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When Kirsten first saw the koala, her breath was taken away. It was the strangest little thing she had ever seen, with its soft fluffy grey fur, big nose and little round eyes. It had such a disarming expression that she wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around it and give it a cuddle.

Of course, since it was behind bars in the zoo, she didn’t have that option at the time, but it dwelt on her mind. The koala was all that she could think about. She read about it, wrote about it in school and drew pictures of it. She asked for koala things for her birthday and for Christmas, and because her parents loved her very much she got them. She had a koala toy, a koala pen-topper, and even a backpack that looked like a koala clinging to her back. She visited the zoo almost every single day to see it.

Of course, in this last aspect she did have one great advantage; her father was one of the keepers at the zoo. It was very easy for her to simply ask her mother if she could meet Dad after school, and in the process go and see the koala.

In time, the other keepers became so accustomed to seeing her there that they took her presence for granted. She would stand by and politely offer her assistance, which was at first politely declined but in time accepted.

“Oh all right, just hold this broom while I get the gates open.”

“Come through with me, Kirsten. You can help me throw fish to the penguins.”

In time, her wish came true. She got to go inside the koala cage. They were lying about sleepily on the big branches as the keeper swept the floor beneath them. While his back was turned, she lifted one off the branch, holding it very carefully like she would hold a baby. It stirred sleepily, clutching at her cardigan and peeping up at her with almost human eyes.

A strange idea came to her mind. She slipped the straps of her backpack off her shoulder, and deposited the bag on top of the branch where the koala had been. Then, she arranged the koala on her back.

“I have to go now,” she said to the keeper, who was still busy sweeping, “My mum will have the tea on.”

“Alright then,” he said. “See you tomorrow, Kirsten!”

She got almost all the way to the front gate before the koala peed down her back, making her scream and giving the game away.
© Kari Fay