by Brendan Strong
The Boy With The Dog
NOTE: I don’t know if anyone remembers this story, but a few changes has really made a difference. I quite like it now. Moreso than I did before. END OF NOTE:
The passengers on the busses passing stare at him, staring at them. In the dark blue of the morning, the city is belching and farting into life. Cars let out gasses, more so as they start moving three feet before stopping, their break lights bliking at the sudden wakening. People, people, people, all of the different kinds walk this way and that, nearly bumping into and nearly missing each other.
Coffee, cigarettes, breakfast rolls and newspapers all bob just above his head. He is standing stock still. He is in fine silks with combed hair but no shoes, a long way from wherever he belongs. Or at least, definitely not from here. Some people wonder what his deal is – has he parents, what’s he doing there; but to avoid a scene they keep on going. They have somewhere to be anyway.
An employee trips in front of him, dropping a Styrofoam cup of tea and a scone. The employee gets himself up with his arms, moves on the way (he hopes) no one will look at him; notice him falling like a fool into the gutter. The boy, unnoticed, leans down and picks up the scone.
The first to approach him is a Gard. “Well, son. What are you up to then?” Now some passers by stop passing by. They peer at the Gard (now on one knee to look the boy in the eye) and the boy with the dog. Some say, “What’s going on?”; others say “Look at that mangy mutt”; still more say “Where’s his parents?” (as if knowing this would change anything).
One comes over to the Gard. “What’s the problem Gard?”, shows the Gard a card, and the Gard nods. The Gard says “I’m just trying to find out if this young fella’s alright.” Someone from the crowd shouts “Lock him up Gard! Can’t you tell he’s up to no good!” Someone else replies “Shhh, he might be mad or something”, and smiles patronisingly back at the boy. “If he’s mad, he still needs to be locked up before he can cause any more trouble!” Dawson, the one beside the Gard says “I doubt he’s mad. Do you think maybe he’s foreign? Maybe he doesn’t understand English…” The Gard and Dawson now stand, side by side, staring down at the boy as if they were about to scratch their heads. “A foreigner! Get rid of him. Put him back on the fucking plane, will you!” The Gard turns and sees them all. Nearly ten now, standing in a wide semicircle, like Friday nighters waiting for the fight. “No, look. Move back now. Go on your way,” says the Gard with an ineffectual wave of his arm. Another one comes forward, and gets down on haunches, looks the boy in the eye. Close to the boy’s face, holding his hands, shouting slowly “ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?” Dawson says, “If he doesn’t understand English, shouting won’t help.” The newcomer glares, looks the figure up and down, gives Dawson a look and steps back into the crowd.
The Gard asks a garda radio for someone from Youth Services to come. He makes another appeal to the crowd to move on, but it’s too late. The crown has swollen. They’re closer now, and freer with their advice. A murmur in the crowd turns into a buzz as newcomers ask “What’s going on?” and those who know explain in seven minutes what has been happening in the past five. The boy stands there with his dog and his piece of scone.
The Gard is frustrated with the crowd, and his attempts to hide it highlight it, which, it is obvious, frustrates him more. Whatever about Youth Services for the boy, he needs backup for the crowd. He turns to them, humans every one, he assures himself, “Please,” he says, putting on an air of calmness “you’ve all got jobs to go to. Please go to your jobs and let me get on with mine.” “Lookit, how can we go anywhere while that boy is there with his dog?” cries one. Another: “Can’t you at least arrest him for animal cruelty? Look at the state of that dog! And it’s not on a leash – it’s the law that it has to be on a leash!” Voices are raising all the time. The history of events being described, advice to the Gard, threats to the boy, threats to Dawson (who still stood beside the Gard). They all assured each other they had rights, and this was against them, which meant this was wrong.
One old one ran forward from the crowd to the boy. Grabbing the boy’s shoulders, this one shouts “What are you doing here?!” The dog growls; the boy calmed it by placing his hand on the dog’s head. Still, he doesn’t speak. The Gard drags the old one back from the boy saying “Look, there’s no need to upset the lad…” The old one shouts over the Gard’s shoulder “Look at what you’re doing! Why don’t you move on? Go home? Go anywhere! Just leave us alone! WE HAVE OUR RIGHTS, YOU KNOW”
So the boy still stands alone, one hand on the dog’s head, the other holding the scone, lips curled down. The Garda issue is now the crowd. Business news and the sounds of flushing toilets and pop bands are interrupted to advise people to avoid the area, on the recommendation of the Gards. But the people come in droves to see what’s going on.