MY OLD FRIEND P. S. Gifford

It was during my Summer vacation in 1978 when I made a memorable New friend. I remember it as distinctly as if it was yesterday. I Would have been 13 years old back then. One particularly sunny morning I awoke and over my usual bowl of Cereal a curious idea formed in my young mind. I decided to go to The zoo. I had always liked zoos, finding never ending joy in the Delights and beauty of all the creatures. Now, living as I did in Birmingham, England, we were most fortunate to have an excellent zoo, Dudley, a mere eight miles from the house. I recall it was about 9am when I set off on my trusty old Bicycle. On my back hung my tattered back pack, which contained my Favorite sandwich, cheese and onion, and a flask of hot tea. This Was going to be an adventure I thought! About 90 minutes later, I dutifully arrived at my destination. I did not have any money, I rarely did back then. However I had Formulated a cunning plan. I was, after all, an exceedingly Determined 13 years old. I rode to the back of the park, in search of an alternate Entrance. I soon spied a climbable fence at the back. I chained my Bike to a lamp post and being rather agile, I scaled the eight foot Railing. Then with a combination of courage and foolishness, I Leaped onto the grass on the other side. I got up and jubilantly Discovered that I had made it in one piece. However, my cheery disposition quickly disappeared when I found Myself in the llama pen. My escape would involve a steep descent Covered in stinging nettles. I started off by carefully climbing Down the hill. It did not take me long however and I awkwardly Slipped and fell. I suddenly regretted wearing short trousers and a T-shirt as I rolled and rolled through the bushes, ripping my skin, And stinging me all over. I landed at the bottom with a resounding thump. As I opened my Eyes, I felt a strange sensation. A llama was affectionately licking My cheek. Alarmed, and rather embarrassed by the affection, I Quickly stood up, raced to the fence, and as the Llama watched with a Seemingly broken heart, I ungraciously leaped out of the pen. I eagerly began to explore the rest of the zoo. Within an hour I began to feel puckish, so I searched for a comfortable shaded spot To relax and eat. Before long, I found the ideal place — a little Wall surrounding a shallow body of water, where a giant tortoise Lived. As I crouched down and began my little feast, the tortoise Hurried away as quickly as he could, which wasn’t particularly fast At all. I watched and was strangely fascinated. In fact, I was so Intrigued I continued to sit there. The sad truth was that so very Few people actually gave this magnificent fellow much more than a Fleeting glance. They were far too interested in the monkeys, the Lions and tigers. Yet, here was the oldest (and perhaps wisest?) Animal in the entire place. I found out by reading the information Card that he was already almost a hundred years old, and still in his Prime. After a while, a peculiar thing happened. He walked over to me. I was taken aback, and I might add, flattered. It appeared this Fellow was enjoying my company as well. I cautiously and nervously scratched his head. My new friend Seemed a little unsure at first as he quickly sunk back deep into the Safety of the shell. But, a few moments later, his head returned, And I went back into scratching mode. He seemed to stretch out his Neck as far as he could. I had made some sort of a connection with The fellow! I ended up sitting there for the rest of the day until the park Closed and I was forced to leave. As I got up to go, the tortoise Tried to follow me. I distinctly remember him trying to lift himself Over his enclosure. He couldn’t make it and seemed to be a little Frustrated. The next day found me at my local library discovering all I Could about these creatures with prehistoric roots. Over the next Few weeks, I went back quite often and I soon found a much easier way To sneak in the zoo. I even got friendly with some of the zoo Keepers. They obviously knew I wasn’t paying, yet seemed to turn a Blind eye. I always found myself back at that seemingly magical place. It Became my sanctuary. My old friend seemed, in my imagination, to be Looking for me, eagerly anticipating my arrival. As I walked up, I Would watch him plod over to me. I started to bring a few radishes Or pieces of lettuce — he seemed to appreciate the gesture. Soon, summer was over, school started, and I stopped my visits. I was also turning into a mature teenager and I regret to say that Perhaps I had other things on my mind than the wonderful friendship I Had developed over the summer. As I have gotten older, whenever I go to the zoo, I always check out if they have a giant tortoise. Whenever I see one, my mind and Heart goes back to that wonderful summer of 1978. I suspect he is still there, waiting and looking. The next time I am back in England I think I shall go and see. Only this time, I will actually pay to enter the zoo!

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