It took Chimpanzee slightly longer than 3 minutes and 32 seconds to reach the Meerkat enclosure.
This was because Chimpanzee was feeling so terrific about all the good he done so far this evening that he utterly failed to notice the tree stump that sat in the fork in the path, tripping over it and landing in a raggedy mess.
This particular fork was very important as it split the path between the Meerkats enclosure in one direction and the Crocodiles pit in the other. You really wouldn’t want to mix them up.
Crocodiles rarely greet unexpected guests with the same civility that Meerkats can usually muster.
On the other hand, if it’s a scare you are after the best a Meerkat can do is stand very very still and when you think it’s asleep, jump up and shout ‘boo’ at you.
Unfortunately, due to various cultural and language barriers, this charming small mammals attempt to terrify typically comes across as shockingly adorable.
“What’s that doing there?” Chimpanzee said to himself as he rubbed his bruised chimp shin.
“They must have just put that there,” he muttered under his breath as he limped onward to see his Meerkat friends.
The Meerkat sentry stood tall and proud on his rear legs; he rested his front legs on his tummy as he scanned the enclosure from right to left and then back again. Behind him lay a number of bolt holes from which could be heard the comfortable snores of the rest of the team.
Meerkat spotted Chimpanzee as soon as he appeared from behind the gate.
“Are you okay Chimpanzee?” asked the Meerkat, who as one of the most social animals at the facility always conducted himself with an air of confidence and easy charm, again, not qualities typically shared by the Crocodiles.
“Hurt my leg,” replied Chimpanzee, bearing his teeth in discomfort.
“Owww, nasty, how’d you do that then?” asked the friendly little Meerkat.
Chimpanzee looked embarrassed for just a moment before suddenly reply with a broad grin,
“Had a bit of bother with a fox…”
“A fox!” exclaimed the Meerkat, already quaking at the mere-kat thought of it.
“Yes,” replied Chimpanzee emphatically, “in fact there might even have been two of them.”
Meerkat thought for a moment and then furrowed his brow in the exactly that same way the person who looks after you might do, when you tell them you didn’t know you were not meant to eat all the choc chip cookies that were left out for everyone to share.
“So you didn’t just bash your leg on that stump by the fork like you did last Tuesday?” he asked as he scratched behind his ear with his paw.
“Most definitely not,” said Chimpanzee mock offended, before adding awkwardly, “Did I tell you about that then…?”
“Not at first,” said Meerkat.
“Anyway”, said Chimpanzee, now flustered by his own ridiculous attempts to cover up his now obvious quite frequent clumsiness, “how have you been chum?”
“Good,” said Meerkat, nodding to emphasis just how good he was, which secretly he wasn’t.
“Oh that’s great,” said Chimpanzee with a sigh, “It’s been all dramas tonight, Elephant and Hippo have been having a tiff, Penguin’s got a beef with Puffin, I was just about to –“
“There is something,” Meerkat said suddenly looking down at the ground.
“Oh…” said Chimpanzee, feeling slightly awkward that he was about to go off on a rant about how everyone wants him to solve their problems but no one ever asks if he has anything he wants to discuss, which he might…
Feeling Chimpanzee’s unease Meerkat shock his head. “Oh it’s nothing, honestly, forget I said anything. I feel silly even mentioning it. I absolutely will not start complaining when really it’s nothing… I can’t be drawn…”
Reaching through the bars Chimpanzee gently placed his paw on Meerkats tiny shoulder.
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it hon?”
“Oh well, if you insist,” Meerkat said and he sat down on his haunches, which were as it happens, phenomenally comfortable.
“It’s about the shift allocation”. He said matter-of-factly.
“What about them?” asked Chimpanzee.
“Well frankly I’m a bit tired of always getting the night shift. Every Monday morning we have our team meeting at the end of which we get our weekly rota, and every week I’m on nights. Every week.”
“Have you complained?” asked Chimpanzee.
“No, no I haven’t. I don’t want to complain. Complaining isn’t seen as being very team focused” Meerkat said, making those little air-quotation marks with his paws that folk who are a little bit insecure often use to make themselves seem less insecure and slightly smarter than they actually are.
“I mean do you know that last time I had a day off?” Meerkat asked pointedly.
“Saturday wasn’t it?” replied Chimpanzee.
“Well, yes, yes it was Saturday.” Said Meerkat, somewhat taken aback that Chimpanzee could remember as far back as the weekend. “And before that?” he asked trying to re-emphasis his point.
“Wednesday?” replied Chimpanzee again without batting an eyelid.
“Huh…” said Meerkat, again shocked at how well Chimpanzee could recall his Rota. “Well the point is do you know how boring these night shifts are?”
“No,” said Chimpanzee inquisitively, “How boring are they?”
“Very” said Meerkat, “And do you know how many potential threats there been since I started these night shifts?
“No,” said Chimpanzee even more inquisitively, “How many have there been?”
“None” said Meerkat with a huge Meerkat sigh (which is quite a tiny sigh by average size mammal standards)
“None?” exclaimed Chimpanzee, “No threats at all?”
“Well there was one yesterday,” said Meerkat half embarrassed even to bring it up.
“What was it? A fox?” asked Chimpanzee.
“What the fox that just attacked you?” replied Meerkat cheekily.
“Er…” said Chimpanzee.
“No, not a fox, not a fox at all. Not a hawk, or a cat or a wild dog… “ Said Meerkat, “A hedgehog.”
“A hedgehog?” spluttered Chimpanzee.
“Yes, hedgehog. Of course I got the team out. Had to, protocol. I felt like a right fool I must say.”
“And what happened, did you see the hedgehog off?”
“No” said Meerkat “After the team went back to bed we just sat and had a chat.”
“A chat?” asked Chimpanzee who was now becoming acutely aware that all he was doing was simply recapping each of Meerkats sentences.
“Quite a decent fellow as it happens. Just moved into the neighborhood.”
Meerkat just sat and stared into the clear starry night as Chimpanzee began to pace furiously as he contemplated this particular issue.
“Look Meerkat,” said Chimpanzee after a few moments of frantic thinking, “You know maybe the reason there are so few threats on you watch is that you are really good at it.”
“Good at it?” said Meerkat, now taking up Chimpanzees recapping mantel.
“Yes, no one comes looking for trouble when you’re on watch. And I assume the reason you keep getting this shift is because the others trust you so much.”
Meerkat stood back up onto his rear legs, Chimpanzee could see that his chest was ever so slightly more pushed out than usual.
“I think you’re onto something,” said Meerkat proudly, “That makes sense, right?”
“Er.. yeah, absolutely” said Chimpanzee in an almost believable way. “Okay, look Darling I’ve got to get going. See you again tomorrow night?”
“You bet,” said Meerkat with a newfound sense of duty.
Chimpanzee turned and began to limp away, anxiously biting his chimp fingernails as he did; maybe he’d try to get here a bit earlier tomorrow, when his friend was still in bed. It would give him a chance to have a chat with team about the shift allocation policy.
It really didn’t seem at all fair.
Just before he reached the gate he heard Meerkat shout out to him.
“Chimpanzee, I almost forgot to tell you something”
“Tell me what?” Chimpanzee shouted back.
“Crocodile wants to have a word with you” Meerkat hollered probably loud enough to rouse the rest of the team from deep dreams filled with play fighting and speed trials.
Chimpanzee was instantly alarmed, on point of principle he refused to judge any of the inmates but he couldn’t help but be absolutely terrified of Crocodile.
He still recalled the time Crocodile quipped that he would never view Chimpanzee as dinner.
“Phew” said Chimpanzee with utter relief.
“No” said Crocodile with his big toothy grin, “you’d only big enough as an hors d'oeuvre”.
Chimpanzee didn’t know what an hors d’oeuvre was but he certainly knew being compared to one by Crocodile was probably not a good thing.
“Did he say what it was about?” Chimpanzee shouted back nervously.
“No” said Meerkat.
“Phew” said Chimpanzee with utter relief.
“But he didn’t seem at all happy with you” Meerkat added unhelpfully.
Chimpanzee suddenly felt his knees go weak, which only added to the pain in his already quite bruised shin.