Monday, 13 July 2009

A day at the zoo

I looked around the zoo cafeteria while I sipped my coffee. The coffee was actually nice, there was a decent depth of flavour to it and it hadn't been boiled or microwaved to death. I sighed, very quietly, to myself with pleasure, and watched the small queue snake its way through the pasta bakes and packaged sandwich chillers to the till.
Terry sat down opposite me with a much louder sigh and a styrofoam cup of instant coffee he'd coaxed out of a vending machine. He looked at me, and his usually sad face looked slightly more miserable than normal.
"The penguins are loose," he said, staring into his little styrofoam cup. "They're all over the zoo."
"How did that happen then?"
"I don't know, but I bet it's got something to do with mum."
"What's got something to do with me?" Terry's mum bustled up holding a plastic cafeteria tray in both hands. On the tray was a china cup of tea, a small metal jug of milk and a baby penguin.
"That's a penguin, Mrs. Mossbrook," I said, pointing at it.
"Yes dear, it is. And it's outrageous too, they didn't have a button for it on the cash register so they said they couldn't let me have it! I said, 'Well, if you've not got a button for it then it must be free.' They didn't like that one bit."
"You're not going to eat it, are you mum?" Terry looked horrified.
"Of course not, but I thought it'd make a nice souvenir from the zoo. We can put it in the bath to begin with, and then set the paddling pool up outside and put it in there eventually. It's only one little penguin after all, and I believe it'll make a good little guard-dog."
"I thought penguins prefer cold climates?" I said, almost as though I were talking to myself. I knew better than to upset Terry's mum.
"We'll use ice water for the swimming pool, dear, don't you worry about that. And I think Gladys at the WI has some contacts in the fishmongers, so I can probably get the fish quite cheap too."
Terry had reached over and was stroking the penguin with a far-away look in his eyes.
"See?" said Terry's mum to me. "It'll be good for him to have a pet. He's been moping around ever since we lost that exchange student."
"Er... lost?" I said, not knowing what to think.
"Yes, he passed away quite unexpectedly. A great shame, and I don't know how Terry's going to tell the student's mother. Especially since she doesn't speak any English."
"Right, right you are Mrs. Mossbrook," I said sitting back and wondering for the first time if I'd been blind to all these machinations when Terry and I were just kids.
"It's quite alright dear, now be a love and go and close the cafeteria doors."
I looked at her quizzically.
"There are penguins everywhere," she said. "I let the tigers out to clean them up."

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