When the signal came that the zoo was closing, every animal seemed to sigh with relief. The lions, both a female and male, whose separate cells shared a wall, began to suddenly bark. Their deafening calls echoed disturbingly against the stark contrast of the peaceful silence that preceded them, and for a moment I was convinced that perhaps we, the humans, were in real danger.
The few remaining spectators flocked to the lions’ cells, locked cement rooms whose space was insufficient for even a man, let alone their 700lb feline prisoners. The small crowd, composed of a young couple and a mother-daughter combo, occluded the barred window, peering into the roar of the male. The man of the group pushed through the others to make way for his display of bravery, pressing his face as close to the male lion as the bar would physically allow. The female answered his calls with equal intensity, and the crowd jumped to her cage in no time. Both had barked fervently for a solid 5 minutes before quitting in unison, the animals retiring to their former positions of tranquil boredom and general disinterest for your viewing entertainment.
When it ended and there was nothing to look at, the spectators went back and forth about how amazing it was and inquired philosophically as to why they had begun their calls in the first place. It wasn’t a big secret. I knew why they had cried out, but I wasn’t going to let them know. You can’t explain the color red to someone if they’ve been born blind, but if someday they were able to see, they’d get it. These people didn’t get it though and maybe they never would.
They were conflicted—the lions I mean. Their barking was a complex expression of celebrated disappointment: the day had ended, the show, the constant viewing—it was all over, and finally peace would come to them for the night. But in relishing their relief of knowing that the humans would soon leave and return home, all at once they came to realize that home was place they would never see again.