A sound, much like an early bird chirping on a beautiful Spring morning, weaves its way through the gap between window and frame and over to her ears.
Behind closed eyes this new addition joins the melody played by feathered friends joyfully celebrating another dawn. Dawn. Morning. Oh!
Cilantra’s shut lids spring open as she simultaneously sits up, throws back her wool blanket and swings her legs over the edge of the bed. The heated, recycled wood floor feels soft and welcoming underfoot. She moves her feet around until they make contact with her pumps and slips them on. Running over to the window, she pushes it further open and leans out. She waves across at the sleek vehicle hovering not far from her.
“I’ll be literally 10 minutes!” she promises, before turning around and skipping to the bathroom.
As she sits on the window sill, getting ready to make the short leap, the vehicle draws in a little closer. Hup! She slides her legs in through the open space at the top of the door and lands skilfully on the silky, cushioned seat.
“Ready!” she smiles.
“What kept you?” asks Joseph, her father.
“My dreams,” she giggles.
“Dreams, always dreams,” he laughs. “I’d love to live in your world.”
“You should,” Cilantra smiles. “It’s fabulous!”
The vehicle pulls away on a current of warm air, swerves swiftly out into the travel path and then settles itself in for the journey. Cilantra looks over her shoulder at the bright white of the building slowly disappearing in the distance. The sun reflects off it, making it look like a beautiful, clean blank canvas, and the leaves of the bushes all around it glint and glisten with the dew.
Looking back out through the passenger window, the few pristine trees on the boulevard pass them by. And then they are out in open countryside. Cilantra watches the sun slowly rise higher and higher from behind the hills in the distance. The sky seems rainbow-like as it does, turning from lilac through copper to gold. In the distance, through the windscreen, the outline of the city can be seen as they make their way towards it. Verdant, lush and almost the fluffy cloud shaped of a thought bubble on the horizon. Dotted with shades of lighter green around the edge and at the bottom, the centre appears mostly white, with splashes of silver, pink, violet and amber.
Every vehicle travels at exactly the same speed, for fairness and to avoid any collisions. Cilantra and her father hover through the circumference of the sphere of trees and greenery encircling the city in the same twenty minutes as always.
“Are you excited?” asks Joseph.
“Who me?” asks Cilantra, trying to look nonchalant. “No, just another Saturday in the city… .”
“Oh,” her father looks surprised. Silence. They hover on a few hundred metres.
Cilantra whips her head around to face her father. “Just joking!” she blurts out. “Got you!”
Her father can’t help but chuckle loudly. He should have known to expect this by now. She is twelve after all.
“I can’t wait,” Cilantra continues. “It is going to be so cool to finally have a pet!”
As they cruise down avenues lined with tropical trees, plants and miniature waterfalls, Cilantra and her father breathe in the scents surrounding them. The city always provides that extra breath of fresh air. Air which slips in through the windows and wraps them up in its fragrant, oxygen-light embrace. The muscles in their bodies relax so much that it feels as though they’ve just spent an hour doing a series of upward and downward dogs. Such calm.
As they approach the start of a large lake, the travel path veers right. They follow it, noticing that a number of tiny floating craft on the water. It’s still only early. Later there will be the usual collection of ornate boats making their way peacefully around the lake. They skirt the perimeter of the huge body of water, admiring the colourful collection of flowers that are always in bud or bloom. It is these which give the city its splashes of colour from a distance: indigo, jade, rose, buttermilk and azure.
“OK,” says Joseph, “It’s just over here.”
He presses a button in front of him and the vehicle turns right. Its nose then slowly dips, angling downwards. It descends smoothly until it lands softly on the ground, beside a few other vehicles that look remarkably similar. Cilantra and her father slide the doors open and step out. Cilantra stretches her arms up above her head. The stretch she hadn’t managed to fit in whilst rushing to get washed and dressed. Both she and her father take in a deep breath of pure, clean air. So revitalising.
The lush floor of the city feels bouncy underfoot. Not the thick grass on its surface. The actual earth in which it is seeded. Like a brand new mattress. Full of spring. Cilantra does a couple of jumps, just to test it out. She shrieks with happiness. Joseph laughs.
“Come on,” he says. “Our appointment is in fifteen minutes.”
The two of them make their way over to what looks like the entrance to a zoo. A large mural containing animals is visible on the front of a one-storey building, above a window with tinted glass. The animals are all domestic ones. There are three people standing in a line in front of the window, waiting. When their turn comes, Joseph gives their surname, “Fielding”, and he and his daughter walk through a turnstile made out of the lower part of a tree stump and three rotating branches.
On the other side, the path splits into three. Joseph indicates they are to follow the route with an image of a dog and a cat on the ground at its start. Cilantra casts her eyes over the other two paths as they move forwards. One contains images of fish and amphibians, and the other, small mammals.
As they walk side by side along the path, Cilantra looks over her shoulder to see the foot imprints she is making. The path, flaxen in colour, is made out of softly compacted sand. Large bushes along the route feel as if they are leaning in to meet them. Cilantra half expects they will join together behind them as they pass by, closing the path off completely. The bushes whisper softly in the very slight breeze that rustles their leaves and keeps the promise of a hot day at bay for just a little longer. After a hundred metres or so, they come out of the lush walls and can see a very large area of grass. It’s about half the size of a football field and surrounded by a beautifully sculpted, dense hedge half a meter high. Dogs of all breeds are running freely around, chasing each other and play fighting. Cilantra squeals and runs over to the edge of the hedge.
Her father, looking further along the leafy low wall, notices a lady with stunning long, silky grey hair crouching down in the midst of a number of clipboards. They are strewn haphazardly on the ground around her. All of them are shaped like dogs’ paws. Some of the sheets of paper attached to them are suddenly caught by the breeze wafting by. The little wooden clips holding the papers to the boards look perilously close to taking flight along with their charges. And then, the breeze stops and the papers all flutter back down to safety. Joseph realises he is holding his breath with anticipation. He lets out all of the air accumulated in his lungs with a gushing sound, through pursed lips.
Approaching the lady, Joseph coughs politely and she looks up from what she has been concentrating on.
“Joseph Fielding?” Cilantra’s father says, half statement, half enquiry.
“Ah yes!” the lady smiles. “You’re right on time. Just let me get your paperwork.” She picks up and then replaces a number of clipboards before locating the right one. She presents it to Joseph with a flourish.
“Do you want to check the information and then we can get underway?”
“Of course!” he says, taking the board, his eyes scanning the attached sheet.
“My daughter is just over there, is it OK if…?”
“Oh, absolutely!” the lady replies. “Children always get so excited. She’ll be quite happy watching them for a minute or two.”
Cilantra, a few metres behind them both, is transfixed by the activities of the dogs playing in the enclosure. She doesn’t register both adults looking in her direction for a moment.
As he reads through the sheet in more detail, Joseph sees that exactly the right notes have been taken from their telephone conversation the previous week:
* Small breed
* Young (0-4 years)
* Minor known conditions acceptable
* Likes being around children
* Replacement homing fine if no major behavioural issues
He looks back up at the lady. “This looks just right. May I ask…?”
“Sara. It was me that spoke to you when you phoned.”
“Makes sense. Thank you, Sara.”
“Shall we see if we can find your daughter what she’s after then?” Sara smiles and raises her arm in an inviting gesture, her hand indicating the place where Cilantra is still stood.
“So,” Sara begins to explain to both father and daughter. “What we do first is to head over to that smaller area to the right. I’ll call the dogs over by name until we have the ones you’ve been matched with.”
Cilantra looks to the right and realises there is a beautiful, brightly coloured wooden gate between the larger and smaller enclosures. She’d been staring so intently at all the dogs she hadn’t even noticed.
Joseph and Sara are already beginning to walk around the perimeter hedge towards the smaller enclosure. Cilantra skips quickly after to catch them up. When they come to the side of the hedge beside the small enclosure, Sara reaches down as if to retrieve something from underneath the outer edge of the hedge. As she stands back up, Cilantra can see she is holding what looks like a giant zip made of wood, which is about the same size as her hand. She slowly pulls the zip up and the hedge begins to separate into what appear to be two ends. A gap in the middle emerges large enough for a human to slip through. Cillantra gasps. Sara pulls the zip the width of the hedge and leans over to push it down the other side.
She stands back up and turns to face them.
Joseph, looking only slightly less shocked than Cilantra, makes his way, side on, through the gap, and Cilantra rushes to follow him. Sara steps through after them, then reverses the process to zip the hedge back up again.
“Safe, and it doesn’t damage the aesthetic, because the gardeners work hard to keep this hedge looking so pretty all year round.” Sara explains, with a friendly grin.
Once inside, Sara considers the list on the clipboard she is still carrying, before starting to call out, one by one, in a very gentle but authoritative voice, the name of each dog on it.
“Delta! Horace! Wez! Kiki!”
Four small dogs, spread around the large grassed area, each look up, before starting to run over to the gate between the two enclosures. Once they all get there, they wait patiently, panting a little, to be let into the small enclosure. Sara undoes the latch on the gate and in they all come in a very orderly fashion. They are completely different in appearance. But they are all clearly full of character, judging by what Cilantra has seen of them playing.
“So they way we usually do things is that we let the dogs spend a bit of time getting to know you and then the right one picks you,” Sara explains, very matter of factly.
“OK,” Joseph thanks her. “That sounds great to me.”
“Here, here!” Sara says in a soft, encouraging voice to the dogs. They respond by running over in their own unique style. Delta, a curly-haired bichon frise, skips. Horace, an off-white Scottie, ambles. Wez, a glossy, dark dachshund, almost bounces on all fours. And Kiki, a Shih Tzu, seems to actually sashay.
Cilantra stifles a giggle. Can dogs actually sashay? she wonders.
Cilantra and her father sit themselves down on the soft, thick grass. It feels warm and plush under Cilantra’s bare calves. They fuss over the dogs for a few minutes. Without realising it, it is they who vie for the dogs’ attention and not vice versa. They try to ingratiate themselves with tickles and cuddles and know it’s working when the dogs give their faces a lick in return. Cilantra loves them all. She can imagine taking any one of them home because she knows they’ll have so much fun. She’d quite like to take all four, but it’s taken her long enough to convince her Dad she needs just one dog. Four won’t be happening.
“OK,” Sara says, interrupting Cilantra’s imagining whether four dogs would fit on her bed. Her Dad hasn’t actually said no yet…
“They all seem to like you very much. So how about we let the right one choose you? I’m sure they’re as keen to see their new home as you are to show them it.”
“How do they choose us?” Cilantra asks, with a little bit of trepidation. She hopes one will definitely pick them.
“You just stand up, wave goodbye and make your way over to where we came through the hedge. They’ll do the rest.”
“Sara’s done this lots before. Let’s trust her,” says Joseph, comfortingly.
So, he and his daughter stand up, make a big show of waving goodbye to the dogs, then turn to walk over to roughly where they remember the hedge zip opening being. Sara leans into the dogs, whispers something quietly, then follows them. She unzips the hedge, they all step back through it, then she closes it behind them.
“But… ,” begins Cilantra.
“It’s OK. Give them just a second,” Sara reassures her.
They stand looking back at the dogs, who are now all sat down. Wez and Kiki have their heads cocked to one side. Horace seems to be grinning. And Delta keeps flicking her little pink tongue in and out, as if she’s got something caught on the hairs at the side of her mouth and is trying to catch it.
The humans wait patiently.
The dogs remain as they are.
The humans wait a little less patiently.
The dogs don’t move an inch.
Joseph and Cilantra start to shuffle a little on their feet. Sara stands completely still.
As if transported by an instant gust of wind, Delta leaps from where she is sitting right over the hedge. She heads straight towards Cilantra, who has to open her arms up in a flash, and catches her with an “Ummmph!” as she takes a step back, wobbles a bit, then regains her balance. Delta looks up, flicks her tongue in and out once more, then starts to lick Cilantra’s face.
“Delta it is then!” Sara confirms. “I’ll just let imthe other three can join their friends again.”
“Won’t they be sad?” asks Cilantra, concerned that the dogs may feel upset they haven’t got a new home today.
“Not at all!” Sara replies. “They love it here. They only reason they leave is if they think they’re going to a home that will be full of even more love.”
Cilantra feels better once she hears this, and watches as Sara zips herself back into the small enclosure. She waves at them and Joseph shouts over, “Thanks so much!”
Cilantra and her father follow the same path in reverse until they pass the dog symbol on the ground at its start. Delta wriggles and writhes in Cilantra’s arms the whole way. She also licks Cilantra’s face as though it were made from the most deliciously creamy Italian gelato. Big, long licks, from the bottom of her chin right up to the very top of her forehead.
Joseph walks over to the tinted window under the big sign again. He beckons to Cilantra to join him.
“Hi. This little cutie, Delta, has picked us. What do we need to do before we take her home?” he asks the pleasant-looking man with sleek, red, shoulder-length hair, who had previously taken their name.
“Oh wonderful!” he starts. “Well, the first thing is to pop this collar on her.”
He produces a beautiful collar with a multitude of colours woven into it. It has a slight sheen and feels extremely soft to the touch, Joseph notices, as he takes it from the man. It seems to be made out of natural grasses.
As Cilantra holds Delta still for just long enough to enable her father to clip the collar together, the man continues his instructions.
“The collar tag has a chip within it. You can of course change the collar if you would like, but this tag needs to go on any new one that you choose.”
“It’s stunning Dad,” Cilantra says, before turning to the man. “I don’t think we’ll be wanting to change it for a while.”
“Thank you. We try to pick a collar in keeping with each dog’s personality. And they’re self-cleaning. You just need to pop it in a bowl of water every now and again to reactivate its antibacterial properties. So it should last for years!
“Wow,” exclaims Joseph.
“The chip in the collar tag lets us monitor your dog continually. We’ll track her heart rate and her activity levels every day. And we use the little camera in it to do spot checks on your dog, to ensure her safety and well-being. You can opt for a twenty-second warning sound, just to avoid any intrusion on your own privacy,” he chuckles, winking.
“If Delta should decide she isn’t happy at any point, then she lets us know. We keep how she does that a secret, for obvious reasons. You will then return her to us to find a replacement home. If you can’t, don’t, or won’t, a dog guard will be sent to your home to collect her. It goes without saying that if she’s not there and you can’t locate her immediately, there’s a mandatory sentence attached.”
Joseph nods in agreement.
“Each animal’s welfare is naturally our priority. And that’s it!” the man says, finishing up. “We hope you will all have a long and very happy life together.”
Joseph thanks the man and ushers Cilantra back towards the vehicle they have left parked a few metres away on the grass.
As they rejoin the travel path for the journey home, Delta sits on Cilantra’s knee, panting a little owing to the building heat of the day.
“There’s a little bowl of water with a lid on in the back seat,” her father says, pointing behind him.
“Delta says a big thanks,” Cilantra says, reaching behind her to get it.
Delta laps up most of the water in the bowl, and then shakes her face vigorously to get rid of the excess water in the hair on her face.
“And they say dogs don’t share,” Joseph jokes.
They travel along with the windows down. Delta looks in awe at the idyllic sights passing them by, the breeze blowing her curly hair back off of her face. A wood with trees every shade from lime to olive. An expanse of low-lying hills full of fields containing brightly coloured flowers. The odd house. One lilac. One apricot.
When a group of white houses appears, Delta seems to sense that she is nearly at her new home. Joseph turns off of the travel path and slowly descends to the ground outside the front door of their home. As they touch down, Delta catches Cilantra unaware and slips out of her arms. She leaps through the window and onto the grass, running around in a circle and letting out a couple of sweet, high-pitched barks. Her first impressions of her new play area are positive.
“I have to go to work for a few hours, but when I come back perhaps we can take her to the park?” Joseph suggests.
“Definitely!” Cilantra says, starting to chase Delta around and towards the rockery of sparking crystals in the corner of the garden. Out of the corner of her eye, she catches her mum waving at her from the front window. She’s holding a big bag of dog food.
“I think she’ll have plenty of energy to burn off after she’s had her first bowl of food here. See you later!” Cilantra shouts.
Her father hovers above the garden as he prepares to rejoin the route to work. The last thing he hears is Cilantra shrieking as Delta and she roll on the grass, in a tangle of paws, legs and a tail, amidst a lot of very curly hair. Best friends at first sight.