Marking Chinese New Year 2018 (Year of the Dog)…
When you stare into the jaws of death, your whole life’s supposed to flash before your very eyes. But that’s not what I saw. What I saw was the cloud of dust kicked up by the pitter-pattering soles of my so-called friend’s little red sneakers, hot-footing it in the opposite direction without so much as a backwards glance, let alone a goodbye.
We were in Portugal on this occasion. Lisbon, to be exact. And we’d been having a marvellous time. We’d been up through the winding, misty streets of the fairy-tale town of Sintra; chatted and chilled on some beautiful sandy beaches; travelled on the rickety old Remodelado trams; drunk copious amounts of Vinho Verde (green wine – who knew?). And on one particularly dismal afternoon, we found ourselves holed up in Pastéis de Belém – the bakery credited with inventing the ‘pastel de nata’, or Portuguese custard tart, to you and me; now a national dish.
This place has been churning them out since 1837 – hitting 50,000 a day in peak season – following an ancient secret recipe passed down by monks at the local Monastery of Jeronimos. Made with cinnamon and a crisp puff pastry, Pastéis de Belém’s custard creations are reputedly the best in the world. What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than putting that theory to the test?
We set up camp in a corner and threw ourselves into the task at hand, washing down a small mountain of these delicacies with a few gallons of tea, and befriending a lovely young waiter along the way. We were there for hours, and he was cool – he let us play cards (apparently, that’s regarded as gambling in Portugal – we were swiftly banned from playing Slam in every other establishment we set foot in).
In fact, we got along so well, and he’d been so kind letting us sit there and illegally play cards all day that at the end of his shift, we suggested that the three of us head out for drinks.
We ended up at a lovely place on the river, all the bridges lit up like Christmas trees and green wine on tap. We laughed and joked and had a wonderful time – so much so that at last orders, he suggested we continue the evening at his place.
We piled into a cab and drove to an incredibly quiet part of town in the middle of goodness knows where and as the taxi disappeared from view, there was a huge thud from the other side of this guy’s front door.
“Ummm… what was that?” I asked. “Oh – it’s just my dog,” he replied, all jovial and full of green wine, fumbling for his keys. “She’s just happy to see me!” She certainly seemed eager – the next thud was louder than the first, like a bear body-slamming a wooden fence.
“Sooooooo… what breed was it you said you had again?” I asked tentatively as he jangled his keys, searching for the right one. “Oh she’s just a little um… what you call it now… like… you know? Oh I don’t know how you say in English, but errrr… it’s okay, she is very friendly – she will like you!”
The building practically shook with the third thud – a little rubble fell from around the doorframe. But before I had a chance to inquire any further, the key turned, the door swung open – and out of the shadows lunged the biggest, blackest beast I’ve ever seen.
It was the size of a small horse. All I could see was eyes and teeth – a veritable werehound of a thing. And it was headed straight at me.
I realised I had about five seconds to come up with a plan – but Esther hatched one first. Suddenly, I became aware of a feeling of weightlessness – of walking on air in the wrong direction. It was the sensation of being lifted right off the ground, and launched towards the baying brute, rather than away from it.
Confusion, fear and betrayal don’t even begin to cover what was going through my brain at that very moment. Yes, dear friends – my “bosom-buddy” Esther had literally thrown me to the wolf.
Everything went into slow motion – it felt like I was flying for hours. As I sailed towards my untimely demise, I took a moment to ruminate on how good nights can turn so bad in the blink of an eye. How calmly and swiftly my so-called “friend” had offered me up as a doggy snack to save her own skin.
And as the beast reared up and drew itself to full height, its drooling mouth yawning wide in anticipation of fresh meat, the last thing I remember seeing was her two tiny trainers, scampering away in the opposite direction as fast as they could go. All those great times we’d spent together. She didn’t even wave, let alone apologise. Biy*tch.
I closed my eyes and waited to become breakfast – but I was spared by the Gods. Whilst she’d shoved me in order to make her own shady escape, her decoy backfired beautifully. The sight of Esther’s bottom wiggling its way to freedom looked far more appetising to the dog – which promptly turned and chased her all the way down the road. I could see it mounting her in the distance, its huge paws planted on her shoulders as she screamed for dear life.
Turns out the dog really was just frighteningly over-enthusiastic after all – both of us survived to tell the tale. Surprisingly, so did our friendship. Things like attempted murder just have a way of bringing people together, I guess.
Next year will be our 10th friendaversary. Esther has suggested a trip to Mauritius to celebrate (hopefully they’re more into cats over there). I’ve forgiven her for throwing me at a dog. But I’ll never let her forget it. I’ll haunt her with that incident till my dying day. She still maintains she didn’t try to kill me on purpose, of course – she just panicked. Or so she says. I just have to take her word for it. But I’ll be sleeping with one eye open. Just in case.
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