As we’re about to cross a road, we happen upon an elderly African sekuru—the Shona term for ‘an old man’. Dressed in drab grey overalls with a tear in the trousers by his left knee, he’s standing on the corner. A half-smoked cigarette hangs from his mouth. Attached to his wrist is a tatty rope. The other end encircles the neck of an emaciated black puppy with big paws and floppy ears. The dark fur barely covers the puppy’s hip bones that stick out at an angle. Ribs undulate under skin as he sniffs hopefully around the feet of his nonchalant owner.
“Oh, che carino! What a sweetie!” I cry out. The puppy lifts its head at my cry. Its soulful brown eyes piece right through me. My heart responds in a rush of immediate love.
The dog barks and starts wagging its tail, straining towards my outstretched hand.
Immediately, the African sekuru straightens up. He steps forward swiftly, so that the puppy can easily lick my hand. The smell of stale cigarettes and sweat waft from him and I consciously stop myself from taking a step backwards.
“Very nice dog this one,” he says. “A girl. She can have babies if you want. She will protect your missus from the tsotsis, Baas. She is cheap … verrry, very cheap.” Using the colloquial Afrikaans word for boss, the African has touched on a common problem in any growing city—that of thugs and thieves and keeping loved ones safe.
Money quickly changes hands. Shortly after, I walk away with the black puppy gambolling along beside me. Every couple of steps, our new pet jumps up with joy as she exuberantly accepts the numerous pats that I give her.
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