Strutting down the sidewalk, I knew my time had come. Others watched my movements with a special kind of curiosity and awe. I could feel their admiration in turned heads and whispered discussions.
“Hey, Sal. Where ya goin’ lookin’ all smart tonight?”
I turned my head toward the familiar voice of my friend Toby who was leaning against the brick wall of the nearest building. His head just barely peeked out from the alleyway and his luminescent green eyes glowed in the smoky haze called dusk.
“Man, Toby. You startled me. Almost didn’t see you hidin’ in the alleyway there.”
“Well, you knows the alleyways are my home, not like you smart, uptown guys.”
“Now give me a break, Toby. We’re friends. Always will be.”
“Yeah, yeah. Sure, sure.” His head bobbed up and down and he began to weave, hugging the building with his arched back.
I suddenly felt uneasy. His voice had a distinct edge to it and I wondered if he was still mad about me blowin’ him off the other night down by the pier.
“Hey, Tobe. You’re not still sore about the other night, are ya? Those guys didn’t rough ya up too bad, did they?”
“Nah. It’s okay, pal. I’m a survivor.” The green eyes glinted with mischief.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of white. As I focused in, I recognized Bensu, Toby’s Turkish friend. I seemed to remember that the meaning of his name had something to do with water. How strange was that? His thick accent was always hard to follow.
“Hallo Sal. Glaud to see you tonight.” He circled round me. His golden eyes glared at me, dripping with disdain. A large lump formed deep in my throat, and before I could stop it, something climbed up my throat and flew out of my mouth landing in a heap on the pavement.
“Oh, that’s disgusting kid.”
I didn’t stay to hear the rest. Thrusting all my weight forward, I pressed through Bensu and Toby and sprinted down the alley. I turned a corner and was gone. Or so I thought. The two hardened criminals pursued me for what seemed miles in an all-out attempt at capture.
Bensu caught up with me first. His front talons dug into my back right hip like a swarm of bee stingers. It wasn’t long before Toby joined him, nearly breathless from the long pursuit. “Man, Sal. Ya don’t give up easy, do ya?”
My hip was burning and I didn’t really know how I could run away at this point. I stared into Bensu’s eyes, seeing something almost evil. His strange markings made him appear comical. His long bushy tail was as golden as his eyes and strange golden spots dotted his forehead and ears completing the eccentric package of fur. I thought back to the night on the pier with wonderment. It was my first encounter with Bensu who had joined us from the harbor waters. He became visible swimming out of the murky darkness, his white coat glowing like a fluorescent light.
“Hey, Bensu. How did you ever last in that water the other night? I’ve never seen a cat swim like that. Aren’t you afraid of water?”
“Who me? Afraid of a little water? Nah. I am water—Bensu.”
I cocked my head. This was one crazy cat.
Toby looked over, a low snarl cut through the air. “Ya don’t have any idea, do ya, Sal? Bensu comes from the lake country of Turkey. He’s a natural swimmer—absolutely loves the water.”
A chorus of loud yowling taunted me as I saw more of Toby’s friends joining in the fun. Soon I was surrounded by “the gang.” It was then that the realization hit me. Whether I liked it or not, I was going for my first swim . . . in the East River.