My tummy rumbled as I dashed to the wooden table beneath the cool shade. Mother had packed lunch for our day at the zoo. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Although I wasn’t a fan of jelly, in that moment it would satisfy my hunger. I took a seat banging my knees together. She withdrew a container with five sandwiches, and handed one to each of my siblings.
As I removed the crust from the sandwich, the vibrant feathers of a peacock arrested me. The beautiful birds were the only animals the zoo allowed to walk freely, and they had taken note of us lunching.
A stray bird broke from the group and waddled closer to us. Glancing around, to see who was watching I scooped up a piece of crust and tossed it to the bird. It pecked at the grassy knoll with delight.
“You shouldn’t be feeding the peacocks,” my mother scolded.
“I know, but they are so cute,” I said.
“Just because they are cute doesn’t mean they aren’t harmful.”
“I guess,” I sighed. If she turned her head I planned to cast another crumb or two to the bird.
Fifteen minutes later we stretched our legs and arose to continue exploring the Henry Doorly Zoo. We hadn’t made it to my favorite part yet. The penguins. When was old enough to work, I hoped to get my dream job at the zoo.
“I can’t wait until we see the polar bears,” my little sister said.
“I know, Isa but the penguins are cooler.” I laughed. Isa folded her tiny arms over her chest and my younger brother Tony chuckled at what I had said.
“What’s so good about birds that can’t fly,” she said.
“That’s what makes them so special.”
“Whatever.” She shook her head.
Blaring music interrupted our exchange and my two brothers scurried ahead to see what all the commotion was about. Isa and I followed behind them wedging through the throng of onlookers gathered around the sea lion complex.
“It looks like they’re having a show,” my older brother, Nate said.
“Yay!” Tony cheered.
“Good thing we are just in time,” my mother said. Her phone rang, and she walked away to take the call.
Down below a young woman with a whistle directed a group of sea lions. Some would balance a ball on the tip of their noses or do a flip for a treat. The sun glistened against their rubbery flesh. They had a slight odor to them like all of the other animals. One stood out from the rest as he shifted his weight, flopping behind the others. I’d seen him before and he grew to an object of my laughter. I had nicknamed him fatso, and watching him filled me with joy.
Without a second thought, I pointed at him and shouted. “Look at fatso!” He meandered along. My younger siblings joined in the jeering of the animal. I nearly collapsed from chuckling so hard.
“You all should be ashamed of yourselves,” an older woman grumbled. I ignored whoever made the remark continuing to snicker, but Nate gripped my shoulder.
“Dani, you made that woman cry,” he interrupted my merriment.
“Who?” I asked confused.
“The woman behind you,” he said. I swiveled around to see a large woman with tears gathered in her eyes. Her face was bright red as she stared directly at us. Another woman placed her hand on her back, but she pulled away. “She thinks you were calling her fatso.” My brother said.
“I’m sorry I was talking about the sea lion,” I shouted at the two women. Both women seemed unmoved by the apology. The crying woman rushed away, unable to contain the whimper that broke from her lips. The woman with her rushed after her, and turned and shook her head at us before catching up to her.
I cast my eyes to the ground as the pain on the woman’s face was etched in my mind. Who thought a silly nickname could do so much damage. Although, the name fatso was never meant for her it still had ruined her day.
The sea lion show was coming to an end and people were starting to leave, and now I no longer found calling the heavy sea lion fatso amusing.
“Mom” I darted over to her just as she was getting off the phone.
“What is it Dannie?”
“I did something awful today,” I looked down at my tennis shoes.
“Awful like what?”
“I made a woman cry.”
“I was making fun of a sea lion and this lady overheard us and thought it was about her.”
“Did you apologize?”
“Yes, but she ran away.”
“I’m sorry that happened, but you can’t change the past.”
“I feel so cruel”
“Dannie, rather than focusing on the past, the best thing you can do is be better person from now on.”
“By being thinking about the impact your words can have on others,” She said, patting my shoulder.
“You’re right,” I smiled, as I saw that day different than I had before. While, I wished I could take back what I had done from then on I would consider the feelings of others when I spoke.