A Second Chance
By Lucy Moschos
It begins with a smile. No. That’s not quite right. It’s more of a wide, silly grin.
It begins with a wide, silly grin and I am mesmerised.
I barely get past the grin that has won me over before her eyes capture me. Molten brown. Flecked with gold. Once capable of enveloping the world with love and trust. There is a depth in those eyes that I have not experienced in a long time and I begin to feel myself slipping into them. Drowning in them. She holds my gaze for a moment but then she looks away. I have frightened her. Caution and fear battle within her against yearning. Caution wins. I feel regret at that. I must be more careful next time. I must try to win her trust.
Her dirty coat conceals her thin, malnourished figure and masks the scars that she carries without and within. I am told that she was once the victim of abuse and hate. Though I have only just met her, knowing what she has endured fills me with sickening helplessness. The scars on the outside will heal with time but I am not so sure of the ones on the inside. It’s strange: despair, disgust, anger and hope-filled plans for the future all flow through me in a torrent. She lets out a soft whimper that sounds more like a heaving sob. As if she senses what I feel. I want to tell her that I mean her no harm. That I want to help her. But after all that she has been through, I don’t know how to find the right words. Perhaps it’s best for me to keep my distance. Observe her unheeded. Not startle her.
My hand twitches. My unspoken compulsion is made evident. I want to stroke her black hair but I know I can’t. Not yet, anyway. I haven’t earnt that right yet. It’s been a very long time since she has allowed herself to be groomed. She is dirty. Unkempt. Once she would have been elegant and graceful.
My self-restraint slips. I can no longer contain myself and I speak soft words to her. Soft nonsense, really. But my efforts don’t go unrewarded. She responds cautiously and that is all the encouragement I need.
She comes with baggage, of course. But then again, who doesn’t? Her trials are a tapestry. Three children. Homeless. Wandering the streets scrounging around for any food that she can get. A supplicant of the streets. A slave to the grim, uncaring people who pass her by with contempt in their eyes. I feel my own pricking with tears and I have to look away to compose myself.
I do not turn away from her for long. I can’t. She has been lost and alone for so long. Something we both share. But our greatest point of difference is that she has an infinite capacity to love, much purer and more selfless than my own. She greets me again, sweetly and with greater confidence than she had the first time. I want to encompass her with my arms. Comfort her. Protect her from the pitiless world that has tried to damage her and which she so stoically has endured.
Another involuntary twitch of my hand. Another unspoken compulsion. This time I reach out to her. At first she shrinks away. She looks into my eyes and she must see something there for then, very slowly, she creeps towards me. I don’t dare move. I don’t dare breathe. She stops a few paces in front of me and hesitates. If I stretch out my hand a little further, I could touch her. But I don’t. She whines softly but the tone of her voice has changed. Then she gently presses her soft, wet nose against the back of my hand and licks me softly. Tentatively. I realise I am holding my breath. She wags her tail slightly. Her puppies whimper behind her. I finally remember to exhale.
The shelter volunteer looks at me and smiles. “Her name’s Phoebe,” he says.
Phoebe. I savour the sound of the name in my thoughts. I test it with my voice.
There is no room left in me for any regret. I believe she is ready. The four of them are ready. I know I am. I get to my feet and I follow him as he leads me down the corridor to the main office.