the animals

These are not like other animals—your lethargic, long-gone pets, the up-all-night roosters of Phnom Penh, the apprehensive deer surrounding the Maryland boarding school. Rats in downtown L.A. and, you know, everywhere.

What were you expecting here? Lions on a plain? Zebras and gazelles? Floppy-eared baby elephants? Addis Ababa is frigid. Sodden. Not the Africa you were taught.

Donkeys graze within the traffic circle like it is where they belong. A man herds what must be forty goats down the street next to the metro line, their coats marked with foretelling red paint. A big one glares with reproach as it trots by. Does it understand the muddy slaughter lots?

Hyenas. A distinct sound. Definitely not laughing. What do you know aside from The Lion King? You hear them at night in rare, quiet moments between ceaseless, amplified chanting from somewhere you’ve never identified. Their glowing eyes have tracked you once or twice, but you mostly feel their presence by the morning’s licked-clean bones.

That day you meet a friend in another part of town, cold as always, foolish in the wrong clothes you brought. Sitting on the patio of a modern coffee shop, a herd of cattle round the corner in front of you. To where? You wonder, but not for long anymore. After goodbyes you pull up the Ride app, smelling an impending rainstorm—earthy, inhospitable.

When, suddenly, crossing into the street, a glare-on-the-snow-white stallion is in front of you, an epiphany, backlit by the late afternoon sun. Abandoned, you think. Wild, he assures.

He pauses, judging you.

Then, shaking his mane, he bolts.

ANN MCDOWELL WAGNER has traveled extensively and has lived and worked in the U.S., China, Cambodia, and Ethiopia. She is currently an online instructor of international teachers pursuing their master’s degrees and is a student in the UCLA Extension Creative Writing Program.