Strange Encounters: Christchurch
Whenever I move to a new city, one of the first things I do is scope out the local green space. I’m a big fan of parks because of their versatility. Run in them, read, take photographs, have picnics, whatever – it’s always nice to know there’s one nearby.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, my park of choice was Hagley Park, 165 hectares (thank you wikipedia) of happiness for me to loll about in, which is exactly what I was doing one summer afternoon back in 2007.
The sun was shining brilliantly. I was lying on a blanket in the grass reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, vaguely aware of a traveling circus that was setting up on the other side of the lawn, about 400 meters away. The striped big top had been erected, and there were a handful of trucks parked around it.
I glanced up occasionally, but lost interest when there was no visible progress.
Among the twittering birds, rustling leaves, and buzzing insects, I became aware of a different sound.
The sound of two-toed feet, pounding across the earth.
It was a llama. A big, brown, shaggy llama, and it was headed right at me, full of panic.
I froze. This is how I die, I thought. I could see it now:
TOURIST TRAMPLED IN FREAK LLAMA INCIDENT
The llama was bearing down on me. It was close enough for me to see the whites of its eyes, or at least it would have been if it had any.
My heart was pounding. I considered getting up, but where would I go? I wasn’t that fast, and anyway, it had twice as many legs as I did. No, I was just going to sit here and take it.
When it was about fifteen feet from my blanket, it abruptly changed direction, making a wide loop towards the big top. I saw a teenaged boy with some sort of whip, shouting and flailing his arms. There were two trucks attempting to corner the llama, but the animal wasn’t having it.
Now that I was out of harm’s way, I was rooting for the llama. He was the Braveheart of the animal kingdom, making a courageous bid for liberty.
You can do it, I wanted to shout. FREEEDOOMMM!
Faced with the prospect of trucks, a whip, and a crazed teenager, he screeched to a halt and decided to eat some grass.That was when they collared him and led him into a trailer.
My book was a lot less interesting after that.