The Legend of Baji
By Barbara Audet
My story is only the legend of the dog named Baji – not for my lack of empirical evidence or because I believe it to be only a fable. No, there is no better title than this to describe the powerful force of love that united the two who are so prominent in this story. Their friendship was, is legend, even though the archaeological record does not as yet bear witness to this story.
I claim for this tale, then, no merit or satisfaction other than that of retelling my personal knowledge of a string of oral histories passed down through my family by countless generations. If you should happen to come across places in this story where you perceive historical faults in the telling, it is my hope nonetheless that reading it may still benefit you. I ask only that you try to see anew what I recall with affection.
A Gift Received
It is evening, Christmas Day. The sun will set soon outside. I am up in the attic of a century-old house that has known many generations of my family. With the golden red rays of sunlight hitting my face, I am rummaging through trunks that gather dust so gracefully here. Outside it is quiet. Crowds of worshippers around the world are home now, back from their holiday services. For me, it is comforting to note that a myriad of churches, compelled in part by these troubling times, were in song just hours ago, surrounded in my hemisphere by winter’s calming capacity to bring a temporary and reassuringly inspired peace. The attic quiet I hear so clearly now is the sound of the natural world outside the house, asleep under a late evening’s infant snow cover.
On the floor at my feet, gleaned from one of the many trunks, one with rusted hinges, is an old journal, fallen open to a page with a hand-scribed and surprisingly legible date of 1889. Long ago, a distant relative of mine who doubtless was equally enthralled with the mysterious magic of this day, wrote of the humble though king-like baby born in a stable. The words cascade like starlight before my eyes, telling me of the joy of shepherds on lonely hills that first Christmas. Angels were there that night. Angels are there every Christmas ever since, for they are keenly aware of the sounds of this annual joy. They are granted the privilege on this day to sing in chorus with humanity, announcing their presence to the throng below them. Generally, earthly inhabitants pay scant attention to the presence of my kind. For angel is what I am, the youngest of them, millenniums old, though to you I look but a teenager. My “people” and I are all angels. We live among you as any family in my town. We hint at the noblest truths whenever and wherever we can – not really in disguise but certainly unknown to you as our true selves. We perform no miracles that the average person sees. But to those with a gift of intuition and absolute faith, our immortal presence is a miracle no less that impacts the lives of millions daily.
In my family, when an angel is deemed worthy to be brought out to a life of service on Earth, there is a ritual to pass on what the gift of the angel will be to the world. You have seen those gifts lived out in the good works performed by other families like mine. The day I was brought from one existence into this one, the gift that was bestowed on me was that of memory. Holding memories is one aspect of my responsibilities and sharing them is the other. I am of that angel age this Christmas for me to take on the work that goes with the gift of memory. I am here in the attic to find old papers that will foster in me a better start as I take on my new responsibilities. You might think I would just be able to know these things and for the most part I do. There is still great usefulness in seeing and reading and knowing firsthand how others of my kind have put memories in the hearts and minds of humans.
Shaking me from my thoughts is the sound of four sets of toenails, some in need of clipping, perhaps, making their way up the stairs to the attic. Around the door, a small erect head peaks in to see what I am doing. The little dog that enters the room now is curious, as he should be. It is his breed’s nature to be curious. He is a Basenji. His name, like his ancestor’s, is Baji.
“So you tracked me down up here. Come, Baji and sit with me then.” I stroke his short, soft fur and he looks into my eyes. I can see that my other attic task will have to wait, for in those eyes is a grown-up look. I suppose mine have it now as well. If memory is my gift, than what better way to start on this new path than to share the most treasured of my stories with the descendant of the one who made the memory possible.
“Would you like to hear your story?” I ask him. His reply is to curl up at my feet. I begin to speak and hear my words transformed for him to sound like the first Baji’s voice so my companion will understand it fully. Time leans back.
At River’s Edge
The first time I saw the Tall One it was on an intensely bright, warm day on the banks of the Jordan River, a 200-mile long expanse of water and nourishment that then secured my life, strained as it was.
My name is Baji, and I am one of the Basenji. At the Jordan, I was far from my native home, living in the land that more normally was associated with others of our kind, the Canaans. Much had happened to me in my life, good and bad, that had brought me to this river. In what seemed like endless stretches of wander-bent hours, I looked for food and always a place to sleep under the stars. I belonged to no man, having mastered diligently the art of caring for myself, surviving in a harsh land, avoiding humans and dogs alike. On this afternoon at the river’s edge, though, I knew I was horribly sick. The river before me was an image beginning to fade. I was frightened. There were stabbing pains in my belly and my paws felt swollen and dry. A new and disquieting feeling in my heart warned me I best begin the process of locating a last resting spot, away from hateful eyes or worse, vultures.
I gingerly headed down to the bank to get a drink of water and to clean myself (Basenji must keep clean). There before me was my reflection in the sparkling river water. As the ripples of the water disturbed by my lapping tongue began to still, I saw gazing back at me my own face, with its curiously patterned forehead, resembling a simple, cross or star. I started to move my head away from the water’s shimmering surface, but stopped when appearing next to my own reflection was a human face. It was a strangely kind-looking face. My instincts for survival were strong and I was not to be convinced so quickly. The fur on my back prickled up and I sensed that feeling in my paws that meant “take flight.”
My experience of humans had been mixed, more of the unhappy type, if truth be told. As if he read my thoughts, I saw his eyes grow tender and my fur relaxed on my back. A new feeling of trust warmed me. His lips did not move but I heard a voice in my head and I knew that the voice belonged to this face. I moved my head back from the water and looked up into the eyes of the human standing next to me. I immediately named him the Tall One and on the instant this thought took shape in my mind, I saw him smile at me in recognition of his new name.
How do I describe that smile — a smile was a new occurrence for me. Here, it was both generous and knowing, but oddly sad, as if a smile could anticipate the tear that may follow.
“I do not believe that I am really as tall as you think,” he said, out loud. I looked down at my paws and then glanced back up. The Tall One bent down and put his hand on my head.
“Let me look at you. First, I see you are quiet, a welcome trait in a dog, generally. Though I have seldom traveled in the company of dogs, Little One, even as a child, many dogs you will admit are not so easy to travel with and do not think of the comfort of others. Quiet then. Good. And I also see you have strong legs. For if you are to come with me, you will need them to be strong,” he said, standing tall once more.
Here his smile broadened and his teeth were not threatening as a dog’s would be with such an expression. He continued to take verbal inventory of my shape and markings. Now, I could not look away.
“Your legs appear to me as if you had stepped in a bucket of goat’s milk and the milk would not be moved. Some of that milk I see has decorated the tip of your tail, too.” He laughed. A hearty, full laugh. A sound I had heard seldom in my life. This was a laugh with no malice, a laugh pure in its meaning.
“What else then, Little One. I like how your tail curls up on your back and that you are the color of the finest wood, its brown and russet and gold. It is obvious that you are a good and willing listener and I have need of that now,” he said, reaching out with his hand to me once more, this time to rub behind my ears, the soft triangles that framed my face. I let him stroke me. No man had done this before. None other than him would again I knew. For there would be no need of others from this day on. The instant his hand touched my head this second time, I experienced a great tingling, shimmering sensation of happiness and health. My paws shrunk before my eyes, the swelling gone. My stomach pains, just moments ago unbearable, were gone. My dimming eyes were clear. I felt like a puppy ready to run and play. I also suddenly knew in my mature dog’s mind that this puppy-like surging of energy had a path, a purpose that was now irrevocably tied to the Tall One.
Then, suddenly, from the river, he and I at once heard a cacophony of man sounds. One was a powerful voice, unusually similar to the Tall One’s. Only this voice was strong and pleading, often angry and yet, enticing, too. Both the Tall One and I glanced in the direction of the origin of this voice in the wilderness. The Tall One turned from me, motioning with his hand that I should follow. The voice belonged to a man dressed simply and roughly, but with a face that reminded me of the Tall One. Indeed, I was aware from my dog’s scenting ability that this human was related by blood somehow to the Tall One. The master turned to me and in his way, without speaking, said to me that this was the Messenger, a human named John and his cousin.
“As it is written, Little One, this is the man who comes before me and yes, before the face of men. He is here to prepare the way. They will talk of him as the man with the voice who cries in this wilderness,” the Tall One said. “Listen, even now he tells men that they are to prepare for the Lord, the Son of God. Let us go to him and give proof to his words.”
John was a large human, humbly, painfully in my opinion, garbed in the skins of camels and other creatures. His face was strongly careworn, belying the power I saw in his arms and shoulders. But faces tell me so much more and this face confused me. I watched as one by one, several men entered the water and stood next to John the Messenger. He cupped his hands and raised them above their heads, opening his fingers slowly and letting the water trickle over them. I was fascinated. John was like me, a Basenji? Regular washing was not as common among the humans I had known as it was with my kind. As he raised the water above them and poured it over them, John said to them they were “baptized.” Baptizing was good, I thought, sniffing the air. Humans smelled better after they were baptized.
“Repent your sins,” John called out, as each human who came to him was in this way refreshed in the river.
The Tall One looked at me and said, “See, Baji. They are coming from all of Judea and from Jerusalem. As I have come here as well. We all need John today.”
Standing next to us, was a group of men, deep in loud conversation, discussing how they were not yet certain about seeking out John’s blessing with the water. “They say he eats only locusts and wild honey,” said one of the men, “Why would we want to put our faith in such a man as this?” The Tall One and I moved slowly toward the group, all the while keeping an eye on John.
The Tall One turned to them and asked, “Why should you let a man’s diet of prevent you from seeking him out?”
The men stared at the Tall One and again faces told me much. The men quickly walked away from us, murmuring under their breath, just as John finished with the line of men before him.
John looked up from his place in the river and his eyes settled on the Tall One and me. He spoke and raised his hand gesturing to us. It was as if we were old friends, and I suppose that is because they were cousins. Perhaps the Tall One had been expected .
“Look there. Look who is coming toward us. See him. He is mightier than me. So much so that I am not worthy even to bend down and undo his shoes,” the Messenger shouted, directing his words to those whose heads were still wet from the Jordan’s bounty. “I have just baptized you with water. Standing before you, is someone who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
I sensed a new intensity in the breathing of the Tall One, as if he was steeling himself for some enormous task. On an outtake of a strong breath, he straightened his shoulders and bringing one arm up to his chest, he moved down to the bank of the river and presented himself to his cousin John. They did not embrace as I had expected. I felt the sun stop in its path. Everyone was transfixed. Those attending the scene saw the similarity in their faces. John and the Tall One met each other’s gaze.