Chapter 5:

Xena in the big city

The Stray Princess

Filling their stomachs and part of the backpack with apples a new journey begins. One of the biggest cities of this country is located far from this forest, they need to arrive to the highway first and from there move many kilometers, someone using a car and traveling at great speed would take about 12 hours to arrive but for them it was 3 days.

The first day they arrived to the highway before night and could ask for directions to a family that was changing a tire, they walked until 1 AM and slept after going back to the forest since the hairy man was scared of sleeping too close to the road.

The second day they woke up around 9 AM and continued their journey alongside the highway, he tried to hitch a ride many times but no one stopped since his appearance was sort of scary, they ate some of the apples but not knowing how much time would it take to arrive it was better not to eat much of them.

The last day they were walking since 6 AM, sometimes the sunlight could create an illusion on the road making it look like a lagoon far away, but the more they walked it would only move farther. One man stopped a moment and told them that he could give a ride but without the dog, the hairy man tried to negotiate but it was unsuccessful so he rejected the offer at the end. Finally around 5 PM they arrived to one of the city’s entrance.

“Well, we made it. Listen, here is the plan: we find a place to sleep first, then I’ll find any kind of job, we eat with the money I’ll earn and I’ll save some of that money to buy lots of food for our journey back to the forest. Then we could live in that place with the apples or in one of those small towns near the highway, I don’t like big cities.” The hairy man says while patting Xena’s head “Oh, but first let’s go and see the waterfall together, turns out we were in the right path but was still far away” He remembers of what the family they found three days ago told him.

They walk around the city for a while, the loud noises of people talking and yelling move inside Xena’s ears along with the sound of many car horns. Finding a park he starts to set up the tent but an hour later four policemen were in the area asking him to take it down.

“Why can’t I sleep here? I’m not hurting anyone?” The hairy man asks.

“Sorry sir, this is a public area and no one is allowed to set it up as their living place” One of them said “Please take it down or we will be forced to do that approaching by force”

“But, we don’t have anywhere else to stay. Could you help us?”

“Sorry, our duty is to protect this place and the residents from any exterior and unusual activity. Please leave”

The hairy man tries to talk with them but is no use and at the end he just decides to leave, there are some apartments nearby in which lights come out of many windows along with the figure of people peeking.

“Maybe one of those was the one that called the police” He thinks while walking.

Xena doesn’t understand why are they leaving that nice place with grass, but she obediently follows.

Walking on the street they find a bench, and happily run to it but upon arriving the hairy man sees that even that is a long bench big enough to let him sleep over it, there is something in the way. For some kind of reason there are armrests on this bench, they are made of steel and can’t be moved no matter how hard they are pulled.

“Well, looks that we can’t stay here” He says to Xena.

A drizzle starts, with his furry cape he tries to cover Xena like it was an umbrella while they keep walking without any direction. At the distance he sees a bridge, one just made for cars.

“Great! It’s a big place. We can take shelter there”

It was hard to move with all the wind and water and it takes them around 20 minutes to finally arrive. Sadly the hopes of the man shatter in front of him. Under the bridge is a big dry place where the rain doesn’t reach but again it was not possible to sleep there due to the fact that in this place the floor is filled with many spikes very close between them, they are made of metal and are very pointy.

“Well, looks that we can’t stay here either” He makes a big sigh “Not a very friendly city, I get it”

The rain just got worse so they couldn’t leave the place, so he decides to extend the cape on the street and try to sleep there. Xena gets closer and he hugs her, the cape is big enough to not only be under them but to also use it to cover.

It is not the best night, the ground is too hard, the place is cold but at least under the cape there is a bit of warmth.

The floor is so uncomfortable that they only were able to rest a couple of hours. The night is still all over the city but is not as dark as the forest thanks to the artificial light that illuminates the streets.

From very early in the morning they walk around the city, learning the streets of this new place. There are many benches but they also have armrests or have a circular shape making them impossible to use as beds.

In one residential area there are garbage carts and trash bags near some houses.

“Well, time to teach you about a new food source” The hairy man says and brings Xena near the trash.

The process is simple, he first opens a bag, put his hand into it and moves it around searching any leftover food, if something is found then he pulls it out, otherwise he closes the bag and opens a new one. He opens bag after bag, doing this same activity while Xena sits on the street looking at him.

“Nothing in this one either” He says when closing the third one.

“Phew! Just Toilet paper in this one” His face frowns in disgust closing the fifth one.

“Great! Pizza crusts and some soggy fries!” Gladly says while leaving the fries alongside the crusts inside the pizza box from one popular store.

“Ew, there is some sticky stuff here. Looks that there are only rotten fruits inside” This is the 12th bag now, he takes a better look “Well, those bananas aren’t so bad, I’ll take them”

There are a couple of bags with food inside but not everything is edible, the things that the hairy man picks are: some peas with a white sauce, some bitten onion rings, a bottle of strawberry yogurt with still some of it inside, a bag of sliced bread with some mold in it and a can of expired tuna.

He stops this trash exploration not for finding enough food in it, but because there is a broken glass in the last bag he selected that makes a clean cut in his left hand when he is moving it around inside the plastic. He just felt his hand itchy and a warm liquid in his hand.

“What did I...” He wonders pulling back the hand and freezes when sees it covered in blood “Oh no, oh shi...”

As fast as he could, washes the cut with one of his bottles of water and presses the black furry coat for a while against the hand. Xena doesn’t comprehend his actions but can smell the blood in his hand, and understands that he is feeling pain so in an attempt to making him feel better, she puts her head against him.

They stay in place for some minutes until he is brave enough of moving the cape, he sees a white line moving across the palm but no blood is coming out of it.

“Let’s stop searching and eat, today we have a great buffet” He tells the dog.

He stands up and brings the pizza box, she didn’t want to eat the onions and the peas, but found quite intriguing the flavor of the crusts and the yogurt.

“This water is so sweet” She thinks after biting the bottle in order to take out all the liquid “This thing feels funny in my teeth”

For the moldy bread, the hairy man uses his hands to remove the molded part slice by slice, leaving just what he could consider edible and so starts eating it, then grabs the tuna can.

“It says it expired a week ago… but just maybe I can eat it” He opens it and smells the interior “well, is not like it smells bad, right?” Extending his hand to Xena she sniffs and trusting always in the food that the hairy man gives her, automatically moves the tongue and grabs some of it “WOAH! Hey! I was only showing”

“Yummy! It tastes weird but is salty and mushy” Xena, thinks with the tuna in her mouth. When she chews some of the food falls to the ground, after swallowing she uses her nose to search those pieces and eat them from the floor.

The dog’s previous movement when she grabbed the substance from the can took the hairy man by surprise, but after moving the can near his body he chuckles a bit. Then uses his hand to eat from the metal container and spreads with his finger the tuna on the pieces of bread.

“I’ve never been a great fan of tuna let me tell you that” With the mouth still chewing he says to the dog “But this thing mixed with those weird peas are surely a gourmet dish together”

Each one eats half of the tuna can, when they finish eating and are ready to leave but there is something that catches the attention of the hairy man, so he approaches near the garbage carts where he founds some folded cardboard boxes of medium and small size

“Look Xena!” He smiles and picks up the objects “Now we have a new mattress so the floor won’t feel so hard anymore, we sure are lucky”

Carrying the boxes under the cape, they leave the area and continue the recognition of the city. Slowly dawn arrives and the sky gets clearer every second, there are some birds that start flying around.

Xena walks slowly behind looking at the hairy man, he notices and pats her head.

“Thanks for staying with me, your presence makes my life more bearable” He softly says.

The sun comes out and many stores begin to open their doors, the hairy man takes a deep breath and full of confidence moves towards them hoping to find any kind of job.

“Sorry you would scare my clients” was the rejection at the Newsagent.

“We need to touch vegetables and fruits everyday so we can’t have someone that is not capable of washing everyday” Said the lady at the greengrocer.

“I’ll be honest, your smell will drive away all the people here” The guy at the florist commented.

“Do you think I’m an idiot? You’ll steal the food as soon as you have the chance” Yelled the old man from a restaurant.

“I really can’t give you a job honey, and even less if you come with a dog” The lady at the Hairdresser’s said while pushing him out of the place.

“I don’t need help” The door from the butcher’s was slammed after those words.

One by one all the stores they visited disapproved the idea of him working with them, he didn’t gave up at first but after being rejected from other four bakeries, a barber shop, two butcher’s, three bookstores, a candy store, one pastry shop, five pharmacies, one stationery, one veterinary, one shoe shop and a super market he felt it was hopeless.

There was also a pet shop during this job hunting, even if the owner didn’t want him working there he made an offer of buying Xena but the hairy man gave a negative answer.

“The nerve of that guy” The hairy man said while sitting on a bench “As if I could sell my partner” he starts scratching one side of Xena’s head, near the ear and she closes her eyes and moves the right back leg “Oh! You like that?” He chuckles a bit “Well, I didn’t made it but at least you’re still by my side and I’m really happy for that”

Even if he is smiling, Xena can perceive the essence of sadness coming from him. She tries to cheer him up so moves her front paw in an attempt to pat him, but her control is bad and her strength is big so it looks like if she is hitting him with the paw.

“Ow! Be careful, what are you doing?” He moves his leg.

She doesn’t get why he moved the leg, she is only trying to be nice. So instead decides to rub her face gently against his leg this time the response is what she was hoping for, he lightly brushes with his hand over her head.

“Is it weird that we didn’t see other stray dogs or homeless people today?” He wonders while looking at the moon “Maybe if we go to other neighborhoods we might find some, after all this place looks like if only rich people live here”

It’s been night for over five hours now, the street lights are cold but help to have a clear view of the city. The sound of a metallic door makes them move their heads and they see one bakery closing, it was one of the many shops were he asked for a job, there was a big fat man coming out of it with a plastic bag he moves and reaches an alley where a trash container is and there he leaves the bag.

They wait some minutes until the bakery closes all its doors and turns off the lights, is in that moment when they decide to approach the trash container. The hairy man moves the lid and then opens the big bag that was just put inside.

“What?” The interior is filled with many types of bread “Is it normal that they throw away so much?” He grabs one and examines it “Maybe is moldy?” wonders as he smells it “No, maybe the flavor is not good” He decides to take a bite and it has a good taste, is cold but nothing else “I don’t get it, why should they leave this in the garbage? Well… I guess maybe we are really lucky” He grins to Xena as he gives her a bagel.

They stay in the park sitting on the bench eating the breads, the bananas found earlier and the last apples they brought. This moment could have lasted all night but some policemen asked them to leave.

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