Who would ever have thought? Who would have ever thought that I, Warren Christopher Joyce, would be working for a pittance at the San Diego Zoo, forced to do things like give a mountain lion a bath because it rolled in its own faeces and the other mountain lions were tormenting it.
Hmph. I suppose this is what an undergraduate degree in biology will get you these days.
The big cat gave a pitiful mewl as I washed between its toes, digging out the caked dirt and poop with my fingernails. I’d need a shower myself after this.
Still I felt a bit sorry for the gentle giant in the bath. He was smaller than most of the other cats in the enclosure and perhaps, just maybe, a bit slow? He seemed confused most of the time, unsure how a mountain lion was supposed to act, and the others picked up on that and used it to their advantage. He was the class nerd getting picked on by the jocks and the cheerleaders. Well, he was kind of, me.
Maybe I was as smart as they’d been, or even smarter, but I had a hard time showing it. So caught up in my own massive insecurities, knowing I was different but not sure why I didn’t fit in. I felt a bit of antipathy towards this awkward creature.
I noticed the softness of his fur as I lathered the shampoo and washed him with the warm water. His eyes were round and warm, deep and full of emotion.
He mewled again and looked up at me and I found myself caught up in those eyes. For a moment, my hands stilled and we communicated something to each other. Something that said I know what you’re going through but that’s not who you are. I blinked and tore my eyes away.
Maybe I’d got the crap job of cleaning the crap off this confused creature, but something about it made me feel better about myself. Better about all the crap I’d endured in my younger years and the stronger person it had made me.
Perhaps this big, loveable cat would eventually come into his own and demand respect. I doubted it, since the world of animal behaviour was much more rigid and simple than that of humanity. In most cases anyway.
Or maybe, demonstrated by the fact that here I was in this menial job, submissive to people who supposed themselves my betters, the human world wasn’t as unique as we supposed.
I stared at the big cat, so subdued and pliant in its warm bath. “Well, we just have to keep trying, y’know? And not put up with bullshit.”
He mewled. And then uttered a small screech that could be the beginning of a puma’s distinctive scream, and I smiled.
“There you go. Scream. Let them hear you.”