The sombre mood began with the dog. V and I were on Sideman Road in Bali, eating and taking a break from an afternoon rain shower in a roadside shop. Ever adventurous on the food front and keen to try some of the truly local offerings, V had asked the lady for “a bit of everything” in the small cabinet. We finished up this hot and sour mix of rice, vegetables, nuts and chicken, licked our fingers clean and stepped back out onto the road.
There, to the left, were the dogs. And there, bearing down on them with unstoppable momentum, was one of the many trucks that plied this narrow but busy highway. Bright yellow, yet with an almost apologetically sad face, the truck came on and the dogs began their dance. One, a matted grey-haired bitsa, made the right call immediately and sprang from the truck’s path with a deft leap. The other dog, a youngish, clean-looking, tan-coloured beauty, panicked and skipped not away from the truck to the pavement, but away from one wheel towards the centre of the road. There was a collective gasp in that long second as the truck passed directly over the dog and the dog, terrified yet unscathed, made its second mistake. Having landed on a diagonal with its back towards the rear of the truck, the dog failed to notice the approaching rear wheels and stepped directly into their path.
The small body of the dog, crushed under the great bulk of the truck, sprang up from the wet bitumen, impossibly contorted, emitting a series of heartrending yelps. On went the truck, seemingly unawares. I turned away in a flinch, grabbing the shocked and tearful V by the arm and pulling her with me. To look at the dog was unbearable, that it lived at all seemed both incredible and cruel. It had staggered into a sort of bent crouch, as though its body were frozen in the midst of a drying shake.
I had to get V away from the sound of it, and I had to get away myself. The image of the double wheels rolling over the dog had already fixed itself firmly, like sunglare. The temptation to look again, as if some new information might counter my worst thoughts, was too great.
We hurried up the side street, not sure where we were going, only knowing that it was away from the awful yelping.
“Someone has to kill it, they have to kill it now,” I said, wondering who might do this or just how exactly. Both of us were crying now and so was the sky. The rain began again, harder than before, hard as it can in the tropics. Fifty metres down the street we paused, the cries still audible, the rumble of passing trucks a brutal reminder.
There was nowhere to go. We were at a dead-end and on the wrong side of the road from our hotel. I didn’t know what to do, only that getting back to the hotel now seemed the only goal. We hugged, huddling under my umbrella.
“We have to go back.”
“I know. I know.”
We hurried down the lane, the dog’s cries now quieter, less frequent. How was such a tight little body, however lithe and resilient, supposed to contend with such a blow? Was anyone doing anything at all? I did not know and nor could I look as we stepped back out onto Sideman Road. We ushered each other across and into a small lane opposite. Our own turn-off was too close to the dog to risk, so we blundered on through the pouring rain, thankful of the sound on the umbrella that masked everything else.
Soon we were lost in a warren of narrow lanes. The paving was slippery with mud and moss. We rounded a corner and found a village temple. The courtyard was full of ducks. We took refuge under the gate’s stone lintel and held each other. The ducks approached making curious quacks and now, we both really started to cry.
“I hope it’s dead, I just hope it’s dead.”
“Would someone kill it?” asked V.
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
“But what would they use?”
“God knows. A knife, a sickle. A club.”
I shuddered as these images were conjured up, but they could only briefly trump the vision of the dog bending under the wheel. In fact, I could not stop thinking about it. It wasn’t merely involuntary. I had to picture it to make sense of it. Had it really happened? Did the dog really have no chance? It still seemed that perhaps if I looked hard enough at the replay in my head I’d see the dog move differently; step the other way and emerge alive and well with its little heart pounding.
When the rain eased a little we stepped our way through muddy paths and bamboo groves along the edge of the rice-fields. Sideman is a largely agricultural area; farms, hills, forests, ducks, cattle, temples and the ubiquitous resorts amidst the abundance. All around was lush green life and a scattering of roosters and dogs. We stepped cautiously down the slippery road, trying to shake off the feeling of horror, trying to comfort each other. It was nigh impossible not to talk about it, yet without much to say beyond simple, shocked expressions.
“I still can’t believe it happened.”
I felt an urgent need to pat a dog. I wanted to find one of the many strays and give it some comfort; show warmth and kindness to dog-kind as a whole, reassure one of the poor wandering beasts that it needn’t face the same fate. Each dog we passed seemed more fragile and vulnerable than before. Against a truck, what chance did they have but for their wits and dexterity? Yet, cunning as they were, the dogs took so many risks; dancing across the traffic, sleeping on the bitumen’s edge. Here at least, on this rural side road away from the main thoroughfare, there were no cars.
Soon a woman came chugging along on a scooter. Behind her skipped an eager young whelp, happy for the game of chase and the exercise. Its joyous, panting face reassured me that other dogs were still okay. I realised it wasn’t the dogs I was worried about so much as myself. I wondered if I would ever be able to remove that image from my mind. The big wheels, the great weight, the little body.
We were saved by the volcano. Passing a field of chilli and tapioca, V paused a moment to take a drink of water and turned to look behind her. There, massive against the horizon, was Mount Agung, finally visible through the cloud and mist. Since arriving the day before, we hadn’t even realised it was there at all, so muggy was the atmosphere. The heavy rain had cleaned the sky and left just a few clumps of cloud floating near the mountain’s peak. At just over three thousand metres, it hardly rivalled the world’s tallest, yet still it was epic in presiding over the landscape. Both of us are very fond of mountains and we stood watching it for some time, only turning away when the horizon began to cloud over. The sight of it lifted our spirits.
Later that afternoon, having swum in the pool and cooled several beers in the fridge, we sat on our balcony talking. Though I couldn’t quite stop my thoughts returning to the image of the dog and shuddering, both of us felt greatly relieved. The beer certainly helped to cushion the blow and it finally loosened our tongues. Yet it wasn’t the day’s events of which we spoke, but rather the bigger picture. Bali itself, the place, the people, and how exactly we felt about being there at all. The rawness of the dark event had opened our emotional vents, and there was much to discuss…