The Man


I suppose we shouldn't have let him pay for our tickets. Even though we'd been sent off to play in the park by ourselves, we were always being warned not to take presents from strangers. But he seemed nice, and me and my sister were so surprised when he said that he could show us where there was a zoo, that we didn't think to say no. I knew that there were zoos in some of the big parks in town, but I was surprised that there was one in the little park in our village, and that no-one had told us about it before.

I didn't see the him handing over any money at the turnstile. I was surprised that he didn't come into the zoo himself. He sat on a park bench, opened a big basket, started drinking a glass of wine, and said "Now, you enjoy yourselves, and be sure and tell me which animal you like best when you come out."

The zoo wasn't very crowded, and it was mostly other children; in fact I don't think I saw any grown-ups who I recognised, although there were a lot of keepers in uniforms.

I always feel sort of dizzy when I first get into a museum or a fair or a toshop, because there are so many different things to see. I want to run in all directions at once and see everything, and if I'm looking in one cage I'm not looking in another one and that spoils it. But only for the first few minutes.

The first cage I looked at properly had an elephant in it. Well, zoos don't really have cages, not with bars like you see in books. This was more like a little garden for the elephant to live in, with a bucket of food and some hay for him to eat, and a sort of fence and a moat so that he couldn't escape. There was even a notice up saying that you had to be careful because otherwise he might stretch out his big long nose and steal your camera or your picnic. I was a little bit scared of the elephant at first, because I had only seen pictures of them in books and I had a little model of one, but I hadn't realised that they were quite such huge animals.

The next cage was more a sort of a house with a big glass window on the front. It had lions in it. There was a huge lump of meat in the corner of the cage. I kept wondering if that was the dinner that the keeper had given the lion, or if perhaps that someone had climbed over the fence and been eaten by the lion.

The next cage really did have iron bars, and it smelt funny. There was a sign up saying that no-one, especially girls, should put their fingers through the bars. There was a door at the back of the cage. We waited for the animal to come out, but I got bored and went to look at the penguins instead. While I was looking at them wiggling their necks to swallow the fish my sister ran over. She said to come over quickly because the dragon had come out of the little door at the back of its cage. It's scales were red and shiny, like a post box. It was about as big as a car. The zookeeper said that it did breath fire some days. It had breathed fire yesterday, which was why it was so sleepy to day. That was what the funny smell in its cage was. We did see smoke coming out of its nose, and it had big spikes on the end of its tail. My sister asked the zookeeper what they fed it on and he said she'd better not know. Then we had an ice-cream.

My sister wanted to stay for ages at the cage with the bears in it, and I liked it too. There were four of them. I liked the brown one best who was spreading the honey on his bread and getting all over his chin when he ate it, but my sister liked the pink on with the bow. There was also a tiny little baby one that kept waking up and crying, but when it stopped crying they let it out of its little bed to crawl around the cage.

I liked the big white horse. It kept putting its head down and pointing its horn through the bars of its cage, and when it did this it stamped its hooves hard on the ground and tugged at the chain. My sister put her hand through the cage and patted it on the head but when I did it tried to bite me, and the keeper said we musn't.

In the last cage of all there was a real live man. My sister kept giggling because he didn't have any clothes on. He had a long beard and kept having mouth fulls of his dinner which looked like a lamb chop or something but which wasn't cooked which I thought was almost as nasty as the penguins having live fish. I'd never seen a man this close up before. He kept holding onto the bars of the cage and rattling them and making yelling and shouting noises. We didn't dare go close enough to feed him. My sister went off to try to have another look at the horse, but I kept looking at the man and he was looking back at me.

So we got out of the zoo and the stranger we met in the park was outside waiting for us. He asked us if we'd had a nice time. We said yes thank you. He asked us which animal we'd liked best. I said the lion, and my sister said the cute bears. He seemed a little bit disappointed, as if that wasn't the right answer, but then he smiled and said "Well, I'm sure you know best." and put the lid on his basket and walked off.