Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Chapter Twelve: Breakthrough

Communication between a boy and a zebra is, you would be right in thinking, difficult at the best of times. Imagine then how much more difficult it was when the boy communicated through sign language and the zebra only spoke Spanish (And a very little English, David always liked to remind me).
There was one thing, however, that they both had in common: the most important basis for any type of communication: they genuinely wanted to understand each other.

So there they stood and looked at each other. The boy and zebra in the snow on this strange night. Together, but each lost in his own world; not knowing how to let the other in.
Rodriguez looked into the face of the young boy: red cheeks glistening with tear trails, eyes filled with sadness and, pain. David looked up at the beast which stood over him and saw the same pain reflected back from those large, brown eyes. He glanced down at the chains around the creature’s legs and understood that he was not the only one who had had something precious stolen by the intruders.
And there it was. Something recognised. Something that both understood. Something shared. It was a start; something to build upon.

David placed his hands on one of the thick upper legs of the creature and made as if to pull him down the garden path.
The zebra frowned in confusion: [what?].
The boy pulled at the massive leg again and then pointed towards the lake. The departed pirate ship: [there].
Rodriguez understood but shook his head.
Again the boy pointed but the zebra snorted and would not budge. He nodded down at the chains binding his legs.
David, his eyes lighting up as a sudden idea entered his head, indicated with his hands for the creature to stay where it was and raced around the corner of the house, disappearing into the open front door.
When he reappeared minutes later, he was carrying his father’s tool box and had dressed for the weather: thick jeans tucked into sturdy boots; a padded anorak over a warm jumper; a woolly hat and scarf.
He even remembered to pull the door shut behind him, taking a second to lock it with a spare key which he had grabbed from the hallway.
Another ten minutes and the young face, red with exertion, grinned up at the zebra through cold puffs of air. His dad’s hacksaw had made short work of the chains.
The zebra moved his legs, stretching out. Back, forward, to the side. A large grin spread across his face and without warning he burst into a huge leap in the air, hooves clashing together (a thing, David later told me, he wasn’t entirely sure that a zebra should be able to do) in sheer joy at the freedom of being able to move properly once more.
David stood watching, and despite the worry which still clouded his eyes, a massive smile appeared on his face. Rodriguez, his short celebration finished, trotted a step towards the boy, bent his neck down and gently nuzzled the boy’s chest. David understood and gave a brief modest shrug of his shoulders [you’re welcome].
Then fumbling in his coat pocket, he pulled out a small tablet of paper (the type that you leave next to telephones so that you can scribble a message down quickly) and a pencil. David started to write, his tongue sticking from the side of his mouth in concentration. Once he had finished he held the paper up so that the zebra could see it. The following words were written:

My name is David.

The zebra bent close, almost touching the paper in front of him and squinted down at the letters the boy had written. He frowned, took a step back and shook his head. David saw the confusion in the zebra’s eyes. The boy pointed to the words on the pad and then jabbed a finger at his own chest, but Rodriguez’s eyes softened in apology and he shook his head again.
With a sudden realisation David understood that the zebra could not read. But refusing to admit defeat, he flipped over to the next piece of paper and began to scribble rapidly. The zebra stood patiently watching and one brief sketch later, David held up the tablet of paper one more time:

He pointed to himself and instinctively signed the word for sister. This time, there was a flash of understanding in the zebra’s eyes.
“Tu hermana?” The zebra asked and David nodded vigorously. He saw the look of comprehension in the creature’s eyes and he signed at him [please]. Then he turned and pointed once more, firmly, resolutely towards the pond.
The yellow flame of fear flared up behind the horse’s dark pupils and the black mane waved back and forth through the snowy air as yet again Rodriguez made his feelings clear. He took two steps backwards and bowed his head down towards the ground: a definite refusal.
The boy’s signs became frantic: [please please]: a desperate, pleading look on his face. Tears squeezed out of the corner of his eyes.
The zebra, unable to look the boy in the eyes, stared down at the ground and slowly continued to shake his head. His bowed almost broken posture communicated to the boy what his lips could not: [sorry no sorry].
When Rodriguez finally looked up, David had gone. He was walking quickly down the path towards the garden gate. His straight, sure back spoke of a strength within the small frame and a willingness to do whatever it took to rescue his sister.
The horse sighed, partly in exasperation, partly in guilty anger at himself. He shook his head again, but nobody was watching. It was only Rodriguez himself now, alone with his own refusal to help the boy who had unchained him. This small boy.
David walked towards the garden gate. Tears streamed down his cheeks but fierce determination was etched into his creased brow. He didn’t know how he was going to do it but he must catch up with that ship. They had taken Sally and probably his parents too!
His determination was such that it was a second or two before he noticed the rumbling vibration from the path behind him. Then suddenly with a sudden whip of wind in his face and a ballooning thrill in his stomach, he found himself in the air for the second time that night.
In mid-gallop, the zebra had grabbed the back of the young boy’s anorak with his teeth, and with one swift jerk of that large head, Rodriguez swung David up, over his neck and onto his vast, striped back.
The boy grabbed quickly onto the soft, black mane to stop himself from falling. Despite the dark worry which he carried inside, he couldn’t help but feel a joyful excitement as the zebra almost flew out of the garden gate, and down towards the pond.
Rodriguez did not hesitate for a second as he leapt the pond fence cleanly. Landing on the other side, the zebra briefly skidded on an icy patch before quickly regaining his footing. Then he was off, surefooted, galloping around the pond, past the mouth of the river and along its banks. As fast as the wind. The boy and the zebra.
The pursuit had begun.


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