I never knew why that boy was particularly interesting. I only knew I was assigned to take care of him. He was only six years old, had a normal family, and was quite docile; I usually assumed that that kids like him would be annoying. Perhaps it was because I understood what was hidden deep in his shyness.
His life was ordinary, yet sad; his mother was hospitalized due to cancer, and his father was too preoccupied with taking care of her while juggling his already-fragile job. There was a servant, but she dedicated her monthly salary income on watching the house, so taking care of a child was taking a toll on the hard-working woman.
Another reason that people had trouble trying to know the boy was because he was too distant to communicate with them. Perhaps that was why they brought me in.
I came from a large, lively family, so I guess I was against the idea at first. But I found my new family kind and caring. I was given a home to stay, food to eat, and the relaxation that I ever hoped for. But what I truly earned was the friendship from that shy little child that I presently referred to as 'the boy'.
His father was glad that he made the right choice on having someone to take care of him, and I guessed that I felt relieved too, considering that I was chosen for that task. Even when I was treated as part of the family, he always regarded me as what he called a 'Golden Buddy', a nickname that even his father took amusement in.
He told me that the name was taken from a story that the boy's mother used to read to him: it was a story of a young adventurer who befriended a stranger who claimed to possess the power to find hidden treasure. However, he only wished to find a chest of gold which was sentimentally valuable. Long story short, the adventurer guided the stranger to his treasure without asking any reward for his efforts. Because of the adventurer's kind heart that conquered any trace of greed he had towards the treasure, the stranger admired the adventurer for his trust and friendship, and offered to be a companion to continue looking for treasure with him. At the story's end, the stranger turned into a golden dragon and flew into the sky with the adventurer.
I never understood that story; what was it supposed to mean? Isn't it unconventional to relate a made-up story to a real thing?
I never cared for money or rewards. The boy's smile was enough to make me happy.
Never had I expected anything more than the satisfaction that I had now, out of the recurring days that usually ended well. And I was too naive to think that it would be how things should carry on, like an endless loop.
Despite that, I never knew that sadness could be a sudden and cruel thing to bear, especially as soon as it happened at the most inconvenient time where a person's life was meant to change.
On that day, I was entertaining him, as usual. We played catch using a baseball. I wanted to test how well his pitching skills were.
His father told me that he wanted the boy to be good at sports. I found baseball to be the most interesting one, particularly because of the pitching and catching, a simple game that almost anyone could do. We would usually watch the baseball games on TV to get to know it better.
The backyard was the best place to practice with him; he would never get tired of throwing the ball over and over again to master his skills. He was commendably dedicated; before I showed up to his life, he would usually barricade himself indoors. A baseball would merely be an item that gathered dust, in his view.
"I'll throw higher!" The boy laughed giddily as he pitched the ball across the yard. His aiming was average, but the force of his throw was disappointingly terrible. I didn't really care though.
I caught the ball easily and gave it back to him, "You can throw that as many times as you can. But I'll catch it!"
Smiling, the boy threw it again. Without much of an effort, I caught it.
"Glad to see you two enjoying yourselves," the servant called out from the kitchen window, "Are you hungry or thirsty? Can I get you anything?"
The boy called back, "I want orange juice!" Then, he looked back at me, "Do you want anything?"
"I'm fine," I responded abruptly. My stamina was still good; I didn't need rest. I just felt happy as the boy was opening himself up to the servant. I wanted them to get along as well.
Smiling, the servant flashed the boy a thumbs up and closed the window to make the beverage.
The boy glanced back at me, "Okay, catch this. This is my super throw!"
Anticipating his stance, I leered, "Bring it on!"
But, as the boy stepped forward to pitch, I heard a sudden rustling down to my right. Startled, I looked at that direction, to see a fat squirrel.
I didn't even notice the ball fly above my head.
'Just a rodent,' I thought in relief, 'I should stop overreacting, especially when I have a game to play.'
I looked back at the boy, and noticed that he was in a sad expression. There was no doubt that he was upset because I got distracted.
"Why didn't you catch the ball?" he sniffled.
"Don't worry about it," I tried to cheer him up. Then, I looked back. My eyes instantly landed on the ball. It was directly underneath a wooden fence that separated our backyard from our neighbor's.
I crawled down and reached towards the ball.
However, before I could even touch it, a hand burst out underneath from the other side of the fence, and snatched the ball from my sight.
Startled, I jumped back. "What the…?" I gasped in surprise.
The boy came to my aid, curious of the sudden movement under the fence. I was still shaken I thought that I saw a monster.
But then, I started to hear a familiar laughter from the other side of the fence. That's when I knew that it was no monster, but something worse.
"Please, give me back my ball," the boy cried out.
I looked at the top of the fence, where I saw the mean face of the next-door neighbor's kid.
I genuinely hated that kid. He was the exact opposite of the boy: cunning, shameless and rude; I referred to him as 'the bully'. He was probably about four years older than the boy, but he was too malicious that he enjoyed torturing children several years younger than him.
He showed the boy the baseball that he had claimed, "Does this belong to you?"
The boy nodded, "Yes."
"Well, too bad!" The bully sneered, "It's mine now. Go get your own, wimp!"
"Look who's talking!" I shot back, "You're the bigger wimp here!"
"Ooh! You think you're the hero? Just try and take this from me, you lame losers," the bully stuck out his tongue at us, and retreated away from the fence.
I sighed, "Why do we have to contend with such brats," Then, I looked back at the boy, "Don't worry, we'll get another one."
But the boy was angry; he gritted his teeth and was in tears.. It felt to him that it was the last straw, that he was finally tired of the bully's actions that had tormented him constantly.
Before I knew it, he dashed out of the backyard's exit, unlocking the door as he hurried his way to the neighbor's backyard.
"Hey! Hold it!" I called out, "You're not supposed to go out there!"
However, it was too late. As I followed him out, he had already entered the neighbor's open backyard, where I saw the boy and the bully facing each other.
As much as I was concerned with why the backyard exits were so easily accessible for children to get through (considering that the exits lead straight into the streets), I was more occupied over the welfare of the boy. But the confrontation between both him and the bully was something I was forced to stand down for.
"You can bully me and take my stuff as much as you can," the boy declared bravely, "But I won't let you talk to my friend that way?"
The bully smirked, "Oh yeah? What are you going to do about it? Call mommy and daddy? They're never there for you. Not like mine."
I became agitated as his words incited the boy into crying; the bully was going too far with his routine torture.
"I'm warning you; if you hurt him, I'll make sure that you regret it!" I threatened him.
"Shut it!" the bully yelled, "You're a dumb excuse for a friend. You're just here because his mom and dad don't want him…"
Before he could complete his sentence, the boy lunged at him, in a relentless attempt to make him take back what he said. But the bully was older, and stronger; he easily grabbed the boy by the front of his shirt and briskly pushed him onto the damp ground.
"You asked for it!" I bellowed, and charged straight for him. He could be better in most ways, even I'd admit that, but I was more ferocious when it came to attacking, a trait that I learned during my stay with my previous family.
I pinned him down to the ground, and was about to teach him a lesson, but the boy, terrified and struggling, burst free from my grip, and dashed away from me, directly towards the street through the open backyard door.
My business was not yet settled though; I was still engulfed in rage.
I chased him out to the street and closed in on him.
It was too late for me, however, to see the speeding car that was screeching towards me.
The only thing that I heard afterwards, was the voice of the boy, constantly calling me.
But, all I felt was pain.
I opened my eyes to see a crowd of people gathered around me. The boy was crouched next to me, sobbing. The servant, horrified by what happened, was huddled next to the boy, consoling him.
From a distance, I saw the bully. He was also crying as two people, a man and a woman (presumably his mother and father), were tending his wound: a large gash by his right arm from the attack that I inflicted on him,
'Serves him right,' I thought weakly, but proudly.
The boy looked up at an older man, "Will my friend be alright?"
The man responded, "There's nothing to be upset about. This fellow's really lucky." Then, he gazed at my tired eyes, "You'd just need a few days of rest after some treatment."
He looked through the crowd and saw two people in (paramedic) uniforms arrive to the scene after they got off their ambulance (one of them was carrying a medicine kit). "Oh, thank goodness. The paramedics I called are here," he added.
The medics crouched down near me, and started to examine my injuries. The crowd started to disperse, leaving only a few people behind to watch from the distance, while the boy and the servant still remained on the spot.
"Condition is normal. This is really lucky one," one of the medics sighed in relief, the looked at the boy and the servant, "We can take this dog to the vet now. Do you want to come along?"
The boy leaned towards me and hugged my face with his tiny arms, "I'll be with you, okay?" he choked out.
"As long as it makes you happy, then I'm fine with it," I wheezed out a reply. But, even if I knew that humans couldn't understand our language, they could at least get the point of what we're saying. After all, that was how I got to understand theirs. I wished that I could tell him on how proud I was of him, when he stood up to the bully to defend me. He was finally starting to grow up, taking responsibility in his own hands.
"One canine: golden retriever, condition stable; no causalities," the second medic spoke through his radio, "ETA… fifteen minutes."
As the medics placed me gently into the back of their van using a stretcher, the boy followed me inside and rested his face close to mine. If I had the strength to fight back the pain, I would give him an indication that I was going to be alright.
"Your growls and barks were scary," the boy said, trying to sound positive, "That bully will never hurt people again, thanks to you."
Feeling grateful for his words, I closed my eyes and relaxed to bide whatever energy I had left to heal.
I remembered that, as I was unconscious, I understood the sadness behind the boy's calls, the loneliness and pain of his crying; he was relying on me to make him a better person. For the price of letting all his emotions out in the open, he had overcome his fears. It was something I had unwittingly caused him to do.
I didn't regret it. I had to make that boy stronger, to turn him into a man.
That was my duty, after all… as a man's best friend.