These, my friends, are my memories of the days spent with the girl who taught me to live life with trust and love… this after all, was Cosita’s way.
The black and tan terrier lay on top of me, growling, her dark coal eyes burrowing into mine. She swung her head to the left then threw it around to the right before lunging for my throat. The move almost caught me off guard, but luckily for me, I recognized her tactic just in time to block it.
“Nice try Cosita,” I giggled and countered at the same time. I placed my paw right in the center of her forehead and gently pushed her away.
While the terrier and I were locked in our struggle I could hear the banter of three felines coming from the sofa above us, which only served to distract me from the street fighter on top of me.
“My money is on Cosita,” the grey and white cat said with complete confidence in the outcome.
“Me too Bella,” the orange cat added nodding his head in agreement.
“Cindee is too raw, too inexperienced,” he added.
“She sure is Rapi,” Bella agreed in a rare moment of solidarity with the older stouter orange cat.
“Fools! Anyone can see that Cindee is just toying with the black and tan mutt,” the third and eldest cat spat out.
“Oh yes, yes I see it now Bennie,” Rapi replied, stumbling over his words so that he could placate the grey tabby cat, who happened to be the alpha in our house. She wasn’t just the top cat that commanded respect, no, she was much more. She was feared by all of us, included Cosita.
“Guys, come outside on the balcony, we want to talk to you for a minute!”
That sing song voice could belong to only one person in the whole wide world. Mommy!
“I wonder what she wants,” I wondered aloud, as I sat up and tossed Cosita across the floor.
The terrier stood looking at me with a stunned look on her face.
“Sorry,” I mumbled.
We all pranced across the room and one by one passed through the glass door to the balcony, but just before it was my turn, I felt a sharp pain in my backside. I swung around quickly to catch the culprit in action, only to find Bennie standing behind me the nail on her pointer finger sticking out and gleaming in the light.”
“I have a proposition for you. With my brains and your strength, we could take over the world. What do you think … partners?”
“Um, can I have a little time to think about it,” I asked, looking into the tabby’s maniacal face.
I was about to thank Bennie for the temporary reprieve when Mommy interrupted us using her not so patient voice.
“We better go,” I said, smiling awkwardly at the cat.
It had been a damp rainy day, but now as I sit in my new favorite spot on the green divan looking out the window, I feel a sense of relief come over me. The sun has begun to cut through the grey overcast sky. Ever so slowly the golden light radiates outward pushing aside the dark storm clouds revealing the most beautiful shade of blue.
I cast a glance down at the bustling street six floors below me and smile when I see all the people down there beginning to put away their umbrellas. Soon, children begin to pour out onto the street and life begins to return to normal on this lovely spring day.
My eyes scan the street waiting for that familiar grey SUV to zoom by, but when that doesn’t happen, I begin to search the faces of the people strolling down the sidewalk, looking for one that matches my daddy.
Unavoidably, my mind began to wander, and it settled on that day that Mommy had that conversation with us on the balcony. It had been six months since that talk, and the revelation that day altered all of our futures. Mommy’s shared with us that her career was taking off and that meant a move to New York City. It was the most dreadful news a dog who is afraid of her own shadow could get, yet here I was.
The sound was a loud feminine screech echoing up from a floor or two beneath us. I had already hopped down and was trying to squeeze under the window seat, but there was no room there because both Rapi and Bella had already managed to race across the room and dive under the piece of furniture before I even had a chance.
“You cat’s why do you always steel my spot?”
I couldn’t help but growl at them out of frustration. Something horrible was coming and it would be here soon. I could just feel it in my soul the way those blood curdling screams for help filtered up into our apartment.
“What’s that?” Cosita howled from the bedroom where she had been napping.
“Too much, this is too much,” I mumbled under my breath.
The door violently swung open. I had reached the limit, I involuntarily peed on the floor. Daddy rushed into the apartment before I had a chance to regain control of my bladder.
He just glowered at me for a second, but it felt like an eternity. My heart sank and tears began to form in my eyes.
“Sorry,” I said sadly, my head hung low, and my body racked with guilt.
“It’s okay, we will talk later Cindee. Pombinha, quick leash up the girlies we gotta go!”
He had such a sense of urgency in his voice. Panic began to wash over me again.
“Its Mr. Nikolaev … he has disappeared!”
Our building was a tight knit group of people from diverse ethnic backgrounds, some of whom traditionally do not get along, but in our building, they not only got along, but they looked out for each other. Mr. Nikolaev’s daughter had called the police, yet the tenants of 1359 Forest Gardens had come together and sent out their own search parties to cover the surrounding neighborhoods. We were looking in the area of Forest Hills that borders with Kew Gardens, just to the southeast.
“Which one is Mr. Nikolaev,” I asked, figuring it was a probably a good idea to know who I was looking for.
“He is the nice old man that gives us treats,” Cosita answered with a gleam in her eye.
“Do you mean the skinny guy with the loose skin on his arms? The one that is always trying to trick us into coming closer with the hot dogs?”
“That’s him, but he is not trying to trick us, he just wants to say hi and get to know us,” Cosita answered without looking directly at me. Instead, she was scanning the side streets for the missing Russian.
“Humpf, I think you are mistaken about his intentions,” I grumbled.
We fell silent as we began to draw closer to Queens Boulevard. The homes in this area were unkept, the landscaping left little be desired and the litter on the streets just solidified the negative vibes of this part of the street.
“It kind of reminds me of home,” the terrier said, glancing around at the surrounding houses with their run-down fences and overgrown lawns.
“No, it doesn’t,” I objected. It didn’t look anything like either the homes we lived in.
“I mean the one that I grew up in as a young pup,” she corrected me with a smile.
I looked in Cosita’s direction and admired her silhouette for a moment, and let my head fill with ideas of what the terriers life was like growing up.
“I don’t understand,” I said. I didn’t either. All I had was my own life, I had never really taken the time to consider how others were raised.
“I pretty much grew up on the street.”
I looked at her in disbelief, but once I had put my brain to thinking about it, a lot of things about her began to make sense. It explained why she was so tough and fearless.
“Don’t get me wrong, I had a family, they just didn’t take very good care of me. They gave me food and water and I even had a doghouse; it was kind of beat up, but it kept the rain off my head.”
She looked at me and smiled exposing her crooked front teeth. Now I began to imagine how that happened, but I wasn’t going to ask. That would be too rude.
“I thought you lived in a nice neighborhood,” my forehead furrowed up as I asked the question.
“I grew up in Little Havana, which was pretty safe, but there were still some sketchy areas. We lived in one of those parts of the neighborhood.”
“Oh.” I felt my eyes drift to the ground in front of me so I wouldn’t have to find the words to say. I am still not very good at expressing emotions or feelings and trying to be supportive is pretty awkward.
“I used to love walking down to Calle Ocho man. I had some great friends there and we would visit all the restaurants and bodegas, we would get so much free food just by giving those shop owners the sad puppy dog look. Oh, great times!”
Judging by the glassy eyed nostalgic look on her face they were indeed great times. I felt bad interrupting that moment, but I needed to know.
“Do you miss it? I mean, do you regret being here?”
Her head snapped to look directly into my eyes.
“No way kid! I wouldn’t give this up for anything. I am not a young pup and my priorities have changed a lot since then. Besides, I don’t think I would last a day on the street anymore, Mommy has spoiled me too much!”
We both burst out into laughter. It is true, Mommy does spoil all her babies too much!
Cosita’s body turned in the direction her head was facing and stiffened. Her usually floppy ears stood erect.
“Is that Mr. Nikolaev?”
We arrived back at the apartment building tired and defeated. There had been one brief moment of excitement, but it turned out to be someone else who looked a lot like Mr. Nikolaev. The courtyard was empty, which could only mean that everybody else was still out searching for the old Russian gentleman.
“You girlies have been so good, you deserve a treat!”
Daddy’s words were like music to our ears. Suddenly, we found the energy to get back up onto our feet and dance.
“I will come with you; I could use a drink,” Mommy said before kissing Cosita on the head first, then me. We walked into the lobby in time to see the elevator door closing shut.
“Take the stairs or wait,” Daddy asked Mommy.
“Mr. Nikolaev!” I began to bark.
“Mr. Nikolaev!” Cosita joined in, together we formed a beautiful duet singing excitedly.
Nobody was listening.
Daddy pushed the call button, then the debate continued until Mommy finally convinced Daddy to take the stairs, but just then the elevator door swung open.
There, standing inside was no other than Mr. Nikolaev. He wore a blank expression on his face and his skin was the palest white I had ever seen. Quickly, we climbed inside the box just in time. The doors closed behind us and we began to rise until we reached the sixth floor. Our floor. The door slid open and Mr. Chilungu, our next-door neighbor was there with Isaiah, his two-month-old son.
“Do you happen to have Mr. Nikolaev’s daughters’ number?” Mommy asked Mr. Chilungu.
“I don’t but my wife Stella does. They play tennis together. I can call her!”
“Can you? And tell her that we have her dad in our apartment? Everyone has been out looking for him.”
“Sure, sure, I can do that!”
“Thank you so much,” Daddy said, shaking hands with Mr. Chilungu.
Cosita and I watched as the doors closed on Mr. Chilungu who already had the phone to his ear and was passing on the information.
Another day had come and gone in my young life. If I knew then what I know now, I would have paid more attention, for each day brings new lessons, filled with insights and opportunities.
We would like to think that we are in control of our outcome, of who we become, or where we are going, but are we really?
Life molded Cosita into who she was. Because of life she was tough, independent, and loyal. Was it my destiny to be afraid, alone and unable to trust? Would I ever be able to love and be loved like Cosita or Mr. Nikolaev?
“What will life use to mold me?” I asked myself with a deep sigh before my eyes closed and I drifted off into a deep restful slumber.