I have twenty-one plus one soft toys. The plus one is my dog – Sherlock, a basset hound; as good as any soft toy. Even better, he’s a good conversationalist.
“Sherlock, boy, will I make it?”
He thumped his tail enthusiastically.
“How much longer do you think?
He thumped his tail again.
“No.” I shook my head. “Wrong answer.”
His tail drooped. I was sorry. I looked around at the others.
My pink elephant, Shali has been with me since I was three. She has known me longest. She’s also the smallest; fits inside my twenty-eight-year-old palm. Once upon a time, she used to sleep with me. Now, she stands (majestically) upon my bedside table and surveys me as I slumber. She had no answers for me.
Farooq is my little monkey boy’s name. An older boy cousin gifted him to me on my seventh birthday. I told him I was too old for soft toys; he ruffled my hair and told me, “You’ll like Farooq. He’s the nicest monkey on Earth. Been with me far too long. Thought I should give him a new friend.” The next morning he was swinging from the roof – not Farooq, the cousin. Farooq attended his funeral with me. I considered giving him back to my cousin. Then I thought, the cousin had my Amma for company. Besides, he’d told me Farooq needed a new friend. So, Farooq stayed with me. Farooq, if he could talk, probably had a hundred questions.
Teddy – he’s my favourite. Amma bought him for me when I was five. I found him in a toy shop in the Philippines. There’s a picture of the two of us in the old picture album. Teddy sitting on the floor on his hindquarters and I standing next to him with my hand about his shoulder. We are the same height in that photo. Teddy was my bosom friend. After Amma died, Teddy slept next to me, on her side of the bed.
There’s also Coco, the crocodile; Frieda, the grizzly, and Solomon, the lion – gifts I received from friends in senior school. They stand in a semi-circle on my erstwhile study table. Supposedly, they were here to watch me as I studied; to make sure I completed portions, the required reading. They haven’t moved from their places to this day.
Peelu is a tiger pillow. I’m considerably attached to him. He goes where I go. He’s traveled with me in planes, trains, buses, and cars; on a truck too once. Next week, he’s coming with me to the hospital in Geneva.
The family of cats – Jenna and the girls, I call them; seven of them including Jenna – I gained in college to piss off my roommate who had an exaggerated reaction to cats. We had a no pet policy in our sorority, else I would have sheltered a real family. As it turned out, the fake ones pissed her enough to keep her away from my end of the room and my person in general.
Mino – short for Minotaur, was named after his appearance. I have no clue where Jim, my first boyfriend found him. Jim and I broke up a year later. But Jim was a sweet guy, and we remained friends. Besides, I’d grown fond of Mino, what with Jim asking after him every time we met. We’d talk about him and fall silent when that topic exhausted itself because Jim was a shy guy and I had no clue what to talk about. Mino resembled his first owner; he was extremely shy.
I have two more from the next two boyfriends, respectively a dinosaur and a puppy. The dinosaur I named Tino because I wasn’t feeling very imaginative and Dino was too obvious. The puppy I named Sahara – I do not remember why; it was my twenty-fourth birthday, he had proposed, and we were both drunk that night.
Xani was my gift to myself when the engagement to boyfriend number three broke up. I promised myself that I would burn Sahara and bought Xani in her likeness because I told myself I needed a puppy and I did not have the means – financial or emotional to take care of a live puppy. Unsurprisingly, I did not have the heart to burn Sahara. Today, Sahara stands slightly farther away from my bed than Xani does.
Leia, Arya, and Felix – a deer, horse, and donkey respectively. I found them abandoned in the basement of my apartment a couple of years ago when a family with triplet toddlers moved out to a bigger place. By that time, I’d relinquished myself to the pursuit of collecting soft toys. I couldn’t help it. One of Leia’s ears was torn and Felix’s tail was missing. I’d never put a thread through the eye of a needle until then. But, I mended Leia’s tear the best I could.
Dear old Sherlock belonged to Father. He must be six or seven – Father remembered no more by the time I assumed possession. A top-notch relationship guru, he thumps his tail when I ask him whether I should answer my boyfriend’s call after a fight and it droops when I don’t. Sherlock is the safe keeper of my soul. He guards my secrets as nobody but a dog can. The secrets I spill into his shaggy caramel coloured ears, in sorrow, and in anguish, are safely locked up within the chocolate brown pools behind his eyes.
“I’m dying, Sherlock.”
Sherlock gazed at me, still as a rock. I wished I could drown in those pools.
“It’s not like I have a choice, old boy.”
Sherlock continues to stare. Full circle and no answers. I sigh. If Sherlock doesn’t have an answer, I guess nobody does.