December 16, 2004

Feeding the Conqueror

The child ran ahead to the next zoo cage, shouting, “Look, Daddy, a conqueror!”

The conqueror hunkered alone at the rear of the cage, swinging his lowdown apelike arms. There was nothing in his cage, no tree, no tire swing, no climbing rope. Every time the zoo had given him some apparatus, some decoration, he had destroyed it. He spent his days crouching suspiciously in front of the rectangular hole that was the entrance to his sleeping chamber, making sure nothing entered.

The child read from the placard beside the cage: “’This conqueror was found starving in the desert, subsisting on sand grubs and small lizards. Like all of his species he is solitary, ferocious to his mate, and liable to eat his own offspring. Despite strenuous efforts, zoos throughout the world have had little success in getting two members of this species to remain in the same cage long enough to reproduce.…’ Look, Daddy, a man’s coming to feed him!”

The zookeeper tossed in chunks of raw meat, which the conqueror pounced upon, snarling. When the meat was gone the zookeeper tossed in a village, which the conqueror plundered, stamping it to dust. Then the zookeeper tossed in a nation, which the conqueror ripped to shreds and sprinkled on the ground like confetti from one of his parades.

“Wow, what a great conqueror!” the child said, surging toward the top of the fence.