Monday morning … Mr Lush is already awake. This is unusual. He is not what one would call an early bird. Today, however, he is ready to grab the platitudes by the horns. He is going to visit Mr Mohan Mahto, collector of exotic animals. Full of joy, he puts on his lilac striped shirt at 6 o’clock in the morning, hops into his favourite pair of flannel trousers, throws on his tobacco-coloured three-button hound’s tooth jacket, knots a light brown polka dot neckerchief around his neck, opens the front door, and rushes down the stairs.
He stands for about an hour and 20 minutes in the tube and in a train and thinks about Mr Mahto’s fantastic zoo. Getting off the train, he quickly determines that he is in the middle of nowhere, not even a tree in sight. Nothing but a long road to London and a high hill with a fort on top. He must take the bus to his final destination. Lush spots a sign: Mohan Mahto, this way! Lush wades through a swamp towards the small fort. He hears what sounds like a monkey’s laughter and an elephant’s trumpeting. At the gate, he grabs the oversized door knocker with both hands and bangs it twice against the huge gate. A small eye-slit is opened: “Who are you?” – say the brown eyes with an Indian accent. “Lush’s the name. I phoned last Saturday night and threatened to stop by today.” “Ah yes, yes … come in, Mr Lush!” Mr Mahto is a little shorter than Lush, in traditional Indian garb in eggshell and a medium-length, back side parting. Lush quickly realizes how elegantly he moves – he is virtually floating. “Can I offer you a tea?” – “Thank you, no. I would, however, love to look around, if I may”- says Lush full of curiosity. The anticipation is killing him. “Certainly! I will show you everything.”
Standing in the circular forecourt, Lush notices how huge the fort really is. An endless row of modern hangars lies before him. A glass observation tower with a climbing frame (presumably) for chimpanzees stands out.
Mr Mahto begins to guide Lush through the individual enclosures. Their first stop is the primate enclosure. Mr Lush is amazed when he sees four silverback gorillas. Next comes the giraffe, the elephant, and the cheetah. Nothing but flawless, beautiful animals. “What is your main criterion when selecting animals?” Lush asks his host. “Absolute beauty and rarity. They live here as in paradise and pay only with their flawlessness. Of course, they also provide assistance in the breeding of my super animals.” “I see.” At this point, Lush is filled with doubts as to the legality of this entire operation. They visit more than ten other enclosures, aviaries, aquaria, and terraria, before slowly making their way back to the forecourt.
“And, what is this?” – Lush asks pointing at a purple tent away from the enclosures. “Kiki and Kuku.” “Who or what are Kiki and Kuku?” “Two twin baby giraffes,” replies Mahto almost instantly. “I see. And, why are they not with the other giraffes?” – “Hmm… How to put this. The other animals do not like the way they look.” There is a short awkward pause. “So, there’s the tour. You have my number. If anything at all comes to mind, feel free to give me a call.” – “May I see Kiki and Kuku?” Mr Mahto sighs: “Yes, all right. Come with me.” Mahto moves the tarpaulin aside. “After you, Sir”, says the Indian collector.
Lush does not, at first, believe what he is seeing. Before him are two – in giraffe terms – small giraffes with the black and white stripes of a zebra on the cold, wet ground. They look up at him with big, tear-stained eyes. Lush, restraining his anger, takes a quick look and asks the collector: “What happened to them?” – “Long story! Shall we go now?”- “Are these two for sale?” – “They are the result of a little mishap. They have already been acquired by a local freak show.”
Mr Lush, disbelievingly, thinks to himself ‘To a freak show?’ All of a sudden, Mahto rushes out of the tent as if bitten by a tarantula. “I’ll be right back, Mr Lush!” Lush hears the sound of a car horn as someone slowly pushes open the gate. Mr Lush looks around, (the tarpaulin of the tent is still open), outside there is an old yellow and black BMW motorcycle with two sidecars. The driver dismounts and leaves the keys in the ignition. Lush does not hesitate long, turns back into the tent, frees the giraffes and says: “A freak show is no place for you! Would you like to come with me? Have you ever ridden a motorcycle?”
“Only choppers, so far”, replies one and winks. This is no time for discussion, explanation, or joking. Lush is not particularly surprised that the two can speak – he had already suspected it. Lush finds, somewhat conveniently, a number of leather caps and antique motorcycle goggles in the corner of the tent and puts one of each on himself and the twin giraffes.
“On three, we run out of the tent and jump in the motorcycle with the two sidecars. You on the left, you on the right. I drive”, whispered Mr Lush in the ear of the two girls. They nod.
“Three!” They all run with huge steps to the motorcycle. The Zebraffes jump in the sidecar, while Lush, behind the handlebars, starts the engine, causing the back wheel to spin in the mud. A monkey in the watchtower, startled by the screeching of tires, turns and screams a loud warning!
Mr Mahto turns quickly to see Mr Lush, Kiki, and Kuku speeding towards him and the open gate. Mahto jumps out of the way at the last second. Any effort to close the heavy gate would have been in vain. Lying on the floor, holding his twisted ankle, he yells “Get them back!” and hits a big red alarm button next to the gate. The gate to the cheetah enclosure opens. An eagle with a large stereo system around his neck blasting Rossini’s William Tell overture at deafening volume rises abruptly from the aviary.
The three cheetahs are accelerating quickly. The hunted have a head start of, at most, 30 seconds. Lush pushes the engine to its limits. The last time he drove a motorbike was in his youth. Luckily, this is a tricycle and falling over is less of an issue. Their destination is the train station, as the animals would not dare follow them into the city. The risk of being caught by the authorities and questioned about their origins is too high. The cheetahs are gaining ground. They are about 50 metres behind. The eagle circles above them like a police helicopter.
“What’s the plan here, girls?” Mr Lush is sweating buckets. What he was thinking stealing two giraffes from an infamous animal trafficker?
The cheetahs are 25 metres away.
“How far is it?” Asks the one on the left.
“A good mile. At current speed less than a minute.”
“Speed up! They’ll be tired soon.”
15 metres. 45 seconds to destination.
Mr Lush and the Zebraffes lower their heads to be more aerodynamic. Of course, this has little to no effect.
10 metres. 20 seconds to destination.
The cheetahs are gulping up air behind them. Their prey is crossing itself and looking skyward. The train station is now within reach.
5 metres. 10 seconds. Lush is sure that he will die a horrible death. He speculates: either by fracturing his skull after falling from the motorbike, being torn to pieces by the big cats, or being tortured to death by the four silverbacks. Amongst those, he does not have any particular preference.
3 metres. The cheetahs are licking their lips. The Zebraffe on the right hits one of the cheetahs square in the face with her hooves. The feline peloton collapses in a heap.
The motorcyclists escape. The eagle veers away once they have reached the subway station and run down the stairs towards the tracks. EG/DC/MM