They had been walking for quite some time. Cleo was happy as a lamb, prancing and cavorting all over the place, humming tunes to herself and plucking flowers for her coronation. Then, all of a sudden, Pigli heard this behind him:
‘Oh, look, aren’t they sweet… oh, and so soft! Look, look!!!’
As he turned around, his face twisted with disgust. She was talking about rabbits.
‘Forget it. I hate them. Period.’ he said curtly, trying to hide the fact that his blood pressure had just doubled.
‘Oh, you’re so mean! I simply don’t see why’, she said, offended. ‘They seem quite harmless and vulnerable and… stoooop! You’re scaring them all away! After all, they’re creatures, just as we are.’
At this, Pigli had to fight off the desire to go smash his head against the first tree. He just barely managed it.
‘You know’, he eventually spoke, ‘you never cease to amaze me. “We’re creatures, we’re all alike”’,he began mimicking her in mockery. ‘Listen to her! Didn’t you say it yourself? Didn’t you need to be a wolf to be able to be proud of yourself? There you have it, lady. Only wolves are noble. Rabbits are jerks.’
‘Well, I’m sorry if you misinterpreted. But I just happen to like rabbits. They’re just nice and fluffy and… small. They don’t kill anybody.’
‘What are you implying? You’re the future Miss Wolf-killer, remember? That’s not nice either.’
‘How is that different?!’
‘Simple. Because people are afraid of wolves. Sheep are afraid of wolves. Rabbits are afraid of wolves. Wolves are frightening. So it’s courageous and noble to kill them.’
‘Oh, really?! How enlightening! I’m sure that’d be a great comfort to Tina, who is now limping away in a Zoo, crippled and alone, because some macho hunter was looking for a noble deed!’ He couldn’t take much more of this. It’s a good thing stupidity doesn’t hurt or you’d hear the wailing on the other side of the Milky Way, he thought.
‘Just a girl I knew. A long time ago. None of your business.’
‘Sorry, Boss.’ Cleo lowered her eyes and was silent for a while, pondering his story. After a while she stopped pondering and tried her hand at appeasing the situation.
‘I guess… you’re probably right. But that’s what people say, anyway.’
‘And I know someone who’s all too eager to please them’, came the reply, sharp as a knife’s edge.
And then, they want me to pose for their tourist brochures, he started brooding. No sir. I’ll do nothing of the sort. I am going to do nothing but lie on my back and watch the ceiling all day, just to spite them. The visions were making him scowl and grin ferociously.
‘Whoops, some hard feelings there’, Cleo thought out loud.
‘Well, I’m surprised, to tell you the truth. I didn’t think you had it in you.’
‘Just shut up.’
‘That’s the problem. I can’t.’
‘Well, let’s have a rabbit then.’
‘Are you insane? You’re not really gonna eat them?!’
‘Oh, just watch me.’
‘I won’t be a part to this. I’d much rather go without food. I’ll graze later, when we come to the pasture.’
‘Fine! Suit yourself.’
Cleo realized she had upset Pigli. He had locked himself in his own thoughts and those didn’t seem very positive. From time to time he was spitting. He seemed really miserable and full of grudges. Pigli was not a happy wolf. Thank God I am a sensitive creature, emotionally intelligent and with a lot of empathy to offer, Cleo praised herself.
So they continued to walk empathically side by side towards the valley until late into the afternoon and then into the evening. They no longer talked. Cleo was munching on the occasional patches of thick, juicy grass that she could find and adorning the trail behind her with nice, firm, well-rounded pieces of sheep dung. She used to have frequent problems with constipation before, but not anymore. Since Pigli had informed her of his brilliant idea, her dream had slipped within reach again and that had simply revived her whole system. Or maybe it was the rich forest grass? Either way, she felt excited and enthusiastic again after all those years and when she contemplated this she could hardly prevent her eyes from becoming watery with gratitude towards the wolf. She almost began to consider him her friend. She had never really had a friend and was now discovering emotions she didn’t even know she possessed. Even though she was still very self-absorbed, she would every now and then lend a thought to Pigli and wonder what his life must have been like. Her ripe imagination concocted wild scenarios of the terrifying experiences that he had been through. She was terribly curious and burned with the desire to interrogate him again and again, but watching the nervous twitches on his face and being as emotionally intelligent as she was, she decided to let it go. For now.
Nervous twitches aside, Pigli looked his usual apathetic self and refrained from any feeding endeavor whatsoever. He probably felt he would be more than compensated afterwards, once he’d finally get to the Zoo, so finding food now was really not worth the effort. He was intent on his route and on getting there fast. Besides, there was not much on the menu either. Wolves are the doctors of the forests, they feed on dead or sick animals, and there were no more animals left in the woods, apart from rabbits. And those were bursting with health.
Now it was getting late and, as he faced his first night in the woods away from his den, Pigli began to think. Even though his existence of late had been quite dismal and living in the forest was totally without prospects, he began to feel the first darts of regret. He realized he had left his den so impetuously, without thinking twice about it and without looking back, and he was getting, well, homesick. After all, it had been his home. He had a strange premonition that he might actually miss those sullen days when he would spend all of his waking hours thinking up new rabbit traps and playing with their psyche. He had a strange premonition that he might actually miss getting annoyed.
Slowly and silently Pigli and Cleo melted into the sunset, two black dots against the orange horizon, getting smaller every minute.
(to be continued)