He was a broad shouldered, raven haired man almost kid looking, thick, dark eyebrows, and carrying a duffel bag over his shoulder. He was one of the new guys to the towing company running tugboats up and down the Mississippi tying barges together. Shifts run fifteen days on the boat, and five days off. It was almost three am on his first day of work, and with a few minutes to spare, he sat on his bag at the edge of the docking yard and pulled out a cigarette.
He heard a noise on the ground not too far from where he sat. Looking around, he made out the shape of a small black coated puppy scavenging for food. After calling the pup like one calls a horse, the pup approached him on his belly, tail wagging, filthy, oil gripped fur. When the pup was closer, it’s flea infestation was visible in the shaggy mess. The guy picked the pup up, reached in his bag, and pulled out a sandwich for his new friend.
Grabbing the sandwich from his hand, the pup scarfed it down in seconds. One gulp, one look for more. The guy pulled the pup close, rubbed his face, his grubby fur, and laughed. Boss’s truck pulled up. Everyone started boarding. The man looked down, then back at the boat. He had no money, no home, no way of getting this pup on board. It would be two weeks before he was back, he put the pup down, stood up, one last pat on head and said, “Sorry, big guy.”
Walking down to the deck, the guy heard the pup following, a couple whimpers, a tongue hanging out loosely, but just before getting too close to the gate, stopped and watched the guy walk the bridge to board. At the rails, the man looked over at the pup who was now sniffing under the crates, periodically stopping to scratch.
It might have been how the dim parking lot light warmed the picture of the helpless, carefree spirit. Or, maybe it was the hunger, or the fleas and desperate scratching, the desperate desire to be friendly and loved, or maybe just the simple happiness of such a small creature. Something made that guy throw his bag back over his shoulder, hike back down the bridge and cross the lot. The pup came out from under the boards and circled his feet. The man picked him up, tucked him under his arm and walked out of the yard.