Unspoken words

By Mohammed Talal

I can’t pinpoint how it all began, but my memories are tainted with the recollection of finding myself in a dark place. I felt overlooked, discarded, and constantly pushed aside. The reasons behind this mistreatment eluded me, and the very nature of its occurrence remained a mystery at that time, yet it cast a relentless shadow over my life. Living in such a way felt unbearable; I yearned for an escape, but the concept of death was foreign to me, leaving me lost in a world I didn’t fully understand. Survival became a daily struggle, exacerbated by the absence of food. The prospect of approaching towering figures filled me with dread, as the thought of being near them ignited a fear within me. Even those who appeared similar to me in some way engaged in conflict rather than offering support. I clung to life because at that time I didn’t know what death was. Sustained only by the water trickling from a nearby drain, I kept myself alive. My dwelling consisted of the shadows cast by trash bins, and my only companions were butterflies that danced in solitude across a desolate field. Even these moments of solace were tinged with caution, as children would cruelly push me away, branding me as ‘ugly’ without offering any explanation for their disdain. The loneliness was palpable, and the sting of rejection lingered, a constant reminder of a world that seemed determined to keep me on its fringes.

One ordinary day, pretty much like any other, Sage strolled into the scene. Back then, I had zero clue about who this Sage character was or what species he hailed from. The whole idea of different critters having their own categories didn’t quite click with me. So, when Sage rolled up, I was by the drain, just minding my business, trying to grab a sip of water. Now, usually, folks would shoo me away like I was yesterday’s news. But not Sage. Instead of giving me the boot, he stepped up, and I was ready to throw some punches. Surprisingly, Sage didn’t bail; he didn’t give me the heave-ho. Instead, he kind of contained my wild moves and whisked me off to his den. Now, let me tell you, houses are bizarre places. Why are they all chopped up into sections? And each room with its own job and name? I was utterly baffled. Sage, being the good soul he is, decided it was time for me to experience a shower. I’m not gonna lie, it was a pleasant surprise. During the rinse, Sage started dropping knowledge bombs. He went on about how I was a bit grubby and how people tend to mistreat anything that doesn’t look like a beauty queen. He spilled the beans on how even if I had the heart of a saint, unless it’s an angel no-one give me the time of day if I wasn’t squeaky clean. Now, I must admit, I zoned out a bit. The concept of heaven was a bit fuzzy back then, but looking back, I figure that shower moment was probably pretty darn close to canine heaven on earth, as per Dr. Hash, Sage’s neighbor’s dog.

I awoke to an unfamiliar and tantalizing aroma that had my senses doing a happy dance. Sage was in the midst of some noisy kitchen alchemy, pouring goodness into a container. My excitement couldn’t be contained—I practically catapulted off the plushy contraption they call a “couch.” Scaling the counter, using the high chair as my makeshift ladder, I caught Sage off guard. Instead of a scolding, he burst into laughter and hoisted me up, asking if I, the self-proclaimed “couch potato,” was hungry. In response, I unleashed a bark that probably echoed through the whole apartment. Placed gently on the floor, I was presented with a bowl of what seemed like pure enlightenment. Initially, I thought I’d just sniff around out of curiosity, but lo and behold, Sage handed it to me to eat, eat it? Seriously? Could something that smelled so divine actually be for me, and for free? Without a second thought, I plunged headfirst into the feast, convinced this culinary creation had descended straight from the heavens.
Sage wasn’t content to let me savor my newfound culinary delight in peace. No, he was showering me with backstrokes and capturing the moment with that magical brick-sized device. I’d always been intrigued by it, so in the midst of my feast, I waddled over to inspect. Sage patiently indulged my curiosity, revealing a whole world within that portable brick. He showed me pictures he took of me— I was quite the looker if I say so myself. People’s loss for not appreciating me, right? My belly reached full capacity, and Sage, being his quirky self, scooped me up, affectionately calling me a football. Always a different nickname.

A few sunsets later, Sage kept heading out, leaving me by my own. Roaming the house became my daily quest, each time attempting to be careful but inevitably ending up in some goofy escapade. Sage, to my surprise, never scolded me. I’d eagerly await his return, knowing he’d burst through the door with kisses and laughter, finding my latest antics. Our clean-up ritual soon became a familiar routine. On one of those days, he settled me back onto the “sinking chair,” as I called it, placing me on his muscular lap. His scent was always inviting, and I basked in the comfort of his embrace. As we sat there, Sage shared his thoughts, confessing a need for a friend. Even among familiar faces, he admitted to feeling alone. And just like that, my purpose in his life became clear. Sage spoke of adventures and promised to share everything, everywhere. He wanted to give me a name, a concept I couldn’t quite grasp. Despite my inability to articulate, I soaked in his words, grateful for the appreciation he bestowed upon my presence. “Sarge,” he suggested, and I immediately barked in agreement. I’d once overheard someone mention that “Sarge is scary talented,” and the association thrilled me. Sage, pleased with my enthusiasm, declared, “You’re Sage’s best friend, Sarge.” Tail wagging, I felt an overwhelming happiness. This guy was different, seeing me not as a possession but as a friend, recognizing my individuality.
A peculiar detail I picked up on was Sage’s habit of sharing everything with a certain someone named Vair. The last name eluded me, but I strained my memory to recall. In the end, it didn’t matter—I was content being Sarge, Sage’s confidant and partner in crime, his best friend.

Over the years, Sage became more than just a buddy—he was my go-to guru for all things human and critter-related. He took the time to teach me the ropes of the human world, and let me tell you, it’s a wild ride. From decoding the human language to understanding how this crazy place ticks, he made sure I had the 411 on everything.
Imagine this: Sage, the human whisperer, patiently translating their language for me. It wasn’t just about barks and woofs; he helped me navigate the labyrinth of words and expressions humans throw around. Every chat we had felt like cracking a secret code, connecting my doggy instincts with the linguistic jungle of the human world.
But wait, there’s more! Sage didn’t stop at human 101. He took me on a tour of human society, from the hustle of the streets to the chill vibes of our home. He spilled the beans on the unwritten rules, the quirky customs, and the silent signals humans send each other. Thanks to Sage, I didn’t just fit in; I became the neighborhood’s canine expert in human studies.
And he wasn’t all about humans. Sage generously dished out the lowdown on the animal kingdom too. Try picturing: wild tales of untamed wilderness, where instincts ruled and survival was an art. His stories painted a vivid picture of the great outdoors, connecting me to the primal rhythms that beat in every critter’s heart.
As the years ticked away, Sage’s teachings weren’t just lessons; they were the backbone of my double life as a canine connoisseur of both worlds. His wisdom guided me through the ups and downs, forging a bond that spoke louder than words. Our journey wasn’t just a stroll; it was a saga, with Sage as my life coach, making each day a new chapter in our one-of-a-kind connection.

These days I’m just stuck in this wave of memories, playing back all the good times we had. It’s been a solid week of me just soaking in nostalgia, and I can’t help but feel the void left by Sage. So, here I am, a lone Labrador, rocking the name Sage gave me, but the he’s nowhere to be found. What happened? Your guess is as good as mine.
Started like any regular day – woke up and, Sage wasn’t there as usual. Figured he probably headed to the grind, so I did my thing, marked our territory, and had a bit of a play with my crush, Lelia. Trust me, she’s a solid 10, but that’s a saga for another day. Back home, I turned the place into a bit of a mess, the kind only Sage and I can clean up. Grabbed a sip from my water dispenser – yeah, I’m a bit bougie like that. Then came the waiting game and guess what? Sage never strolled in. Kept waiting, but he never came home.
Days slid by, and still no Sage. That routine of waiting turned into a constant ache, like something’s missing. Our place echoes with silence, and it’s like a piece of the puzzle is gone. The absence of Sage turned our usual adventures into a solo gig, and it’s messing with my doggy groove. Just hoping he comes back soon, bringing back the buddy who made every day an adventure worth wagging my tail for.

So, here I am on day 8 of my solo mission, stuck in my thoughts and getting a bit frantic. Can’t shake off the feeling that Vair, this girl Sage always spilled the beans to, might have something to do with his vanishing act. She’s my prime suspect. Sage talked to her about everything, but what Vair did? No idea yet. Sage’s mood swings were like a rollercoaster, and it all seemed to hinge on Vair. I vaguely remember him confessing he had a crush on her, thinking she was way out of his league. Personally, I find that impossible—how could anyone not adore my legendary best friend? I gave him the most puzzled look until he showed me a pic of Vair, and I got to admit, I get it now. He wasn’t exaggerating; she’s stunning. And rumor has it, looks aren’t the only thing she’s got. Now, Sage was in a relationship, but surprise, surprise—it wasn’t with Vair. It was a girl named Millie, and their ship name was “Sillie.” Thinking about Sage’s social circle, I realized I didn’t have much info to crack this case. So, what’s a dog detective to do? I swiped Sage’s wallet, which and pics of me, Millie and Vair, and decided to wing it to Millie’s place. I’ve been there before, not sure about the exact route, but hey, I can’t twiddle my paws waiting for Sage forever. This whole situation is weird, though—why on earth would Sage ditch without taking his wallet?
I made my way to Millie’s place asking every dog I saw and describing her to them. Luckily, Sage never put a leash on me, so I was free to roam. The doorbell was way up there, and not easy to reach, I resorted to some serious door-banging until Millie reluctantly swung it open. She looked annoyed, but as soon as she saw me, she went became a little dramatic. Broke down, hugged me like there was no tomorrow, and unleashed a river of tears.
Not wanting to be the barky messenger, I dropped Sage’s wallet from my mouth. Millie noticed, and in between sobs, she asked, “How did you come? Where did you find this, Sarge?” I pawed at it, trying to get her to open it. Eventually, she did, and I pointed at Vair’s pic. “Sarge, that’s Vair. What are you trying to tell?” she questioned. I barked my heart out, knowing she won’t get it right away, but hey, patience is key. Strangely, I wasn’t in the mood to hear Millie’s side of the story at all. I kept barking and basically dragged her out with me.
“You wanna go to Vair?” she asked. I wagged my tail like it was the answer to all questions and even stood on my hind legs, trying to communicate my agreement. Millie looked kinda miserable, but she didn’t say no. Instead, she led me to Vair’s house. On the way, she spilled some beans, saying she misses Sage. I kept my gaze on her, and all she said was, “It’ll be alright, Sage told me you’re quite the talent, and you get us. I wish we could understand you, Sarge.” She hit the nail on the head, but the big question remained—where is Sage?

Vair’s place wasn’t too far, so we strolled there on paws and feet. But as we approached, Millie’s vibe underwent a complete 180. From the weepy version, she shifted into an angrier gear. Vair lived in an apartment, a bit different from Millie’s setup. Millie rang the bell, and as soon as Vair opened the door, we were hit with a blast of fresh air from the AC, and she was hit with, “How dare you let Sarge roam around alone? He was looking for you! Don’t you know he meant the world to Sage?” That was a heavy greeting to process, I mused, not exactly the warm welcome committee. Then it dawned on me—Sarge is me, and apparently, I was supposed to be with Vair, not wandering around freely. What?!
“Come inside, I need to talk with you,” Vair said. Millie, not one to back down, instantly shot back, “We talk about a lot of things, Vair.” When I saw Millie fired up like that, I figured Vair might know something about Sage. So, as they settled down, I hopped up on the side table, fixing my gaze on her like I could see into her soul. She looked uncomfortable, and since I couldn’t ask anything, I decided to listen to their conversation.

“I didn’t actually swing by Sage’s place to pick up his pet. I had work. And honestly, I feel bad for Sage, but I don’t owe him anything. College days are done, and we’ve all moved on. I don’t get why everyone thinks I’m responsible for any part of him because I’m not.”
“You’re so heartless, V,” Millie chimed in after a pause, shooting Vair a disgusted look.
“I don’t care what you think of me. I’m just being real. That’s all,” Vair responded, unapologetic.
After a bit of thought, Millie fired back, “Firstly, Sarge isn’t just any pet. He was Sage’s best friend. I know you might not get that term because you never played the role of a best friend to Sage—”
“When did being a best friend have a role?” Vair interrupted, cutting through the conversation with a pointed question.
“It does have a role, Vair. If you don’t understand, that’s fine. But surely, you grasp the responsibilities of being a ‘friend,’ don’t you? Why didn’t you behave like one?”

Vair, a bit flustered and slightly annoyed, retorted, “I do understand that, ma’am. I did behave like a friend. I treated him like I treated all my friends. I don’t offer special services to every person, sorry. He wasn’t as close as my best friends, so I treated him a bit differently. I don’t want to say this after his death, but I didn’t even consider him my best friend. He did.”
After dropping that bomb, a heavy silence hung in the air, and then came a flood of tears. But, what did I just hear? Sage’s death? That couldn’t be true, right?
“Vair, he loved you! He had a crush on you! Do you know anything?” Millie screamed.
“Wait, aren’t you his girlfriend? I wasn’t aware he was into me. Why are you aware of that?” Vair shot back in response. “Because that’s the reason we parted ways. He loved you, and he wanted to confess to you!”
Vair, now utterly confused, questioned, “What?”
“Vair, the truth is Sage loved you, but he never thought he was good enough. While you were doing all the things you’re telling me about your normal interactions, he was hurting. Before we broke up, he confided in me about his inner turmoil. He needed someone to lean on, and it seemed to be you. He really wanted you but always kept it in because he didn’t want to lose you. He got into a relationship to distract himself, and he left because he felt bad for using me that way. I don’t understand one thing—he was going to tell you how he feels. What happened?”

“You’re telling me he liked me? And he got into a relationship to distract himself?” Vair asked incredulously.
“You’re lying. He told me he loves me so many times but never meant it romantically. He never felt comfortable with the idea of us being together. He didn’t like me; I did. I changed when he got into a relationship. I stopped interacting with him because it was deteriorating me. He never liked me.” Vair cried out, and before the conversation could proceed, she collapsed, sobbing on the floor.
As Vair wept, she confessed that she told Sage to leave her alone and that she didn’t like him that way. Sage was left adrift after that bomb. I said bomb already, my focus was slipping away. It felt like I could barely see anything, with my vision narrowing down to a small area. The world around me started to warp, speeding up and slowing down simultaneously. I realized I hadn’t been breathing for the past five minutes, and now I was utterly exhausted. I couldn’t move. What was happening? Sage never prepared me for this. I’d never felt this way before. Breathe, breathe, breathe. I felt weak, and my head seemed on the verge of bursting open. I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t even remember words. “Sage?” I barked.
“Sarge!” I heard. “Sarge!”
Some time passed, and I managed to regain a bit of control over myself for the moment. Millie had me and Vair was watching as if she cared. The thought kept echoing in my mind—Vair killed Sage. That’s all I could think of. If Vair had just spoken for a moment, Sage might still be here. But what if he’s alive? He can’t be dead. Sage shares everything with me. Yes, he was really down, but he wouldn’t leave me, right? He gave me everything. He wouldn’t leave me now, would he? They’re lying to me. They want to get rid of me because they hate me. Where is Sage? I lunged for Vair’s arm; she was moving it too much. Instead of all this drama, she should tell me where Sage is!
As my teeth sank into Vair’s arm, and I held onto some edible item in my mouth, a sudden realization hit me—I hadn’t eaten in a few days. The gnawing hunger reminded me of my basic needs, and my instinct to bite Vair wasn’t a rational response. Deep down, I knew she wasn’t to be blamed if Sage really was dead. The situation was complex, and Sage, from what I could recall, was under an immense amount of mental pressure. My canine instincts might have momentarily taken over, seeking comfort or understanding through a tangible, familiar action like biting but that isn’t me. This isn’t what Sage taught me. I let go.

As Vair jumped back, terror etched across her face, I found myself succumbing to a strange, erratic behavior. The desperate desire to see Sage overwhelmed me, and I began barking, the volume escalating with each utterance. Sage couldn’t be dead. “What do you want, Sarge?” Millie asked, attempting to make sense of my frenzied state. I continued barking at Vair for some inexplicable reason, my urgency palpable. Vair, perhaps feeling threatened, hastily wrapped herself in bandages, while I persisted in barking relentlessly.
“What do you want, Sarge? Do you want food? Calm down, Sarge! Please!” Millie intervened, attempting to soothe my escalating agitation. But they were lying about Sage. Sage had to be alive. In a brief pause between my barks, Vair, seemingly terrified, suggested, “I think he wants to meet Sage.” My barking ceased abruptly, and I approached Vair calmly, prompting her to step back cautiously, signaling for me to halt. “Sage always said Sarge could understand human speech, remember? He wants to meet him,” Vair explained. I stood there, waiting for her to finish, and then glanced back at Millie, silently conveying my agreement with Vair.

In Vair’s car, as Millie drove us to an unknown destination, she revealed that Sage had taken his own life, and he was found in the cold embrace of a river. Sage, who couldn’t swim, relied on me. He had trained me to be there for him, teaching me that he had my back, just as he promised to teach me to have his. The weight of this revelation hung heavy in the air.

As Millie and Vair showed me the grave, I stood by it. A strange mix of emotions engulfed me. The scent of the earth, the subtle rustle of leaves, and the solemn stillness of the cemetery created a poignant atmosphere. Sage, my best friend, mentor, and the one who always had my back, was now lying beneath the ground.
The reality of his absence hit me like a tidal wave, and a deep ache settled in my chest. I couldn’t comprehend the finality of it all. The gravestone, bearing the simple yet profound inscription “Sage Wing (2001-2023),” marked the endpoint of his journey. The dates felt like a cruel reminder of the time we had spent together and the abrupt end to our adventures.
As I sniffed around, hoping to catch a familiar scent that would transcend the barrier between life and death, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Sage was somehow still here. His teachings echoed in my memory – the playful moments, the shared laughs, and the unspoken bond that had defined our companionship. Yet, the void left by his departure was undeniable.
I pawed at the ground, an instinctive reaction to the overwhelming surge of emotions. I tried to dig it. It was as if I could almost hear Sage’s voice, telling me he was there, encouraging me to be strong and carry on. I couldn’t carry on Sage, I need you my friend. The earthy fragrance around the grave felt like a connection, a tangible reminder of the times we had explored together.
I felt comfort knowing his body was here, but I couldn’t handle this pain. Our house will always remain messy now, I won’t have to wait for you anymore, you won’t spoil me anymore, we won’t fight with the annoying neighbor anymore, we won’t sink together on the couch, we won’t eat together. Sage, how will I be home when home is 6 feet under? I’ll dig if you tell me. Sage tell me. Sage, I can’t make this decision. What is right?
Talk to me for once,