‘So it’s a matter of perspective, really. The human is there if you look for it, if you want to find it.’
- Scott Bergstrom
Photo by Justin Natividad on Unsplash
The city looks soulless, skyscrapers in angled steel and concrete haughtily draped in cloaks of reflective glass, meant to keep the viewer outside, alone.
The darkened sky does not help. It darkens further. The clouds are just silver outlines. The streets are empty and the pavements treacherous, mined with patches of black ice.
Underground, two strangers do not speak as they wait on either side of the platform for the train to come. The thick coats and hoods, earphones in and eyes down, fingers zooming across screens, are even thicker walls, more ominous than the facades of the buildings.
Each human keeps the other human out, but neither of them the cold, which seeps through and makes them both shiver, separately. The clock on the wall is slow.
A third commuter joins them: a stray dog, its ribcage clearly defined on its black coat, clearly too thin. It shivers too, waiting, gaze forward.
This sight is not an anomaly; many of the dogs in this city have learned to take the metro; they know the stops by the voice of the announcer. They keep to themselves, respectful of others’ walls, unless invited in by a proffered open hand or piece of sandwich. They love both, mostly the sandwich.
The other two look up from their screens and out of their glass bell jars at the dog. Their gazes meet in the process; two slight nods are made in acknowledgment. The man on the right rummages through his briefcase till he pulls out … a piece of sandwich. Rye bread, ham, and Havarti cheese are extended over the wall. In response, the nose turns, the tail wags, and the skinny four legs trot over, light, unburdened by the weighty anxiety only humans carry around.
Its bite-sized feast happily lapped up, the dog now sits by the stranger, angling its head just enough to fit underneath the dangling hand: invitation. Accepted. The pat is received, and the ears lightly scratched, and the tail, once again, wags. A silent friendship is established between two now less lonely commuters.
The train arrives. The passengers board. A few stops later, the friends part. Up the stairs and back out into the cold night and the city wrapped in tin foil.
The last five-minute walk of the day is dark and solitary. There are gems on the way, though, if one bothers to stop and look for them:
‘The little patch of forest behind Saint Basil’s where there is a gypsy camp. Romantic passageways beneath the thoroughfares where old women sell kittens from cardboard trays and teenagers play guitar and drink.’*
The hungry lined outside the Polish bakery that, at the end of each day, gives away its unsold rye bread and challahs, and, on a Christmas Eve, gingerbread piernik and makiełki. There too, the dogs are welcome, and wait their turn, and though the humans do not speak, they always share what is given; no one, two or four-legged, goes hungry.
A little further, from the Soviet style blocks of stacked, identical flats, lightbulbs shine tangerine warmth onto the snow through a dozen random windows. Powdered snow, sugar, on slanted rooftops. Where there are no street lights, some stars. And behind some doors, barks and paws scratching excitedly, saying: Welcome home.
The human is always there. Some humans just miss it in the dark and cold commute of the end of the day. Fortunately, the dogs take the metro too.
*You did it again, S. You captured my heart and imagination. Thank you.