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I began to notice a collarless brown dog that seemed to be following us as the shadows of stucco houses became the shadows of trees and the narrow cobblestone street faded into a packed dirt path. It wasn’t stray: it had a well-groomed coat of hair and was rather clean and friendly, but it wasn’t quite a house dog either. I asked my mother about it, and she told me that I should ignore it—she didn’t want a dog following us thinking we were its owners. My dad agreed. It seemed to run away, but then further up the trail, it sprang from the shaded understory of mulberry trees saplings and grass onto the trail with us.

I was trying to obey my mother, but it was impossible to ignore. I found that I shared many similarities with the dog. We both had boundless energy that inevitably made us centers of attention, we both ran ahead of my parents, and we both eventually brought smiles to my parents’ faces.

When we passed the last human settlements, an entirely new terrain lay before us: van-sized cacti lay on bare earth scoured by drought and sunshine, semi-lifeless grass reached up from the ground like hair, and occasionally a daring tree stood beside the trail, soaking up the cloudless sky and providing much wanted shade. Another dog, even darker than the first one, began to follow us. His hair was very well trimmed, and he kept a pace equal to that of my parents. He was a house dog, for he had a collar, but he was as dark as good dark chocolate, while the dog we had met earlier was more of a milk chocolate hue. Throughout the course of the trail so far, my father and I had been scouring the area, looking for cactus pears. We had become enthusiasts of the odd fruit since we had found them on a walk. The sweet red-violet orbs hung off cacti by the half dozen or so, and in the local Neapolitan dialect of Italian they were called “figadindis.” We had taken it upon ourselves to name the first dog this, and my parents seemed to be warming up to the idea of letting him stay.

Slowly but surely, the life was seeping back into the field, in optical form. At first, the grass became greener and taller, but then flowers and plants of every kind began to carpet the sides of the trail—brooms, tulips, poppies, sea thistles, daisies. As the verdant growth closed in from all sides, the trail narrowed our group down to single file. By this point, Figadindi was our only canine companion, for the collared dog had left. Small lizards scuttled in the fields and sunbathed on rocks, which Figadindi chased for entertainment. My dad now had a plastic shopping bag for holding cactus pears. A few wispy clouds floated on the horizon, shading faraway mountain peaks. From this altitude, the whole of the Amalfi Coast was visible. I was amazed at the beauty of the vista, though I did not show it.

We rounded a hilltop, and the trail fell into shrubbery and forest. I was intrigued by the contiguity of such drastic microclimates. Somehow, amazingly, evergreen pines had colonized the sides of the trail, and now the trail was separated from the surrounding thicket by wooden poles that lay parallel to the ground. I could sense that we were getting closer to Sorrento—a highway roared in the distance, and the sounds of wildlife grew ever fainter. We had not even so much as petted Figadindi, yet he almost felt like a family member to me. My parents implied that they felt the same way. About 50 meters from the fringe of the thicket, I heard a large rustle in a tree. Figadindi, crouching, was intimidating a large fowl sitting somewhere near the top of an evergreen. With a few barks, he sent the fowl on its way, breaking a number of branches as it scampered away. My family was awed. Figadindi, unfazed, simply returned to trotting down the path, and we soon followed.

We brushed through some bushes and branches, and a single two-lane road lay before us. Over the course of the trip, I had noticed that Italian roads were remarkably narrow, so we deduced that it was a highway. We crossed it and followed it downhill. We then came upon an urban labyrinth of streets, upon which my parents pulled out several maps and navigated us through a winding path of narrow alleys, shady streets, and mossy stairs. In fact, another dog had joined, this one a spotted, short-haired pitbull I named Motley. Relations between Motley and Figadindi were remarkably intriguing–sometimes the dogs were indifferent to each other, sometimes they were friendly, and at some point Motley even tried to mount Figadindi, which made me reconsider the genders of both. After a walk of about a mile, we arrived at a park, where we settled down for some hard-boiled eggs and pickles.

The park was only a temporary resting place, for after lunch, it was back to a fun exploration of the streets. For the rest of the walk, we did not return to the wild hills we had been in earlier. Some areas had more plants, some had less, but the two recurring themes were stucco houses and dogs. Frightening canine guards, perched on high walls, made sure that their masters’ gardens were well protected. This area was famous for its lemons and oranges that grew to great sizes thanks to the fertile ash of Vesuvius, and local gardeners made sure no one intruded. Ironically, Figadindi was nothing more than annoyed by the guard dogs and fiercely stood his ground when intimidated. Motley was indifferent to them.

We soon came across a large boulevard leading down to the sea. We followed it down a bit and then decided to roost at a restaurant. Motley had left, and Figadindi decided to lie down in the shade of our table. I began a conversation and became happily engrossed in food and dialogue. When I looked down, I saw that the spot where Figadindi had lain was empty. He had gone quickly, silently, and unnoticed, just like he had come.

Photo supplied by the author

Figadindi Dennis Losett
Dennis Losett, 11
Philadelphia, PA