity! Anyway, I will feel less lonely after Bonzo’s death and I will reminisce about him with less regret once I myself become just as patient and as loyal to friends as he. Then it would be easier for me to enjoy my own company. I will no longer have this dire need to admire somebody’s virtues or comfort myself by saying that at least somebody else has what I am lacking!
I also resolved that from now on, I will spend more time only with people who are almost as sincere, straightforward or lenient as he was. After all, the world can’t be such a bad place; I’m sure there are people that could be just as kind to me as a dog! With sincere concern and sentiment, I was putting together in my head a list of men and women who would be more or less capable of replacing my dog, voicing somebody’s name every once in a while. For years, I had tirelessly been making the acquaintance of a variety of people to above all be able to select at least a few among them who could bring me joy.
Yet I wasn’t able to forget about Bonzo that quickly. Even other dogs would remind me of him. They would chase after me, sniffing the legs of my trousers; I was soaked in the smell of Bonzo, who would once in a while wipe his mouth in them.
One day, I felt tormented again when I remembered how many times Bonzo had humbly waited in the hallway until somebody took him outside. In the end, I cheered myself up by explaining to myself that I once really needed to go to the bathroom, but I nonetheless took Bonzo outside first if only to spare him the uncertainty of when he would finally be able to go out into the street. And when I would return home with him, I would always let him in first, like a distinguished person of sorts. I don’t even know if he appreciated my courtesy…
One night, I experienced true happiness. I saw Bonzo sleeping in the hallway. He was happy that I was putting his collar on. Yet after having looked at him for a while, I realized it – he hasn’t been alive for a while now! I must be seeing him in a dream then, though he looked alive and well. Even more so then, I figured, I should take advantage of the situation that I’m not waking up from this dream, that he is standing before me as he used to, when he was still alive. I should benefit from each and every moment and not take my eyes off of him! I had on enough occasions woken up right at the moment of intense emotion, when I, for example, saw a loved one in my dream who had passed away long ago! I greedily gazed at Bonzo, and not as if I were looking at a ghost, though I was quite aware of the fact that he was. I also petted him in haste, because I could wake up at any moment, and Bonzo would suddenly disappear. I also tried to look him in the eyes to see if they carried an expression of a living being, as I somehow doubted that. My thirst for knowledge and obsession with investigating everything never let me go, even in times of extreme happiness or pain. As if on purpose, he didn’t lift his head, so I wasn’t able to look him straight in the eye.
And that’s when I woke up, deeply moved and happy. I had regained my old mate, if only for a brief moment. I was looking at him, and how close I was! For a while now, no person has been able to give me as much joy as that dog who passed away weeks ago.
Text from the archives, no. 794/1960
Translated by Mark Ordon