‘Long Necked Visitors’ by Under 18s competition winner Lily Hewitt, aged 17.
And to welcome the Tsar of Russia to Chiswick Gardens, we have for the audience’s pleasure, four giraffes on show originally from the distant land of Africa.
They say I’m from Africa, but I don’t remember it now. I was just a calf when I was shipped over, rammed tight into the crates so we didn’t fall over in the storms that brewed, turning the sky into a bruised blue. I remember the colours of Africa though; the yellow brown of baked sand under the scorching sun, the green of leaves as I strained up to reach them. The sky here is grey and fat droplets of rain fall year round.
I was brought from Surrey Zoo. They say that I’m long-necked, but look at them! The women crane their heads to stare while the children poke fingers against my leathery skin. As I look around at the pink blossom trees and frothy, brown evergreens it makes me smile because doesn’t every creature look for something bigger? The animal looks at the wilderness of the plains, the boys in their breeches tip their heads up to stare at me and I nod up to the same sky that I saw as a calf. The tsar impulsively walks over to me slowly, edging his way as though he is slightly afraid of my broadness. He stretches a hand towards me like they do in the zoo and I lean my endless neck slowly down and rub my soft cheek against his tiny hand, remembering just for a moment the soft embrace of my mother. The crowd roar; the ladies squealing and waving their pressed white handkerchiefs. The Duke of Devonshire laughs and laughs, calling to the Tsar; ‘He acts just like a little kitten, doesn’t he?’
In the distance I see the other animals in their enclosures, the kangaroos that are punching each other are being impersonated by little children. The llama ambles around, his thick fur suited to the damp English weather. He has a neck like mine, though not as tall. The elephant sees me looking and raises his trunk; another immense beast from the plains. A man from the newspaper is sketching me and I pose in front of the beautiful flowers for him. The Duke calls that ‘tea is served’ and the milling crowd has a purpose as they devour the rows of sherbets and jellies and towering iced cakes the size of wagon wheels.
A tiny little girl is shoved forward towards me by older playmates and she shyly unwraps her fingers and offers me her slice of cake. I hesitate for a moment, then sink to my knees and take it from her. My rubbery tongue licks her palm and she giggles. ‘Do you miss your home?’ she whispers quietly to me. I look around, at the acres of green grass in Chiswick Gardens, at the grey sky and the other giraffes and the fascinated humans. I nuzzle her hand and wonder if she understands my answer. As the inevitable rain begins, I stick out my tongue once again and let the droplets fall onto it. My home is here now.