“Flowers?” I suddenly remembered the image of an ibex walking past me the day before on my way back home from work, white petals sticking out of the side of his mouth.
“Yes the flowers in the garden. All of them. Suddenly gone.”
What had struck me most was his sardonic grin. Ibex are not known for expression of any type.
I shifted uneasily in my chair. “I don’t know.”
“It must be your friends,” she said, shooting me an accusing stare.
“Friends?” I replied innocently.
“Yes, the ibex.”
The thing is, you can’t really call the ibex your friends. Sure, I have a soft spot for them, and they humour my existence. I can walk among them and they accept me there. I have always seemed to have had a special connection with animals. As if they view me differently from my fellow humans. This may explain my lack of communication with people on a whole. For, when it comes to connecting to the human race, I am basically autistic.
My connection to the ibex has increased greatly over the years, especially as the dry winters forced them up from the wadi below to search for edibles on the outskirts of our community. I meet them each morning, as they breakfast on the greenery outside my office building on the edge of the wadi. And again, on my way home for lunch, while they are perched up on their hind legs trying to trim yet another circle from the bottom of the trees. But as summer wore on this year, their search for food has taken them further and further into our community.
And then, one day, it happened. I was standing out on the balcony, hanging up the laundry, when I saw them. There must have been about thirty of them, munching their way through two neighboring houses. One stood, with his mighty antlers, on the other side of the walkway, staring up at me. The ibex are great starers. They don’t even blink.
I shook my head and pointed back towards the wadi. “Don’t even think of it,” I warned.
I felt a little guilty saying these words. Here were these poor hungry ibex, who had been here far before this human community. Actually, not the exact same ibex, but you get my point. And all they wanted was to eat to survive.
Finishing with the laundry, I went in to check my mail. Soon I heard this weird crunching noise. Going back onto the balcony, I saw that about ten ibex had encroached onto our territory. A few were trying to create a diversion by seemingly munching on the grass, while others made their way to the much more promising garden at the back.
“No you don’t,” I instinctively called out, the thousands of years of genetically developed territorial imperative pulsing through my veins. I rushed down the stairs and shooed them away. They cantered back to the other houses and regrouped there.
They waited until I had gone into the house before making their way over again. Once again I shooed them away. But when it happened the third time - this time all thirty had made the move - I decided to give up. “Forces of nature,” I thought to myself. Who was I to deny them their means of survival. What was the garden, actually, other than another futile attempt to bottle up nature and make it our own trophy?
“Don’t you prefer it that way?” my wife would ask, pointing to the existence of the garden as we sat outside, reading.
“Yes,” I’d answer.
“Then stop complaining.”
And then, just as I had accepted their right to nibble our offerings, the whole herd of ibex suddenly stampeded their way past me back to the wadi. This was the first I had ever seen a stampede of ibex. They must have stumbled upon a neighbour’s dog. The ibex are a protected animal, but it appeared that they had overstepped their area of protection.
“So, that’s that,” I thought to myself. “In the end, all’s well that ends well.”
But now, a few days later, the flowers were gone.
“I’ll go down and take a look,” I said to my wife.
Despite the many green delicacies on offer, it appeared that they had only eaten the petals off of the flowers. Each and every petal, with only the stems remaining. I wondered whether the petals had added flavour, or whether the ibex were as frivolous for beauty as we were.
In the days that followed, I kept an eye on their progress. At the end of each day the stems on the plants were munched down even more. No matter their penchant for petals, the ibex didn’t seem to have much patience to wait for them to grow back. Life is just too short.
You might think that all this has significantly changed my relationship with the ibex. Well, either they have a short memory or they have forgiven me for my moment of betrayal in trying to shoo them away. For in the desert, a host honours his guests, no matter how they find their way to his abode. Live and let live. For the ibex, each new day is one of discovery, and for me, it is another opportunity to walk among them.