We sleep under a drizzling rain, partly covered by an overhang, my dog and me. We don’t complain: it is a warm wet that should help should the cold sweats overcome me as could be their wont. He wakes me when I trash, whining and licking my face. The nightmares don’t have time to pick up momentum and turn into full-blown mind-numbing horror. His name is Pax. I scratch him behind the ears and his anxious whines turn into a soothing, joyous almost painful whimper. He has issues of his own.
I did not want his company when we first met. I tried to shoo him away, but he just let me get a few paces ahead to stay clear of wayward kicks and stayed close by. I grew tired of ranting at him and eventually forgot about him. I had settled down near a bank machine, trying to shame people into giving me some change. I had my funny board, made up by a marketing type who had retired on the streets. He asked us at what spot we hung out and who our customers were. Then he custom-made signs from discarded boxes. We shared our profits if we saw an increase in our gains. He made a decent living with his wit, and people looked us in the eye with a smile and ready change when we held them.
I was in the business district that day, holding “Save the rainforests. Recycle your paper money here,” but things were slow. Presumably, this was the week-end. I couldn’t be sure after last night’s heavy boozing. It all blurred together, days and weeks, days and nights. I had lain down for a nap when I felt the ground tremble, and heard whoops and cries from a group of soft boys trying to be men. I tried not to offend, not sure which of submissive or garrulous would appease them, resigned at taking a beating. The mere sight of me was enough to excite them. They spotted me from afar and converged towards me, in a non-threatening manner that made me fear the worst. They faked gentleness to trap you into complying.
I started shaking uncontrollably until I heard a low growl. The dog was at my side, eyes intent and wide, fangs bared, paws firmly planted in the ground. The posse slowed down. I joined in the wild crazy eyes, striking a defiant pose and growled as well. The kids conferred, decided they wanted an easier target, and took a side street, whooping and making obscene gestures.
My heart was pumping like mad as I tried to relax, sweat pouring out of me. We both stopped growling at the same time. I laughed loudly and held up my hand for a high five. He recoiled. Not for the first time, a wave of shame swept over me. I teared up and, after a brief hesitation, he nuzzled my palm. I started weeping then, it couldn’t be helped. He did not run away. My sobs subsided as quickly as they had started, emotions having free rein over me, an empty vessel without an anchor.
We walked. He led the way to the back of a restaurant where the chef was having a smoke. He smiled at the dog, flicked his cigarette butt in my direction, and went in. I took my cue from the dog and waited. I picked up the butt, still warm, and took a long drag. Sweet. The burning in my lungs made me feel alive.
The man came out with burgers, one each. “Don’t give him the buns, though,” he advised. We ate greedily, without talking, my stomach finding its own voice. The man lit another and held one out for me. I took it, grateful for the kindness in his eyes. “Dog’s got a name?” he asked. I heard myself answer proudly, “Pax.” He nodded. “That’s a good name.”