THE ANIMAL GIRL

We were on an expedition, three explorers and my fellow doctor and I. The nights on the ship, they drank the whiskey like it was water and the laughter bellowed out of the ship. We found the island twenty days in. It was beautiful and silent. The silence worried me the most. But when we saw her on all fours, clothed like Adam and Eve from days yonder, she captivated my every thought. Who was she? How did she end up here? A shipwreck, one of the explorers said. Probably happened when she was still a little child. I asked him how he knew and he pointed to the single broken tattered baby shoe nestled in her den with fruit and other necessities she used to keep her alive. How it must feel to grow up alone, never speaking to anyone. She of course didn’t know how to speak but made animal like sounds and stared at us curiously yet afraid. We took her captured and were on our way back to England. I asked them what would happen to her, but I already knew. She would go to a freak show, become a famous attraction. It didn’t bother me before but now it did. Because I wanted her. The studies for science would be amazing. What we could discover through her and her patterns. The professor pulled some strings and they put her under my care. I was ecstatic. Finally I could study her. But they had one condition. One I found strange. Love her, but keep her wild. I wouldn’t love her, she wasn’t human. She wasn’t anything for that matter. They didn’t have to worry about that. My daughter took a liking to her. But I forbid her from ever going near it. She asked me why the lady walked on all fours, because to her it looked just like any other person. I played with a curl from my daughter’s hair and told her carer to take her upstairs. My child was born with a birth defect. She’d never think normal, never grow up like other children. My wife was distraught but I took it as an opportunity to study. I made notes every day on the progress I had with it. I tried figuring out its animalistic nature, the strange sounds. Until the day I received bad news about my daughter. Her heart was giving in, she wouldn’t live much longer. While busy studying it, I sat down on the small chair I left in the room. I put my head in my hands and sighed gravely. I jumped when I felt her hand on my shoulder. She was probably just hungry, I thought. But her eyes looked strange, as if they carried feelings. And she embraced me. It was only when I felt her hand moving up and down on my back like a comfort, that I understood she was not attacking me but hugging me. I talked to my friend, the doctor who was also on the expedition about this. Could it be that she was just like us? He warned me not to get close to her, to forget about her as a human and think of her as an animal. Remember what happened to your wife, he said. I did. She was an activist. Very strong on human rights and believed in equality for all. They thought her insane. I never visited her in the asylum anymore. I shouldn’t have grown attached. Especially that night I invited her to eat with me. I had managed to show her how to eat with a knife and fork. And she could sit on a chair half decent. As she was eating, her face lit by the candle light, she looked like any other beautiful woman. It could have been the wine, or it might have been my loneliness, but I kissed her that night and it didn’t stop there. They came for her four months later. But she wasn’t there. Neither was I. I kissed my daughter good bye and boarded the ship, watching her in my mother’s arms. We finally reached the island once more and this time she walked to her den instead of crawled. I kissed her good bye but she grabbed my arm and begged me with her eyes to stay. She touched her stomach, but the child couldn’t change my mind. I couldn’t stay here. I didn’t belong here. Just like she didn’t belong in my England. I walked back up into the ship and made my way back home, to be imprisoned if not hanged. I did get out ten years later. And I did find my way back to that island. Where a woman, barely still wearing pieces of an English outfit, crawled back into her den, trying to protect her young who was hissing at my presence.