A Far Green Place

It was always the shoes that Gilly would look at first. She wasn’t unfriendly by any means, but whenever someone new, keeper or zoo visitor, approached her enclosure, she would without fail examine their footwear before deciding whether to acknowledge or engage them. It was as if shoes were some riddle she needed to decipher, a behavior exclusively reserved for her relations with human beings.

None of the other orangutans in her troop did this, even her offspring, and her keepers could not figure it out. Maybe it had something to do with Gilly’s greater age, or that she’d joined their troop from another facility. She seemed to possess an abstract understanding of what shoes were, which she demonstrated by playfully unlacing her keeper’s boots whenever they weren’t paying attention. As an experiment they would sometimes leave different pairs of shoes in the enclosure, but while Gilly always greeted these with a burst of enthusiasm she inevitably grew bored after a cursory examination, and left them as a plaything for the others.

What her keepers didn’t know, what Gilly had no means of telling them, was about the particular pair that lingered in her simian memory. Used army boots, heavy and black, that were the last thing she saw before the sack dropped over her head and she was carried far away from her warm jungle home. Shoes that might one day arrive to carry her back there.

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