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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 33 page 04


I was now pumping frantically on the pedals to move as fast as I could in the hope of leaving the two dogs behind and, while they kept their pace with me, asking myself if I could deter them with the knife I carried with me. Or kick one of them on the snout with my heavy Timberland boots. Yet I was already aware that anything other than continuing to ride as fast as possible would mean certain doom for me, for there would always be the second dog. And I remembered from wildlife documentaries that once you start running from a predator there is no changing your mind. You cannot just stop and try to negotiate. Either you do not move from the start or you aim at getting maximum distance between you and them.

I rode like a bat out of hell, my heart beating as if it was about to explode, my lungs about to collapse from the strain and the icy air burning as it entered my pipes. My eyes were crying from the stinging wind, my abductor muscles and calves were screaming in agony with each revolution while my mind was reeling with impossible solutions and at the same time trying to focus on a couple of major imperatives: keep breathing, keep pedalling, stay focused, don’t you dare slow down.

For a moment I was somewhere else. I was no longer on my bike anymore but on foot, running in swift leather boots through a thick, warm forest. I saw at the same time, as from a bird’s eye view, a man in animal skin and fur garment carrying a crude wooden spear, hurrying in daylight through bushes and trees, jumping over ferns and large mossy roots. That person was being chased by a pack of wild beasts. Many thousand years ago, someone was running for dear life facing terrible odds.

The dogs must have followed me for three kilometres before they got tired and lost interest. That was, I had learned from documentaries, how it worked in nature. The strongest and the fittest prevailed. And I had prevailed. I had outridden the two beasts.

Moments later I closed the gate in the fence around the house and staggered up the stairs to the door in a trance-like state, like a zombie trying to control the adrenaline rush. Only when I was in my comfortable heated room, with the telly switched on to a program about the rainforest, could I begin to breathe calmly again.

When I woke up in the middle of the morning, the previous night’s chase was a distant memory. The sun shone brightly through the window and I stretched and yawned and turned around for another five minutes of sleep when I suddenly became aware that the telly was still running. Before falling asleep I must have lowered the volume to almost mute, so that I would hear only the faint voice of the narrator of the rainforest doc. That was something I used to do for naps in the afternoon because I always found that the voices in documentaries acted like a lullaby and I would wake up refreshed at the end of the programme.

I could hear the humming of cars outside and birds singing in my grandmother’s vegetable garden — and dogs barking on the television. I looked up from my pillow to the screen to see what the programme was and raised the volume on the remote control.

It was an archeological show about the emergence of canines as a species. A professor was talking about dingoes. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I could hear his Australian accent, despite the French voice-over. The show was drawing to its end, with the archeologist concluding, “There are two things about modern dogs one must always be aware of. The first is that dogs were originally domesticated, bred and cross-bred from wolves some 40 000 years ago. The second is that the only real difference between dogs and wolves today is the human influence on dogs. If that influence were to vanish from dogs’ environment, they would become wild beasts again, regardless of their breed and the twists humans have imposed on their genes.”

Looking at my mobile phone, I figured I had a class about to begin, but there was no way I could rush to catch part of it. My legs were still aching from last night. This might be a good day to stay home.