Early morning at the Kihali animal orphanage in AfricaA poor, brave little rhino named Zuri (Swahili for “beautiful”) has been rescued from poachers but her recovery is not going well. She is depressed and listless, she has nightmares and lies in her stall crying for her cruelly murdered mother.
None of the medical interventions have helped, and Zuri, who associates humans with the killers who took her mother’s horn, refuses to nurse. Her sad bleating and quivering body are clear signs that she is still in deep mourning.
Why, wonders Renny Kudrow, Director of the Kihali animal orphanage, hasn’t she started to recover? What if she doesn’t get better and they lose her?
He’d be to blame, he thinks. Not the Kenyan rhino experts, tall, skinny Jomo and strong, burly Muthengi. And certainly not the vet. Dr. Starlite Higgins has done everything medically possible.
Feeling guilty and disconsolate, Renny’s thoughts drift to Starlite’s idea. Her impressive work on a DNA database will make Kihali a leader in the conservation of endangered species, but just because her latest idea was unconventional and untested, didn’t mean it wasn’t worth trying, did it?
Renny doesn’t know, but he is in charge, the responsibility is his and he feels its weight. Time is growing short for Zuri, he knows, and he is running out of options. He must make a decision.
Stretching his long legs, Renny gets up, abandons his tea, still hot in its battered tin mug, and leaves the veranda. He jogs across Kihali’s yard as the African sun begins to rise and doesn’t stop until he reaches the laundry line that, suspended between two poles, runs behind the kitchen. There, in her usual spot, tethered by a fraying rope, is Boozie.
The moment she sees him, she does what she always does. She jumps up and greets him the way she greets everyone.
She stands on his toes and kisses him.
A Goat Named BoozieShe has a black face, white ears and an inquisitive manner. Like most of her kind, she is intelligent and affectionate but, like most of her kind, she also has a propensity for creating mischief.
She’d earned her name when she’d gotten into the left-over drinks after a cocktail party on the veranda, over-imbibed, and fell off the low porch into the petunia bed where she passed out and slept it off. Since then, adult beverages have been carefully kept away from the adventuresome and irrepressible young goat named Boozie who, following Renny, bounds across the courtyard to Zuri’s stall.
Leading Boozie, he enters the stall wordlessly. Starlite and Muthengi both raise their eyebrows, glance at each other, but say nothing.
As Renny supervises and Starlite and Muthengi watch, Boozie introduces herself to Zuri with a kiss.
Mewling softly under her blanket, poor, depressed Zuri seems not to notice.
Boozie, undaunted by the lack of response, explores Zuri’s head and ears with dainty tastes and gentle nibbles. Then, ever curious, she investigates the short, stubby legs and, from there, moves down to the padded three-toed feet.
“Mouthing and chewing are the ways goats explore the world around them,” mutters Renny in his professorial way, not looking at Starlite even though he is standing next to her.
“You sound like you think I didn’t know,” Starlite replies with a slight edge, looking straight at him as Boozie continues her affectionate explorations. “Wasn’t my suggestion the reason you decided to introduce them?”
Renny isn’t about to give her all the credit. “One of the reasons.”
Starlite isn’t in the mood to back off, either. “So maybe I had a good idea after all.”
“Possibly,” he says and shrugs slightly, keeping his eyes on Zuri and Boozie and assiduously refusing to acknowledge Starlite. “Let’s see what happens.”
Starlite leaves her tart retort unspoken when she notices that Zuri’s quivering has subsided. She turns to Muthengi. “Zuri seems almost relaxed for the first time since coming to Kihali.”
“Rhinos have thick hides but sensitive skin,” Muthengi says. “They love to be touched.”
“And goats love to do the touching,” Starlite adds.
Renny, watching, suppresses a smile and makes no comment as Zuri, turning her head to favor her right eye, looks to see who is paying so much attention to her.
Seeming to conclude that the friendly young goat offers no threat, Zuri takes a deep breath and clumsily struggles to her feet. She is weak from lack of exercise and her short, stubby legs wobble and offer unstable support.
She takes a few hesitant steps, then stumbles and falls. She cries out in distress and remains on the floor of her stall. She seems defeated and ready to give up.
Boozie, undeterred, scampers over and kisses her ear. Zuri turns toward her new friend and, encouraged, she takes a deep breath and rests for a moment; then, gathering her will, she uses her chin to help support herself while she gets up. She teeters for a moment, then finds her balance and arranges her feet squarely on the ground beneath her.
She turns toward Boozie, who urges her on with another enthusiastic kiss. Zuri looks up at her new acquaintance and even seems to smile.
The two quadrupeds stand side by side, one slim and sprightly, the other low-slung and rounded, a mismatched couple if there ever was one. Still, they are at peace, comfortable with each other, comfortable with themselves.
Wordlessly, Renny turns to Starlite and she sees that his eyes are filmed with tears. For so long, she has felt the sting of his disapproval and she, too, is moved. Impulsively, she reaches out and, wordlessly, briefly grazes his hand with hers.
“They’ll do well together,” she says.
“Yes,” he replies, his voice thick. “I do believe they will.”
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