The sweet, little zebra became self-aware around the 6th month of his mother’s 13 month pregnancy. Wiggling his legs, he moved around in the dark as he couldn’t open his eyes yet. It was warm and cozy in his fluid sack of water. He was completely content.
The day of his birth started the same as the last few weeks. Things were tight though and he wiggled uncomfortably. By mid-morning he realised that he was being moved along a dark tunnel. It was traumatic. He accepted it, having no other experience to compare it to. He could hear his mama breathing hard and moaning every now and then.
It got tighter – really uncomfortable and he whinnied in fear and pain. He kept going towards the light, eyes still closed. With a sudden pop… he was out. Shivering and scared he waited for his mother to pull the sack off his pint-size head and struggled to open his eyes and stand.
As is customary in any zebra colony, all the elders came to see the newborn. Instead of being a celebration – they were all quiet. The newest member of their family was half white and half brown and white striped. A semi albino! The alpha male stepped forward.
“Zenobia?” he addressed the surprised and tired mother zebra, “if he… what’s his name?”
“Zesty” she said nervously. “If Zesty causes us any problems, we will leave him behind. His distinctive markings are unnatural. Our stripes confuse our enemies and he may stand out.” Zenobia rested her head protectively over her baby. She nodded. The safety of the herd always came first.
Over the years the zebra grew. His brown and white stripes became black and white. I wish I could tell you that his stripes grew over his whole body, but they didn’t and he remained a semi albino. Zesty learned to stay in the middle of the herd, no matter how green the grass was along the outside, he stayed hidden as much as he could. It saved his life.
The summer of his 6th year was brutally hot. The large waterhole dried up early and the herd was parched. They moved from pool to pond to puddle to quench their thirst. The clouds cried for the land, but their tears burned away before they hit the scorching earth. It got hotter and hotter. The weakest dropped. Hyaena’s followed the herd feasting on the fallen, having to spend no effort on hunting. Numbers dropped daily and all the young and old were gone. Zesty felt the heat less than the others because of his coloring and managed better. It was incredibly sad for him to see his family die. He wished there was something he could do to make it better. But he was one zebra and an albino at that.
Moving further out of their territory, the herd had to find water or die. They followed the dusty riverbed up and up the plains. Zesty being stronger than the rest now as he handled the heat better, led the herd. If his mother wasn’t so close to death, she would have felt proud. He moved further and further ahead desperate to find water, leaving them behind. Far from their land, far from everything he knew – he found it. A river ran into a dam, surrounded by green trees and lush grass it was big enough to save the herd. He drank his fill then ran back to get his family. He ran and ran with renewed energy along the sandy bed hoping he wasn’t too late.
He found them all collapsed, baking in the unforgiving heat. There were so few now but he was glad to see them.
“Come, come I found water” he encouraged, nudging them with his head, whinnying noisily. But they couldn’t do it. They were dying. Weeks of too little water had dehydrated them, they were too weak. His mother lifted her head and cuddled him, crying softly. “Thank you little hero for trying to help, but its too late. Even if I could stand, I can no longer walk that far. I am so proud of you and grateful that you will survive.” Her eyes poured out her love. Desperate now he pushed and pushed but she just lay there smiling at him. He tried many of the others but had no effect.
“I have to get the water here” he realised. Starting off at a run, he headed back up the riverbed, his odd body shiny in the scorching sun. Turning at the riverbend, he noticed that the water dammed up because of the beavers building a dam. He ran to them.
“Please, please help me they are dying” he cried. The family turned and stared at the unusual zebra. “We have to release the water, they cant make it here. They are all dying”. His stricken face stared at them.
“But this is our home” the big beaver replied . “It took us weeks to build this, what about my family?” the mommy beaver stepped forward.
“We can release some of the water can’t we daddy?” she looked at the big beaver.
“Please?” Daddy beaver dropped his shoulders – he couldn’t let them die.
“Come on boys” the beaver called his sons. They started gnawing at the logs holding the dam.
“Only the ones at the top. And slowly. We don’t want the whole thing to go”. The beavers gnawed and gnawed. Zesty wanted to help but was scared the whole dam would go if he started kicking logs.
It started as a trickle, then a stream, then it gushed. “Stop! Stop!” daddy beaver shouted but it was too late. The family jumped off the wall and watched their home wash away in shock. The water kept going until it couldn’t be seen around the corner. Zesty stared, hoping that it wouldn’t drown his family.
“I’m so sorry” he muttered feeling terrible, before taking off at a speed to check on his herd. Before he even got to them he saw them standing, still drinking and milling around.
“Is everyone ok?” he asked very out of breath but ecstatic to see his mother.
The elders surrounded him. “Thank you Zesty, you have saved us”. They bowed down to him, followed by every one of the herd. It was his proudest moment.
The beavers were busy trying to rebuild their home when they heard a noise. It was the herd, with Zesty in the lead. The whole herd, now much fewer than before, bowed before the beavers.
“Thank you for your sacrifice” the elders said.
Without saying a word each zebra moved forward and in teams pushed over several trees. They then pushed them to the riverbed, one by one. It took an afternoon to rebuild the beavers home. They were so happy when the dam started to fill again, hitting the water with their tails.
The zebras never went back to the dry plains. They stayed in the fertile valley and became good neighbors with the beavers. They drank from the lake and repaid the beavers by helping rebuild the dam during the summer floods.
Life was good.