Zoe couldn´t remember where did the crazy idea of taking Buddy on an excursion come from. It might have been her typical urge to combine. It would never happen to her boyfriend, he always opted for the most practical, the easiest, he concentrated on what was essential, unlike her…
It was a fine sunny Wednesday and she had a day off. (Zoe started a part-time work in a bookshop specializing in English books a few months ago). Emma, her colleague, was off that Wednesday, too, and they were becoming friends. Hence the decision to spend the day together and discover a new place. They agreed on a trip to La Hulpe, quite a well-known spot that neither of them had visited yet. Already the name was a promise, soft and bubbly on the tongue. Zoe would pick Emma on the way, she was driving her own little car now, another step to precious independence.
Early in the morning Zoe had been coming home after a quick errand that she ran and she bumped into Madame Scoufflère who was returning from her usual morning walk with Buddy. Before she thought twice, Zoe proposed to her neighbor to take Buddy with on the trip. Madame Scoufflère didn´t seem too sure about the idea, but after some hesitation agreed, especially when hearing the destination: La Hulpe. Her eyes glittered, doubtlessly with a long forgotten memory of romantic walks there with the chevalier of her heart:
“I will have to go there myself one day, it´s been years.”
Zoe was relieved that she didn´t suggest to hop on the party together with them, and only agreed with letting them to take Buddy.
“Dogs need to run around,” Zoe was practicing her French while waiting till Madame Scoufflère packs a water bowl and a few croquettes.
“He needs to drink every two hours or so,” she reminded Zoe again.
Zoe promised to take a very good care of Buddy.
“He is used to sit there,” Madame Scoufflère was looking at her baby eagerly seated under the passenger´s front seat, leashed, rolling it´s hazelnut eyes around, fulfilling the reputation of a terrier: always ready for fun. His mistress waved them goodbye with a hand frozen in the balmy spring air at the height of her shoulder.
Off they went. After a bit of stirring Buddy made himself comfortable waiting for fun to happen later. Emma was surprised of having a four-legged company, but smiled and contented herself with having the warm furry body between her ankles. She didn´t question Zoe about Buddy, only added a detail discovered about the new friend: She can run on the impulse.
The ring had been cut through La Foret de Soignes and offered a contrasting scenery, tall calm silvery trees sporting new leaves and the omnipresent traffic: right line was filled with trucks and lorries, not chokingly blocked outside the rush hour, but heavy, still. The little blue car rolled smoothly among them, Zoe driving, Emma reading aloud the information about the place they were going to. Buddy dozing off, his wet nose pressed against Emma´s naked skin between her sock and a three-quarter length pants. Emma was a serious girl, 29 years old, a graduate from the University of Seattle, English department. To Zoe, she was a gracious pretty curvy woman with a talent to relax people by her sheer presence.
“What would you do if I told you I was allergic to dogs´ hairs?” Emma didn´t resist to say something a propos the non-consulted decision of taking Buddy with them.
“Why, we would bring him back to Madame Scoufflère and explain. It would be a pity, though. Plus, my friends can´t be allergic to animals, it wouldn´t feel right.” Zoe pushed the remark away.
Emma was thinking: Okay, she has a big spontaneous heart, Zoe. And lucky, too. Emma was not at all allergic to animals in any sense, on the contrary, she loved them. They changed the highway for a side road which continued along a forest, so green, so green, Zoe exclaimed, her excitement woke Buddy from his light doggy sleep.
“We are almost there, according to the navigation,” Emma pronounced keeping excitement on leash, as always.
They left the car along the road not far from the park entrance. Each quipped with a rather light knapsack, they walked and entered and loved where they were. The hilly meadows were lush and their stretch accentuated by compositions of a few sequoia trees, more trees and bushes at the backdrop were showing off more shades of green. First rhododendrons blossomed: pink, fuchsia, yellow, orange flowers. They have a master gardener here!” Emma exclaimed against her normally very composed nature.
“Oh, yes,” Zoe agreed, watching Buddy sniffing, turning its tail off wildly, bouncing as far as the maximum-flexi-leash allowed. “A pity we can´t let him loose, but I accept,” she added. At home, in the suburbs of her town in Pennsylvania, she never leashed her dog for a walk.
“This way we should arrive to the castle, further on, there should be a tavern.” They planned to have a lunch in the garden restaurant shown on the internet page of the site.
Many more exclamations as they approached, more greenery, ducks on the pond, another absurdly vast stretch of wet and perfect lawn and the harmonious little castle in the middle of it. Zoe let Buddy loose: against the rule and against Madame Scoufflère advice, but she couldn´t resist. And Buddy behaved, he ran far, but always came back when called after.
“Good dog,” he heard each time.
The grass was too wet to sit on, so they walked a lot, discovering new and new angles and paths, until they arrived to the former stables with an inside and a garden restaurant, found a table protected by the wall, had a quiche and water, a glass of rosé (Emma only) and a coffee. Buddy was given water and nibbles, demanded some more but didn’t insist too much.
And then they stood up and strolled around the sun-lit cobblestoned yard where they discovered a museum of a seemingly famous Belgian artist: Folon was his name.
“Interesting,” Zoe mused over a few posters displayed in the museum shop: birds, a figure of a man in a funny hat, soft colors. “Let´s go in and have a look,” she suggested.
“But what shall we do with Buddy?” Emma asked.
“True,” Zoe was thinking. “We can take turns, and one of us will stay outside.”
“I don’t know…”
“Or…let´s leave him here, under the tree, on his leash. He is tired, he will sleep away the time we are in.”
“Are you sure?”
Zoe suppressed the idea of Madame Scoufflère´s theoretical opposition against the decision and added: “Sure.”
They opted for a spot under a fir tree a bit further from the entrance so as not to disturb people coming in and out; it was in deep shade, on the soft ground, and they left Buddy with a bowl full of water and some soothing words. An hour later, because the museum was worth every minute of it, they came out: to find Buddy´s waiting spot empty. No dog, no leash, no bowl. Rien.
Zoe´s heart started to beat strongly and reliably in her chest. Terrible. “Somebody stole him!” she shrieked.
“Wait,” Emma was calmer, but her chin was shaking slightly. We will look around, perhaps somebody took him for a walk, or something.”
They searched the area, went back to the café, to the museum entrance, to the souvenir shop. No trace of Buddy.
It took them less than fifteen minutes to get back to the main park entrance, hoping absurdly they would meet somebody on the way, somebody with a terrier called Buddy. Didn´t happen. Zoe had the impossible idea of getting somewhere the same-looking dog and present him as Buddy.
“I guess everybody who ever lost somebody else´s pet considered this,” said Emma gloomily. “Despair has weird suggestions,” she added a wisdom.
“Stop that!” yelled Zoe, and then apologized. “I know; it was my idea. But he has to be somewhere.”
“Indeed, he has to be somewhere.”
“What shall we do?” Zoe came back from hysteria to the dynamics of their team.
“We will go back to the stables and the museum and ask again. If there is really no trace, we will go to the town of the La Hulpe to the police station. In this country, the pets have almost the same rights as the humans, I am sure. And then…” She didn´t finish the sentence but both of them pictured the scene of announcing to Madame Scoufflère that Buddy was gone. Nothing they could be looking forward to.
“Let´s go back, let´s pray on the way back. My grandma says that a lot is solved and saved through a prayer, just people are not brave enough to trust in it,” Zoe suggested shaking off the image of her desolate neighbor.
“You pray, if you like. I need a sip of water; my throat feels dry.”
Emma took a small plastic bottle from her knapsack and drank half of its content, then put the bottle back without offering it to Zoe. They walked back, the beauty of the surroundings lost on them this time. Zoe was silent and Emma shouted once in a while Buddyyy! with a hint of hope in her voice. Sometimes a person walking around paid them a glance, but with no comment. Tired and in low spirit they dragged themselves to the place where they bought the entrance tickets. A man in a sort of an indistinct uniform was standing in the doorway, smoking. He watched them going inside the shop, come out, go to the entrance of the museum, come out, go into the tavern and come out… and only then a light of recognition jumped into his eyes:
“Qu´ vous êtes en train de chercher un chien, mesdames ?”
The word chien stirred the surface of Zoe´s tired mind:
The man finished his cigarette out in an outdoor ashtray on a tall leg.
“Désolé, je suis parti pour ma pause de midi en l´oubliant complètement. Il y avait deux filles qui l´ont pris, ce chien. Elles m´ont laissé un numéro de téléphone.” The man took out a slip of paper out of the pocket of his black trousers.
“I can´t believe that, somebody just takes a dog away, and somebody else responsible to pass the information just forgets to do that!” Now, that was Emma who summarized the information for Zoe, who in the stress, couldn´t remember other French word than “chien“.
Emma took the paper from him with a dry merci, monsieur, because she wouldn´t trust her French oral skills in the situation, either.
“Oh, my goodness,” Zoe´s fingers were trembling on the keyboard of her mobile phone while she was composing the number Emma was dictating. She felt cold, hot and sweaty in one.
“Do you speak English?” was the first thing she asked when she received the person on the phone. “I am calling about the dog you have taken; Buddy is his name…”
The man was observing with a calm curiosity, as two young American ladies sat down in the middle of a sun-lit ancient stable yard, because they couldn´t stand anymore, drinking water from plastic bottles and writing down an address on the very slip of paper he gave them.
Two hours later they had him. First they had to find a house in a village of an incomprehensible layout called Overijse following a navigation instruction. “Without the navigation, I would never be able to get out of here,” Zoe claimed.
“You would, you would apply your intelligence differently,” Emma meant.
Two tall girls waited for them in the front garden outside a big white villa with Buddy on the leash, the expression in their faces showed a mixture of fear and doubt:
“I knew it was perhaps a not good idea,” one of them said in good English with a slight hint of a Flemish accent looking reproachfully at her friend. “But, I know people abandon animals just like this. Leaving them somewhere and hoping a good person would take them. He had no more water there, and he was howling,” she added.
They all looked at Buddy, who returned the look but didn´t add any explanation.
“Didn´t you see he´s well kept, with a bowl, and perhaps only waiting?” Zoe´s fear transformed into anger. “This is what they teach you in scouts? Every leashed dog is waiting to be rescued?” The girls really had an air of young scouts, conscious of the complex nature of the world and the need to live actively.
“Okay, it´s all right.” Emma said when seeing one of the girls was about to start crying. “You couldn´t know, you didn´t mean wrong…you didn´t do anything wrong,” she added.
Buddy slept on the way back. The traffic was even heavier, getting blocked in the opposite direction as the first commuters where coming home from a day of work in the city. They stopped at the gas station and bought themselves a chocolate bar and more water: “To calm the nerves,” Zoe explained. For once, she was happy a dogs couldn´t report events in words, and, indeed, Buddy didn´t object when Emma and Zoe claimed the day went very smoothly and they enjoyed Buddy´s company a lot.
Did you pray?” Emma asked when Zoe was seeing her off to the bus stop, they both came first to the Chaussée de Wavre and rested half an hour in the kitchen at Zoe´s, Buddy safely returned to the loving arms of his mistress.
“Because if you did, it would be an argument for your grandmother´s piece of wisdom.
Zoe didn´t answer the question: “See you tomorrow at the bookshop, right?” She gave her friend a bear hug before letting her hop on the bus. Friendships are built through experiences, she thought.