A few decades ago, back in communist Romania, there was an old lady living in a small hut in the forest. She had no family, no friends and she lived mostly by what she could find in the forest. Every day she went out gathering mushrooms, berries, wood, just the small things that could help her get by.
One day as she was walking down a path through the forest, she met two soldiers and a dog. It was a beautiful German Shepherd with no leash. When the dog saw her, he started running towards her. The woman froze in fear and when the dog reached her, he crumbled at her feet, grabbing her with his paws and holding as tight as he could.
“Don’t be afraid”, one of the soldiers told her, as they ran to grab the dog. “He won’t hurt you, he is very kind.”
The soldiers managed to free the woman and as they were pulling back the dog, the old woman asked them:
“What’s the matter with the dog?”
The soldiers looked at each other, and then one of them replied with a sad tone:
“He is old. We cannot keep him anymore.”
The woman quickly realized what he wanted to say. She knew and the Shepherd knew also. She looked at the dog and saw his sad face, staring at her, full of fear.
“I can take him!”, the old woman told them. “No one has to know!”
The soldiers were shocked by the woman’s initiative, but they had their orders:
“We can’t, we’re sorry. We don’t want to do this, but we have no choice.”
“Please”, the woman begged them.
“We are sorry, there is nothing we can do.”
The soldiers tried to pass by, dragging the dog after them, but the old lady grabbed one of them by his hand and held him tight. She then reached into her pocket and pulled out a few leis (Romanian currency).
“This is all I have, please sell him to me”, the woman begged the soldiers.
Even though none of the soldiers wanted to do this, they had no choice. If the commanding officers found out that they did not complete their task, they could get in big trouble. Their hearts were full of sorrow, as they knew the dog ever since he was a pup. They trained together, ate together, slept together. And now, they had new orders. One last walk in the forest.
“Let her take him, the other soldier told his comrade. We both know it is a risk worth taking.”
The soldier looked at the terrified dog. How could they do this? And more importantly, could they live with it? Could they comfort themselves for the rest of their lives thinking: “We just followed orders.”?
“Take him”, the soldier said, handing the leash to the lady. “Keep the money, take care of the dog and don’t go near the military base. If anyone sees him, we are dead.”
With tears in her eyes, she took the leash, thanked the two soldiers, who replied with a sad bow of their heads and headed back to her cabin. Thus, a new friendship has started.
The dog soon became very attached to the old woman and she fell in love with her new friend. Every day the Shepherd accompanied his master in the woods, guarding her on her path, making sure that she was safe. In time he proved very smart. He learned how to help the woman carry her stuff. At one point, the woman started to prepare a basket with food for her and her dog, that she left at the cabin while they were out scavenging. When dinner time came, she asked the dog to fetch the basket and he would run back to the cabin, took the basket in his teeth and came back to his master.
They did not have much, but they had each other and this made both very happy. At first, it seemed that the woman saved the dog, but time proved that they saved each other.
As time passed by, they both grew older. Their mobility was not how it was before. They grew tired faster, their bones started to hurt on long walks. The old woman’s sight and hearing were not so good anymore. But they had each other and days passed by easier in each other’s company.
One day they were returning home from the woods. Winter was closing in, so the woman gathered all the firewood that she could on her back. She was tired, slowly moving forward with her looks down. She could not think of anything else but the desire to get back home and take a rest.
All of a sudden, something pushed her forward. Taken by surprise, the woman fell on the ground with all the wood that she had gathered. She looked back to see who or what pushed her, but she saw no one. Just two meters in front of her were only some train wagons, fastly passing by. Nothing else, no man, no animal, no Shepherd…
It took her a few seconds to realize what has happened, but when she did, she fell to her knees and started to cry. Every day while wandering in the forest she had to pass over the train track. Every day till she got used to it. But on that day, dragged by the heavy load, she forgot about them. She forgot about the train. Since her hearing grew so weak, she couldn’t even hear the train coming. But the dog saw it. He saw the danger and acted. He realized at that moment that it was time to give back to her what she gave to him. She saved his life and now he saved hers, with the price of his own.
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