Lithuania- Second place – Pepper

Pepper

Goda Vaitkute, Vytautas Kekys, aged 17

The hot summer sun was already disappearing behind the forest. The air could be smelt of linden honey. There was an elderly woman walking along a narrow path, overgrown with grass. Yes. It was Elena followed in step by her loyal friend, a dog named Pepper. Nobody has ever seen them separately – where Elena is, there Pepper is and where Pepper is, there Elena is. The elderly woman had dedicated her entire life to the family – to her husband and children, worked hard to satisfy their needs, to have nourishing meals and clean clothing, for them to be educated. But in the meanwhile, she was spending long summer days and evenings only with Pepper.

Children work a lot and are very busy but as soon as they have a free moment, they will certainly come”, the old woman used to repeat those words like an evening prayer with the alive hope in the eyes. She repeated it every day and had a strong belief that tomorrow, already tomorrow they will really come to visit her and on the very next day she will be able to hug her daughter – blonde curly-haired Victoria, and to pamper her son Edward with his favourite homemade cheese. Elena will cut him a big slice of it, will apply a thick layer of the linden honey and will sit down at the table on the opposite side looking at his blue eyes, bright face and amber coloured hair… She has always believed strongly that her dream will come true and one day she will see her both children, hand in hand with grandchildren, returning from Vilnius to visit mother in a remote village in Žemaitija. However, she realised that her disease was not defective vision, not sclerosis, not arthritis, but cancer, so with every sunset the chance to see once more the eyes of her dear relatives becomes weaker.

So, this way Elena was living and spending her lonely, full of yearning evenings while during daytime she used to go for a walk along her native paths, accompanied by Pepper. The dog loved Elena more than himself. He didn’t care how she looked, what her age was, how she behaved or what diseases she suffered from. It was enough for him to be together every day and every minute and to hear a calm voice of his hostess when she was telling him a lot of various stories or even she was singing.

Well, our barefooted Lukas is running to meet with us!” Elena is waving to the silhouette which is hard to see in the distance. Lukas was a boy who lived with his mother nearby Elena and liked to spend time together with Pepper and her. They called him barefooted because he never put on shoes and was always running barefoot. Elena loved him very much, probably, because his mother didn‘t look after him, he felt a shortage of adults‘ attention and warm, when the elderly woman had quite enough of all that. Elena and Lukas were like old friends, although Elena already was serenty-four years old and Lukas was only six. The difference in age didn‘t matter for them, so they could sit together for days on the lake shore and talk.

Grandma, why do you always speak with Pepper? He doesn‘t understand you, anyway!“

Lukas, you can tell your dog the most stupid things in the world, and your pet will look at you and silently say like “Woof… you’re right’’. Lukas couldn’t understand that at all. How can any pet be intelligent if he doesn’t speak, doesn’t think, can’t read and count? (To tell you the truth, Lukas wasn’t able to write and count himself as well.) But Elena used to find answers to all his questions.

If you think that a dog is not smart and can’t count, you’re wrong… Try to put in the pocket three delicious things and give him only two of them…” Elena always found the smartest answers. She was a very wise woman. Villagers often went to ask her advice, and she was glad to help them, but even that didn’t fill the emptiness left by her relatives.

In the last days the old woman was very ill, didn’t get up from bed and there was no possibility to see the doctor. Pepper was her only companion who was lying by her bed and never left her alone.

But one morning when Pepper opened his eyes and, as usual, tried to awaken Elena, she didn’t move. He tried to call for help – he was barking and barking until the worried neighbours came to see what had happened. In the room they found grandmother with no signs of life.

After many years Elena’s children came home. They had to perform a duty – to bury their mother and then, of course, to share her hard achieved wealth: a house, land, savings and Pepper who was still patiently waiting at the door for his dear hostess to return and couldn’t understand what those strange people were doing in his house, so he was yelping silently.

What will we do with this “flea ball?” asked Elena’s son Edward.

I don’t need him. There is no much space in my house”, Victoria quickly found the answer.

Dad, maybe we can take Pepper to the dog shelter?” said Edward’s daughter because she felt sorry for the puppy.

Definitely, we will not bother for this dog. I have enough problems. We will take him where his place is!

Where, daddy?”

Where they will take care of him”, answered father trying to calm down his daughter.

But why can’t we take him with us?” the little girl was stubborn.

My dear, you know how I hate dogs”, said the man in an angry tone.

Edward put Pepper into the car and brought to the place where as he had said “he will be taken care of”. Pepper was let out in the forest. Without food, without love and warmth which he had been used to receive from Elena. Pepper was wandering still hoping to find his hostess. After five days, he surrendered. The puppy was completely exhausted and starving. He had no strength to go further.

Fortunately, Lukas was gathering berries nearby. The boy was very glad when he saw the puppy. He thought – Pepper will fill in the emptiness in his heart which had opened after Elena’s death. As then they both loved her, now they could help each other, too. Lukas thought that Elena would be happy if her barefooted boy shelterd her Pepper, so the lucky dog had home again. Lukas was a very caring master and they became inseparable friends. Only then he could understand Elena’s words: “Give your heart to the puppy and he will give his own one to you. He will love you more than himself.”

Goda Vaitkute, Vytautas Kekys, aged 17