After a longer-than-planned hiatus, here’s the fifth installment from The People of Brandwell Zoo. It’s part of the second meeting of the Animals, and many more of the zoo’s residents have come. The character who is speaking at the beginning is Regulus the Chimpanzee. All text copyright (C) Quinn Sermon, 2013.
‘Now, the main topic I want to bring up tonight is the larger and more dangerous Animals. Last night, Porcupines Pumil and Hysti told us about the Tiger.’
‘What’s a Tiger?’ said Chrys.
‘A huge Cat that rips you to shreds as soon as it sees you!’ Cingus the Armadillo shouted.
‘Now, Cingus –’ Regulus began.
‘But it’s true! I was familiar with Pumas and Jaguars in South America, but Hysti’s description of the Tiger sounded worse than both of those!’
‘If we let it out, it will kill us all!’ cried Hysti, triggering squawks of distress from many of the Birds and other cries from the Mammals; even Ceratos the Tapir stopped sniffing the ground and looked up with a grunt.
‘Everyone, please,’ Regulus shouted. ‘We mustn’t make assumptions; if we assume that a fellow Animal is no good to us, we will start to fall apart. Soon, people will stop trusting each other and we will have no hope at all of escaping safely.’
‘But Regulus,’ said Hysti, ‘the Tiger – you have no idea – you’ve never seen –’
‘Neither have you, Hysti,’ Regulus said patiently. ‘In fact, of all of us here, the one who has come closest to this Tiger – or, indeed, any Tiger – is Auntie Prima. And that was for a few seconds, in the dark, separated by a wall of glass.’
‘Well, thank the Great Porcupine for that,’ said Pumil. ‘If it hadn’t been for the glass, she’d be stripped to her skeleton by now.’
‘Great Porcupine?’ Rodo thought. Some of these Animals are stranger than I thought …
‘Pumil, listen,’ said Regulus. ‘Listen to me, all of you. We are all Animal Beings. Whatever habitat we come from, whatever abilities we possess, whatever diet we eat, we are all Animal Beings. We have already had one instance of inter-species conflict between a herbivore and a carnivore –’ (Castor momentarily met Vulsutus’ eye, and then quickly looked away again) ‘– and it has been resolved. Had it not been, violence would have ensued, possibly resulting in death. The Tiger may be far larger and more powerful than Vulsutus, but he is an Animal Being just like the rest of us, and has the right to live freely in the wild.’
Regulus paused and looked round the enclosure. No one said anything, although the Porcupines still looked determined to oppose Regulus’ view.
‘If we are all to escape,’ he went on, ‘we will need all the help we can get. The Tiger is strong, fast and, yes, terrifying. These may be seen as reasons to stay away from him at all costs, but I see them as reasons why he could become an indispensible member of our community.
‘Certainly, he is capable of killing as many of us as he wishes, but once my idea of helping everyone to escape is explained to him, I seriously doubt that he will want to kill any of us; he will be far more likely to channel his speed, strength and terrifying demeanour into constructive pursuits that can help us and, if necessary, subdue humans.’
He paused again; Pumil and Hysti looked at each other with concern, and Hysti gave a tiny nod.
‘Do you really think so?’ said Cingus.
‘I do,’ said Regulus. ‘Every one of us, including the Tiger, is strong and intelligent in our own way – easily more intelligent than the stupid, goggle-eyed humans that stare at us all day long. That means we can all pool our abilities together in order to overcome the humans and their selfish, Nature-defying actions.
‘Admittedly, the green humans – or captors, as I tend to call them – are also considerably intelligent – at least intelligent enough to have been able to build this place and hold all of us here for however long. On the other hand – pardon the Primate expression; I should have said, “On the other hand, foot, paw, wing or hoof” – they’re also stupid enough to have acted on their desire to build this place, and arrogant enough to believe that they can contain over a hundred Animal Beings here indefinitely!’
His family, minus Simi, all cheered again; so did the Armadillos, Rodo’s family and many of the Birds.
‘In conclusion, I think it’s safe to assume that the Tiger will be attending tomorrow night’s meeting,’ Regulus said with a tone of finality.
All the cries were extinguished at once. After a moment of stunned silence, they started again:
‘No!’ shouted Prima.
‘This is folly!’ yelled Gulata.
‘It will be the death of us!’ cried Cingus.
‘We mustn’t have anything to do with that beast!’ said Hysti.
‘Quiet!’ Tragina shouted above everyone else; she was looking down at the mess of grey fur curled up by her hoofs; it was starting to stir.
‘Mmm …’ Pilo groaned, as his heavily lidded eyes gradually opened and his mouth widened into a sleepy smile. ‘I think it would be a good idea to go and talk to the Tiger,’ he said slowly, blinking in the bright light. ‘And I think you ought to be the one to do it, Regulus. You seem to know the ropes.’
Regulus stared at the Sloth; Rodo couldn’t tell whether his expression was scornful, excited or simply curious. A few seconds later he smiled and said, ‘Thank you, Pilo.’
‘Not at all,’ Pilo yawned. ‘Now, if you’ll forgive me …’
With another ‘Mmm’ he settled down again and closed his eyes. Regulus smiled more broadly and stood up.
‘Well then, it’s decided,’ he said, a new kind of excitement blazing in his eyes. ‘Tomorrow night I will go to the Tiger’s enclosure and speak to him myself.’
Nearly everyone else seemed unable to think of anything to say; many faces were staring in terror, a few in admiration.
‘Regulus, I … I really can’t advise this,’ said Prima.
‘Don’t worry about me, I’ll be safe.’
‘But how can you be sure?’
Regulus smiled again and looked into his aunt’s eyes.
‘Because I think I know what the Tiger wants.’