There comes a point in everyone’s life where a great transformation takes place — mine took place in a flower shop.
I’d strolled straight past that place every day for the best part of a miserable year. I still don’t know what made me stop by that morning. Sometimes you just get drawn to things without knowing why I guess.
It’s name, Libertas, barely visible in faded, gilded lettering against its peeling verdant green paint. The only thing that signified it was a flower shop were the huge blooms of lilacs and tiger lilies that smiled and winked at me that morning as I waited at the crossing. Before I knew it I was entering the door.
A chimpanzee poses on the serving counter like some hairy version of Rodin’s Thinker wearing a polka dot tie and glasses. Moss covered logs and rocks strewn the floor, birds bother the branches, and an alligator splashes into the river as the door closes behind me.
‘Good morning! Welcome to the jungle!’ says the chimp jumping and laughing on the counter. ‘My name’s Gerald. How can I help you?’
‘Erm…I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I thought this was a flower shop?’
‘It’s whatever you want it to be,’ says Gerald.
I look up and see a canopy of leaves which the sun struggles to break through.
‘I’m sorry. I need to get to work. I’m not supposed to be here,’ I say.
‘Of course you are,’ says Gerald. ‘Everybody’s meant to come here. They just don’t know it yet. Isn’t that right Kevin?’
A black panther jumps down from a branch, nods and dashes between the trees.
‘Now what would you like to be?’ says Gerald. He adjusts his glasses, grabs a vine and swings across a line of trees before landing back on the counter with a coconut under his arms.
‘Sorry?’ I say.
‘What would you like to be? What kind of animal are you?’ says Gerald raising the coconut and smashing it repeatedly against the till.
‘Animal?’ I say. ‘I’m no animal.’
‘Sure you are. You just don’t know it yet,’ says Gerald. He drains the coconut, throws the shell over his shoulder and grins at me.
‘There’s been a mistake. I need to go.’ But as I turn around I can no longer see the door or window, just tall trees and dense undergrowth in all directions.
Then the heat starts to become invasive like a second skin. I’m thirsty and feel drawn to the river, but as I start walking my back begins to ache. I bend down and crawl on all fours over the broken, moss-covered logs and rocks of the jungle floor.
When I reach the river I arch my neck to drink. And I as drink I see myself reflected back.
I am a giraffe.
I smile — as much as a giraffe can smile.
The strangest thing is, I’ve always been short. They made fun of my height at school and as I grew older I often dreamed of escaping somewhere where I could tower over everyone. And as I stand up and stretch out through the branches, I feel the fresh air on my neck and look out across the tops of trees that meet the clear blue skies.
Gerald swings up onto the treetops. ‘You know. Before I got here,’ says Gerald, ‘I was on the verge of suicide, working fourteen hour days, six days a week in corporate finance, and going through my third divorce. Then I came here one day without knowing why. I’ve never laughed so much in my life. Here, you can be what you’ve always wanted to be!’ Gerald grins and jumps up and down on the branch.
Just then a bickering couple in matching waterproofs enter from the soaking streets.
‘Excuse me,’ says Gerald. ‘Make yourself at home. The plains are that way. See you around.’
Gerald swings down to meet them. ‘Good morning! Welcome to the jungle!’ says Gerald.
A lorikeet named Susan alights on my neck and we look back together as the bickering couple shake their wet clothes until their clothes become beautiful blue and red feathers and they transform into a pair of scarlet macaws, they soar and squawk past me into the distant sun just as the plains come into sight.