I was sleeping by the well when he stopped by. His heavy footsteps startled me, but then I saw that he was no danger at all. Concerned only with himself, he was, not noticing anything else.
He looked haggard, his cloak was torn, and he kept on peering around as if seeking someone but fearing something. He sat down and brought out some bread but didn't look hungry at all, rather sick. Then a boy approached the well, clearly a shepherd, who asked him where he came from. After clearing his throat at some length, the man answered in a low, husky voice that he was a philosopher, from a place called something like Synopsis. He also said that he had been visiting a friend and was going to the harbor to get a ship back to Athens – that name I know, a friend of mine has been there, it's a fine place to roam, he says.
All the time, the man kept on gazing around with a weird look on his face the boy didn't seem to notice. He was very polite, that boy, surprisingly well educated for a shepherd. Ignoring the oddness of his counterpart, he gave information about how long it would take to get to the coast and a ship leaving for Athens the next day. Then, all of a sudden, the man got up and asked in a strangely sharp tone: "And you do understand everything I say?" The boy stepped back and answered briskly: "I am not a philosopher, but smart enough for a conversation with you. Anyway, I have to go now." He walked away and I must say, I would have felt offended, too. Except I know that's what they always like to think, that no one understands them because their thoughts and words are way too complicated for normal people. Well, I am complicated myself, I'll tell you that, as a stray who can understand human language and could even speak it if I wanted to, which I sure don't after the trouble I got in last time I did – ask me later, and I'll tell you what I think of priests who announce that sacrificing a speaking animal is the best way to appease Apollon and end a plague.
Nevertheless, and in spite of them being generally arrogant and queer, I have always wanted to be a philosopher's dog. It's not a joke. As a philosopher's dog, you have to take care of yourself and you don't get much to eat, but they don't beat you up out of no reason, they don't put you on a chain, and they don't make you guard a shithole or a flock of stinking sheep. Plus, you come around a lot and you get to learn plenty of interesting things. So, when I ran into this one – Diogenes was his name, in case I haven't mentioned it yet – when I ran into him by the source, I obviously tried to make friends. As soon as the boy had left, I walked up to my man and started the obligatory tail wagging and cheerful panting. Of course, I kept at a safe distance. Upon a first meeting you really never know if they are going to get scared or to attack you, just because. Fortunately, Diogenes was not of the scary sort, but unfortunately, he didn't give me a single look, just kept mumbling about a burning bush, voices, and a strange language.
Philosophers are absentminded and get angry at you if you interrupt their train of thoughts. I understand that, they are thinkers. So, I immediately stopped trying to catch his attention, sat down and waited till he got up to go, then followed him quietly, waiting for a chance. As we approached town, I cautiously closed up and eventually ended up trotting alongside him. But even though my tail stroked his legs once or twice and he didn't look absentminded anymore, he didn't seem to notice me at all. That was definitely not good because he wanted to board a ship and I needed him to insist on taking me with him.
By the time we reached the docks, I was seriously considering addressing my philosopher, words being probably the only thing that would catch his attention. The problem was that there were more and more people around us who, in my experience, were very likely to start blabbering about demons if they heard me. Before I could come up with a solution, my philosopher reached the ship and negotiated with the captain, who agreed to take him up and told him to board early the next morning but refused to give him a place to sleep. While they were talking, the captain gestured to a seaman and pointed at me. As you can imagine, the guy came down the gangway holding a huge stick and scared me away. That decided me. You do not run into a philosopher just like that on my island. Had I missed that chance, I would have hardly got another.
I waited for my philosopher to walk away, joined him, cleared my throat – and barked at him. I couldn't speak anymore. Why the fuck? And why now? I tried again, no change.
I followed Diogenes to the beach, sniffing around in the hope to find an explanation, and as he sat down, I had it in the shadows by the peer. A man was sitting in the sand, beautifully dressed, blond curls, soft purple cloak, rich, good looking. I sneaked up to him and barked. He said matter-of-factly: "You have the wrong attitude, that is why." I snarled and barked again, but he just produced a lyra from under his purple cloak, struck a chord, and disappeared.
That must be Apollon. While the thought sunk in another one rose to the surface: he had told me why, somehow, but definitely not why now. I had had my attitude and my language gift forever. You may think that perhaps I had only thought I could speak, whereas I really couldn't. Wrong: When I said that I wouldn't speak to humans after the plague thing, I meant that I wouldn't do it so they would know it was me. In fact, during the past years one of my few amusements had been to hide some place close to people fighting, mostly married couples, and to throw things in. Having become quite good at doing impressions, that could be real fun, especially the I-never-said-that and the you-go-on-denying-the-evidence-the-whole-neighborhood-heard-you part. I am proud to say that I have helped a large number of rhetorically defective couples shell out the spicy core of their otherwise insipid resentments. The last time I had done it had been that very day. In the end, the man had become so furious that I had thought it better to leave and to retire by the well where I then met Diogenes, which brings us back to the question: why now. Logical answer: obviously, the gods didn't want me to talk to my philosopher – who, by the way, was now sitting in the sand, muttering to himself, and drawing geometric figures with a little stick he had picked up. Why on earth wouldn't the gods want me to talk to him? What was it to them if a wacky philosopher and a stray exchanged ideas about whatever?
As soon as the question had formed itself in my mind, there was Apollon again, saying: "All right. A good question deserves an answer. Let me tell you what your philosopher is going through at the moment. He is sitting in a tavern in a land called Spain during a civil war, in 1937 – I know that you do not understand that, do not interrupt me, it is a place far away in the west, almost at the end of the world, and a time in the far future. Your man is sitting in front of a wine jar, surrounded by squabbling whores and ragged mercenaries, and he is very troubled. Ever since he ran into a burning bush early this morning, he speaks French – do not interrupt me, I said, it is a barbarian language that does not exist in your time yet. Your philosopher is very confused, but perfectly aware of the fact that he is speaking a language he has never heard before and that everyone seems to understand him. Now, as of you, we do not want you to speak to him. You could help him out of his troubles." – "And you don't want me to?" – "No. We want to see how he gets along without your help. As soon as this is over, you will recover your language gift." – "And what about my getting on the ship with him?"
"I am afraid that you will not board that ship anymore than he will. He has not been doing well so far, and the way it looks, he will be walking into the water by sunrise. I am sorry about that, but you will find another master, eventually." I snapped at him, deprived of all reasons to behave like a reasonable animal. Apollo sighed: "Philosophers are certainly better than other humans, but look at him again. Why become his dog instead of remaining a stray?"
He was right, again: after throwing a fistful of sand into the air, my philosopher paused for a few moments then walked towards the water. "He's gonna get drowned." Apollon – but was it really Apollon? – patted me gently. "Yes, I am afraid so", he said, "his philosophy has proven to be ineffective. He has lost, and he is lost now. We have to let him go." – "Then let me exchange places with him." He paused, pondering, then asked: "What do you mean? Do you really want to sacrifice yourself for him?" – "No, not at all! I just wanna have his body, and he could have mine to go get drowned. He is lost anyway, so what difference does it make?"
I could sense a smile behind his earnest face. "You really are an intelligent dog." – "I'm tired of leading a dog's life. Can you do it?" – "Yes. But do you really think that a human life would be better for you?" – "How would I know what it's like to be human? I just wanna be a philosopher, since you won't let me have the one I wanted for a master. I wannna be what I can't have. If I can't save him, I'll make the best out of his death." – "You are a philosopher after all." – "Yeah, so? Am I going to be a human?" – "You already are, my friend. Can't you see?"
Yes. I was standing upright on two legs, had arms to raise, hands to touch a human face, and a mouth to speak. The seashore felt so empty. I looked ahead. My philosopher was gone. I searched the water and thought for a moment that I had caught a glimpse of a little brim of white linen floating right below the calm surface. But if he had been turned into a dog, he wouldn't wear his tunica anymore because I was wearing it now, so that must have been an illusion.
My back felt as if I had been on my feet for ages. I sat down, looked up, and knew right away that I had made a big mistake. My eyes crossed space and time westward, faster and faster, gazing farther and farther, flying low over the sea, passing a strait, rushing over miles and miles of dark waves, and finally focusing a city that came closer, high, so high as I had never seen one, crystal transparent, sky piercing towers, their tops invisible amidst reddish clouds, bridges held by hanging chains of sparkling pearls, and a stinking harbor, muddy black water, a rough voice shouting "All American citizens, please this way!", and no way back, I had missed the right turn, but where? When?
The water was deep, so deep.