Sometimes it takes someone special to show you the sign that’s been right in front of your eyes.
Matthew’s guide was a 1.5-metre, 100-kilogram gorilla in a gaudy red cap. “AUSLAN TOURS,” it proclaimed in white block letters that had caught his eye the moment his mother had dropped him off at the zoo for his birthday “surprise”. He’d groaned and signed, Seriously? You made me get up early for this? His mother had just smiled and waved him out. Give it a shot, Matt. Mrs Fulcher highly recommends this place.
Of course, he mused. If it weren’t for that nosy little old lady who’d found him sitting alone at lunch watching YouTube videos, he wouldn’t be spending his birthday with a gorilla who was fingerspelling her name (Martha), trying not to suffocate under the cacophony of strange bestial smells that emanated from her and her kin. He scuffed his sneakers as he shuffled along behind her, barely glancing at the lions and penguins and giraffes they passed.
He paused by an exhibit of sun bears, squinting at the two distant figures tussling amongst the grass and rocks. Suddenly, a leathery hand tugged at his elbow. You shouldn’t watch them love-making, Martha signed. It’s not very polite.
Despite himself, Matthew couldn’t resist a smile. They’re bears. They wouldn’t understand.
Yet I’m a gorilla, Martha retorted. And I wouldn’t make love in front of you.
They walked on in silence. What a strange sense of dignity this gorilla has, Matthew thought, stunned. How did you even learn Auslan? he asked, almost instinctively.
Probably just how you did – a good teacher and lots of YouTube.
But . . . how did you know you could?
You sure ask a lot of questions. Martha paused and scratched her wrinkled nose.
I’m sorry, Matthew said, to his own surprise. I guess I’ve never thought about it much.
They had stopped at a large cage that encircled the tops of trees and a little hut. Martha lead him through the door to the hut, bent over to unlock it and waved him in.
This – she pointed to a full-length mirror on one of the walls – is how I found out I could. Matthew watched her gaze at her own reflection, entranced by how firmly she stared into her own eyes. And, believe me, I wish I hadn’t.
In a corner was a video gaming console. In another was a bookshelf, filled with new and old books. A tour guide’s uniform hung from a peg. Matthew was busy examining these strange possessions when she left the hut. He did not hear her turning the lock.