By Jacob Rosemeier
It was a quiet day, and a cold one. There weren’t many visitors. A few groups ambled about, shuffling along in their boots, chins nuzzled inside the collars of their coats.
The young boy was quite a ways ahead. The man watched him jumping up and down excitedly and smiled. When he reached him, the boy raised a finger and asked the man, “So, what lived there?” His finger pointed to one of the larger enclosures, a wide one with little comprising it save the few arrangements of rocks spread about. A cluster of acacias at the back of the enclosure swayed to and fro in a gentle breeze.
“That,” the man said, turning to where the boy pointed, “was where the rhinos lived. They were like ponies but with black and white stripes all along their bodies.”
“Huh,” the boy replied, a smile spreading across his face. “They must’ve been pretty funny lookin’!”
The man smiled down at him. “Well, they we—”
“Hey, look over there!” the boy exclaimed and tore down the sidewalk before the man could finish.
Yet another large enclosure sat before them, though quite different from the first. Rather than the simulated grassland, rolling, rocky hills comprised this exhibit. Stalks of bamboo stood tall, and a small, wooden footbridge spanned what must have once been a pond at the center of the enclosure. A peaceful scene.
“How about this one?” the boy asked, his curiosity yet to be quenched. “What used to live there?”
“This one,” answered the man, “was home to the pandas. They also had stripes, black ones all over their fur, which was orange.”
“Yes sir, and they were no ponies. They were prowling predators, swift, cunning beasts. Their mouths were lined with razor-sharp teeth and they could sneak up on you and pounce when you weren’t looking!” At this, the man lunged at the boy, startling him. “Silent but deadly.”
“They wouldn’t scare me!” the boy stated, standing a little taller.
The man chuckled and patted him on the head. “No, they’d know better than to mess with you!”
The boy’s brow furrowed. “Hey, you’ve been here way more times than me. Which was your favorite?”
The man paused for a moment. The expression on his face was one of deep contemplation. “There was one that I was always fascinated with when I was about your age. C’mon, I’ll show you.”
The duo made their way through the complex, stopping every minute or so whenever a particular exhibit caught the boy’s eye which, as the man quickly—and painfully—discovered, was every single one they passed.
Eventually, they came upon the man’s childhood favorite. The boy’s jaw dropped. “Wow! Look at that!”
Before them stood an intricate contraption of sorts. Wooden towers scraped the clouds, dozens of them, each connected to the other by a complex network of ladders, rubber tubes, ropes, and wooden cross beams, all intersecting each other in a chaotic harmony. It was all quite dizzying to behold for the man, even now.
“Now, here,” the man said, dropping his voice and coming to kneel beside the boy, “was where the chimpanzees lived. They were quite different from the rhinos and pandas. They were much smaller, and they had scales all over their bodies, tough as old boot leather.”
“Way. They usually ate bugs and other small insects, and they would…they’d…”
The boy watched the man eagerly. He could barely contain his excitement. “And they’d do what?”
The man took hold of the railing running the length of the enclosure and dropped his head. “And they would…they had tails and they were the best climbers you’d ever seen and they were…when you looked at them it was as if you were looking at yourself.” He squeezed his eyes shut in concentration. “And the rhinos! They were larger than life! Or, maybe they…”
Confusion took hold of the young boy and he became concerned for the man—but only momentarily. As quick as the consternation had manifested itself, it was torched by his burning curiosity. He suddenly remembered where he was. “Hey, we haven’t seen ‘em all yet. C’mon!” and he tugged at the man’s coat sleeve. But the man stayed where he was, and his gaze stayed at his feet and he told the boy that he would return to him shortly.
And the boy ran off.
And the man stayed.
And the man cried.
It was a quiet day, and a cold one.