I was in bed pleasurably drifting off to sleep around 10 one night recently when a faint, plaintive moan arose from somewhere not very far from my house.
It was just an “Ooooo…” It slowly gained in pitch and began to haunt me. It infused the air with fear. I was alone at home and could not ask anyone what the sound was. Was it an animal cry? If so, what animal?
That plaintive cry soon fetched me these lines from James Stephens’s poem The Snare: “I hear a sudden cry of pain!/There is a rabbit in a snare:/Now I hear the cry again,/But I cannot tell from where…” It was all very unnerving, to say the least.
After lying awake listening to that creepy cry for quite a while I eventually drifted off to sleep. I woke up around midnight and the cry was there. I slept again and woke up around 6 in the morning and the cry was still there, just the same as when I had first heard it. When my maid came around 9, I asked her about the cry.
“It is a dog out in the field,” she said. “A stray, I think. It is dying, it is in pain. It is terrible but what can we do?”
I could not bring myself to believe that the plaintive cry came from a dog. It did not sound like a dog at all.
There is a great poem, Hurt Hawks, by Robinson Jeffers. He sees a hawk with one of its wings hanging loose. The hawk still looked fierce and proud. The poet, out of kindness, puts a bullet into it. End of story? No. “I gave him the lead gift in the twilight./What fell was relaxed,/Owl-downy, soft feminine feathers; but what/Soared: the fierce rush: the night-herons by the flooded river cried fear at its rising/Before it was quite unsheathed from reality.”
In my boyhood days in a Kerala village, we often had a snake straying into our courtyard from our grove. More often than not, it was beaten to death by our help.
Once, watching the killing, a little girl in the family fainted. The boys, who always enjoyed the killing, made fun of her!
I remember a new help being kind to snakes. When one was seen curled up in a corner of our yard, he went and gently stirred it with a long stick and, tapping the stick repeatedly on the ground, guided it out of our yard and into the fields outside.
By noon, the moan from the dog began to fade and soon ceased.
The air was clear of fear. I heaved a sigh of relief. It was as much for the dog as for me!