Le Chien à la Fenêtre

On the road where we used to live in Tokyo, there was a nondescript house with a small triangular window beside the front door. As if purpose-built, the window was just the right size for the owner’s Schnauzer to stand guard, watching passers-by with a suspicious eye, uttering a little bark to anyone who approached too closely.

We called him Henri, but this was just our name for him. In fact, we can’t even be sure that he was a he. For some reason, all dogs are French in my mind, even those of German ancestry.

Henri’s distinguishing feature was a lame rear leg which he dragged behind him when he hobbled along the street on the occasion that his master took him out for a walk. It meant he found it hard to walk in a straight line thus endeared him to us even more.

We weren’t his only admirers; shoals of toddlers being led through the street by their minders would stop to wave at him. Salarymen would look knowingly into his eyes as if to say “I wish I was you”. Bored housewives would coo at him, trying to raise a smile. No matter who disturbed his peace, Henri would remain stoic. On guard. Ready to give the postman a run for his money.

His outsized personality also manifested itself in other ways. He seemed to take great pleasure in relieving himself in front of our apartment with an air of casualness that would make a nun blush. I hope we hadn’t offended him somehow.

Before leaving Tokyo, we considered writing him a letter to thank him for being our adopted dog beyond the glass. In the end, we thought better of it. After all, who’s to know whether “dog stalking” is a crime in Japan?!

All the best Henri, we miss you!

Update (2020-12): as if by some strange fait accompli we were in our old neighbourhood recently and went to pay Henri a visit. To our horror, his whole house had been raised to the ground with no trace remaining of its former occupant. As with so many older buildings in Tokyo, what used to be a single-family home will now likely be replaced with a large block of faceless apartments. We can only hope that Henri profited royally from the transaction and is sunning himself on the riviera now.

Update (2021-12): Indeed, Henri’s quaint old house has been turned into a block of boring anonymous apartments (along with most of the neighbouring houses). Henri’s fate is still unknown and probably unknowable!

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