Short story submission by talented and up-and-coming Maldivian writers
The first time I saw Grey in the forest, I could not decide if I found him fearsome or stunning. In the end I decided it was both, because even though I was justifiably terrified of those vigilant, amber eyes and the razor-sharp fangs, I did not miss the beauty that his majestic figure possessed. City people might have merely brushed him off as an overgrown dog, but not me. Having two wild-life loving zoologists as parents, their outlook on nature had rubbed off on me; in my eyes, the grey-hued wolf was the epitome of magnificence.
He had been whimpering in pain for his left paw was caught in an iron vice – a trap set up by poachers. However, the moment he sensed my presence, the moans were immediately replaced with defiant growls and he faced me directly.
Any other 13-year-old might have turned and run at being confronted by a full-grown wolf, but the pity I felt at seeing his bloodied paw overshadowed my fear. I knew I could not just leave the poor creature; and I also knew that his fear of me – though it was masked – was far greater than my own.
Winning Grey’s trust was one of the hardest challenges I ever faced. He would not allow me within a five-foot radius of him, snarling and snapping at me whenever I got too close, and I had to kneel and speak soothingly to him for over half an hour before he eventually accepted that I meant him no harm. His growls slowly subsided and he finally allowed me to approach him.
My heart pounded as I pried open the vice to free his paw. I could feel his eyes watching me the entire time and a part of me was convinced that he would gobble me up any second. The moment he was free, I backed away instantly, though I had enough sense not to make any sudden movements and startle the beast.
The wolf stood perfectly still, watching me. I looked back at him apprehensively before turning to leave. My mind was screaming at me not to expose my back to him, but I forced myself to walk away. I did not look back and it was with relief I noted that he was nowhere in sight when I finally reached the small, isolated cottage near the forest that was my home.
What I had not anticipated, however, was to find the wolf curled up in our front garden the next morning.
It would be an understatement to say that my parents were shell-shocked at seeing the injured animal. Nevertheless, they were very supportive and understanding when, at length, I enlightened them on the previous day’s events. My father even offered to tend to the wolf’s wound and, to our surprise, he was actually permitted to touch the paw without any resistance from the wolf. The creature merely watched my father warily as he cleaned the gash and bandaged it.
While my father worked, I found myself studying the wolf again. He was, without a doubt, one of the most striking creatures I had ever seen, and that was saying a lot as I had seen countless different kinds of animals thanks to my parents’ profession. The grey fur was long and lustrous, the ochre eyes sharp and perceptive, and his large body was powerfully built. This one was surely a king amongst his kind, and it was while I was admiring him that I came up with the name 'Grey'. It was simple and modest – a contrasting description of such a magnificent animal, but it suited him for some reason.
When my father was finally done, he told me to let the wolf go. He had probably guessed that I was harbouring thoughts of keeping Grey. I would have protested, but from long ago, whenever I begged my parents for a pet, they had always said to me,
“Animals may be inferior to humans in many ways, but that does not make them any less of a being. They have their own lives to live, their own families to come home to; they are not meant to be in a cage.”
It was these words that made me give in. However, Grey surprised us yet again; he did not leave.
The days passed and the wolf continued to stay with us. It was not for food or shelter like we initially suspected, for Grey slept in the forest and hunted on his own. But when he was not occupied with his own business, he would roam around our garden, and whenever I left the house to do my chores or just to pass the time away, he would always follow me. This behaviour alarmed me at first, but when no signs of being his next meal showed, I eventually became comfortable in his presence; comfortable enough to finally approach and play with him.
By then, the guardedness had evaporated from Grey and he was not averse to being touched. On the contrary, he was quite willing to prance around with me, especially when his foot healed, and I was proud and ecstatic that I had earned his trust.
Over time, he proved to me he was more than a pet. He became my friend, a close and loving friend that was as good and trustworthy as any human friend I could ever have had.
This friendship with a wolf was one I had never expected, but I had no complaints. It was something I cherished from the bottom of my heart because, not only was he the only friend I – a home-schooled girl – had ever had, but Grey was simply wonderful to spend time with. He helped me with my tasks around the garden, keenly listened to my nonsensical rants and was always ready to play whenever I felt bored.
It was not always fun and games between us, though. The memory of our first encounter was burned into my mind; I could never forget how he had been caught in that iron vice and the more I thought about it, the more infuriated I grew at the poachers who had set that trap. After a few months of chewing it over, I could not resist anymore. With Grey by my side, I left for the forest, determined to sabotage all the traps I could find.
Grey understood what I was up to when he witnessed me destroying the first snare I found. After that, he was on full alert and aided me in my hunt, using his sharp ears and nose to locate the hidden traps.
We came across more and more everyday and I was pleased to see that after his first run-in with a vice, Grey had instinctively learned to detect and avoid them. Finding those traps became our “mission” and we searched constantly for hours everyday.
In the end, it was still Grey who bagged the biggest prize. A few months after the commencement of our explorations, I stood outside my house, waiting for my friend to return from his hunt when I heard growls from the forest accompanied by sobs and yells. Fear seized my heart and my blood practically froze in my veins when Grey appeared through the trees, dragging a thrashing man by the leg. For a moment, I thought that this was the wolf’s meal and nausea rose inside me, until Grey dragged him all the way to the house and deposited him at my feet.
A few minutes of utter confusion ensued – what with my jumbled mind, a growling wolf, a weeping man and my flabbergasted parents – before the situation became clear: Grey had caught a poacher in the forest.
It was one lucky day for us. With a full-grown and seemingly ravenous wolf snarling in his face, the man was all too willing to reveal the hide-out and doings of his illegal gang to the constable my father rang over from the nearest town. As expected, Grey was named a hero.
Afterwards, there was no need to explore the forest anymore, but we continued to "just in case". However, these escapades slowly morphed into adventures of fun and games once again and Grey and I got lost in our play.
Sadly though, every good thing must end someday. I had always known this, but what I had not expected was for it to end so soon.
They arrived one night while I was bidding Grey goodnight outside the forest. The six regal wolves emerged from the trees one by one, their glowing eyes fixed on us. Fear gripped me immediately, but the pack had no interest in me. Their focus was on Grey, who stood frozen as he stared back at them.
The tense atmosphere lingered for a few more moments before the unthinkable happened: with a joyous yelp, Grey darted into their midst and the air was filled with happy barks and howls.
I stared at the scene in front of me, befuddled and shocked to the core before the realisation dawned on me: this was Grey’s wolf pack, his family. Common sense that my brain dredged up told me that he had probably been separated from them when I had found him all those months ago. I watched their jovial reunion silently and warmth filled me; but then came the misery, because I intuitively knew what would follow next.
Grey slowly turned to me and one look at his eyes told me what he wanted. Tears trailed down my cheeks as I hugged him goodbye. I knew I had to do this. I had to let him go, because like my parents had always said, every animal had its own life to live and its own family to return to, and here was his family now.
"Go, be happy," I whispered. Grey looked at me with sorrowful eyes and nuzzled my shoulder once with his muzzle.
And then he was gone, the forest swallowing up the wolves as if welcoming them home.
I never saw Grey again, but I could always feel his presence beside me, and in my heart, I knew he could feel me, too. I had been blessed with only six months of his company, but that period was something I would treasure forever - because Grey was and always would be my first and closest friend in the world.