Read by Lucy Jackson
Alone on a beach with the sun behind me
Bent double looking for shells
I saw the shadow of a dog at my side
And felt a soft touch on the back of my hand.
She was the routine African stray,
Beige-brown and watchful
Young . . . and I’d have said, not long since whelped.
Hullo girl . . . who are you?
The question passed between us.
She smiled . . . yes, dogs do smile and
Winked her eyes in the bright sunshine.
We walked together, she close at my heels
Stopping when I stopped, waiting quietly
When I stooped for a shell.
We sat on the sand and watched the waves.
Glancing shyly sideways at one another
Afraid to love too much.
I must not feed her nor make a fuss.
That wouldn’t be fair.
She would give her heart in an instant
Only for me to break it.
We sat in silence a little apart
She, modest, touching and anxious.
Both of us careful not to intrude.
“Right, it’s time,” I said standing up
Briskly flicking my hands, shaking off the sand.
“You must go home now . . . there’s a good girl . . . go home.”
To my surprise, she turned away at once
And headed up the beach making for the bush path.
For someone who longed to belong
This was perhaps one of many similar encounters.
She too well knew the moment for signing off.
“Thank you for coming,” I called.
“Thank you … so … much.
I … do … love … you.”
But she didn’t turn round.
“God speed … please God,” I said.
And I walked back along the beach
Guilty, bereft … missing her shadow
And her gentle presence.