East-european winters are always cold. Every January freezes my blood at the first breath I take outside, in the early foggy mornings when I have to get to work. The cold makes you cover even your nose, to avoid the painful sting of the frost when you breathe in.
It was one of those mornings when I just wanted to call my boss to tell him that I quit, because it was inhuman to walk in 10 centimeters of snow in a time of the day when you could only distinguish everything as shadows, because the sun refused to show up. But the common sense was ringing bells in my head so I kept walking. I was never more anxious to get to the bus station and I started making “warm” wishes to the bank which was delaying my credit for the car ridiculously much.
Swearing in my head and thinking of all the work I had to do at the office, I was fully awake now. But I had a few seconds of doubt about it, when I heard a low faint voice from the corner of the gray building which was waiting to be demolished for over a year now. “Don’t worry”, it said, “we’re gonna survive this one too…”. I stopped. My first thought was to quickly search for some small change to give it to the begger, but turning to see the exact source of the voice, I saw an old woman petting a dog. I couldn’t tell which one of the two looked more awful and skinny. The ground where they stood was without snow, covered in newspapers, and an old smelly blanket, with so many holes in it, that you could barely call it a blanket. The woman didn’t seem to notice me and I was staring like a fool. She took a loaf of bread from a small plastic bag and gave it all to the dog. The poor creature was drooling at it, but only took a bite. Then it waited. But the woman seemed to encourage it, saying “go on, eat it all, it’s your turn this morning”, pushing the loaf towards to dog again.
Without even thinking, I searched my bag, always full of useless stuff, like mirrors and lipsticks and all sorts of bills and found the sandwich I had prepared for my office lunch, as I was usually too busy to take a real lunch break. And I gave it to the woman. Without being able to say a word, seeing my bus I started running, forgetting how slippery my shoes were.
All day I could only hear the woman’s words and her sparkly eyes after I gave my sandwich. That day I had a real break at noon and ate even the desert. When I got back home, the woman was gone…the dog was staring at everyone who passed by, then with a disappointed sad look, started smelling the blanket. The next morning I took with me 3 sandwiches, but again I only saw the dog. I left them there, but the poor animal didn’t even touch them.
After a couple of days, my neighbour paid me a visit and I told him the what happened since that morning. With his black eyebrows raised, he asked me “What? You don’t know the story?”. So he told me that the dog found the begger in that corner one night, almost frozen and it laid cuddled next to her, to keep each other warm. It practically saved her life and they started sharing the bread and the blanket from that day…But after that morning when I first saw them, she died and was taken away…And the dog refused by all means to eat or abandon that corner and the blanket…I gave him food in the first days, but it refused to eat…so I stopped. And after a while I didn’t see it anymore…
That day changed my life and made me wake up more cheerful, enjoy my lunch break and a ride by bus. That day made me see the beauty of my life and be thankful for what I have and for what I can do, every moment.
The crowd is heavily applauding. Look at all those rose petals again spreading the wonderful subtle fragrance in the air! And the happy glowing faces…All that emotion and excitement made them shine with sweat. “Oscar wins again!!!” a man shouts counting his earned money from the bets he placed in this race. And those flashing lights all around him and the fresh flower garlands around his neck!
Closing his eyes, the horse waited a moment for his usual treats of sugar and the soft pets on his wet neck…And he waited a few more moments…Then the memories disappeared. Looking around, he once again saw the dark empty stable. The other race horses were in the big sheds, being taken good care of, with excellent food and nice word and that pet on the neck, while he was having wet hey. Oscar’s glorious days were over, he wasn’t the fastest horse in the competitions anymore. In fact, he couldn’t even participate by looking because nobody took him out of there now. In the first few weeks after the incident, he was happy when someone remembered that he’s still alive and needs walking. But moving very slow and getting tired after a few steps, his “walkers” got bored and decided they had better things to do than looking after a handicapped horse.
And now he was alone with an almost blind pony at the other corner of the stable and two skinny donkeys. But they weren’t very good company, they couldn’t understand how it was to have everything one day, and the next to feel like you lost more than you ever had. He could endure the sufferings during the day, because pricking his ears Oscar could hear how the other horses run outside, how they graze and how their jockeys talk to them…And then he could dream that it was him out there, preparing for another winning. But at night…it was unbearable. That awful nightmare keeps stalking him, every night, every time he closes his eyes. After five minutes of sleeping, that man with a cut chin is there again, with his evil look and the long metal stick. Then that thunder that almost left Oscar deaf and then the pain in his leg and the red fluid! It all happened in a matter of seconds and he couldn’t understand why…but every time he tried to sleep he could live again those moments of real terror, with the strong pain and the same words, like an obsessing melody which meant nothing to him “because of you…my money…all the bets…pay for it”.
Then he opens his eyes, but the surroundings don’t get less darker. And that silence is almost hurting his ears and soul. He could never understand what humans are able to do for money, he could never understand why he was abandoned when he was ill, he could never understand what revenge is. His calm round eyes still got wet when someone came to bring the poor food and give some water and he was still hoping for a change…He was hoping that one day someone would talk to him again and feel the encouraging tone once more…But after his leg got infected and cut off, the only words he heard again were: “ Come on boy, we need to move more ponies here, kids will enjoy the rides…Your time is over.”
And then he felt a sting in his neck and the nightmares and memories were gone forever…
March is always cheerful. Even more for Bob. This morning he was woken up unusually early, to his excitement. He was so tired and bored of the green blanket covering his cage, with the purpose of keeping him quiet at the sun rise. In some sort of miraculous way, today he could see daylight way sooner. And he was singing and mumbling something with excitement, hitting softly the tiny bell he had, to draw attention and announce that he wants to be let out and play in the room. But not all wishes come true at once…
Before he could entirely realize it, Bob was in an even bigger cage, a weird one. He was in two cages now and kinda lost the excitement of the early morning…All confused, he stood still and tried to guess his master’s plans. No longer than 10 minutes and the huge cage started moving forward, with Bob to the left of his master’s chair. Losing orientation, the blue budgie started squeeking and flying around in circles. But then a voice told him “Don’t worry Bob, we’re just going on a trip. For today you’ll be a good birdy and stay there and tomorrow we’ll be already in Eastern Europe and you can play in a new room with Duck”.
Calmed down by the “baby talk” voice, Bob could stop and observe the things around him better now. So this speeding huge cage has some of those glass walls too, like the room he grew up in…And how weird it looked…The grey blocks disappeared and he could only see trees and some other moving cages on the strange path they were following. It was…fascinating and his tiny brain could not fully decide if he should be happy or worried. But he decided to be happy and without a worry, as he never had a hard time with his master.
Then a cold shiver ran through his tail. The seeds! And Duck! He quickly looked around. The food was there, he had plenty. And…Duck? Where was his dear plastic friend…the tiny rubber duck that he shared everything with, that always listened to him? Even though that strange yellow bird was almost his size, she never changed facial expression. Always with blue calm eyes, staring straight at him. But Duck was always there…and now Bob couldn’t spot her! Even if one of her blue eyes was only half blue now, because on an overexcitement moment, he bit her while playing and the colored paint got erased, she still had to be there always! Then he started flying again in circles making loud unbearable noises. The huge cage stopped, but the blue budgie was still restless. He wasn’t curious to see what’s after the glass wall or why the cage stopped moving, he didn’t even respond to his master’s calm words. Duck was missing, couldn’t he see? They had to go back and postpone the trip, wherever their destination was. Duck was gone, she was missing! Dumb as she was, he was decided not to go anywhere without her.
When a hand reached after him, he knew a kiss was about to come on his fluffy head with blue and white feathers, but he bit the hand and squeeked louder “DUCK!”. Nothing mattered anymore…the new environment, the beautiful early morning, the seeds or the running cage…Seeing that they start moving again, without his beloved friend, Bob stood helpless on the bars of his cage, with a sad look and without a sound…They must have been travelling for days, because he got really bored…No one to talk to, no one to bite and share feelings about the trip with…Still the dark didn’t come once…
After a real hour or so, the huge cage with glass walls stopped again and a sweet voice was reaching his tiny holes which served as ears, on the side of his head: “Now now Bob, don’t be sad, you cute thingy…I know someone who can cheer you up! “. And as a miracle, Duck entered his cage, bouncing in the hand of his owner…So she was there! In a blink of an eye, Bob jumped on the yellow rubber object and started cuddling, mumbling something with joy. It will be a perfect March day…!
It was clouded all of a sudden. The clear blue got covered with dark heavy clouds but the air was dry. Not a rain drop, not a thunder nor a wind breeze. The last hen in yard was struggling with a small worm. The tiny bastard refuses with an admirable stubbornness to get out of the dried out soil. Since Joseph’s crops finished, it had to find the food by itself. Besides, the other poultry was eaten months ago and there was not much to do alone. So searching for food occupied the whole day of the brainless bird.
On the last step of the house the man in his 60’s, or maybe 80’s…you couldn’t tell for sure, that’s how tormented his face was, sat petting his big friend on the black fur. The eyes of the animal were restless and unpatient. Ever since Joseph found the massive dog with a broken leg abandoned next to the railways and took him home, a silent friendship was born. The man rarely spoke and when he did, it was with a faint voice, petting the dog and sharing his bread. But the animal understood somehow. He didn’t bark once in the past five months since he was there, as a sign of respect for his savior and new master.
But today something strange was in the air and Dog ( as he was always called ) could feel it. The hand on his head was resting now, giving up the petting motions and the other hand of the man was holding his forehead. “What will we eat tomorrow…?” The sky got darker but still no rain. Dog raised his head every 30 seconds and looked at the line of the horizon, as waiting for something to happen. Then he looked at the hen. The worm still wasn’t out yet.
Then Dog stood up and started barking loudly, like the devil was chasing him. He was turned towards Joseph and blocked the entrance of the house, showing his sharp white teeth. With a stunned and frightened look, Joseph got up and took one step back. He tried to pass by Dog and enter the house, but the animal was a few centimeters close of biting him, with an anger and rage the man hasn’t seen before in his life, not even when he was hunting furious bears. He understood then. Dog was rabid. Moving away from the door of the house, the animal seemed to become more calm, but still stood there guarding the entrance. Trying to talk to him, Joseph had a few attempts to get closer, but the result was the same…The massive beast started barking and tried to bite. The scene could freeze someone’s blood and even the stupid hen forgot about the worm and ran to the back of the yard, bouncing its round body on the skinny legs.
With the saddest look a man can be capable of, Joseph knew that there was no alternative…Rabid dogs can’t be cured and they only suffer more alive…His old hunting gun was in the empty stable and he got it. Dog’s eyes had a weird wet expression of love and furry at the same time. Without a word, but with a small heavy heart, Joseph shot his friend. The body collapsed in the door way and the dry dust formed a small cloud around it. Sitting in the yard like a fool, staring at what he had done, a strong force shook the ground and Joseph fell unconscious, hitting his head.
It must have been half an hour or so when he got up and saw…There had been an earthquake and the house collapsed… He could see Dog’s tail between the ruins…He thought he had understood before…but he was wrong…The animal paid back the favor of saving a life, as he sensed the disaster coming. Then Joseph knew that he could have been dead in his house if it hadn’t been for his furry friend…And a cold tear rolled down his wrinkled cheek…The hen was back now, looking for its worm…