My morning started with a plastic bag. What's inside the plastic bag, you might ask? A banana, a tupperware of the leftovers from the previous night's rice dish, and a breakfast roll. Little did I know that this small grocery store bag carrying my breakfast and lunch would put me in such a position as it was about to.
As I do every day, I rode my small marshrutka van to work. I looked at my watch. Plenty of time, no need to rush. I strolled peacefully, listening to Mumford & Sons on my ipod, enjoying the beautiful, slightly chilly morning. Approaching the underground passage, I pulled my jacket and scarf just a bit closer, and briskly walked down the steps.
There he was. The dog. Staring at me--almost laughing at me, it seemed. I looked at his dusty, yellow fur matted down with city dirt. He is one of many happy stray dogs in this huge city. They roam around in packs or alone looking for food and warmth. They ride the metro, knowing full-well where they are going, thinking this is their city. On this day, this unsuspecting mutt learned who I was--a short, little Amerikanka with no patience for his shenanigans.
Our eyes met, and he smiled. Then there was the smell. My little plastic bag was emitting smells of deliciousness, and the mutt strolled toward me, still seemingly laughing.
Now usually for me, these stray dogs are like unwanted men. I am able to avoid their advances with a demeaning glance and cold body language, but this dog was the Pride and Prejudice Mr. Collins of all dogs. Persistently, he ran after me, and jumped on my arm. I pushed him away and continued walking with an unamused, cold stare. Catching the scent of the goods in my bag once more, he bit at my groceries.
"No! Bad dog!"
Undeterred, he jumped on my arm once more, lightly and playfully gnawing on my arm. This was unsettling. I know all too well that when a dog initially nibbles on your arm and you refuse him, the next bite will be more fierce. After another push, his clench became a little firmer.
That's when I kicked him.
My only thought being of holes in my favorite and only Fall coat, I felt my foot rise off the floor and lightly meet his body. As he yelped and released his grip and ran away, it was then that I realized I had kicked him in his "secret regions". Oops?
I also quickly walked away, afraid of further attempts. While I continued to walk, now sure that the mutt had not followed me, I saw an old woman outside in the park in her pajamas. She was unexpressedly enjoying being surrounded by a huge pack of dogs, feeding them her leftovers as they playfully nipped and licked at her.
How is she possibly enjoying that? They're filthy and STRAYS, no less! I thought.
When I reached the school, I was laughing with shock (because that's the generally inappropriate response I have when I get nervous), and I anxiously told my Russian assistants the story.
Their response was barely what I--although probably exactly I should have--expected.
"Oh Shannon! Poor dog! How could you??"
I'm sorry? A dirty, disease-ridden dog starts to nibble on my tender arm and you feel bad for him???
I of the Mendeelevskaya dog statue came flooding into my mind, along with fellow images of old babushki spending time in the parks to affectionately watch the strays eat their leftovers.
That's when I realized:
This city does belong to them. I stand corrected.