The "Last" Quagga

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1883

What was an extra quagga suddenly doing inside of the last quagga’s cage? The London Zoo’s quagga had been the last in existence for several years, yet Paul suddenly found himself staring at not one, but two quagga mares. The older one was sickly, he knew, and she did not have much longer to live. The younger quagga was the one whose presence surprised him. He had no idea how another quagga could have gone unnoticed, even if it had not been in the same cage.

Baffled, Paul was about to turn away, when the strange extra quagga wandered up to the bars. Looking into her eyes, Paul was suddenly compelled to open the cage. Unhitching the gate came as such a natural reaction that Paul did not even pause to wonder why he had done it. Without another glance towards the open cage, he turned away.

Before long, he realized that he was walking along the streets of London after dark. In his hand, he held a rope that he knew was attached to the quagga, to give the appearance that it was being led by him, and not the other way around. He did not need to turn around to see that he had thrown a sheet over the quagga to disguise it, leaving holes for her to see out of.

Once he reached a port, he wandered up to the first laborer he saw and asked “Do you know of any ships bound for South Africa?”

He briefly wondered why he had asked such a peculiar question, but soon forgot it, when the man asked “Where in Africa?”

“South Africa in particular, but anywhere in Africa will do if no ships are bound for South Africa.”

Once the stranger pointed out one particular ship, Paul untied his lead rope from around the quagga’s neck and yanked the sheet off of her. Without any goodbye, the quagga headed in the direction of the ship that was headed to Africa. During the quagga’s walk up the gangplank, it was seen by one sailor who swore and nearly dropped his cargo before turning around and continuing on his walk, the quagga forgotten.

Once the quagga disappeared up the gangplank and onto the ship, Paul began to wonder what it was he was doing at the port. Had he come here to run a particular errand? His reason for being there was right there at the front of his mind, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. After a few minutes of deliberation, Paul decided to simply go home. After all, if he could not remember his errand, he could hardly accomplish it.

The next morning, Paul returned to work at the London Zoo. No sooner had he arrived, than one of his colleagues approached him.

“Good morning, Paul,” the colleague began.

“Good morning, Aaron,” Paul replied.

“I’m afraid there has been some bad news,” Aaron continued. “The quagga has died.”

Paul had known for a while that the quagga they had at the London Zoo, the last in existence, did not have long to live, yet its death, the death of a species, left Paul speechless.

Though the journey to the African continent was long, and required switching boats twice, the quagga did not want for food. Catching a sailor alone, stealing what food he carried, and making him forget all about it proved fairly easy. The only problem lay in the food’s quality, as the quagga’s health was deteriorating from the lack of grass and fresh fruit.

Upon finally arriving in Africa, the quagga raced down the gangplank the minute it was lowered. The sailors all stared, shocked, at the quagga as she galloped by and disappeared from sight.

The last sailor to see the quagga dropped the box of cargo he carried.

“You clumsy fool!” one of his superiors barked. Had the others somehow failed to notice the strange zebra that had just run down the gangplank?

“I’m sorry, sir,” the sailor bent down to pick up his burden. “I just...”

But what had he intended to say? He couldn’t remember that any more than he could remember why he had dropped the box.

Several weeks later, the quagga found itself in the South African plains. Exhausted, she trudged along the grasslands, picking at grass along the way. Finally, she spotted something in the distance. Her excitement growing, the quagga began to run. As she came closer, she knew that the shapes in the distance were her own kind. She had arrived at last.


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