“THE ‘S’ WORD”
By Tom Nussbaum
He was cool, the kind of street-smart cool that warned people, “Don’t mess with me!” His walk was a strut. His posture exhibited confidence. His brown eyes were observant, alert, yet seductive, and although they had been hardened by life, in their depths, were hints of vulnerability. He, like many of the regulars lingering at Ajijic’s plaza, had jet black hair, but his had a unique white streak above his forehead.
He stood at the head of the shrub-lined path that crosses the plaza, passes the kiosko, and opens facing Black and White Coffee. He scanned the unsuspecting crowd, the strollers, the coffee drinkers, and diners, seeking out his next mark.
But before he determined who that would be, an amigo rushed up to him. He was shorter, slighter in build, perhaps older only because of his grayish white hair. He appeared, agitated, more high-strung, and upset.
“What up, Cesar?” the black haired one asked without looking at his companion, his cool attitude implying he either was unaware of or didn’t care about his friend’s distressed state. He continued studying his surroundings, assessing the possibilities, and who he could exploit next.
“Frida was here earlier, Chuy. But like she always does, she avoided me again. I know what I did hurt her, but she won’t even let me try to fix it. And you know how hot I think she is. Whenever I see her all I can think about is how we…”
“She doesn’t want to have anything to do with you,” Chuy interrupted, “not after you…Oh, there’s that lady. In the restaurant. She’s always an easy mark. I’ll talk to you later.” Chuy ambled toward, maintaining his cool as he swaggered up the two steps onto the restaurant’s patio and glided between the tables and chairs. He reached the small table along the wall and looked at the woman with his seductive, flirtatious eyes.
“There’s my breakfast buddy,” she said. “I haven’t seen you in days. I did tell you I was going to the beach? Right?” She smiled an invitation. “So sit.” Chuy sat.
After a moment of smiles, the woman leaned down and began petting Chuy’s back. Then she rubbed the top of his head. He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and tilted his head as if he had a question. “Yes, of course, I have something for you,” she said. She cut two small pieces of sausage from her daily patty and fed Chuy the first one. “Was that good?” she asked as she gave the second to her breakfast partner. The woman then ate several pieces of the sausage, while Chuy pleaded for more. She pinched the last of her hash browns between her fingers and fed them to Chuy. He smiled.
The woman finished her scrambled eggs and looked down at the dog. “You want more?” Chuy’s tail danced. His eyes brightened. “OK,” she said. “Here’s one more. But it’s the last piece of sausage.” After Chuy scarfed it down, the woman tilted her plate to show Chuy it was empty. “All gone.” Nevertheless, Chuy stayed table side, gazing at the woman.
I love her, he thought. Is that possible? I’ve never loved a two-leg before.
“Were you feeding that street dog?” a man from the next table asked. Chuy, startled and angered by the male two-legs’ tone, turned and growled at the man.
“Yes. I always do.”
“Well, you shouldn’t. If people keep feeding them, they’ll keep begging and ruining our meals.”
“He wasn’t ruining my meal,” the woman defended. “He’s adorable, the sweetest dog. Besides, they’re hungry. They’re four-legged homeless humans who are hungry.”
The man grunted, turned away from the woman, disgusted by her actions and confounded by her compassion.
The woman leaned toward Chuy and petted him again. “Sorry, buddy, all gone.”
Chuy nuzzled the woman’s leg with his head as if to say “thank you” and dashed away, returning to Cesar’s side. “Bastard!” he growled.
“That male two-leg sitting by my lady. He used the ‘S’ word.”
“He didn’t,” Cesar gasped.
“Yep. He called me a street dog.”
“Oh, I hate that, Chuy. Don’t they know how insulting and demeaning that is?” Cesar asked. “Don’t they get it? We’re not street dogs. We’re dogs. And we’re a gang so he better be careful.”
“Yeah, a gang. Viva Los Caninos del Diablo!”
Cesar stepped closer to Black and White Coffee and its umbrella covered tables and equipales. “See that cute little curly-haired slave sitting on that male two-legs’ lap? We gotta figure out how to chew apart that long strap the two-leg has attached to her neck, Chuy. We gotta free her.”
“Well, we can try, Cesar. But it ain’t never worked before. If the two-leg doesn’t yell ‘Go away!’ at us and point toward the green pee places in the middle of the plaza, the slave either ignores us or looks at us like we are mutts.”
“And if the slave is a male, Chuy, they growl at us like we are a threat when all we want to do is free them and get them to join Los Caninos del Diablo.” Cesar panted. “I don’t understand why the slaves seem to like the slave owners like they do. I would just hate being tied up like that. I need to run free and go wild when I want to.”
“Damn right. I think being a slave like that would be horrible, maybe worse than being in one of those square wire boxes in a dog jail,” Chuy said with anger. He studied how the strap not only was attached to another smaller one on the slave’s neck, but also went around the slave owner’s paw. “But you know what I hate more than those long straps?”
“A lot of the female two-legs smell like flowers. Don’t they realize that some of us four-legs might have allergies or be scent-sensitive? But sometimes they smell real nice, like my lady. She smells like clean water and happy air. You ever notice how some of them smell like flowers, Cesar?”
“Oh, hell yes. Sometimes it makes me sneeze. But the male two-legs are worse. They all smell like the pee-colored drinks in the cantinas or sex. Don’t they know how to lick themselves clean?” The two friends gagged in disgust. “OK, Chuy. Let’s save that cute little slave.”
But just as Cesar gave the go-ahead, Chuy’s lady stepped out of the restaurant and turned toward the corner. “Wait, Cesar,” he ordered. “I gotta see where my lady is going.” He had a hopeful suspicion and ran to watch where she went. I was right, Chuy thought with excitement. The carniceria!
“I’ll be back in a minute, Cesar,” Chuy called. But Cesar did not hear him. He was mesmerized by the slave on the two-legs’ lap. She is so cute, he thought, I’d love to…but first I got to free her from that long cow-smelling neck strap and that terrible slave owner. He casually meandered closer to the table. But the slave owner growled at Cesar and, intimidated, Cesar ran and hid among the green pee places near the kiosko.
Chuy, meanwhile, reached the carniceria and its wall that opens and looked in. His lady had her back to him and was talking to a male two-leg. A moment later the male handed the lady three white bundles and she put them in her big straw carry thing. Then she handed the male some papers, just like she did when she finished eating at El Jardin. What is that stuff? Chuy thought. Do they trade food? It doesn’t smell like anyone would want to eat it. He laughed. Two-legs do some of the strangest things.
The woman turned around and headed to the wall that opens. She stepped out of the carniceria with her big carry thing full of tempting smells. “Well, looks who’s here,” she said with surprise as she saw Chuy. “Oh, I bet you can smell all the meats I bought.” The lady bent down and petted Chuy on his head and back. Then she tickled him under his chin. Chuy wagged his tail.
The woman stood, took a few steps up the sidewalk, stopped, and turned back. “Would you like some of this meat? Well, then come with me. It’s OK. You can come with me to my house.” She paused and scanned the dog more closely than she ever had before. Am I really thinking this? she thought. “Am I crazy? Well, OK, if you are going to become my dog, I think I’ll name you Barkley.”
Your dog? Chuy thought. Not your slave? You mean when we are with two-legs, we aren’t slaves?
The woman began walking. Chuy followed. But why would you name me Barkley? he thought. Have you ever heard of a two-leg named Speakly?
The woman stopped and looked at Chuy. “No. Not Barkley,” the woman said. “You don’t look like a Barkley. With your black hair and that white tuft right over your forehead, you look like my Spanish teacher Chuy. I’m calling you Chuy.”