Sara Morris Swetcharnik

Pancha and the Burro

By Sara Morris Swetcharnik

It is a cold, misty day at the zoo. Tendrils of fog twist in and out of the bear cage, the jaguar cage, the monkey cage. Pancha, the spider monkey, sits huddled on the bench, head tucked into her long black arm. I sit down next to her while waiting for Rosy the zoo director.

Pancha, as usual, pretends to ignore me. The only difference is that today she scoots her back up against me: maybe she is cold, or maybe she likes the smell of Rosy's jacket that I am wearing.

Pancha's black coat is shot through with gray hair; her potbelly -- she has been begging junk food from visitors away from Rosy's watchful eye -- is almost completely white. Pancha has been with Rosy fourteen years, since the day that Rosy rescued her from a gang of stone-throwing children.

Pancha is one of the few animals that roam free in the zoo. Another is Rosy's burro, which is now walking toward us. Rosy bought him from a campesino who had been loading the burro with firewood until its back was bloody.

Pancha presses closer to me and chitters menacingly at the burro. Now her face juts outward, alertly watching as the burro plods toward us. I hold out my hand to the burro. Pancha's long black arm intercepts mine and pushes it back into my lap; immediately she resumes her huddled position.

The burro tentatively raises his gray muzzle toward me, and again I put out my hand. Again Pancha's hand intercepts mine and her long prehensile tail wraps around my wrist as well. With her other hand she reaches for the burro's ear. The burro backs off. But a moment later he cautiously nuzzles toward me again. Pancha stands up, clamps her back to me with arm and tail, shrieks at the burro, and shoots out her other hand to grab for the burro's ear. Seizing the ear, she yanks it as hard as possible. The burro brays and bolts.