by Zoya Nojin
Two dogs roamed the grimy city streets. Mac looked out for Tess, and Tess looked out for Mac.
‘Ours is an important job,’ said Mac, watching Tess haul over a half-eaten meat pie from the restaurant garbage. He sighed, deepening his bulldog jaw. He wasn't agile like Tess anymore.
Tess then scrabbled to find her own pie. She didn't quite agree that eating garbage and catching rats was important. City cleaning was a good service, but humans yelled at them and no one rewarded their efforts. Tess was fed up.
She was a raggedy terrier, younger than Mac, yet tired of hiding between buildings, no permanent home, hunger constantly gnawing her belly. But how could she tell him? Ever since he’d rescued her as a pup from a street-cat gang, she’d always followed his ways. But something was missing and it had been bothering her ever since she’d overheard a pigeon cooing about it.
‘Mac?’ she asked, finally finding her courage. ‘Did you ever hear about country dogs?’
‘Mmph,’ Mac grunted, licking last crumbs.
‘Well, their job is to run sheep for humans. Mac, what’s a sheep?’
‘Forget it,’ said Mac. ‘The country has too much sky and not enough garbage. And running’s only good for avoiding humans; certainly not going anywhere near something called sheep.’ Mac shivered. ‘Sounds nasty.’
But Tess couldn't forget it. The humans sounded nicer there – the dogs were appreciated. Mac wouldn't hear of it though.
‘I'm too old to travel,’ he said as they settled for the night in an alcove on the train platform. ‘It’s too far.’
Tess’s eyes followed the track as far as the dark allowed. She squirmed and sighed and stared. She felt it pulling her – the unknown. She’d never thought before about living beyond the city. But Mac was old and, one day, she’d be alone.
Mac opened one eye. ‘I guess if you don’t go, you'll never know.’
‘What if I'm not brave enough?’
‘You don’t have to be brave for something you want to do. You just do it.’ Mac closed his eyes. ‘And you know, I was alone before.’
Tess nosed his paw. ‘But I’d miss you.’
Mac coughed and rolled over. ‘Just catch the first train in the morning.’
When Tess woke in the murky dawn, the first thing she noticed was that Mac had gone. In his place, he’d left a fishhead. Tess ate hungrily, thinking it might be a while before another meal.
Humans began milling about the station and Tess waited in the shadows for the train to pull in. A long screech and thunderous rattle announced its arrival. Nervously, Tess trotted forward. Should she really go?
She hesitated against the push of legs boarding the train. Then she felt a stocky presence beside her.
Mac snorted. ‘Mac looks out for Tess, like Tess looks out for Mac.’
Tess grinned in relief as they scrambled onboard to hide under a seat.
‘Besides,’ he said. ‘I need to see a sheep.’