Blind Bear Falls Off His Existential Iceberg – James Heath

 Bobo lifted his head and cast it from left to right and back again. The sound of footsteps and chatter came from away to the left. The sun shone onto the right side of his body and he knew, after so many years, that it was now morning and the daily influx of visitors to the zoo had started. Another day of torment and teasing to endure and, to make matters worse, the summer was definitely here. A polar bear’s fur was perfectly designed to trap heat and regulate his body temperature in savage Arctic winds. Evolution hadn’t been considerate enough to consider that he might spend a very significant portion of his life in a destitute zoo in Madrid.

Bobo stuck out a matted paw to get his bearings. Grass in front and sun baked concrete behind. His blindness had been a curse when it had come but now he was thankful. He no longer had to look at the pitiful pen that was a prison cell to him. It also meant that his keepers largely left him alone and had given up on trying to entice him into performing those tricks to which all captive bears were subjected. It also meant he was the last of the group to get food and this had left him weaker than the rest but, again, he was thankful. The fish that was served to them was almost always rancid and thawed out. The texture had long disgusted him. He preferred his fish frozen hard and, most importantly, fresh. No slops from a bucket could ever replace the fish he had eaten as a cub.

How many years ago now? Twenty? Thirty? It didn’t really matter anymore.One day was so much like the other that he tried not to look back. He didn’t much like looking forward either come to think of it. Much better to focus on the living moment. He knew that was a Buddhist idea and for a moment he wondered if he could consider himself to be the only Buddhist polar bear on earth. He knew the others in the enclosure had never thought such thoughts and this consoled him. Alone in his blindness and alone in his thoughts.

He was considered different from the others by everyone who came across him. The visitors saw him stretched out by himself at the front of the pen and saw his blindness close up. The other bears shunned him too. Occasionally they took the time and effort to urinate on his favoured sleeping spot but generally he was left to his own thoughts. That was fine with him. Better to travel the world in his imagination behind his permanently closed eyes, than to debase himself for visitors in the hope of securing an extra treat. Hunger and thirst focused the mind and wasn’t that another tenet of Buddhism? The first polar bear to achieve enlightenment. Bobo rubbed his stomach in pleasure at the idea and rolled onto his back.

He was disturbed from his revelries by a sharp crack and instant pain in his jaw followed by the sound of laughter from the crowds he knew had now gathered. Without checking, he knew what it would be. Another piece of trash thrown by a member of the public. He slowly got to his feet, sniffed dismissively at the unseen crowds and lumbered away in a search of the elusive shade that could seldom be found in the unrelenting Spanish summer.

He counted his steps as he lurched forward. He knew the dimensions of the enclosure only by counting his steps. 64 paces across and 53 paces deep. This didn’t always help his navigation as the zoo keepers were in the habit of moving things and it was a rare day when he didn’t bang his nose into a newly moved bucket or branch.

He tried to push these inconveniences out of his mind and to muster as much confidence as possible as he continued to walk towards the leaf strewn water trough. Such a travesty, this excuse for water. Tepid and covered in dead insects. He dropped his head and scooped as much of the water as he could take and continued his long ponderous journey to the fence at the back. Far from the crowds and away from the other bears. Peace and quiet was just what he needed. Time to think and time to plan.

He had two options clear in his mind but he knew that he now needed to decide once and all which would serve his purpose best. To the best of his knowledge, no bear had ever undertaken such a task but his mind had been set on this course of action for many months now. There was no turning back.

Drowning was first. This was instantly problematic in that it would be painful. A polar bear’s lung capacity is huge and he knew that this would mean he would have to endure many long minutes of pain before death. This would require a mental strength that he wasn’t sure he had. Of course, a deliberate drowning had dramatic value. The crowds would be shaken and shocked. There would be plenty of time for them to take photos and make videos of his final moments. This infamy wasn’t the reason for his planned suicide, but it could bring unseen benefits.

His second option was to throw himself off the roof of the hut where the food was stored. He couldn’t be sure of its exact height but he knew that, should he mange to land on his head, death would be instantaneous. The difficulty would be in finding a way to clamber onto the roof without being spotted. Those keepers would like nothing more than to get out the tranquiliser dart and subdue him. They would exact petty revenge in the following weeks too. Restricting his food and casual kicks to the side would be done to teach him a lesson and remind him of his responsibilities to the zoo.

Choices. Choices.The only thing Bobo knew for sure was that he was going leaving his mark. His legacy would, no longer, be that of the lazy blind bear who never amounted to much. This act of suicide would require mental strength that he had never known of a polar bear. His parents, long dead, would be proud. A polar bear with principles. A polar bear long practiced in the art of meditation and conscious thought. Blind or not, Bobo was going to be remembered.

Cogito ergo sum.

I think therefore I am.

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