I must have been around ten.
We had this scrawny little dog, who had been fluffy in her youth but was getting older and scrawnier as time passed. She had this half-Chewbacca half-Ewok nozzle and hair that was so cute that so many years later I can’t watch a Star Wars movie without thinking of her.
Of course, what with her being a small dog, her favorite pastime was barking at every other person walking past our house. The task of making her silent was all the more difficult than three sides of our garden out of four were surounded by streets.
You had all the leisure needed to bark at the back, then side, then front of the garden. Tell me of a dog who wouldn’t enjoy that.
So we got used to telling her off loudly. In a way, I’ve become convinced since then that yelling at a dog is a misunderstanding of dog psychology: it must sound like you’re barking too, going along with the pack as it were, encouraging them to go on.
One day, out of the corner of my eye I found out another good reason for her barking and growling: the boy who lived next door was throwing stones at her! She couldn’t get back to him, so she was all the more vocal.
He threw one, two, three stones. I resolved to do something: poor dog, I had to help her.
Yet I wasn’t so brave as what you see in movies. Now – oh yes, of course now, I’d just walk towards him and talk him out of it, mentioning respect to living creatures, and look how cute she is and how she looks like an Ewok on four legs and so on.
But back then. Here I was, skinny boy who didn’t often enjoy a good walk out, too engrossed as I was in books and Legos.
So I looked around me to find something I could do, and decided I would have to intimidate him. Obviously, I had to pick up a stone.
I was not going to retaliate, because my parents had so patiently taught me how it’s bad and dangerous to do bad and dangerous things with scissors, sticks, stones, whatever.
I was just going to pretend that I too had a stone and was going to use it. So I held it ostentatiously in my hand, and stared at him from the other end of the garden. Come to think of it, had I wanted to throw it, I’d never had been able to aim this far away!
Here is the scene, like an old Western movie: him and me, now neither of us moving, gauging what the next move was.
At this precise moment, my mother came out of the house. She had not seen any of his bullying our dog, she just figured out in one second that I was going to throw a sharp stone to our neighbour’s face. She caught me quickly – I hadn’t moved – and gave me one of her fierce and dreaded « mother looks ». She spent what seemed an eternity admonishing me for what I was about to do.
I felt all this was so unfair. I kept repeating I was not going to do it, and she kept repeating that it was bad, what I was going to do.
It’s a strange thing, memory. Why on earth should I remember this incident now? Maybe because I’ve become a father now. Something I will have to remember: never underestimate appearances when judging what your kids are doing. Or what you think they are doing.