“Imagine yourself strolling by the River Tiber…”
There is a moment in every person’s life when they save the life of another. That time came somewhat prematurely for me one morning whilst living in Rome. You’d think dogs were the easy part of the whole au-pairing deal but you may want to think again.
Imagine yourself strolling by the River Tiber, which chases its way through the city. The late September air is cool and the colours are spicy in the morning, an early sun pouring like honey over the water. It is a pretty abandoned and quiet place down by the river. If it wasn’t for the light and peace it is possibly Rome’s ugliest secret. Additionally, the long and looming Tiber is apparently rat and chemical-infested.
However, I might mention at night it is a glowing beacon of romance: lovers stroll down the bicycle path lanes, weaved into each other’s arms. It is a place to fall in love, fall out of love, or in my case, fall in the river.
It all happened incredibly fast, as horrific moments do. One minute the dog and I are walking companions. The next, the lead had whipped out of my hand and I spotted a golden head bobbing in the middle of the spinning, grey current. The drowning thing was being relentlessly pushed down stream. I bolted parallel to the river, bumping into a balding, old man. The dog disappeared from view, I asked him if he had seen a floating dog and he said something about the presence of rats creating an underworld of disease on the riverbed.
“The beauty of Rome was peeling away”
Thanking him for his useless response, I sprinted further, noticing buildings around me become more gritty and skeletal. The beauty of Rome was peeling away. As would, I thought, the familial affection the family had for me when I returned with a soaking, dead dog in my arms.
“It all happened incredibly fast, as horrific moments do”
After what felt like a hundred years, I caught sight of the helpless animal, now a yellow smudge in the water. I clambered down the banking of the river and fought down through the steep shrubbery to come level with her. Far down from the pedestrian path, I grated away my voice box screaming her name and, like some bizarre force guiding her over, she reached me.
At that point, I was balancing on a small, godforsaken stretch of ground, slippery from damp. Grabbing the dog as she crawled towards me, I remember laughing, digging my nails into her damp fur in anger, utterly exhausted. The foolish creature looked at me, ears pitched forwards, large brown eyes incredibly soft.
It took a few minutes to realize that not only was I several feet from dry land, but apart from the stupid, sodden dog and gushing river, I was completely alone.
Perhaps night would fall and someone, a week later, would come across a white, frozen corpse with a dead dog clasped in her arms.
My only choice was to yell repeatedly “C’è qualcuno?-Is there anyone there?” at the top of my voice, until some unsuspecting stranger came to rescue me.
Quite to my delight, this unsuspecting stranger came in the form of a rather handsome student who was crossing the bridges. An unshaved, well-dressed figure stared down and gave me a careful and puzzling wave. After seeing the dog collapsed at my side, I think he realized the situation and not that I was just chilling out down there. He waved a phone in my direction and, still a little uncertain as to his heroic plans, I acknowledged him and waited. We talked a bit actually and were we face to face, and I a little less blackened with mud and resembling Mowgli from The Jungle Book, I may have been in the state of mind to flirt – visions of chilled wine in a hazy piazza.
“Were we face to face, and I a little less… .resembling Mowgli from The Jungle Book, I may have been in the state of mind to flirt – visions of chilled wine in a hazy piazza…”
Fast forward twenty minutes, I heard an “Oi!” coming from the river. A large dinghy full of large, bearded men was bobbing towards me. I waved to make sure they absolutely saw me and didn’t diverge off towards other potentially marooned dog walkers. Before I knew it, I was beside them, dog in tow and grateful that my chiseled saviour had been intelligent enough to call the fire-brigade.
We lumbered off the dinghy at a remote building and following behind I wondered whether to hug them? Gather them round the family’s dining table so we could all celebrate the rescue with prosecco and pizza? Honestly though, I wanted to mutter a quick thanks and leave.
The dog and I were treated to a rather harsh (I thought) spray down with a hose (wasn’t I soaking and humiliated enough?) They thought I had, in my insanity, jumped into Rat River. To top it all off, rather cruelly, I was made to trundle the couple of miles home, damp and weary.
“Rather cruelly, I was made to trundle the couple of miles home, damp and weary…”
The following morning, the children’s father called me into the kitchen waving several newspapers, telling me about a girl leaping in the Tiber to save her Labrador. With the details of my name and age wrong though, it could have been anybody.