In this southern resort town there were a lot of stray dogs.
They were fed at restaurants, kebabs and cafes. Not far away from those places they started noisy fights and weddings, trampling flower lawns. They pupped in some nooks among empty beer boxes.
They were driven away and rounded up. But dogs appeared again and again, roamed from one table to another, looking into eyes of visitors. They put up their ingratiating and pleading looks for show in the same shameless way as a beggar puts up his stump and rags.
Charwomen were their enemies, children were their allies.
"Mom, look, it's a dog!"
"Don't dare to touch it; Goodness knows where it wanders. Maybe, it's rabid. Get out of here! Shoo!"
"Oh don't do that! Look it's sitting up and begging!"
Here it was important for them to keep their head, rise on hind legs as soon as possible and do that artfully and funny, so that a small man should clap and his mother smile indulgently, and that people sitting at next tables should also pay attention and call,
"Hey, cur! Sit up and beg!"
And then they hurriedly crushed and swallowed bones until a waiter came.
All local stray dogs perfectly could sit up and beg. Some of them turned on their hind legs even better then circus dogs did, though nobody specially trained them.
This skill of theirs was formed from their childhood when their mother for the first time brought them to these tables where dog's competition existed.
If you could draw people's attention, amuse or entertain them then you would be lucky but if you couldn't then you would be hungry. Therefore, all stray dogs sat up and begged - all of them, except Jack.
It was an old pure-bred dog with long brown hair which was tangled and frayed here and there like a shabby fur coat.
He usually came to the same kebab house under a shed and always did it in the evenings. He lay down by the fence, where the waiter GIvi served the tables, and dozed, putting his big bearlike head on his legs. When Jack was called he got up with difficulty and not at once, and reluctantly responded do a call; he stopped before a table and waited with indifference.
"Come on! Sit up and beg," a visitor demanded, swinging with a piece of meat on a fork.
Jack didn't move but only turned his face. And his look became faraway, dull and in general non-doggish.
It seemed he meant, "Don't act the fool. Give me it as you've called me or else I'll go away."
"Sit up and beg!" a visitor insisted with drunken obstinacy, "You are lazy."
"He won't," Givi said, gathering dirty dishes to the tray, "Jack doesn't beg."
"He doesn't beg, and that's all."
Givi said that with some evil satisfaction. It was his little revenge to those who gave him generous tips, and first of all it was his revenge to himself so far as he liked getting them very much.
"Let him get out of here."
"A visitor demonstratively turned away from Jack, and a piece of meat went to Button who was a pert and restless she-dog. She was named so for a pair of her round black eyes or for the bright tip of her nose with two holes-nostrils.
And Jack again lay down to his former place and saw Button jumping up and turning her back; her short tail flickered in frenzied rhythm and her eyes shone with reverential delight.
He loved Button. She resembled Alma who was a girlfriend of his youth, being the same restless and smart.
When Button skilfully swallowed a next piece of kebab on the fly, Jack so clearly imagined its taste that his mouth filled with saliva and his stomach agonizingly famished with hunger.
But he felt neither envy, nor angry. And he was very far from blaming Button and other stray dogs for begging.
Simply they could do that but he couldn't.
He was Jack who doesn't beg.
"He doesn't beg, and that's all", as the waiter Givi used to say and protected him for this shortcoming of his.
Up by midnight after seeing the last visitor to the door and swearing behind him in a low voice Givi drank up a started bottle of wine 'Cinandali' and called up Jack.
"Come over here, dog. You are a good dog. You are a stupid one."
He put before Jack a brimful bowl with remains of soup, bones with scraps of fat and meat, crusts of cheese - in short, it was a real feast.
No matter how hungry Jack was, he always ate slowly and in a dignified way; he never dug remains into the ground for future use. In this he was also different from other stray dogs.
As if from nowhere, Button appeared. Her eyes looked at Jack reverently and faithfully; her hot lithe body clang and fawn upon him and the tip of her nose reached the bowl in the meanwhile.
Jack moved a little, giving place to her. Her intimacy and endearment were pleasant to him, though they weren't fully sincere.
It was long ago when he raved because of love, fought till it bled and, seeing his Alma outside the yard, furiously tore his chain, feeling such an agony as if his heart were bound by that very chain.
Unfaithfulness of his present girlfriends didn't worry him very much. And when he gave it hot to their boyfriends, he did it only because they picked on him.
It seemed as if his feelings became dull and died. Only his instincts and habits of the past remained.
That very past when Jack wasn't strayed yet, had a master and lived in his kennel in the yard which was surrounded by a high fence, on the gate of which a small board was nailed:
"Beware of the dog!"
Jack wasn't able to go into his memories as people did but he also couldn't forget anything. The past kept on living on him - a complicated and confused tangle of smells, colors and associations; happiness, bitterness and pain.
Sometimes it made itself felt and ached agonizingly and long.
Smell of new boots disturbed Jack because it reminded him of his master.
Five puppies snuggled up to each others, crewing up their eyes from sudden bright light. A huge hand flew over them; it stopped and approached.
It smelled of leather and shoe adhesive; it was a sharp and unknown smell.
Jack dug his teeth into this hand and for a moment felt a taste of blood. After getting a punch he started barking shrilly - first time in his life.
Baring his teeth he expected a new attack but a man started laughing.
"This will do. He is a fierce one."
Jack wasn't able to go into his memories. He could remember only the smell which became the smell of his master since that time.
"Beware of the dog!"
Jack wasn't fierce in his heart. He imitated fury because his master demanded so. And besides that, Jack liked to frighten people - it was a widespread way of self-affirmation which was inherent to boastful and stupid young dogs.
That time he even invented an original game: he hid in his kennel, allowing 'a strange man' to approach the porch..
Then he caught up with him and uttered so terrible and deafening 'bow-wow' that a yelling guest ran up the stony stairs towards the door, holding his seat by one hand and his heart by other.
Jack in victorious ecstasy ran around his kennel and barked until the master came and drove him into the kennel, patting the back of his neck with approval. After that Jack's hair smelt of his master for a long time.
And the honey smell of the vine 'Isabella' also disturbed the old dog every autumn because it was associated with his master's house where Jack spent his young years.
For nights Jack used to be unbound. Those were the best moments in his life.
He noiselessly ran around the garden among tangerine and pomegranate trees, and his feeling of full freedom after long keeping on the chain was delightful.
Every of his muscle was filled with strength, and his body became light, almost weightless.
He keenly listened, not discerning but rather feeling long-awaited coming of Alma among crackling of cicadas, rustling of leaves and other night sounds.
Alma sneaked into the hole under the fence. His master tried to fill it up several times already but every morning found it again.
She scarcely gave him a look as if she came not to him and ran past him along the path of the garden, sniffing the ground.
And every time Jack was perplexed, resented and angry.
"Why is she behaving like that?
"Shall I stay, go away or follow her?"
But Alma suddenly stopped at a moony spot in the garden and stood still. She was so beautiful and unapproachable.
Her white hair was shot with silver, her slender and graceful body stood out well at a dark background of the grass.
Allowing him to admire her, Alma lazily turned her head to Jack. Her look still seemed sleepy and indifferent but Jack already discerned inviting yellow sparkles in it.
It was her sign.
Jack rushed to her. Alma evaded him, threateningly baring her sharp white teeth, and sometimes she painfully bit his side. But she suddenly stopped, and her eyes called, promised and teased him.
Then a pursuit started.
Jack rushed after her around the garden, trampling flowerbeds and vegetable patches and not thinking that tomorrow he would again get it hot from his master. He forgot everything in the world, except the so desired fluffy ball with inviting yellow eyes that was flickered before him.
Later on Alma lay near him. She completely changed and became tender and obedient. She warmly and dozily breathed into his ear and fell asleep, putting her head on his legs. And Jack, not daring to move and being drunk with happiness, guarded her sleep till morning.
Jack never thought of how and why he had left his master's house. But he couldn't forget it either. A sense of bitterness and puzzled resent because of parting with his master kept living in him. It agonizingly ached as well as people had pains in their very long ago amputated arms.
It happened at the time when happy and stupid Jack's young years passed and maturity came.
He didn't change outwardly - his body was still lithe and strong, his canine teeth were white and sharp and his threatening and muffled growl was still able to inspire fear.
But it seemed that all of that had lost its former meaning and been sidelined. Before Jack always longed for being in companies (his love for Alma, playing with his master's children or evil game with 'strangers') but now he didn't feel bored being in solitude; on the contrary, he came to like being alone.
It was so nice to simply lie on the grass near the kennel, basking in the sun, listen, look and think.
His look now stopped at surrounding objects for hours. Jack watched them and was surprised at them, trying to perceive their meaning and destination.
The bowl is necessary for meals, the kennel is necessary for protection against rain and cold and he, Jack, is needed for guarding his master's house.
But what is the use of ants and trees? And what is the use of cats?
Holiday-makers who dropped in to inquire about renting a room, the masters friends and clients, schoolmates of the master's daughter - all of them weren't strangers'. They didn't have any evil intentions, and so it was foolish to bark and attack them.
Together with maturity wisdom and kindness came to Jack. But he didn't know that his new merits aren't good for a dog who should confirm a threatening inscription on the fence.
Jack felt that recently his master was displeased with him. He more and more seldom approached him to pat the back of his neck and even didn't click his tongue when he passed by. Jack felt but didn't realize any guilt of his and suffered from it even more.
Once a holiday-maker and her son dropped in the yard. While the mother chatted with the master, the boy ran up to Jack and stretched out his hand to stroke him. Jack began to growl threateningly; he never allowed 'strangers' to touch himself but a little man as if nothing had happened embraced his neck and clasped him to his breast.
Jack stood still. If he had jerked his head aside and made only one movement toward bare knees, the insolent fellow would have got his bitters.
Jack gnashed his teeth and began to growl but this time something prevented him from doing his duty. Jack couldn't make head or tail of this 'something'; he simply clenched his body and strained, patiently bearing this unpleasant and insulting embrace. He stayed so until the frightened boy's mother came and dragged her son away, slapping him in the heat of the moment.
"I'll teach you to approach to dogs, a dull kid! It's good that this one isn't fierce or else it would bite you"
The mother shouted for a long time, a human kid cried. The master stood aside, smoked and kept silence as if this incident were no concern of his.
But when 'strangers' left he called Jack and with malice painfully kicked Jack's side by his foot.
This happened for the first time.
Jack didn't blame him: if his master did so then he deserved that.
But Jack also knew that if such a situation would happen again he in no case would be able to bite that stupid human kid with bare knees.
The thing that didn't allow him to do it was stronger than Jack and stronger than power of his master.
After this incident his master began to completely ignore Jack. He quickly passed the kennel, and every time Jack jumped up and wagged his tail, trying to catch his eye.
His heart beat but when steps of his master became quieter, it calmed down, beating weaker and weaker like a ball.
But after that it ached for a long time.
Once his master did come up to him and patted his back as it was before.
Jack went mad with happiness. He swallowed the brought food, a big piece of meat and even didn't felt its taste because all his feelings were concentrated on one thing - happiness from being forgiven by his master.
His feeling of happiness didn't disappear at all when the master left. It remained in him even when pains came and it struggled against pains until terrible and unbearable pain in his belly seized him completely, turning him into a writhing and squealing bundle of pain.
Jack died. He was vomiting blood, his cold legs were convulsed and air almost didn't get into his mouth which was full of lather.
And when Jack understood that he was dying he did what he had to do according to an unwritten law: he gathered his last strength and crawled away from the yard.
Somebody took off his dog's collar in advance, and the hole under the fence, through which Alma got in to him on dates, turned out to be not filled up with ground.
It was night. He crawled upwards past stony stairs of somebody's cottages, then along the highway leading to the sanatorium and past the solitary house of an old Abkhazian who sold young wine to health-resort visitors. Here the path finished, and Jack now crawled simply upwards; every minute he fell on the ground and fainted.
He licked away cold drops of dew and crawled again.
At last his instinct commanded him to stop. There were no people here and even no smells of their footsteps and homes. Jack was left alone with death.
Staggering, he rose to his legs for the last time and, standing like a string, came to a point.
A gust brought him the smell of snow and unknown grasses.
The wind blew from mountains where Jack's ancestors formerly guarded flocks of sheep, fought against wolves to death and, bleeding, went away to search for life-giving grass.
And again the same powerful instinct of life hinted Jack that this grass is hereabout and commanded him to crawl to it, though he had no strengths already.
And he crawled until his face nuzzled into its pulpy stem and felt its rough and burning bitter taste.
A few days later Jack came back; he was weakened, a bag of bones, but healthy.
The hole under the fence was closed up tightly. Behind the gate of his master's house where a board 'Beware of the dog' was nailed an unknown shaggy puppy was running and barking at Jack.
Jack was sitting and waiting for his master - it was a time when he usually returned from work. Hearing his steps, he jumped up and wagged his tail.
But for some reason his master stopped, hesitated and went back.
Jack rushed after him and almost came up with him, but the master turned round and, grabbing stones from the road, began to throw them at Jack, shrilly shouting some evil and incoherent words.
What face he had!
Jack was terrified - not because of stones that were thrown at him, but because of this face, distorted, malicious, miserable one, which was so different from the face of his master.
Jack didn't understand anything. He only felt that now he did something very wrong to his master; and it was even worse thing than in the day when he didn't bite a little man with bare knees, that his master would never forgive him and that he should go away from here forever.
So Jack became a stray dog.
Now he lived alone; he needed nobody as well as was needed to nobody.
He didn't suffer from loneliness because he wasn't human. He simply lived.
Nevertheless, Jack was once more fated to experience agonizing and wonderful feeling of love: he fell in love with a woman.
He didn't know why he had singled her out of all holiday-makers of all summer seasons.
It seemed that she was in no way different from others; she was tanned till black and wore a faded dress with dark spots on her breast and thighs from a wet swimsuit. She had shoulder-length hair which was faded from sea water and covered a half of her face. Her legs were covered with whitish thin coat of salt.
Jack liked her at once as soon as she entered the kebab house and, looking for a place, directed her steps to Givi's table, dragging her thongs.
He liked her sitting and sipping lemonade with listless look when she waited for her ordered dishes. He liked her smell, not the smell of her perfume or powder but only her own smell.
Jack kept looking at her when she ate. And she, understanding his look in her own way, beckoned him with a piece of kebab.
"Jack doesn't beg," Givi said.
He said it not defiantly as he usually did but in order to make her acquaintance.
She answered nothing and, smiling not at Givi but at Jack, called,
"Come to me, come, Jack."
Resented Givi withdrew. And Jack carefully took a piece from her hands, inhaled her smell and stood still because she stroked her head and behind his ear.
Children often tried to stroke Jack, but their rough and unceremonious touches couldn't be compared with these ones.
Her light, almost weightless fingers tenderly touched her hair. It reminded him of the soft and warm wind blowing from the sea only once a year, which pointed to coming of spring.
And then, Jack already forgot how it had happened in the past, his heart trembled, sank and rolled to an unknown place.
She paid and got up.
Jack raised her head. He wanted to see her leaving.
But the woman hesitated; she stepped to the exit, then turned round and whistled in a womanly unskillful way.
"Come along, Jack."
They passed through the kebab house, then went along an evening seafront and along an empty dark side street as far as the house she lived in. She again stroked him gratefully and guiltily because he wasn't allowed to go farther.
A locking bar crackled, her steps quietened down. But Jack kept on standing and smiling to himself in a doggish way until the feeling of her touches disappeared and faded away.
Only then did he remember that he was very hungry and rushed to the kebab house to be in time for his meal.
So they became friends. Every morning Jack waited for the woman at her gate, listening attentively to sounds of awaking house und unmistakably discerning her own awakening
He heard squeaking of a window frame in her room, clattering of a washstand, her laugh and the smell of fried eggs she hastily cooked in the mornings.
And at last he heard dragging of her thongs on stairs and a strict command,
"Let's go, Jack!"
They ran down to the sea along a path. In one movement the woman took off her sundress and threw herself into the water with squeals of delight.
She swam not very well but merrily, tumbling in the water and making a lot of splashes. She called Jack but he didn't like bathing in the mornings when it was still cool and watched the woman with indulgence of an adult.
Then they went to the market to buy some tomatoes, plums, grapes and nuts, and all of them were put into her bathing cap.
Then they came back to the sea and washed the fruits in the same cap.
Again she floundered in the water with squeals, and Jack guarded her faded sundress and thongs.
When heat became unbearable he got into the sea, swam about two meters, thrashing the water by his legs, quickly jumped out, shaking himself and snorting loudly, and with enjoyment lay down beside her on hot pebbles. He dosed and felt very happy.
Formerly he would have never tried to come to the sea at a hot noon as well as to other crowded places, fearing boys and adults, but now he was afraid of nothing.
He wasn't alone anymore; it seemed that he found a new master or rather a mistress.
But in former times Jack was devoted to his master only because it was his destined master.
Now he chose his mistress by himself because he had loved her, which is hardly possible for dogs.
In his attitude towards her there was something more than usual blind devotion.
The woman also was alone and needed his protection, and awareness of it filled Jack's heart with pride and happiness.
They were inseparable. When they were on beaches, in cafes or walked around the town, he zealously guarded her, and as soon as she gave him signs, he drove off her uninvited companions by his ferocious growling.
Once he growled even at Givi who immediately ceased to like him and deprived him of his meal.
But anyway Jack was happy. He remained to be happy even when a man arrived, and Jack was moved to the background.
Jack was wise enough to accept a man in her life as a reality.
At the railway station when she, being in a new rustling dress and in high-heeled shoes, embraced a man, Jack saw her flushing bright face, he sincerely rejoiced together with her because he loved the woman.
"Come along, Jack," she called him, and he again ran after her, this time not beside but behind her.
From now on they were three, but in Jack's life almost nothing changed, though the woman now showed her attention both to him and the man, obviously preferring the latter.
However, he man disliked Jack and was jealous of her interest in him. But Jack treated the man in a friendly way and was ready to protect him, though he didn't recognize him as his master.
Once they again came to the railway station to meet somebody.
A large company of people arrived, among whom a man in creaking yellow sandals was singled out.
Other people carried his suitcase, helpfully pushed a chair for him and laughed whatever he said. And on the beach they got a beach bed especially for him.
But he objected to it, yielding the beach bed to the woman. Everybody again started laughing and followed him into the water.
Her man also went with others, but she stayed with Jack.
At this moment they were two as before. The woman stroked him, and Jack's heart again sank and rolled to an unknown place, though he knew that now her hand was stroking him absent-mindedly and that they were not two but she was alone and felt sad and bad. And he suffered, not knowing how to help her.
In the evening the whole company went to have supper to the kebab house.
Givi pushed three tables together, instantly got a snow-white tablecloth and beautifully arranged bottles, snacks and setups.
The man in creaking sandals was still in the center of everybody's attention. Even a defective music box suddenly revived and performed a march from the opera 'Aida", as soon as he approached him.
They wanted to ask the man in creaking sandals to sit down at the head of the table, but he began to wave his hands and sat down near the woman.
This was a place of her man; even his jacket hung on the back of his chair, but her man secretly took it away and sat down on the opposite side of the table.
And the merriment started! Forks and wine glasses jingled, corks flapped and Givi rushed with skewers to and fro like a tennis ball. The music box heartrendingly yelled, gorging five-kopeck coins.
Jack lay on his place and dozed as usual, putting his big bearlike head on his legs.
He didn't see that the man in sandals approached the woman more and more closely, whispering something and embracing her shoulders, and she moved away and looked at his man in perplexity.
But the one, hiding his eyes and laughing in a loud and unnatural voice, put more and more pieces of meat into the plate of the man in sandals.
Then the woman also began to laugh and cried that she wanted to dance.
The man in sandals sent her man to throw another five-kopeck coin into the music box. The latter obediently went to perform his command, but the coin-operated machine suddenly refused to work.
The man came up to the man in sandals and began to apologize for some reason, but the latter was angry and demanded music, holding the woman's hand.
Jack didn't see anything of that.
In his doze he suddenly heard the woman calling him, and something in his voice made him immediately wake up and rush to her.
He came to a point and began to growl, being ready to attack an enemy.
But there was no enemy. The woman laughed. Holding a skewer with pieces of meat over his head she commanded,
"Sit up and beg, Jack!"
At first he thought it was a not very good joke and turned around because he felt shame for the woman.
But she drew him up by force, holding his legs, and again shouted,
"Sit up and beg!"
From the look on her face he understood that she didn't joke and for some reason really needed his begging.
But he couldn't do that!
Jack looked around in perplexity.
People looked at him in silence and with curiosity. He gave a pleading look at Givi.
"Don't do that, Jack doesn't beg," he said quietly.
But it seemed that the woman didn't hear him. She struck her hand on the table; her eyes were full of tears.
"Sit up and beg!"
Jack yelped and, jumping up, put her forelegs on her knees. But the woman pushed him away.
"Sit up and beg well!"
Jack lay down on his belly and began to whine. His body trembled, his heart painfully and loudly pulsed even in his throat.
Now the entire world was concentrated for him on the woman's raised hand and her desperate cry, as if she called for help,
"Sit up and beg, Jack!"
And then he strained all his body and jumped up to that hand, doing it once, twice, three times until he managed to stand on his hind legs for a few seconds, swinging awkwardly.
Everybody started laughing and clapping. And the woman threw a skewer into him like a stick, and also started laughing.
"Get your reward, Jack!"
Everybody became silent. Nobody paid attention to Jack now. All people looked at her man.
Everybody understood why and for whom she had done it - everybody, except Jack. He looked at the woman's face and saw the same expression on it as his former master had when he drove Jack along the narrow street in front of his house.
And as it was that time, he understood he should go away.
He turned round and started running away.
'Jack!" the woman called him, and once more, "Jack, Jack!"
But he ran more and more quickly, knowing that he would never return to her and never remember her.
But he would always remember her smell as well as he could remember the smell of his former master and honey fragrance of the vine 'Isabella' in his master's yard, on the gate of which a board was nailed:
'Beware of the dog!"