Growing up, I never knew what kind of job my dad had. I know we traveled, usually moving when the 'company' said to. I know in India, my dad worked long hours, rarely home even on weekends. And I know in Argentina he worked so close to home that he could walk home for lunch every day. But what did he do in his office? What did he do behind those gates that we kids weren't allowed to enter?
In high school, I found out what kind of work he did. He was a negotiator. He negotiated union contracts. He negotiated settlements for wild cat strikes. He negotiated ends to hunger strikes. As a hobby, he loved to negotiate with auto dealers for a new car for mom. He loved negotiating. He negotiated allowances for us kids.
So, when we moved to India, he rubbed his hands together in anticipation of negotiating everything. I don't think he realized how true his vision would come. Every thing there was for barter. You never, ever paid the asking price - whether for the rent on our flat or for snake charmer who sat in our front yard, hunting cobras in our bushes. I can only imagine the negotiations he did at his work.
We had to settle in our flat before we could send for our family dachshund. Frita was still in Argentina, in our old house and living with our replacement family. Dad's 'company' promised to send her to us once we were ready. Damn, we were ready for her the moment we left her behind! But finally the day came for to start her voyage to us.
I have no idea how long her trip was - seems I remember being told it consisted of 29 hours of flying. All I know is that we were to pick her up at Palam Airport at 5 a.m. on a Saturday morning in August. It was hot, humid, sticky and just plain yucky. On some hot days, the airport closed its runways during the daytime, hence her early morning flight arrival.
My brother Iilya and I were ready at 3:30 a.m. We wanted our Frita!!!
Frita was waiting for us in the customs hangar at Palam Airport. She was still in her traveling cage. Her cage was in a service well. The top of the service well was surrounded by howling monkeys, throwing feces at the cage. I remember this scene even to this day.
In the evap cooled room, the airport's customs officials immediately started arguing with my father. Obviously they didn't know his negotiating skills. Iilya and I didn't know his skills, either.
"This animal's visa has expired. She cannot be allowed in this country." Those sentences mean "she's yours for several hundred rupees." "No way!" said our negotiator.
"Sahib, this animal's visa has expired. She cannot be allowed out of her cage. She cannot be allowed loose in this country.She must be shipped back to her country of departure."
Iilya and I could see our Frita but we couldn't touch her or hug her. We couldn't scratch her ears. We couldn't let her lick our faces and wiggle in our arms. We were this close to her but we couldn't hold her. One of the officials let us in to the service well, but that only allowed the monkeys to throw feces at moving targets - us. Frita was still her cage, still inaccessible to us.
"Sahib, we can sell you a new visa for this animal."
"No. Come on kids, we are leaving."
Without Frita? Was dad kidding??? Was he insane? Was he going to leave Frita here? What was he thinking?
"Come on, kids. Let's get out of here."
The customs official whipped out some paperwork and his official stamp. "Sahib, you can buy its visa here. You can buy it right now and leave with your pet. We have the paperwork here."
"I am not buying anything. Kids, I said we were going. NOW."
The firm tone showed that dad wasn't going to budge. We were leaving. Without Frita. Our last view of her would be of her locked in a cage. With monkeys screaming at her, throwing feces everywhere.
My heart ached more than I could ever imagine. I narrowed my 13 year old eyes and glared at my dad. For a moment, I both feared and hated him. How could he just walk away for our puppy, our family member? But I didn't know a negotiating tactic when I heard it...
Neither did the customs official. "Sahib, we will sell you the correct papers, here, now. How much will you pay for this animal. What is she worth?"
With that, my dad turned around. "How much is love and affection worth? Just what price do you put on love? What price on affection? How much is it worth?" Dad's voice grew louder, stronger, shrouded in anger.
The customs official was stunned. Dad jumped at the silence. "I thought so - there is no price one can pay for love and affection. The dog is yours."
"No, no, sahib. You take her."
And we did. They immediately unlocked her cage. They let her into the evap cooled room. We hugged her and sobbed her name. We brushed monkey feces off of her. Once reality set in, we bounced and giggled and held her even tighter.
We were together again!!! Her visa was stamped as legal, allowing her presence in our life until we moved again.
My father was my hero. And my dog was in my arms.