The sound of a dog made Gani miss his bus. He’d hoped to catch the 10:15 express. Hurrying along the rainy sidewalk toward the yellow beacon of the bus shelter, he suspected the express might have come and gone a little early since no one else was waiting.
He’d just settled onto the metal bench when he heard the faint wheezing cry.
He did not look around at first –– the lateness of the hour making him cautious, as if he were a nervous visitor to this neighborhood at night rather than his usual, jaded, ear-bud-wearing urban self. The streets were remarkably empty. Like all newcomers to the city, he’d embraced the bustle and the action without quite trusting the crust of the metropolis not to give way into chaos and threat. It came again: a pitiable, hopeless, animal noise.
The thin whine couldn’t be carrying far. Despite the dark, the rain, and everything else, Gani found that he could not bear to let this noise continue without doing something.
He slung his bag across his back and, tilting his head to triangulate, stepped away from the light of the bus-stop.
The sound drew him to a narrow strip of alleyway between the office buildings. The noise wavered. The animal’s breathing sounded shorter, pained. Gani wondered if it was dying. Doubtful that he could do anything, he stood and listened to the rain patter. The alleyway smelled of cabbage and motor oil.
“Hey, dog,” he tried saying, his voice booming between the hard walls. The whining stopped. Into the watchful silence, Gani spoke again, softer. “There’s a good dog.”
As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw the dog, a big setter of some kind, cowering against the back wall. There was no exit. Gani turned half away from the dog, and squatted onto his heels with his back and the bag pressed against the bricks. Keeping his voice low, he said, “What’s going on, dog? Do you need to tell me what happened?”
The whining was replaced for a moment by the sound of toenails clattering against the pavement. “Oh, buddy. It’s okay,” he said. “I’m not chasing you.”
Gani half rose and retreated a few steps and then resumed his pose, wrapping his arms around his knees to make himself smaller. He held still, not surprised to hear the diesel rumble of the bus in the street. The driver eased off on the accelerator, probably taking a quick look around the pool of light, but then the gears clashed and the motor roared into the distance. Gani sighed. The next bus, a local, wouldn’t arrive for at least 30 minutes.
The dog whimpered. “There, there,” Gani said, watching from the corner of his eye. “What happened, buddy? Have you had a terrible day?”
At the word “terrible,” the dog cringed into view. The whimpering grew into a querulous complaint.
Gani kept his voice low, questioning, and the dog drew nearer, belly to the pavement. The animal’s big ears were flattened against its neck, making its domed head look curiously like a seal’s. Its slender legs quivered. “And now you’re out here in the rain?” he said.
The feathery tip of tail, clamped between the dog’s hind legs, wagged a fraction of an inch, back and forth, sending out a little spray of raindrops against the light.
“Oh, come on over here, fella,” Gani said, his throat squeezing with pity, and the dog came to him in a pathetic, wiggling rush, all wet-dog smell and tongue. The dog flopped like a fish under Gani’s palms, pressing first one narrow side and then the other against Gani, in an effort to get closer. Gani ended up sitting in a puddle while the dog worked its way into his lap, trembling and singing in an extreme of emotion.
And that’s how the dog found his home: a kind voice on a dark night to end the panic and the running.
For Gani, it seemed as if everything was prelude to that night. His real life started on the first night with the dog. The big red dog that always flopped down wherever Gani was most likely to step and who yodeled when excited. An elegant auburn blur that was tireless in pursuit of fetching –– balls and sticks and, once, importantly, a little girl tumbling toward a duckweed-glazed pond full of model sailboats.
Amy Smith Linton has published stories with Stonecoast Review, Rosebud magazine, and the audio magazine 4’33”.When not writing, she often races small sailboats. Her website is amysmithlinton.com.
© 2019, Amy Smith Linton