The Zoo Keeper - Part 9

Don't let anybody disturb you while Senor Fernandez continues recounting the zoo's past...

The Zoo Keeper
Part 9 of 10
By Amanda Sington-Williams

‘Did you know the mayor?’ I asked.

Finger to lips, Juan looked at me. ‘You must let him talk. He doesn’t get much chance these days to tell people about the zoo.’

I nodded.

Senor Fenandez continued. ‘And so, the people of this city began to think of the animals in the zoo as representing themselves. They were the oppressed, the imprisoned in their lives of obedience, of poverty and deprivation, as the animals were imprisoned in their cages. When the animals howled and roared, desperate for their freedom, so did the people of the city. When they stared into the eyes of the caged lion, they saw themselves. But I fed the animals, I soothed them when they were ill, I watered them in the height of summer.’

I looked up at a picture of young apes wrestling in their enclosure and remembered my uncle. I thought of how he had been made fun of by his family, cast out as a fool who preferred the company of four legged creatures. I wanted to hear this old man’s story and I touched his hand with mine.

Senor Fenandez wheezed as he took a breath. ‘When Franco died in 1975, the people of the city rejoiced. The animals in the zoo were released from their life of imprisonment. But they ran wild in the streets. Two people were killed when the elephant charged. A bear mauled the mayor’s cousin to death. He ordered the citizens to shoot all the animals. The butcher, the baker, the cobbler, newspaper vendors, bar tenders; they were all dragged from their shops and cafes. They had no choice. The mayor was furious with the animals, with the people, with everything that breathed.’

I tried to imagine the ring of bullets, the stench of blood, and the terror.

‘I wanted to die with them.’ He folded his hands on his lap and closed his eyes. There was quiet in the room.

Who could have imagined such a terrible secret? Come back on Wednesday for the last instalment of this beautiful short story...


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