YOU pick up on a lot when you all you can do is observe, rather than speak. Thats how I knew something awful had happened to Jack that day. Long before anyone had said a word. My kind werent allowed past the large gates of the Steelworks factory, yet I didnt need to enter to know that something terrible had happened to my mate Jack.
The other workers didnt mutter a word as they passed me. They just silently left the premises in a manner that seemed heavier and harder than when they entered that morning.
My Jack was much like these men. His hands were hard and cracked like his smile. But his warmness was unmistakable. These very gates where my heart broke that day, was where I first met Jack. I was much younger back then. I was down on my luck and looking for a quiet place to put my head down for the night, just minding my own business. I tried to ignore the overt disdain from the passing Steelworks men. One kicked at the dirt in front of me.
Rack off ya black mongrel! he yelled. I paid no attention to his words, but I sure as hell took his meaning. The type of folk around here didnt seem to appreciate my existence very much. Despite the fact my ancestors had lived here long before these men arrived, they didnt hesitate in taking what they wanted from our territory and push us back into the bush. Even a half-breed like myself couldnt get about the streets without a snide comment, or sometimes even outright abuse. I was seen as dangerous, untrustworthy and dirty. A life of lesser worth than the next.
Young Jack didnt seem to judge though. He noticed me the moment he emerged from the gates after a long day at work and started towards me. He looked tired, but happily nonchalant.
Hey mate, what are you hanging around here for? Its not safe, you know.
He smiled, outstretching his big cracked hand and waiting patiently for me to receive it. I hesitated. My kind often found it hard to trust strangers, but I was young. Thats the beautiful thing about youth it knows nothing of prejudice yet.
My kind often found it hard to trust strangers, but I was young.
So that was the start of our friendship. Jack saw a potential mate down on his luck and offered me a leg-up in this world. He took me in, despite our language barrier and trusted me with his wife and two small children, without question. I could tell the lady of the house was nervous with my introduction, so I made sure I was on my best behaviour. She warmed to me quickly when she noticed how good I was around the kids. I became their protective big brother and went with them everywhere well almost everywhere. My kind werent allowed to enter many places Jack and the family went, so I entertained myself about town for the most part, catching up with the other so-called mongrels around town that I called family. They were part impressed to see me living it up with Jack, and part disgusted. Some saw it as a betrayal to my kind. But I didnt mind. Both Jack and I saw each other as equals. I ate at his table, I slept under his roof. We were brothers now, and I would always be there by his side.
Which is why on that dark day, I waited patiently at that gate for any sign of Jack. I waited for hours. It wasnt like him to be late. It wasnt normal for so much anxiety to be lingering in the air. My own anxieties began to climax as the sky darkened and the street lights lit up the lonely path from the closed gates. I knew something was catastrophically wrong. We are the kind that listen to nature and man equally. We understand the things that are left unsaid. We hear the warnings from the land that common man refuse to listen to.So when the air became uncomfortably heavy and the faint smell of iron and salt wafted through the dense atmosphere of a grieving factory, I knew. Jack was gone.
A small group of men whom I knew were particularly close to Jack emerged from the large gates. Their faces were swollen in a way I had never seen before. Both their noses and eyes were red and wet. One in particular noticed me immediately and without warning, charged with a menacing arm raised.
You goddamn parasite! Get the f--- out of here! he roared as he landed a blow across my face. I yelped and fell to the dirt, bracing for another blow. As the large man stood over me, I could see his weight shift. I tensed and prepared for a kick to the guts. Suddenly, another man intervened.
Mate, steady on! Another man cried as he held back the offender. Its Jacks dog! The poor mongrel has been waiting for his old man. Well have to get someone to take him home. The man said it with a frown. The offenders face looked on me with pity, then with grief.
You loyal mutt. He sniffed as he crouched down and scratched the top of my head. Im sorry mate, but Jacks not coming home anymore. His voice wavered and his chin trembled. He looked so vulnerable now. All I could do was gently lick his hand just the way I used to do to Jack when he was sad. The man stood tall again and collected himself. Ill take you home, boy. Lord knows, Betty and the kids are going to need you tonight. He sighed as he tapped his thigh, motioning for me to come with him. My snout still smarted, but I followed like the obedient dog I was. Funny. They could never treat another human the way they treat us dogs.