In a zoo in an English city there lived a camel. Do not think that I am being a liar, when I say his name was Hezekiah. It really was, honestly. He was a Bactrian camel, very big and heavy and covered with a lot of dark brown hair. On his back he carried two large humps. He was well-fed and kindly treated, but in one way Hezekiah was different from all the other animals in the zoo.
They had friends to talk to--the lions in the Lion House, the gorillas and chimpanzees in the Ape House, the birds in the Aviary, the monkeys in the Monkey Temple--they all had others of their own kind with them or close by. They could roar or scream or whistle or chatter at one another as much as they liked.
But there were no other camels for Hezekiah to make friends with. He was the only one, and he lived in a wire-fenced grass paddock all by himself.
Hezekiah, you will have guessed, was lonely. Visitors to the zoo came and stood by the fence and looked at Hezekiah. They could hear himmaking deep grumbly noises as he stared out at them through his heavily lashed eyes, but they could not know that he was in fact talking to himself out loud.
He had fallen into this habit because he had no camel friends to speak to, no camel voices to listen to, and, though he didn't suppose the humans could understand him, it comforted him to speak his thoughts to the watching people.
"Wish I had a pal," he often said. "Don't suppose you care but I'm the only camel in the zoo, did you know that?"
Often, in reply to Hezekiah's growling and snorting and the bubbly sounds that he made through his thick rubbery lips, the visitors made noises too. But of course Hezekiah could not understand what they were saying to him, and anyway he couldn't hear much of it because his ears were very hairy inside.
One day Hezekiah was standing by the gate to his paddock, staring out through his heavy eyelashes. It was a bitterly cold winter's day. There were hardly any visitors in the zoo and none at all near him.
He didn't mind the cold a bit as his coat was so thick, but he was more than usually grumpy because he hadn't yet been fed.
"Where's my blasted breakfast?" he growled. "I'm starving. My humps feel all floppy."
Camels store fat in their humps, and if they are really, really short of food, the humps shrink in size. Hezekiah wasn't actually starving, of course, just hungry.
When at last he saw his keeper approaching, carrying a bale of hay, he shouted rudely at the man. "Get a move on, slowpoke!" he boomed. "You're late and I'm famished!"
The keeper was a fairly new one who hadn't been at the zoo for long. The only thing he knew about the camel was that he seemed to be a bad-tempered old thing who was always moaning and groaning.
"Keep your hair on, Hezekiah," he said as he slid back the metal bar that kept the gate shut. Now he opened it, threw in the bale of hay and cut its strings. "There you are, you old grouch," he called, and he went out again, closing the gate behind him.
Hezekiah tucked into his hay greedily, swallowing it down in great lumps. Like a cow, he would later lie down and chew the cud. When night fell, he got to his feet and, on his huge splayed hooves, lumbered over to the gate of the paddock and stood, as he often did, staring out.
There was no one for him to talk to, for all thevisitors had left the zoo, so, as usual, he talked to himself.
"I wish," said Hezekiah, "that I could open this gate. I could have a walk around the place, meet some other animals, make a pal perhaps, even though I'm the only camel in the zoo. I wonder if I could somehow open the darn thing. Perhapsit's something to do with that metal bar. Maybe I could shift it."
He lowered his long neck and with his thick blubbery lips he mouthed at the bar. It was stiff and for a while he could not move it. "Easy enough for keepers with fingers and thumbs," he grumbled, "but not for Bactrian camels."
He was on the point of giving up, but then he said to himself, "Oh, come on, Hezekiah, one last try." He gave it one last push and at last the bar slid across and the gate swung open. "Bless my humps!" he said, and walked out.
Copyright © 2005 by Foxbusters Ltd.