She had only looked away for a moment, rummaging through her oversized handbag for a paper tissue to wipe his face with, but that moment was all he needed. He bolted away from her and climbed a rail, stretching over as far as he could.
He fell just as she looked back.
“Edward! My baby,” she shouted, “Help, somebody, please help!”
She rushed to the edge and looked over. Her son lay motionless on the ground several feet below, far out of reach.
“Oh no,” somebody beside her gasped. “The bears!”
They had noticed the figure in their pit, and already they were moving towards him. Growling, snarling, they approached on paws large enough to crush his skull without a second thought. Above them, the mother turned away, unwilling to see what was coming, while zoo staff ran for equipment.
A louder snarl came from the pit, and the mother instinctively looked down.
One of the bears had broken away from the pack and positioned itself between the motionless boy and the other bears. As its companions growled at the unfamiliar presence in their pit, it reared up and roared. Teeth were bared, and spittle flew; the bears backed away from the boy.
The zoo staff had reached the access gate, and were creeping into the pit with tranquilliser guns at the ready. The bear glanced over at them, then roared once more at its companions, backing them away from the child even further.
As the keepers grabbed her son and carried him to safety, the bear looked up. Through her tears, the mother almost imagined that the bear gave a knowing nod; a gesture of acknowledgement from one mother to another.
© Kari Fay