Day Three: Lost, Cold and Hungry
Buddy felt an overwhelming sense of relief when he heard the unmistakable sounds of another cat coming from a garbage dumpster.
“Meow!” he called.
Two tiny heads appeared over the rim of the dumpster.
“Whattya want, kid?” asked one of the cats, a filthy ginger tabby with a clipped ear.
“What are you guys doing?” Buddy asked.
“What does it look like we’re doing?” said the second cat, who looked like a pair of disembodied yellow eyes against his jet black fur. “We’re panning for gold!”
There were kitchen sounds coming from the building next to the dumpster — the rhythmic chop of someone cutting vegetables, meat sizzling on the grill, dishes clinking — but otherwise the alley was quiet. Buddy climbed onto a discarded desk next to the dumpster and leaped over the rim, landing in a heap of black garbage bags.
“It smells in here!” he said, wrinkling his nose.
“Yes!” the tabby said. “It smells like luck!”
Buddy watched as the two strays rummaged through the trash. The black cat dug out a banana peel, sniffed it, then tossed it behind him.
“Aha!” the orange cat meowed triumphantly.
He was holding a half-eaten bologna sandwich in one paw and using the other to shoo away a cloud of fruit flies.
“You always have the best luck, Clyde,” the black cat said.
“You think I don’t share with mi amigo?” Clyde tore the sandwich in two, handing the other half to his friend. “Now this is good eatin’!”
Buddy’s stomach rumbled as he watched the two strays happily gobble down their rotten sandwich.
“Uh, speaking of food,” he meowed. “When’s lunch?”
Clyde burped. “Whenever you want it to be, kiddo. Grab yourself somethin’ from the trash.”
Buddy eyed the mountain of garbage with disgust. In the kitchen next door, a chef and a waiter exchanged obscenities. The smell of sweet, sweet meat wafted from the open door.
“No, I mean when do they bring us lunch? The humans, I mean. My Big Buddy always brought my lunch at the same time.”
Clyde and the black cat exchanged a glance.
“They should be here any minute now to take your order,” Blackie said.
Buddy sighed with relief.
“Thank God!” he said. “I’m so hungry I could eat a whole turkey! When do they get here?”
“Any minute now,” Clyde said.
“Really?” Buddy’s eyes were wide and hopeful.
“Sure, kid! They’ll serve it to you on a silver platter too!”
Blackie and Clyde looked at each other again and burst into laughter.
“‘The humans bring me lunch!’” Blackie said, imitating Buddy.
Clyde’s laugh turned hoarse. He coughed, then hocked a huge loogie that landed an inch or two from Buddy’s front paw.
There was a shout from outside the dumpster, then angry human noises. Clyde and Blackie were already scurrying out of the dumpster on the other side.
”Guys, wait!” Buddy meowed.
“Stay out of my garbage, you little shits!” A human hand clamped around Buddy’s tail, lifting him out of the dumpster.
Buddy screamed in pain, then saw the human winding up his other arm. He pivoted, chomped down on the human’s skin and started pumping his little legs before the human released his grip. He landed on all fours.
With the human still yelling, Buddy took off at full speed and never looked back.
The temperature had dropped considerably, but now the wind picked up and Buddy felt fat drops of rain on his fur. The angry human from the dumpster was far behind him now, but Buddy kept up the pace. He had to get someplace warm, someplace with shelter.
His nose caught a scent — real food? — and he followed it, padding along a driveway, slick now with rain, that was paved equidistant between two houses.
Buddy’s stomach rumbled as the scent became stronger. He followed it over freshly cut grass, up a short flight of wooden steps and onto a back porch.
There it was: A single bowl with some soggy kibble, the remnants of some well-fed cat’s meal. There was a time Bud would have turned up his nose at that bowl, when he would have complained that he could see the bottom of it. Not now.
He scarfed down every last kibble, the aching in his stomach beginning to subside a bit as he sighed with relief.
That’s when he realized he was being watched. On the other side of a sliding glass door, where it was dry and warm, a plump white cat sat looking at Buddy with curiosity and disgust. The cat bared its teeth.
“Easy!” Buddy meowed, backing away from the glass door. He caught the reflection of a wet, shabby street cat with unkempt fur and a nose crossed with jagged claw wounds. He nearly took off before he realized he was looking at himself.
“Oh Princess!” a human female called in a sing-song voice. The white cat gave Bud one last pitying look and went to find her human.
On the far side of the deck was a barbecue covered by a protective tarp. Bud circled the tarp, looking for a way in, then squeezed himself through an opening.
There was a compartment for fuel. It wasn’t warm, but it was dry. He settled down, shivering in the cold, and listened to the rain drops pelting the tarp as he drifted off into a longing dream about home.