The man frowning at Madge through the screen door had stolen a letter from the mailbox earlier in the week, so he knew the surname.
"Yes," Madge replied.
"I'm Harold Bates from the ... [+]
Jai delivered papers for Carson's Newsagency each Sunday. Most newsagents hired adults to deliver papers by car, but Jai's dad and Mr. Carson knew each other and Mr. Carson had offered Jai the job. But times were changing. News was now available by so many other means: TV, computers, phones, tablets. Some local papers had gone completely digital. Mr. Carson had reluctantly told Jai that the following Sunday would be his last paper run.
Jai pedaled at a leisurely pace, throwing papers onto lawns as he rode. Riding with one hand and throwing with the other was a skill he had mastered. His aim was spot on; the papers always landed right where he wanted them to. He stopped now and then to refill his bag.
Toward the end of his run, he came to an abandoned house. For as long as he could remember, no one had lived there. He had just passed the gate—which was rusted open—when a dog ran out, snapping at his wheels. He'd never seen it before. Judging by its dirty, scruffy coat, it was a stray. He pedaled faster. Finally, it gave up chasing him and he finished his deliveries.
He had to ride past the abandoned house again on his way back. This time, he crossed to the other side of the street. Jai pedaled even faster than before. When he looked over his shoulder, the dog was watching him from the gate, but he was too far away this time for it to give chase.
On his way back, Jai saw the dog was still there, pawing the side of its mouth and rubbing its face along the ground. Hearing its pathetic whimpering, he decided to see what was wrong. He got off his bike and went to the gate. If the dog growled or even just looked unfriendly, he would back away.
He walked toward it cautiously. "You're so thin," he said. The dog's hip bones and ribs were sticking out. It was still whimpering and pawing at its mouth.
Jai could see something wedged between the dog's top and bottom rows of teeth. He moved closer and crouched for a better look. The dog's jaws were clamped shut!
"You poor thing," he said. "You can't open your mouth to eat. And you must be so thirsty."
Knowing the dog couldn't bite him, he scooped it into his arms and carried it to his trailer. After days without food or water, the dog's body was as floppy as a rag doll. "You're coming home with me."
When Jai got home, his dad was in the front yard. "I see you have a passenger," he said.
"It's the one I told you about last Sunday," Jai said.
"The one that chased you?"
"Yes. There's something stuck between its teeth. It can't open its mouth to eat or drink. I couldn't just leave it."
Dad bent down beside the dog. "It's a bone."
"But dogs eat bones," Jai said.
"This dog must have a gap in its top and bottom teeth big enough for the right-shaped bone to get stuck," Dad said. "I think I know how to get it out." He went to his tool shed and returned with pliers.
Jai held the dog's head while Dad pulled on the bone.
"I hope it doesn't thank us by biting us," Jai said.
"I think it's too weak to do that."
Dad couldn't shift the bone, so he twisted it to force the teeth apart. Finally, the bone came out. The dog shivered with relief and licked its lips.
Jai put water in a dish. The dog drank it all without stopping. When it had finished, Jai gave it some meat left over from last night's dinner. He bathed it and brushed its coat with an old hairbrush his mother gave him.
That night, Jai used an old blanket to make a bed for the dog on the back veranda. When he got up the next morning, he thought it would be gone. But it was still there, curled on the blanket.
He bent down and patted its head. "I asked Mum and Dad if you can live here and they said yes. But I know you're used to being on your own, so you don't have to stay if you don't want to."
Jai got ready for school. Before he left, he said goodbye to the dog. All day, he wondered if it had gone back to the abandoned house. He wondered if it would forget he had helped it. He wondered if it would chase him the next time he rode past.
When he got home from school, the dog was sitting on the front lawn.
"So you decided to stay," Jai said. "Well then, I guess you'll need a name . . ."