I cycle to and from work through The Common – a large expanse of park, not privately owned (hence its name), and used by joggers, cyclists, walkers, families and animals. Apparently, deer even reside somewhere in its depths, but I have not spied any. Although I am reasonably alert for most of my cycle ride, I am actually more alert cycling through The Common, than I am cycling along the road. This is because cars behave mostly predictably (I can often tell when a car is going to turn out in front of me, turn across my path or just plain hasn’t noticed me) but joggers, walkers, dogs and kids do not. Dogs and kids are particularly unpredictable; their perpetual wonderment and joy results in sudden stops, turns and changes in direction. As a cyclist, one just has to keep a wary eye out.
One day last week, I entered The Common’s main path and pedalled merrily along, looking forward to being home and having dinner. I passed two walkers, giving them a wide berth and not bothering to ding my bell. I saw a young man walking a dog on a lead. Ahead, a light brown dog ran madly alongside the path. I watched her come towards me. She was near the trees so not in my path, but I looked around to see if I could see her owner. It is quite easy to tell who owns which dog, especially as the dog nears me. Some owners bristle and glare at me suspiciously; others get nervous and try to control their dogs, while looking at me apologetically; many keep an eye on me as I keep an eye on their dog. I saw no one to whom this brown dog could belong but it barrelled happily past me and I cycled on.
About three-quarters of the way along, I passed a young woman jogging. Her breathing was ragged and irregular and I thought, “Well, good for you getting out and running but perhaps you should walk a bit if it’s that difficult?” I then heard her call out, “Mum! Wait!” and saw a woman up ahead turn and bring her arms up in a, “I don’t know” gesture, turn again and walk on, away from her daughter who wanted her to wait. Naturally, I started making up stories about what was going on. It was barely a minute later when I caught up with the mother. She was walking in the middle of the path and looking left and right. As I pulled level with her, she cupped her hands to her mouth and called out, “Bonny! Bonny!” Her voice was hoarse. I cycled on but continued to hear both her and her daughter calling out, “Bonny! Bonny!”; their voices getting more desperate on each cry.
Wondering if they might be looking for the brown dog I saw down the other end of The Common, I wheeled my bike around and said to the mother, “Are you looking for a dog?”
“Yes! A golden labrador! Have you seen her?”
“Um, I’m not so great with dog types but maybe. Except, she was down the other end of The Common, not up here. Could you have lost her down there?”
“We don’t know when we lost her!” The woman’s daughter caught up with her mother and the woman turned to her daughter, saying, “This lady says she saw Bonny down the other end of The Common.”
“Well, I’m not sure it’s definitely Bonny, I just saw – ”
“But mum! You told me to run up this way!” The daughter looked worn out. She turned to go back the way she came, though hesitantly.
“I’m not positive I saw Bonny. Just a brown dog that looked like it was on its own.” They both looked at me apprehensively, trying to decide whether to keep searching where they were or to head back down the path. “I can cyle down there and see if she’s still there for you. Bonny, did you say her name was? Will she come if I call?”
“Oh, definitely,” offered the mother, “Would you? You don’t mind?”
“She’s got a dog-collar with her name. And she’s a good dog, she’ll come,” the daughter said at the same time, “And you really don’t mind?” but I was off and cycling back down the path so I threw back a very Australian, “Yeah, no worries.”
It took me only a few minutes to get back to the beginning of the path and there was the brown dog I’d seen. She was standing on the edge of the road, watching the traffic and deciding when to cross (I surmised). “Bonny?” I called. The dog turned to look at me but looked back to the cars, uninterested. “Bonny! Come here!” I tried a more assertive tone. The dog looked at me again and then trotted towards me. She stopped short about a metre away and cocked her head to one side. “Come on Bonny! Let’s go back to – um your people.” I got off my bike to try to look at the dog’s collar, but as I did so, she backed away from me. I don’t trust dogs and I’m not good with them, so I re-mounted my bike and tried, “Bonny! Follow me! Come one!” I pedalled slowly away, looking back towards the dog. She would follow me for a bit and then stop, look at me and then look back the way she had been going.
In this way, we advanced back up the path. I was a little worried that she was not Bonny and I was coaxing someone else’s dog away from them. Worse, I became one of those unpredictable people on the path – I was cycling slowly and veering off to one side every time I turned around to check that ‘Bonny’ was still following. And I was cycling on the right hand side of the path, and not the left.
It felt like ages but was probably no more than 5 minutes, when I met up with the woman and her daughter. I barely said, “Is this Bonny?” before both were down on their knees rubbing her back and hugging her. “Oh good. I was worried I was stealing someone else’s dog!”
“Oh thank you!” both said and, “You’re lucky this lady likes dogs!” the mother said to Bonny, to which I smiled an unseen half smile because it was not exactly true.
“Glad she’s back with you.” I went to cycle off and both mother and daughter started to thank me, “So kind – We don’t know what we -” etc.
“No worries. Take care,” and I pedalled away, with the happy noise of reunion behind me.
I don’t even remember what mother and daughter looked like, because it was dusk and I did not really look. I might remember Bonny, though, if I see her again. All the way home, I sung to myself:
- My Bonnie lies over the ocean
- My Bonnie lies over the sea
- My Bonnie lies over the ocean
- Oh bring back my Bonnie to me
- Bring back my Bonnie to me
- Bring back, bring back
- Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me
- Bring back, bring back