woensdag 26 november 2014

The Draught Dog

In the bad old days we lived in a grey and smudgy city in the north of the Netherlands. Our house was situated in the worst part of this city. Our street ended at one side on a stinking canal with pitch black water and at the other side on a road that lead to a gas factory. The houses consisted of a living room, a kitchen , a passage between these rooms plus front door and an attic. In the attic my mother hung sheets to create separate bedrooms for my parents and their three children. The toilet was a barrel placed in a wooden throne in a little wooden shed. On top of the seat it had a wooden lid. The toilet paper was cleverly shredded newspaper pieces. In the winter it was freezing cold over there and you’d better not drop anything in the barrel for it would disappear forever. The breathtaking smell in that shed never disappeared. Even getting a new barrel once a week from the barrel man didn’t help.

Most things that a family needs were being brought in by merchants with wooden carts drawn by horses. There were different people to deliver a new barrel, bread, milk, fish and vegetables and such. Even pickles were delivered by a pickle man.

Old clothes were taken in by the old clothes man, but he had not much business in our part of the town. You would normally wear clothes that older kids had grown out of, sometimes a bit adjusted by the mothers.

Our potato and apple skins were collected by the waste food collector. He sold these to farmers outside the city. His business must have been very poor because he couldn’t afford a horse to pull his cart. Instead he had a big dog of a breed that could not be specified. This draught dog had a broad chest and very sad eyes. When it rained or snowed he would take shelter under the cart when the man was emptying the buckets that the people had put in front of their houses.

The kids in the street considered the man a cruel dog abuser. Sometimes he would hit it with a little stick to walk faster. He would sit on a little seat on the cart himself. We never saw him do anything nice for the dog. In hot weather we would smuggle some water to it and we even gave it half of our cookie, always that boring digestive biscuit, if the man was a bit out of the way. He would shout at us to leave the dog alone. It never came to our mind that a fat and lazy dog would kill his business.

We didn’t have many toys so we were always very happy when cold winter weather would freeze the clinkers in our street. We would make impressive slides and had a lot of fun on these. The elderly of course were not very happy with the slippery street. The parents would ruin our fun by putting down salt to make it possible for everybody else to go outdoors.

One day our parents just let us have our fun. It was very cold and they all seemed to have decided to stay in the warm living room. We didn’t mind the cold and made the longest and best slides ever. We didn’t think about the elderly.

We did care about the poor draught dog that even on this day appeared with his boss. We felt sorry for him but that didn’t stop us from playing on. There were hardly any buckets in front of the houses and the boss hit the dog extra to get on. It half slipped and had a hard time to keep walking. The boss cursed and hit him some more and somehow he was able to get some speed. At the end of the street he couldn’t make a turn and went straight on into the stinking canal. We were in shock but were smart enough to call for help. The waste food collector was pulled out of the water by some men, the cart and the dog disappeared forever.

Months passed before someone came to collect the skins again. The next summer another man came with a cart drawn by a horse. We never saw the old waste food collector again.

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