The puppy’s big, brown eyes blinked out from the man’s bag. “Hi,” I said, reaching out to pet hello. The dog was tiny. The man was scruffy, quiet, and soft of soul in face. Grass of the ordinary kind glinted in the midday sun and leaves rustled in the gentle breeze under an uncharacteristically bright blue sky. Strangers often approach me in Amsterdam. Strangers often approach me everywhere. I don’t know why, but I think it has something to do with the universe punking me with kindness.
I felt I shouldn’t be petting the dog. It was a bit too odd, the scruffy man with the pup drawing a person in close. If I know anything about my vulnerabilities, it’s that cuteness shuts off a lot of danger censors. But I kept petting him anyway. His body language told me he didn’t feel safe—he didn’t even like this guy’s voice—but he didn’t mind me, either. I assumed he was a shelter dog, but then realized the bag didn’t indicate anything of the sort—no “Adopt Me,” “Puppy Needs Home,” “My name is [Yours!]”
“People don’t like them when they’re bigger,” the man offered. “Just when they’re little. It’s silly.”
I thought about foster children, refugees, people who get more sympathy the smaller they appear. But make them into grown men, and the empathetic space between creature and curb collapses.
“I like big dogs,” I said, still petting the puppy.
“What are you doing here, you on holiday?” he asked.
“I’m a writer. I’m finishing a book,” I said.
“People hurt people. Animals don’t hurt people,” he said.
I nodded. “Maybe they need puppies in refugee camps.” Then immediately felt stupid, because they probably need food and water more. Education. Medical care. Higher quality entertainment than wandering poet-philosophers can offer. And a more positive attitude than that, too.
“People are dishonest,” he said. “Take care. Be safe and enjoy your time in Amsterdam.”
“Thank you. Take care,” I said, as he gently stroked my cheek and I blew him a goodbye kiss.
“I hope you write a lot,” he smiled.
And I am.