The key turned in the lock and the door sprang open. He leapt from his bed, heedless of the cold stone floor under his feet. His eyes sparkled with anticipation. He told himself, “Today is going to be a good day!”
It was a beautiful, sunny morning. His walk to the visitor’s centre simmered with the sounds and smells of summer. It seemed a shame to go indoors, but he was hungry. He ate his breakfast with the others, his eyes roaming the room, making sure no one was coming to take his food from him. Afterwards he checked himself for crumbs and made sure he was clean and tidy.
It was time!
The doors to the visitor’s centre opened and – nothing. He waited. They all waited. Then someone shouted, “Listen!” The sound of tyres on gravel; doors slamming; voices. People arriving on their own and in couples. Sometimes a whole family came in together.
The people on their own always seemed anxious. They read all the information very carefully and asked the staff many questions. They were shy of speaking to him and the others. They didn’t make eye contact. The couples talked to each other and hardly spoke to anyone else. They asked and answered their own questions. They talked about him and the others, but not often to them. They stared at everyone.
The family groups were hardest to deal with. They were so loud! The smallest people were always the noisiest and wanted to know every single detail about everyone and everything. They asked silly questions and they had sharp, inquisitive fingers that poked and twisted. You couldn’t avoid them. The centre had a rule: everyone in the family had to meet you before they could take you away.
All day long people came to look at them. They talked and questioned and prodded. They made admiring noises. They made their choices. Often they took someone he knew with them when they left.
He was pleased for those who could leave with the visitors. It must be the best feeling in the world. To be chosen, to have people who wanted you. He hoped today it would be his turn, but every time someone came to where he waited, it was the same.
“Isn’t he a bit old?”
“He certainly looks different.”
“He’s not really what we were hoping for.” And they walked away.
It was over.
He felt tired and grubby, even after a thorough wash. He sat down with the others for supper, but he just played with his food. He wasn’t hungry. The walk back from the visitor’s centre took forever. The evening was grey, still and cold.
“Maybe tomorrow will be a better day,” he thought as he slumped onto his bed. The door clanged shut and the key turned in the lock.