I. A Sense of Security
I had no memories of my father, although my mother promised he existed at some point. He decided to leave, she told me, and I accepted it. Ultimately, it didn’t matter because he was not a part of my life. He had never been. It was just my mom and me. It was our little, loving family. She was both provider and protector. To her, there was nothing more important than her son.
My mother told me how fortunate we were to have such a large home. She was sweet to have a positive outlook on life, but I understood what it meant to be homeless. We were able to roam free, interact with others – the lifestyle had its perks. Then there would be those nights – cold, wet and dark. I would’ve given anything for a warm place to stay.
She studied the sky and understood weather patterns well enough to prepare for what was to come. Some nights, we sheltered beneath garbage. If lucky, we found safe haven under a staircase. I’d be tucked underneath a staircase while she stepped away to retrieve dinner. On the fully-sheltered nights, she somehow procured complete meals for us both. I salivated over juicy chicken and potatoes, savoring every bite. Unfortunately, most nights were not as fortuitous. Even as we roamed the streets in fair weather, the search for food was inescapable.
My mother continuously encouraged me to assist in finding our next meal, although I knew better. Her lead ensured we didn’t go without food for too long. Onlookers walking the streets were occasionally generous, but in trying times, Mom ensured I was first to eat. It was crucial to see her son thrive. She wanted a better life for me than she endured.
One sunny day, outside in a park, grass green, laughter in the distance, she had found us pizza for breakfast. I felt so lucky.
“Always remember that I want a different life for you.”
“How so?” I smiled.
“You shouldn’t have to deal with these worries . I want you to have options for food, to know you have a, safe place to sleep every night.”
“That sounds nice Mom, but as you say, ‘the whole city is our home.’ We are free.” Although I knew what it meant to be destitute, I never wanted to devalue her words. She gave me that concerned look, proficiently crafted by mothers.
“Let me tell you a little secret,” she teased, as I waited in anticipation. “If you get lucky and play your cards right, you can have a safe place to live, never go hungry and still be able to explore the town.” I smiled, aware of my surroundings. There were others like us, in search of food and shelter. Then there were others. There were those who looked like us, yet not quite the same.
They appeared clean and often overweight from glut. We clearly lived contrasting lives. While I partially envied them, they missed one important component – awareness. They obliviously walked, unappreciative of the greater world. Spoiled by luxury in their daily lives, they took for granted the simple, basic pleasures life bestowed. For as long as I could remember, my circumstances never made me feel anything less than fortunate. It was then that the thought came to me. How was my Mom familiar with an alternate lifestyle? Did she once have a home? I was shocked that I had never considered this before.
“Mom…how do you know all this? How can you be so sure?’” As we laid on the grass, wind rustling our hair, silence fell, but only for a moment.
“I was lucky once. At one point in time, my life was very different than it is now.”
“Really?” I replied, wide-eyed. “Where did you live? What happened?” Suddenly I was flooded with questions. How had her life changed so drastically? Did we have a chance to experience better lives? Was I the reason?
“That…is a story for another time, son. It was a time long ago, before I knew your father.” I was eager for information, but respected my mother. She would tell me when she was ready. “Though…there is something we should discuss. You’re growing up and will eventually have to protect yourself one day. I won’t always be around to help.” The concept of death was not foreign to me. My mother used to share the story about how dangerous it had been to give birth to me. Due to injuries she had sustained, I barely survived. Mom had been terrified, but fortunately, in the end, she had her son.
“What is it Mom?” I asked.
“You know the city is our home and we have freedom to explore.” I nodded. “Well, that is mostly true…but there are people who may not like it. There are some who find us appalling, even disgusting.”
“…really?” I understood some may not care for us, but to think we disgusted them troubled me.
“Yes. I’ve worked to avoid them since you were born but the more exposed we are, the higher the risk.”
“So are we at risk right now?”
“Not quite. The area is bustling so we’re not as suspicious.” Her words confused me. “I know it’s difficult to understand, which is why I waited to tell you.” My mother looked around, trying to find something…someone. “There .” She nodded behind me and turned around.
“You see that man in the distance with the blue uniform, black hat?” the man turned around, faced us, but didn’t look in our direction. “That gold badge – that is how you know for sure.”
“Yes, I see him.”
“That’s Trouble. You must be very careful when you see them.” I was suddenly scared.
“Should we leave?”
“No. Doing so only brings more attention to us. We must watch him closely, and be sure to avoid eye contact.” It seemed daunting.
“Okay…” I said, feigning comprehension.
“You want to be aware of their presence while eluding their detection.”
“What happens if they see us? Why are they Trouble?” I insisted. My mother hesitated. She chose her words carefully.
“They take us to an awful building, and lock us in a cage with others like us. It’s not a place you wish to be. It’s not safe. You must stay away from them.” As she spoke, Trouble walked off in the opposite direction. “Okay, he’s gone. We should casually get up and leave this field – find another place to be. Never linger in one place for too long.”
“Okay Momma. Let’s go.”
The conversation would be forever etched in my memory, because for the first time, my mother was honest with me. She treated me like an adult, capable of responsibility. It felt amazing to know my mother trusted me. I felt closer to her than ever before.
II. Just a Moment
Some days passed, mostly unremarkable, but with one exception. A bad storm had swept through the city. I never witnessed anything like it before.
It was a typical hot and sunny day. In an instant, the sun began to fade and an orange hue veiled everything. The winds swept up, as sand and small debris whirled around. Mother immediately rushed me toward the safest haven she could find, between two buildings. She sheltered me underneath an empty cardboard box and used her own body to secure the makeshift shelter. She made sure it did not move an inch. Although my protector was beside the box, the darkness frightened me. There was a lot of rattling and occasional banging. At one point, I heard my mother whimper from some unknown impact, but when I asked if she was okay, she reassured me all was well.
Hours passed before she lifted the box. I barely recognized her – eyes red, tangled hair and pink, irritated skin. Mom informed me we had experienced a sandstorm. Although they rarely occurred, it was very important to take cover – a point made obvious by her exposure to the tempest. Not only did the storm wreak havoc on our bodies, but it also contaminated and destroyed our food sources. She reassured me there was no reason to worry. We rested most of the afternoon but she still mustered the strength to find some fish for dinner.
As the days passed, I noticed my mother was slow to recover. Her senses were not as strong and food became scarce. This was the first time I went an entire day without eating. The pain in my stomach was unlike anything I’d experienced before, but I kept this to myself. It was my turn to provide for Mom. She didn’t seem to have the strength nor desire to argue with me. We decided to turn in early. I found good shelter for us, and we slept, peacefully.
We awoke early the next morning and hoped to find food to start the day. There wasn’t much available, as little had changed since the day before. I knew the day would be challenging. I wasn’t sure I could mask my hunger, but I tried my best. I didn’t want Mom to worry. She needed to focus on her rest and recovery.
“There” she said, as we dodged behind a wall. Not far ahead, there was some bread that had been tossed in the trash. It wasn’t much but it would certainly help our plight. My mother, being the leader that she was, told me to stay while she retrieved our breakfast. Normally I watched her gather food, in order to learn. This time I didn’t have the energy to pay attention. I nestled behind the wall, and got comfortable. Anticipating the bread only made my stomach shutter more. I could barely wait to chew on the fluffy texture. Then it happened.
“Oh no!” There was a cry.
“Get away!” another person screamed.
All I could hear was the roaring and jamming of debris from the other side of the wall. I looked around the corner and witnessed the nightmare of my life. My mother, grasping at food to feed our meager family, was being attacked by another scavenger for the same bread.
“Stop it!” I yelled out as I ran toward her. She shouted back for me to stay, a command I foolishly obeyed.
“If you—” she uttered, while she tried to defend herself “—come any closer, he will—” her attacker struck her in the face, which caused her body to slump to the ground. As the culprit peered at me with evil eyes, I retreated to safety behind the wall, terrified at what I just witnessed. I cowered in fear but knew I had to see what happened. Mother was all I had, all I lived for. Others continued to yell and call out. As I peeked around the corner, my mother laid motionless on the ground, surrounded by bread. The assailant slobbered on the edible crusts, unmoved by the on-lookers attempts to make him leave.
“Help her!” I yelled. The attacker’s focus locked onto me and he charged. One man tried to prevent the chase, but stood no chance. The race began. I turned and darted without as much as a glance behind me. My ever-present concern for Trouble evaporated as I ran, slamming into people and objects alike. I knew both my life and the life of my mother depended on my escape. Ten minutes felt like hours as I turned corner after corner. With an empty stomach, I was shocked at my body’s ability to perform so well. Eventually, I was able to see that it was over – the adversary was gone. It was time to return to my mother.
With a deep breath, I ran even faster back to the scene of the crime, but there was nothing left. The people were gone. The attacker was gone. My Mother was gone. All that remained were a few scraps of bread, and a small pool of my mother’s blood. I searched for clues, but turned up empty. There was nothing left to guide me. We had been hunting for food, yet when it was in front of me, I had no appetite.
“Mother…” What happened? How did we get here? Where did she go? Even if she had died from the trauma, she wouldn’t had disappeared. Maybe a stranger had taken her in an attempt to help, but what would they had done? I had no answers. I was lost. Maybe she would return. Maybe someone would had recognized me. I realized even if I were not hungry, it would had been best to take some bread because my hunger would return. I meandered down an alley to a garbage bin where I cowered and waited, my salvaged bread beside me.
Day turned to evening. It had been nearly two days without food, so I forced myself to eat. After my first bite, the hunger raged. In an instant, my provisions were consumed. I welcomed the delicious distraction, however fleeting. As evening turned to night, I relinquished hope and gave in to sleep. Through closed eyes ,I watched my nightmare replay over and over – Mother’s last words, the blood on the pavement, the terror and abandonment. There wasn’t much rest to be had.
The weeks that followed were not much better. Staying in the vicinity of the horror for a few days, I heard my mother’s words echo in my ears, never linger in one place for long . The fact that I had gone another two days without eating solidified my decision.
As I traversed the town, I was able to find food without much difficulty. I felt I was making Mom proud, wherever she was. One night, I managed to swipe two helpings of beef from the open kitchen doorway. “This steak is for you, Mom, wherever you are.” I said, chewing on my seconds. I enjoyed the delicious treat, but knew that if my mother had been there, I would gladly had given her both helpings.
Months passed as Mother’s lessons served me well. Rarely did I go a day without eating, and locating shelter became second nature. I hated to admit it, but caring for one was immensely easier than caring for two. Requiring less space and sustenance, I was able to thrive. This made me realize how much work had gone into my mother’s efforts to keep me safe and fed. I admired her more now than ever. Some days I wept, as I missed her beautiful face, kind smile and gentle eyes. These moments fleeted because I needed to stay focused. The streets began to reveal the dangers from which my mother shielded me.
III. The Unexpected
What seemed like almost a year later, I found myself comfortable on my own. The attack on my mother marked the start of a new timeline – a new chapter in my life. It was early morning and I was enjoying my breakfast of fruit, tucked away in a vacant corner alley. With my back to the world, I savored my delicious start to the day. These little moments seemed magical, as if I was the only one in the world…until reality grabbed me by the neck.
“GOT YA!” the man proclaimed. “What are you doing out here, eh!?” The man wore a blue shirt, black hat and a shiny badge. It was Trouble.
“I was just eating! Please let me go!”
“Ugh…revolting.” The man grunted but did not lessen his grip. He wasn’t listening to me.
“Please, just let me go.” I pleaded with him but there was no response.
“You’re coming with me,” he boasted as he dragged me to his ominous van parked in the street.
“Hey! Officer!” a boy yelled. I tried to look back but the grip was too tight. Officer?
“Yes, child? What is it?” he asked the boy, maintaining his fierce grip.
“You found my dog.” Dog. The young boy was talking about me. My mother always said people would call us by this name.
“This is your dog?”
“Y-yes. We’ve been looking for him for days. Thank you for finding him!”
“Where is his collar? What is his name?” The officer seemed skeptical. The boy inconspicuously glanced to his right and muttered one word.
“Chicken…His name is Chicken.”
“You…named your dog, after another animal? What’s wrong with you, boy?” This kid claimed I was his and that my name was Chicken? To say I was confused was an understatement.
“Can I have him back please?” the boy pleaded.
“He’s going to the pound,” the officer insisted, as he tightened his grip. The pound? Was this the awful building my mother said they put us in cages? I couldn’t go there, I just couldn’t!
“No! Please, no! My mom loves him and would be very upset if he would up at the pound.” I felt the hand on my scruff loosen from the officer. He empathized when the boy mentioned his mother.
“Okay kid, but listen…” the officer insisted as he knelt down to hand me to the boy. “Your dog needs to be on a leash with a collar at all times. You may not be so lucky next time, okay?” The officer gave the boy a smile and handed me off.
As I sat there in bewilderment, the boy spoke. “Hello puppy. You’re adorable!” He gave me a hug, tight but warm. I’d never experienced one before. It was beautiful. “Do you have a home?” he asked me, but I just sat there and looked at him. He seemed kind, gentle. “Do you want to come home with me?”
“Yes!” I shouted. Being anywhere off the streets sounded like a dream.
“Oh, what a bark! I’ll take that as a yes.” He understood me! This must be what Mom always talked about. The others on the streets – happy, chubby dogs , spoiled and loved. Having never considered it before, it was all I wanted. Suddenly I was exhausted with my current means of existence.
“Thank you.” I barked, my tail wagged more than ever.
“You’re an excited boy!” The child smiled and hugged me some more. The emotion he exuded was addicting. It helped fill the void left behind from my mother’s absence. I wasn’t sure how that was possible, but I couldn’t leave this child.
“My name is Jacob. Jacob Emmerson. What can I call you?” I sat there, in silence. He had called me Chicken to the officer, but there was no way he would keep that name, right? I watched as the boy pondered.
“You know, I blurted out Chicken earlier…I kind of like that. It’s different! Okay, Chicken it is! Is that okay?”
“Wonderful! Sounds like you love it.” Guess he didn’t understand me as well as I thought. “Okay, it’s time to head home and introduce you to the family. Let’s go.”
When we arrived at Jacob’s house, I cried. My excitement was more than I thought possible His home was filled with love, kindness…and food! They had an abundance of every treat imaginable. I had two bowls all to myself, one with food and the other with water. It was incredible. And the toys! I could safely play with a variety of items. Unlike the random playthings I’d previously scavenged, none of these items were dangerous or dilapidated. This family even sometimes played with me. The only unpleasant experience was something called a bath, which Jacob’s mother insisted upon. Then came the first night I slept at their home.
I expected to be outside, perhaps in a safely covered space. The mother of the family – I think her name was Anna – had other plans. That night, after I received an abundance of affection, she placed me on her own bed. I couldn’t believe it! The sensation was incredible. I had never felt anything quite like it. Every part of my body was supported comfortably yet I didn’t feel anything beneath me. It was the most pleasant experience in my life. Surprisingly enough, this ritual became my new sleeping arrangement.
Their home was expansive, I was able to run around without worry of the pound or fighting to survive. It was my time to relax and enjoy each day. I finally understood the life my mother envisioned for me. She had given me the tools necessary to survive on my own, and now I was living the way she had wished for me. If she could see me now, she would be happy and proud. I knew that she would approve of this family. The only adjustment was having a leash and collar when we left the house. It was difficult at first but I knew these people meant well. It seemed to be a common practice for dogs that lived in homes.
One day, Jacob brought me to a park and removed the leash, although the collar remained. He was hesitant to see what I would do, but I proved to him I wouldn’t go anywhere. I would be a fool to give up what I had found. I had also grown to love these people, and leaving them would be hard to do. Their family had become my family. Jacob surprised me by taking one of my favorite toys out of his bag. He threw it across the field. It was round, green and bounced – I believe they called it a ball. I darted as fast as I could to fetch it. Scooping it into my mouth, I was about to bring it back to Jacob when someone caught my eye. In the distance, I saw…
“No…it can’t be.” I froze.
“Chicken! Come here boy.” I could hear Jacob behind me, but ignored him. I focused all of my attention on the figure before me – all too familiar with gentle eyes that I had only seen in my dreams these last couple years. Mom. I ran, fast – faster than I had ever run before. She saw my approach and galloped, meeting me halfway.
“Chicken!” I heard Jacob again, but chose to ignore him. Mom. She was…alive!
IV. A Reunion to Remember
As the two dogs reunited, surrounded by onlookers, Jacob couldn’t believe his eyes. It was a magical moment no one expected. A crowd began to form as the love between mother and son was palpable.
“My son!” The two nuzzled one another, surprising each other with the ferocity with which their tails wagged. They reunited in utter disbelief.
“I thought you died!” he yelled.
“I thought I’d never see you again!” she exclaimed. “My sweet boy…” she cried. Her whimper was so loud that it caught the attention of everyone in the park. It was obvious the two dogs held a deep affection for one another. The moment was truly magical. Jacob trotted over to the pair until he stopped to observe the two instead of trying to retrieve his dog. He was touched by what he saw. Jacob knew Chicken was a stray and immediately wondered if this could possibly be his mom.
“Who is this, Chicken? You know her, don’t you?” Jacob asked.
“Who is that, son?” Chicken’s mother inquired.
“Mom…this is Jacob. I did it. You said you wanted me to have a different life and it happened!”
“Is he…do you…”
“Hey, good girl” Jacob cooed.
“It’s my mom!” Chicken proclaimed.
“You’re both too similar in appearance to not be related.” Jacob studied the older dog and gave her a gentle pet. She could immediately feel the warmth in his touch, the love in his heart. She beamed at her son, immediately approved and smiled.
“You did it, Son. You did it.” Blissfully, they nuzzled each other again.
“My goodness! Are they both yours?” a stranger asked Jacob.
“Is that his mother?” another questioned.
“I-I don’t know. I think so. This little guy is my dog but it seems these two know each other.” Jacob responded.
“That has got to be his mother! Look at the color and build!” Jacob listened to the stranger and agreed. The dogs had to be related, and given her age, she was probably his mother. Jacob loved all animals, especially Chicken. He couldn’t bear the thought of separating the pair.
“Well, pretty lady…do you want to come home with us?”
Chicken was ecstatic at the prospect. “Mom! You must! I want to know everything that has happened since that awful, awful day.. Where you have been? Tell me everything! Plus, Jacob’s family has all the food we could ever eat, and the most amazing shelter!” His mother didn’t need any coercion. As long as she could be with her son, she was happy.
“Yes!” she yelled out.
“Oh, what an exciting bark, girl.” Jacob smiled. And just like that, another dog was brought into the Emmerson household.
With the love and care of Jacob, mother and son remained together. The Emmerson family named her Angel. They agreed she was the angel that Chicken didn’t know he needed. Although he was happy and loving, he was a completely new dog with his mother around.
Chicken quickly learned his mother was rescued after the fight and brought to a shelter. She remained in an intimidating cage but her body improved and made a complete recovery. Just before Angel was scheduled to be released for adoption, she escaped. She roamed the streets of the city, driven to one day find her son. Hope allowed Angel to wake up every day and fight for her goal. She never gave up and knew they would one day be reunited. The love between a mother and son was too strong.
Since their reunion, Angel and Chicken were inseperable. They ate, slept and played together. As angel grew older over the years, Chicken would assist her when possible. The Emmerson family was lovely and facilitated anything they could to help her. After three years being together, Angel passed away. It was peaceful and without pain. Although the family was unsure of her age, she was fifteen. Most dogs did not live that long but it was the love of her son that continued to push her. Angel made up for lost time and enjoyed every day with him.
Once she passed away, laying in her dog bed, Chicken’s sleeping habits changed. He gave up the comfortable beds and couches and slept in the dog bed. Every night. He was still a cheerful, happy dog and would occasionally go to the bed for a nap, but when it was bedtime, he snuggled in their once shared dog bed. It provided him with a level of security he knew would never exist again.
The End 🐾