Once there was a little boy who was a friend to all creatures big and small. On his way to school, he would give the bottle of milk that his mother prepared for him to a calf roaming in the street. He would give piglets belly-rubs whenever he saw them. He petted every dog he met on the road. Every time he saw a goat or a sheep tied to a post, he dreamed of setting them loose. Whenever he passed by the butcher’s shop, he wanted to release the chickens from their cages. Once he tried but was caught. His ears were pulled and twisted. He was also heavily scolded by his mother.
“I’ll save my allowance to buy all my friends and set them free. In the jungle,” he said.
If ear twisting was painful, what other kids in school did to him was worse. They would drop a piece of flesh or bone in his lunch box. They laughed seeing the tears in his eyes. They bullied him just because he called all animals his friends. Often times, he wished he were big and strong so he could break a limb or two of these bullies. But he always remembered his father’s words, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.” So he held his peace.
One Sunday, he carried food for his friends but the street was deserted. There were no pigs wallowing in the mud; no piles of fresh dung on the road; no famished dogs foraging in the overflowing garbage bins; cages that were cramped with chickens stood empty; and only the rope that was used to tie his friends remained on the post.
“How did my friends vanish without a trace?” he mumbled.
He went home befuddled and sad.
But he was in for a surprise.
A flamingo in her pink and crimson plumage marched towards him. Her hooked bill carried a heart-shaped leaf, which she gave to the boy. Moments later, smoke rose from the leaf and the following words appeared on it, “Meet us in the forest!”
Burning with curiosity, he told his mother he was going out to meet his friends.
“Come back before dinner!” reminded his mother. “And take the torch with you.”
Grabbing the torch, he headed towards the forest. The little boy was excited; his eyes sparkled with anticipation.
As he neared the forest, a sudden wave of cold air passed by, giving him goosebumps. When it subsided, a wide doorway appeared amidst the trees, and a soft voice asked him to step in. With his heart drumming fast, he approached it with wonder. Right by the door, he saw his animal friends, the calf, piglets, goat and sheep, chickens and dogs, all happily playing together. Overjoyed at finding them again, he dropped his torch and darted towards them. The following morning, a police officer presented a cracked flashlight to a mother whose 9-year-old son had gone missing.
Rham Dhel is a vegan who dabbles in writing fiction. Her stories usually involve humans trying to find meaning in a world in disconnect with its animal inhabitants. She's an eco-child, a friend to all creatures, and a defender of the meek and mute beings of the wild.