The zebras are a relief.
Three months ago I graduated with a degree in literature. Last week I bought an old trunk and put all my books inside. I slid it under the bed in my tiny flat and felt happy for the first time in ages. The next day I started working with those zebras. Getting the job was easy. Perhaps because I didn’t expect anything. All it took was a trip to the zoo. In the interview, the director sat by a window overlooking an aviary swarming with lovebirds. To my surprise, she asked me about Flaubert.
“I like Un Coeur Simple,”I said.
She looked pleased. Even more so when I talked about growing up on a farm. All along, the birds flitted about in the distance, green and orange arrows pointing everywhere and nowhere.
“You’re the exact person we’re looking for,” the director said.
Now I get up at six in the morning, braid my hair, cycle to the other side of the city and shovel shit for the first hour. My days are spent in silence while I watch the zebras trot, canter and gallop. Even though they are slower than horses, zebras are just as clever. When they feel cornered, they zigzag from one side of their enclosure to the other. Besides, they can turn their ears in almost any direction. Because it is winter, it is dark by the time I leave them in the late afternoon. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, the moon highlights their stripes, their intricate patterns, like fingerprints under a lamp.
I wait another three months before I tell my parents about the job. I keep it light, like a new tablecloth over an old table.
“If that’s so, you might as well have stayed here and worked the sheep,” my father says and leaves the room.
“I understand you,” my mother says.
I’m not sure she does, but it’s fine. I have a job now.
“The closer you look at a zebra’s stripes, the more complex they become. It’s like reading a book,” I tell her before she serves me dinner. Then my father returns, his mud-caked Wellingtons leaving prints on the pale, red tiles I remember from way back.
Tomorrow morning I’ll be back at the zoo.