(photo credit: )
Although the skies are clear and there are no more bombs falling on Nahariya, there is a difference in the feel of the town. Not only the casualties, families made homeless, wrecked homes, but those who stayed and those who left carry their experiences within them. Experiences we share with each other that cannot be described to anyone not living here.
A fair number of us stayed. The old, the stubborn, the optimists who knew it would be over tomorrow. Those caring for the elderly or the sick. It cannot be said that we had nowhere to go. Invitations poured in by phone, in person, by fax and e-mail. From friends, families and from complete strangers. Grumpily we stuck it out. We went into shelters, rushed out between bombardments to shop or collect mail.
There were also the animals to care for. There are still farms on the outskirts. It is not easy to evacuate cows or goats. There are the domestic dogs and cats. Leave them? Take them into safety?
There was the case of Tikka.
Tikka was a small dog of indeterminate breed who lived next door. When a very small puppy, just a bundle of white fur and large pleading eyes, she had been picked out from a garbage container soon to be picked up and conveyed with the mountains of odorous rubbish to the town dump. Her rescuer, my neighbor, was then regarded as a goddess by the dog and was accorded the same adoration and worship as befits such a being.
The ball of fluff, with regular feeding and attention, grew into a respectably small but recognizable canine, who settled in as part of the household and had her own niche in it. There were inevitably some problematic times. Apologies had to be made. In her exuberant youth Tikka rushed after every car that passed her driveway. She never caught any of them but apparently unnerved a few sensitive drivers. Then lithe and energetic, she would scramble up the side of any car parked outside and sit on the roof, surveying grandly all passers-by. Some owners had to be placated, as she did not differentiate between the family car and those of friends and some who were not dog lovers and complained of scratches on the paint.
Sitting on their roofs or chasing them, Tikka was not a car lover. The goddess had an assistant who was in charge of such a vehicle, and Tikka was very wary of an invitation to enter. A ride in such a vehicle, she knew, usually presaged something nasty. To get shots, for example. Or for a small but vital operation which burdened her with an unshakable bandage that could not be scratched off. Or it was an excursion to the beauty parlor, where she was washed, brushed, shorn and trimmed. Left only with a tuft on her tail like some fashionable French poodle, Tikka did not approve of such attention and showed her distaste by retiring to her hideout under the stairs and sulking for several days until she felt brave enough to face the world.
Her world was quite limited. If the goddess was out, Tikka would come and scratch on my door. I was third best only after the goddess and the assistant who quite often fed her and obviously meant well.
Tikka would demand access to all the rooms, standing patiently in front of any closed door and then engage in a thorough search in case I had the goddess hidden somewhere. Then she would settle down resignedly in a corner and, at every footstep from outside, stand panting with anticipation untiI I opened it. If it was indeed the goddess, Tikka would cavort in circles of delight, rolling over in an ecstasy of gratitude and finally stand panting, waiting for the caress and words of love that always followed.
If it was not the goddess, however nice and interesting a visitor, even one who openly admired and patted her, she returned to her corner to wait for better times.
As she grew older and more sedate, Tikka became less active. A homebody, she never moved very far from her living quarters. People she liked she would accompany to the corner when they left and then return to her own patch.
She was not a chummy creature. Dogs came and went through the garden and across the patio, but she did not encourage them to stay. When she was young she did join them in their occasional games of racing round the streets. Her most frequent companion was an immensely large cat who lived on the other side of the path. We called it Ginger, gender unknown. Though that was not an accurate description of its fur, which was a cross between egg yolk and custard and was without doubt the ugliest cat I have even seen. It had a square jaw and prominent, sharp teeth in a mouth that seemed disproportionately large. Also it was quite unfriendly and spat and snarled at anyone that came near. But Tikka got on well with this creature, and we often saw them after they had shared a plate of leftovers, resting companionably one on the other, at peace with the world.
Then came the war and the constant bombardments. After the first 100 rockets exploded around our ears, the goddess and her assistant took Tikka to a place of safety out of range. Tikka was uneasy. She knew the family, close relatives and frequent visitors, and they were very welcoming and kind, but it wasn't her corner, her space. Their small children were familiar playmates, but Tikka could no longer enter with great enthusiasm into a rough-and-tumble session on the floor. I can empathize with this, having the same difficulty.
Caninely and humanly, Tikka and I have reached the same dizzy heights of senior citizenship. But the weekend they came home, she cowered under the stairs and whined a lot, demanding to go in and out almost hourly. When the time came to leave, she was not to be found. They called, searched, delayed departure, tried Ginger's patch, but Tikka was gone. Presumably she would come back when there was a lull and, not finding her own contacts, come as usual to me.
But she did not come. We canvassed all the neighbors who know Tikka well and, between attacks, scurried round on the beach and through patches of rough ground. No Tikka.
After a final 100 bomb salvos, the rockets stopped. The sky was clear. Everyone came back - some to shattered homes and terrible damage. But no Tikka. Dogs are frightened by the noise, said the vet. They run away from it, then get lost and can't find their way home.
She probably had a heart attack and is dead in a field somewhere. It was a depressing picture, but logical, and slowly we tried to adjust to not having Tikka. After all, there had been much greater losses in the town.
Time passed. Then there was a phone call from the Town Hall: "We have your dog."
Tikka had been picked up by stray dog handlers. Not far away. The next village. She had been taken to the dog pound and there would be kept for a period, and if not claimed, destroyed. At the pound, the vet looked for an electronic identification. There it was, and the reunion was arranged.
Tikka, thin, dirty, limping and slow, climbed out of the car and headed for her own corner and her bed. Food and drink she took only meagerly. She slept a lot and roused only when the goddess wept over her appearance. Where could she have been? What did she eat? Where did she sleep? There are no answers, but home is now complete. Even Ginger is back.