WANJURAH: Beer for me and water for my dog!
Walking had never been a problem for Rex who possessed legs that appeared custom-made for long distances.
They were long and sturdy, the perfect marriage of a good genetic stock and a lifestyle long on walk and an occasional running.
In fact, Rex seemed to live for the evening walk that is an established tradition in this part of the world. Irrespective of his day-time mood, he would spring to life at sunset.
In typical Pavlovian habit, he would fix his gaze at the gate and allow himself the usual restless, tail wagging excitement around the arrival of Jack, his best friend and walking mate.
The excitement was mutual. Jack would drop the day’s paper and whatever else he was carrying on the sofa, grab a jacket and a cap, and sometimes, change his shoes. Then off they would go, near or far depending on the weather outside or, more often, on the weather in their hearts.
They would use the occasion to catch up with each other’s day. Jack would do all the talking with Rex, depending on his extent of distraction, giving him an occasional nod or a quick brush on the leg.
There would be interludes of silence when Jack would be assailed by nostalgia for a scattered family and the reality of a lonely old age.
Besides Jack’s impatience with his roadside peeing, Rex only other worry seemed to be that rather than keep walking, their journey often ended at the local pub where Jack would order for his two beers while Rex sipped water.
Jack preferred Carlsberg served in the traditional British long glass. He would then sip it in silence that was occasionally interrupted by brief chats with acquaintances. Rex would be free to mingle among the pub crowd, many who seemed to know and love him.
But in what seemed like timed intervals, he would instinctively walk back to Jack for a sip of his water and a little rub; a sort of a reminder that he was still around. Sometimes, he would sit next to Jack while peering at his glass as if quietly admonishing him for not quitting alcohol.
On the return walk, Jack, now tipsy, would occasionally swear at Rex especially when he thought he was stretching his arm’s length. They would get home while still engaged in a monologue quarrel and bid each other a good night.
Each would then retire to their loneliness, one to a house made bigger by its emptiness after the flight of a family that had abandoned him. The other into a fit-to-measure home, the only one he had known in his lifetime.
Old age gradually got the better of Rex and his enthusiasm for a walk.
Jack still walked him faithfully in the evening until even the distance to the local pub proved too much for Rex. Out of loyalty to his friend, Jack shifted his thirst to a nearer pub. But occasionally, he would drive Rex to his favourite bar especially when Manchester United was playing. As Jack quipped, football was never the same when watched from an unfamiliar screen.
Then on a rainy Tuesday evening, Jack returned home to an unusual cold reception from Rex. His friend was slouching at a corner, his food and water untouched. Instead of the usual good-to-see-you jumpy hug, Rex only whimpered at his entry. Despite summoning a doctor, and as a tearful Jack put it, Rex was retired that night. He was 17!
Rex was more than a dog to Jack. He was in many ways a soul mate; an inseparable friend that, as he told me, was singularly reliable than any human being he had ever known.
I got to know about the man and his dog after watching the incredible bond between the two and of course out of a shared but increasingly tough love for Man United.
I was new to Jack’s local pub and absorbed in watching Man U unbelievably losing to PSV Eindhoven when my attention was jolted by a dog standing between my legs. It was a medium-sized white dog with scattered black spots and a black tail.
It must have sensed my panic because it quickly retreated to its owner. The dog, however, followed him back to me when he came over to offer his profuse apologies on its behalf – and to introduce Rex.
Afterwards, Rex briefly stood by my side in a good-to-know-you moment. He was not the only dog in the pub, though. Here it is common to see dogs of all breeds and sizes accompanying their owners for a drink.
Many are housedogs accustomed to the family’s TV room. But a number of others are well-fed, cleaner and disciplined versions of ordinary canines common in the Kenyan village or in Nairobi’s middle class homes.
What made Rex and Jack standout is their obvious affection for each other. On arriving at the bar, Jack would remove the leash from Rex’s collar. As a practice, he would never order for his beer before serving his dog with water from a special cup that the bartender dutifully kept for him.
When done with his beer, Jack would leash Rex for the journey back home because, as he told me, Rex tended to get excited over traffic lights and lacked the patience to wait for green!
We have become unusual friends with Jack. We get talking whenever Man U are playing badly, which is almost always the case lately.
His story can make a man wish for an early death. Jack is only 68 and looking very healthy for his age. But his sorrowful tale of a solitary life in 23 of those years makes his age sound like a torturous Methuselah lifetime.
When his third marriage broke down at 45, he vowed never to marry again for love or for whatever other reason.
He had started life early, at 20, with his childhood sweetheart amid shuttling between Europe’s major cities as a truck driver. But after two years, she got bored of his long absence and eloped with their neighbour and his year-old son leaving behind a hurried note wishing him a ‘better life’!
He remarried after three years. But after 12 years of what he describes as a difficult marriage, his second wife filed for divorce and relocated to Australia with their two girls.
At 38, he remarried but this time, he was careful not to have kids. He says he got tired of ‘donating’ children to the world. Seven years later, his last wife opted for a reunion with her divorced ex-husband.
But what about the kids? Don’t they visit daddy?
Jack says the girls used to send him money until he asked them to stop. He says he doesn’t need anyone’s money because he has enough for his very modest needs. What he would love is an occasional visit from them.
In desperation, he has even offered to pay for their air tickets to Britain. But the offer has yet to find any taker. They say they are busy working and raising families. He is wary of travelling to Australia because he is uncertain of the kind of reception he would get.
His son is the last person he would want to meet. Thirty years ago, he thought he had rescued him from the miserly of abandonment by a mother who slid into alcoholism and drugs. But his son repaid him by stealing his credit cards and car. The last he saw of him was in a jail. Jack doubts whether he is still alive. He would be extremely uneasy if his son were not dead!