Chapter Three: My Work at the Zoo
On Thursdays and Sundays I volunteered at my local zoo. It was a small zoo with crappy looking habitats, but we all loved and cared for each animal. There wasn't a ton of funding to build bigger enclosures and most of the animals came from even worse places.
I had been volunteering since I was sixteen years old. Since the place was pretty much all volunteers, I cared for a lot of animals. The days with only a couple volunteers and the manager were the hardest to get done, but someone had to clean the enclosures and feed everyone.
Since I had been working there for quite some time, I was a senior volunteer, and worked with the carnivores and primates. On Thursdays I mostly worked with an elderly woman named Deanne. It was my job to do the heavy lifting, triple checking the locks and gates, and to make sure she didn't hurt herself. We could all tell she shouldn't be doing this job anymore, but no one had the heart to tell her that.
My manager picked me up on Thursdays. I didn't have a car, or even a permit. I had no desire to drive yet. On our way to the zoo, we stopped in the city to pick up community service workers. They got assigned to new places each day by random. People were lucky when they got us. We didn't let them near the animals that were dangerous. They mostly did heavy lifting and cleaned the petting zoo.
My manager, Alira, also happened to be a witch. When she sensed I was one too, she gave me my first pendulum. It was a rose quartz crystal that I usually worse as a necklace.
When we arrived, I started my morning ritual of gulping a cup of coffee and chopping up meat for the animals. Each animal was given a certain amount based on weight. We had a chart, but I had each animal's diet memorized.
"Morning, Sam!" Deanne smiled as she began slicing fruits and greens.
When we were done, we loaded a wheel barrel full with the buckets of food for our normal route of animals. I counted and noticed we were missing the one for the baboons.
"Oh I left it on the counter!" Deanne smiled, "I'm alright, the world is wrong!"
That was my favorite saying of hers.
The song birds chirped loudly in the trees waiting for food to drop on the ground. A peacock called out in a last attempt to find a female in the late summer before he lost all of his tail feathers. The smell of camel dung, blood, and lion urine filled my nose as I tried to suck in some "fresh air". Someday I hoped to have a rescue and zoo of my own.
On our feeding route we started with the leopards and hyenas. Luckily it wasn't a cleaning day on Thursdays for them and the large cats. We slipped the meat from the buckets into the food slots for each animal. The female hyena flicked up her tail to let us know not to get any closer.
The male baboon sat waiting for us. He looked funny with his balding white head. He held my hand in exchange for a piece of papaya.
Our day continued with feeding and cleaning habitats for the servals, bobcats and caracals. Finally we made it to my favorite part. The big cats. Three African lions and a white Bengal tiger. Each cat greeted me at the fence by rubbing their faces on the bars. The tiger, Nitca, chuffed as he bounced to give my hand a head-butt. He was my favorite animal there. He was 15 years old and had medical issues, but he never let that stop him from playing, or lounging in the water. Whenever I was sad at the zoo, I would just talk with him. The tiger was my spirit animal, so Nitca and I had a deep connection the moment we met.
After the hard work of the day was over, I sat in the patas monkey enclosure. I looked at the ground as I called my favorite girl over. It isn't polite... or safe, to look a monkey or ape in the face. I get that. I don't like eye contact with people either.
The elderly female monkey appeared from her inside pen. She held a dirty stuffed bear in her white, paw-like hands. It was her favorite toy. She was getting skinnier with age. She was nearing 30 years old.
She reached out her golden yellow arms to let me know it was okay to pet her. I soaked in the moment. How many people in the world get to do something this amazing?
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