The flight from Cape Town’s DF Malan Airport – or whatever its current name is – to Dulles Airport, Washington DC was 28 hours.
My companion and only friend as I embraced the unknown, was a three pound Pomeranian called Tinytot Miss Tiggywinkle.
She was named for the hedgehog in the Beatrix Potter series. In order to have Tiggyangel with me in the cabin I had to fly business class.
I was leaving a life. And a loft apartment on First Beach Clifton (elevator access to the beach).
“Theeza eeza your last chanz to re-inventa yourselfa,’ said the Italian-American who had insisted I leave the country.
The mighty plane took off and soon Table Mountain and the fairest Cape were a faded tapestry.
Loneliness surrounded me like a high dark hedge. But my pocket-sized travelling companion, seemed to sense that I needed comforting. From time to time she would push her tiny black nose under my wrist.
“Pet me mummy! Pet me!”
When we landed I allowed Miss Tiggy to stretch her leg and explore while I attempted to find my luggage – a trunk with a Cape Times poster ‘Jani Allan Does It Again’ plastered on the top. She enthusiastically kissed the noses of the huge drug-sniffing Alsations.
I didn’t understand then – and still don’t – the American aversion to pets/pet hair/pet dander/pet breath etc in public places. Why, the shops of Knightsbridge are densely thicketed with Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Once I saw one in the Perfume Hall in Horrids.
In those first few months in Washington DC Tiggy and I were barred from all the Museums. When the cherry blossoms covered the banks of the Potomac we walked in Arlington Cemetery. At the Iwo Jima Memorial she did circuits and bumps to the delight of the Americans.
“My what a tiny lil DAWG!” they would say. And for those few moments I had human contact.
Back in my throat lozenge sized apartment it was insufferably hot. Tiggy and I would lie next to each other and I would stroke her tiny paws with an ice-cube.
When a job opportunity presented itself in New Hope, we struck camp and set off.
At Union Station, soon after boarding the train several inspectors and a large gentleman who could have been the mayor of Washington boiled up to me.
‘Ma’am you ain’t got permission to have a dawg on the train! There ain’t been a dawg on the train since ninteen fiddy something.”
In desperation I pretended I was both deaf and rather dumb.
“Thith ith a hearing dog…”
“Show us the papers!”
I took out her vaccination papers. There was a lot of scowling and tutting. Tiggy was quiet as a foxglove in her little traveller.
Finally ‘We have reason to believe you ain’t been too truthful to us, but this time we gonna let you go.”
I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Nice one,” said Martin Sheen, who happened to be sitting opposite me.
Tiggy and I had grand adventures. I remember the time we were on the top of a New York bus. It was as cold as a plate glass negative. I tried to keep her warm by tucking her inside my puffer jacket. We went to Broadway shows together, with her discreet in her traveller.
There were many times her auburn fur was damp with my tears.
When her tiny kneecaps starting giving her trouble I took her to an animal acupuncturist. Then an animal physiotherapist.
I took her in her perambulator to visit my friend Jeff’s kindergarten class. Her fan base at the restaurant grew. She was given tiny pink Ralph Lauren cashmere sweaters and once a houndstooth cape.
When the snow was as high as my VW’s roof, her body shrank to the size of a tiny bird.
But she lost none of her gumption. When I tried to dress her she made a noise like a little scooter.
She faded before my eyes. Her once luxurious coat was gone. Her huge tail now mouse-sized.
She entered into immortality in the early hours of April 16 2012.
I had hoped that after one year the grief I feel at her loss would be manageable. It is not. She left me when the magnolias were unfurling and the blossoms carpeted the streets like soft seashells…as they are now.
So I write this piece for you Tiggyangel, the little girl who travelled so many miles with me and negotiated the emotional topography of my life with me…
You were a heartbeat at my heart.