Right Lies by Megha Nayar

A ninety-second video did for us what three years of pleading could not: convince Amma to let us adopt a puppy. 

“I have one hopeless husband, two thankless children, and endless chores. Why would I want to add a smelly dog to the mix?” she’d thundered the first time we articulated our wish.

She wasn’t being mean, just honest. We were in primary school then, a stinky confection ourselves. Amma used to deal with tomato ketchup stains, assorted bodily fluids, and 120-decibel yell-fests on a daily basis. She was already tormented and sleep-deprived. Why in sanity’s name would she want to take on more trouble? 

Then one day, my sibling came running to me with a discovery that proved to be the ultimate strategic intervention. 

“You won’t believe what this dog can do!” read the title. Intrigued, I clicked on the video. We watched, our mouths agape. 

In the video, a German Shepherd tamely enters a loo, lifts the lid of the commode, raises his hind leg, relieves himself in style (his aim hitting just right), shuts the lid, and finally uses his front paws to flush. He does all this impeccably and then stares into the camera, almost as if to say every dog should be doing this – what’s the big deal? 

Breathless, Maya and I raced to the backyard where Amma was hanging out the laundry. “Amma!” we screamed, lunging at her and nearly toppling her over. “You have to see this!” 

That afternoon, seasoned storytellers that we were, we put together a compilation of tall stories to convince our mother. Dogs can be trained to use the bathroom like humans. Dogs are harbingers of affluence; their owners grow wealthier over time. God gives guaranteed entry into heaven to those who care for dogs. 

Amma, trusting but not gullible, wasn’t easily convinced. “Are you sure? And will you two actually look after his needs?” she asked, her eyes still clouded with apprehension. 

“Yes, Amma!” we trilled in one voice. 

Today, we celebrate Popeye’s eighth birthday. Our wily little Corgi with the whims of a movie star. The little devil who ripped my seventh-grade score card, who poops on his vet’s table at every check-up, who will sulk all evening if dinner is delayed by two minutes, whose stumpy legs will always be too short for him to pee directly into any pot – except our flower pots. 

Amma has baked a birthday cake for him, comprising all his favourite foods – eggs, peanut butter, honey, apple sauce. He’s wearing a sparkly birthday cap and his best bow-tie. Maya has inundated the living room with paw-shaped balloons. Our grand-parents are on a Zoom call, watching the proceedings back home in India. When we cut the cake and feed Popeye, they clap and sing along. He is the grand-son they never had. 

At night, after dinner, we lie down in the living room to watch old videos from Pop’s pupper days. There is one of his homecoming – his “Gotcha Day” where he looks out of depth while Maya and I are delirious with joy – and another of the first time he tasted pizza, and a third of him trying to run in his sleep, possibly chasing a squirrel in his dreams. We have made a ritual of watching these videos every year on his birthday. We know them so well now that we can narrate them frame-to-frame. 

“So”, asks Amma, snuggling with Pop on the couch, “Which one of you two scamsters actually came up with the plan to deceive me with that video?”

She doesn’t have to mention which video. We know, because we have been anticipating this question for years. I turn to glance at Maya. She is already looking at me, eyes gleaming with mischief. We burst into giggles, then stick our tongues out at Amma like we used to in school. She scowls at us in mock-anger but we know we have long been forgiven.

Megha Nayar was longlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2020. She spends half her time teaching French and English. The other half, she devotes to learning Spanish, taking long walks, and pondering the purpose of human existence. Writing is her validation and dopamine fix. She blogs at meghanayar.tumblr.com

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