The wolf’s monologue was brief. It was a simple story, and Pigly unravelled it calmly. ‘We were raised together’, he said. ‘We became friends. She grew up to be one of the hottest females of the pack and I…, well, let’s just say I wasn’t the alpha dog. Quite the contrary. But I fell in love. I saw it coming and I knew it was hopeless and still I couldn’t help it. I felt I knew her best and she knew me. But she had a lot of suitors. It was difficult to be around and to watch. One day I couldn’t take it anymore. So I challenged the leader. It was a messy affair. I lost a lot of blood, two inches of my tail, and my left ear was badly punctured. I was exiled. I had to run away and find a new territory. That’s how I came here. I was devastated. Not only could I never dream of seeing Tina again, but I had lost all my other friends, my family, everything. I was completely alone in the world. Full of bruises and scars and alone and there was nothing I could do about it. Yes, I was very sad. But then the most amazing thing happened! The next morning, when I opened my eyes, she was there beside me. Friends should stick together, she said, smiled and started licking my wounds. She had tracked me down. She is so smart. We had so many good days together after that. Playing, hunting, talking, watching the stars… I didn’t see that bullet coming. I just didn’t see it. I had left her behind and that’s when they got her. I was terrified. I didn’t jump to her rescue fast enough and before I knew it they carried her away. She loved me and I didn’t save her. If only she had stayed with the pack, this wouldn’t have happened. But she chose me, the pariah, and I couldn’t protect her. I’m no good! I did nothing! Do you understand? I just stood there, petrified… And after she was gone I just didn’t have the energy. She was my vital energy…’ He broke out in quiets sobs.
‘Dude’, Neil said softly. ‘We all make mistakes.’
‘So this was the burden you were carrying…’, Cleo said. ‘You feel guilty. You wanted to punish yourself, to share her fate. Or perhaps save her? Is that what the whole Zoo fixation was about?’ she asked.
‘Yes! Maybe. I don’t know… Cleo, I can’t forgive myself for deserting her! The life she must have had afterwards, locked up and alone among strangers, the disillusion… It can eat away at one’s soul.’
‘And what would you have done differently?’
‘Held her, picked her up, dragged her to safety, nursed her. Told her how much I loved her… ’
‘But don’t you think she knows that? That your love was sincere, that you wanted to help? Do you think she would have come to you, do you think she would have left her family behind if she hadn’t been convinced you loved her?’, delivered Cleo the traditional pep talk.
‘I don’t know, I don’t know. She was so brave…’
‘If you don’t mind my interrupting’, Neil said in a somber voice, ‘she still is brave. Look what she did for me. She is valiant. That Zoo didn’t break her. But she might just need us. Now, are we going to reminisce about the past, or do something about her future? Imagine how bad you’d feel to know she roamed here free only to be caught and put behind bars again.’
‘Yes, I must admit it, he’s right, he’s right!’, Cleo said.
‘So, where was she running to? Can you find her?’, Neil insisted.
‘The tracks continue along a level curve for a while, then upwards and to the north. My guess is she’s heading to the northern regions, where it’s colder. There’s still a lot of snow around those parts and it’ll be hard for the posse to follow her there without special equipment, and even so, she’d be more flexible than them.’
‘Now you’re talking! You’re using your brain! You’re back! Ah, that’s how I like you!’, cheered the sheep.
‘Excellent, what are we waiting for?’, said Neil.
‘Well…’ Pigli said giving both of them long, serious, concerned looks. ‘There’s just one more thing I need to take care of.’
‘Well?’, they said and looked at each other, terribly anxious.
‘I, uh… I need to eat.’
‘Oooh, he’s got an appetite! Way to go, dude! Good for you! I’m happy for…. uh-oh….’, Neil applauded enthusiastically before he grasped what was implied. Gradually his voice forsook him, dying down to a timid squeak.
‘You mean… one of us?!’, Cleo cried abruptly, sweaty and dishevelled. ‘You would eat your friends?…’
‘No, not you, cotton head! But I need to eat something. My resources are running low and it’s a long way ahead. We are near the village now. Later, we might not be so lucky. There’s some hope of food in the remote areas of the reservation – and my guess is that’s where she’s headed – but you can never know and it’s an exhausting climb. Now, if I am to be of any use to her, and not faint when the going gets tough, if I’m going to be right on and efficient, I need some food, and I need it quick. I’m feeling dizzy already.’
‘Oh my, dear you! Your blood sugar levels must have plummeted. You haven’t eaten in two days!’, Cleo commiserated. ‘We’ll get you some food, don’t you worry. Neil! How are we going to get Boss some food?’
Neil gave his colorful crop a few tender strokes and started to think hard.
‘As much as I hate to do this, dude, I mean, believe it or not, I’m a loyal fellow and I wouldn’t kill a fly… but under these dire circumstances, I’ll chance it. Come with me. My owner sacrifices chicken everyday. I’ll show you where he keeps them. You won’t even have to worry about picking the feathers from your teeth. He’s into these featherless types lately. Says they’re more profitable. And if he catches me, well… so be it! Come on.’
(to be continued)