Read some pages from Saramago’s The Cave today. I am so delighted to read these lines that I want to share them with you. Couldn’t help it really. I am halfway through this novel. It is a simple story about a small family. The head of the family, Cipriano Algor, wakes up early in the morning one day, to complete some work. He gets up and decides to go out and see the following:
“The dense foliage of the mulberry tree still had a firm grip on night, it would not let it leave just yet, the first dawn twilight would linger for at least another half an hour. He glanced at the kennel then looked around him, surprised not to see the dog. He gave a low whistle, but there was still no sign of Found. The potter went from perplexed surprise to outright concern, I can’t believe he’s just gone, he muttered. He could call out the dog’s name, but he did not want to alarm his daughter. He’ll be out there somewhere, on the trail of some nocturnal creature, he said to reassure himself, but the truth is that, as he crossed the yard in the direction of the kiln, he was thinking more about Found than about his precious clay figurines. He was only a few steps away from the pit when he saw the dog appear from beneath the stone bench, You gave me quite a fright, you rascal, why didn’t you come when I called you, he scolded him, but Found said nothing, he was busily stretching his front paws, lowering his head and spine, then carrying out what one can only assume to be, to his way of thinking, a vital exercise of adjustment and rebalancing, lowering and stretching his hindquarters as if he wanted to detach himself from his legs entirely. Everyone tells us that animals stopped talking a long long time ago, however, no one has yet been able to prove that they have not yet continued to secret use of thought. In the case of this dog Found, for example, despite the faint light that is only gradually beginning to fall from the skies, you can see from his face what he’s thinking, neither more nor less than Ask a silly question and you’ll get silly answer, which means in his language that Cipriano Algor, with his long, albeit not very varied experience of life, should not need to have the duties of a dog explained to him, we all know that human sentinels will only keep watch properly if they are given a definite order to do so, whereas dogs, and this dog in particular, do not wait for someone to tell them, Stay there and watch the fire, we can be sure that, until the coals have burned right down, they will simply remain on watch, eyes open. However, in all fairness to human thought, its famous slowness does not always prevent it from reaching the correct conclusions, as has just happened inside Cipriano Algor’s head, a light suddenly came on, allowing him to read and then pronounce out loud the words of recognition that Found so richly deserved, So while I was tucked up asleep in my warm sheets, you were out here on guard, it doesn’t matter that your vigilance would not have helped the firing one iota, it’s the gesture that counts." - page 165-66, The Cave
The feeling of a natural togetherness, the unconditionality between the master and the dog in the passage, compels me to think about the wonderfully possible amity shared by the two living beings. Anyone who has read Saramago, would be familiar with an under the skin observation and character portrayal. In the case of The Cave, which comes out to be an easier read than some of his other books surely, the dog Found has been treated as a character on par with any other you will name. Up till now, this has been the highlight of the novel. I am reminded of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of the Being, which ,again, manifests a level of sensitivity ( in the depiction of the dog, Karenin) that calls for a realization of the human spirit that holds the capacity to feel from a heart and give it expression of unconditional reciprocation.
I am also reminded of an author in J. M. Coetzee whose Elizabeth Costello was a heart-rending book for me in terms of its argument for having a natural human sensitivity towards animals. He argues by saying:
“Strictly speaking, my interest is not in legal rights for animals but in a change of heart towards animals.”
Human beings possess a priceless heart; so do animals I believe, and characters like Cipriano and Found, who Saramago puts his heart in creating, show every possibility towards a change of attitudes, thoughts and actions ultimately.
While I savour every single page of The Cave, in the activity of reading that, for me, becomes more like a ruminative meditation in passages like the one above, and move gradually towards the final chapters; this writing, here, will need to be given a break so that a heart is left to another heart and the master and his dog may derive meaning through gestures of affection and loving care.