The angry eyes, unblinking, glared down at David and the young boy, frozen with fear, wasn’t entirely sure what it was that he was looking at.
Whatever it was, it now raised itself to its full height and shook roughly from side to side. The snow clinging to its sides fell free revealing the black and white stripes beneath.
It was the zebra! He knew he had seen a zebra! He knew that it hadn’t been his imagination but in all of the excitement of the last few minutes he had quite forgotten the creature he had seen from his bedroom window less than fifteen minutes before!
Now, you, like me I suppose, would imagine that an eight-year-old boy coming face-to-face with an angry wild animal in the middle of the night, would have felt nothing but the most paralysing fear. However, the David of our story, as you will soon come to realise, was a most surprising boy in so many ways.
No, it wasn’t terror which spread across his face at the sight of this creature, it was sheer delight at actually meeting (touching!) an animal which he had only ever seen in books or on the TV.
A smile spread across the boy’s face which was so wide and full of joy that a look of confusion appeared on the face of the angry horse-like creature. It hadn’t been expecting that at all!
It took a footstep (hoofstep?) back from the puzzling little creature that sat on the ground in front of it but
in the process managed to catch its hoofs on chains which, as David now saw for the first time, were strung between its thick legs.
The creature tripped on the chains and in a sudden explosion of snow and hoofs it skidded on the sheer ice beneath the snow. First this way, then that, the black and white striped legs seemed almost to dance in their desperate effort to gain purchase on the slippery ground.
David stood there and watched stunned; the grin frozen on his face but the joy behind it gone. For a second, just a split second, he had considered laughing. However, this disappeared at the look of sheer panic that had appeared in the creature’s eyes and the sight of red welts that David now saw beneath the manacles of the chains and criss-crossing the creature’s back .Without another second’s thought, he jumped up and rushed towards the struggling animal’s side and pushed with all his strength.
Now as you can imagine this zebra, being such a large animal was extremely heavy, but just that
extra bit of support from the boy’s hands (small as they were) pushing against the zebra’s side gave the creature the momentum that it needed to find firm ground again.
David, though, was not so lucky and as the zebra found its feet, he slipped face first towards the snow.
Before he hit the ground, however, the creature moved forward quickly and grabbed the back of his dressing gown with its strong teeth, pulling David back up into a standing position.
And there they stood, chests heaving and breath puffing out into the cold air: a small, thin boy with brown hair and a dressing gown and a shackled zebra, in the middle of the night while the snow continued to fall and cover all that it touched.
And in that strange never-to-be-repeated situation, something happened. A moment of magic.
Not the type of magic that we associate with wizards and witches and magician’s top hats, but the kind which comes along with one of those brief, incredible all-important moments which just occasionally pop up out of nowhere.
They might arrive with a phone call, an unexpected encounter or a missed train. They might be waiting at the end of our garden. Sometimes they go unnoticed or seem unimportant; other times they are dramatic or deadly and we will remember them for the rest of our lives.
But, however these moments appear, one thing is certain: nothing will ever be the same again. They set our lives on a course which we have never expected and in a second, alter the shape of everything.
Our lives are built upon a stream of these moments, one leading on to the next and the next. Point to point to point until our life, drawing the line between them, gradually takes shape like a vast dot-to-dot puzzle. Then one day we look back and this picture suddenly becomes clear. It is the shape of who we are.
This was one of those moments. It did not go unnoticed and both present recognised it for what it was: a point in the grand circle of things which would change everything to come.
They felt it. It bounced like beams of light from the falling flakes and surrounded them both in its knowledge. They did not know how or why; they just knew that it was and that it had started at this moment.
They stood there, face-to-face, each looking the other in the eyes and waiting for the first to communicate.
Unexpectedly, it was the zebra who spoke first:
“Hola. Me llamo Rodriguez. Hablas espanol?”