Among the delicate spread of the berry bushes and behind the healthy trunk of a tall banyan tree, she stood, watching. Her eyes, wild like fire, matching the ferocity in her face, glanced at the crowd waiting to see her perform. As she stood up, as majestically as she could and tried to hide her kids behind her powerfully built structure, everyone gasped. And then she roared. People gathered around, their cameras held up to their eyes as they ooh-ed and aah-ed at her golden sheen. But I stood back.
My camera was in my hand, the shutter closed, my face expressionless. As she roared again, I heard everyone cheer. But I couldn’t. They saw her beauty, but I saw her fear. They saw her fiery eyes, but I felt the tears behind them. They enjoyed the entertainment but I suffered in her torture.
Her sheer motherly protective instincts reminded me of my own mother’s.
It may seem weird, my connecting with an animal, but sympathizing is all I can do when I go to the zoo. That’s why I try to avoid it. But my younger sister’s loud laughter and the glitter in my mother’s eyes are the only reasons for my reluctant presence. As always, I stand, rooted to my spot, my heart shattering into a million depressed pieces at the crouching beasts.
A distractingly piercing screech makes me turn and look for the source. At a distance, I see a tiny monkey, its furry, dark skin glistening under the scorching sun. But the scream hasn’t come from it. It has come from a little girl whose hair is now awkwardly caught in the monkey’s hand. She’s shouting and crying hysterically, as the zookeepers rush to her rescue. Taking the animal away, they apologize. I watch as the girl is being pampered. But the monkey is locked up in a basket, unable to get out. It is absurd for me to see that the girl who made a mistake by going too close to the cage is being taken care of, while the poor animal, unable to fight its natural protective instinct, is being punished for being wary.
The other terrible sight I witness is that of the birds. Their cages are more depressing than anything else in the zoo. For a living being that is used to the fresh air, being locked up by all sides must be awful. More snaps and exclamations of wonder. But I stand and watch the sad thing look up longingly at the sky, and I know that it wishes to be among the crows that are free. Its cramped wings flutter helplessly as its head bobs up and down, confused.
I look away.
Standing on the other side of the bars, it’s easy for me to be able to empathise with the creatures but I know that I will never be able to judge the depth of their harried emotions. Life for me, for us, is easier. As darkness looms large upon us, literally, we make our way back to our cars; our footsteps imprinting the sand like the animals have made their mark in my heart. While it saddens me to come here, it also makes me feel thankful. It makes me realize that there is one thing that is very important in this world. Freedom.
As we drive away, the stars appear, lightening the night.
Tomorrow, the sun will come up.
More people will visit the zoo to take photographs, trying to capture the moment.
They will see the greenery, the settings and the animals.
But I will always see the longing in their eyes.
A longing for freedom.
About the Author: Shravya Gunipudi is a 20 year old CA Final Student from Hyderabad, India. Writing has been her passion right from a tender age and she has won numerous contests. She also has a blog titled ‘Fictionally Inkspired‘ – shravyagunipudi.wordpress.com