Cypress the bear sat on her haunches and stared out a criss-crossing metal grille at the ursine figure opposite her. The other bear’s expression remained as it always was: Wooden. It was looking right at her. Unblinking. Peering with those deep brown eyes. Pointing with that rosy brown nose.
She moved her head to one side curiously. The other bear didn’t follow. She bared her fangs. The other bear didn’t balk. She growled a short question. The other bear didn’t respond.
He had been there for almost a day now, and she truly didn’t know what to make of it.
This visitor to Cypress’ home wasn’t exactly rude. He stayed politely quiet, and didn’t ask for anything except her attention. Even so, the other bear’s unblinking stare was a problem. It was starting to make her feel like she was the one who was being impolite.
Where had he come from? Why was he on the other side of the fence? She lowered her head and looked around, up and down the pleasant dirt paths. They ran counter her little home here, and brought visitors to her. Visitors like and very unlike the little bear crouched looking at her now.
Sometimes she wanted to get out there on the other side of the fence and visit them right back. To bat them around with her big paws and ram her meaty shoulder into them. All in good fun, of course. She was fed meat regularly here, so it wasn’t like Cypress thought of them as something to chew on. She wasn’t that kind of bear, anyway.
The fence definitely was annoying, but it was far better than where she’d been before. That place where she’d spent much of her life before this. Somewhere cold, hard, loud, and angry. A tiny place where she’d been so worried that her fur fell out in clumps.
That fur was back now, lustrous and beautiful. She ate well here, and had plenty of space to run around. She was healthy, and her brilliant brown coat reflected that. Cypress looked down and admired the flowing fur with an appreciative growl. The other bear was looking at her too, and she preened. He must be enjoying the sight of her wonderful fur as well.
She was finally feeling a moment of connection, a sense of really understanding the other bear, when the two were interrupted by another arrival. A great big metal thing rolled up next to her home and a pawful of new visitors disembarked to see her.
Cypress loved moments like these. The newcomers cooed over her, no doubt complimenting her beautiful hair and big friendly paws. She was more than happy to oblige her fans. Rearing up and sitting back down, she grabbed the fence in front of her and put on her friendliest grin. To the delight of everyone, she flicked her ears. To the wonder and terror of the cubs, she showed her big white teeth.
A familiar visitor even brought her some meat. Wasting no time, she gobbled it down happily. But what was this? A pang of guilt stole through her heart. Cypress spared a moment from the joyful slurping to chance a glance at the other bear. Weren’t they going to feed him any? She growled a bit and waved a paw at her stoic companion. The familiar visitor only laughed and fished out more snacks for her. Cypress to wrinkled her nose in annoyance, but only until the smell of meat hit it. Then, all ills were forgotten and she went to work on another slab of the delicious beef.
When her new friends were gone, she finally got back to the important business at hand. This other bear, still expressionless, deep brown eyes and all, was here for a reason. Cypress was sure of it. She had to get to the bottom of it. Before she could piece together the clues, a deep grumble of surprise rolled its way up her throat. The other bear was missing!
When had he left? It must have been when she was distracted by those other visitors. Had the other bear gone with them? Had their blossoming friendship meant so little to him? Cypress growled a sad groan and covered her snout with her hands. She’d never even gotten to say goodbye.
Her eyes were shut, and her nose was covered, so it was her ears that alerted her to the fact that she wasn’t alone. The sound was hollow, and light, and right in front of her. Cypress looked up cautiously.
There, just outside the fence, another of those hairless visitors was plopping down Cypress’ new friend right in front of her. That had to be a bit embarrassing for him; being so small that one of those weak non-bears could just carry him around like that. Calling on her utmost ursine social skills, Cypress graciously pretended not to notice.
She roared her thanks at the visitor, who only smiled weakly and walked away. Then, she turned her attention back to the other bear. He was sitting in the same position as before, and wore the same expression, but… Was it her imagination? Was it just the angle? Cypress couldn’t help but feel like her friend was smiling at her.
She smiled back, ears flat against her head as her eyes crinkled up. It wasn’t an expression that came naturally to a bear, but she was happy enough to make the effort anyway.
As the sun began to set and the dirt roads emptied of visitors, Cypress and the other bear sat together quietly. There would be no more fans coming to her home today, she knew, and no more food until the sun rose once again. That wasn’t much to look forward to, but then there also wasn’t anything to fear her. What’s more, she found a bit of contentment in the presence of her new friend.
Lying back on her furry haunches, Cypress and the other bear watched the stars light up the darkening sky. Simply, quietly, they enjoyed each other’s company.
A very short, animal-themed story (Nibble) by Robert Warner.
Cypress is a real bear at Out of Africa Wildlife Park. Find out more about her on their website.