The Black Camel

The black camel that knelt at the sick man’s gate wore a sign around its neck:

I AM A SERVICE ANIMAL

I AM WORKING

PLEASE ASK BEFORE YOU PET ME

But children being children, they put their tiny hands all over its hump, prickly and fuzzy like a coconut. The black camel tried to seem indifferent. They stroked its ears; they laughed. The camel never looked at the children. His job was his job. And while he liked the attention, he knew he shouldn’t encourage it; he was working. He continued to kneel and wait. A boy about seven, showing off, tried to climb the black camel, and one of the sick man’s family opened the door and shooed them all away with a copy of the New York Times. She closed the door and the children were back to straddle the camel’s neck, press on its sides and ask it silly questions, play with its long eyelashes and answer themselves in deep camel voices while they rubbed its long black snout. The black camel tried not to groan, it all felt so nice. The kids were still playing when the sick man was brought out, pale and skinny and unshaven, an arm around the necks of each of his younger brothers’ necks. They waited with the children as the black camel stood and the sick man rode him out into the middle of 24th Avenue, turning right and slowly heading south, toward Market Street. The Number 40 bus eased up behind, but it didn’t honk. The light turned yellow.

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