This blog post was going to be titled ‘The Best Birthday Present Ever’ but I got engaged this morning, (YAY!) so this is now a story of the second best birthday present ever…
A woman walks out of a forest she knows well. An animal she has heard about, but never seen, is lounging in front of her. It is a female Malayan civet. Black and silver, striped and spotted, strikingly beautiful. The woman should be happy to see the civet, but it rests in a cage hastily constructed of scrap wood and chicken wire. The animal was found in a trap, she is told.
The civet is nocturnal, not native to the island, omnivorous, solitary. People walk up the hill to poke at her through the wire mesh throughout the day. At dusk, she paces in anxious circles, stepping over uneaten fruit.
A few days pass. It is the woman’s birthday. She celebrates with friends, enjoying cake that survived an hour-long motorcycle ride on a road that snakes through the forest. They drink beer, eat fried bananas, and exchange gifts. A frosting fight ensues.
As faces are wiped clean, merriment lulls.
“You know what I really want?” the woman says, “For the civet to be free.”
Friends purse their lips and nod. The woman knows she can’t do anything. She can’t risk her professional relationships with the people who have captured the animal. It isn’t her place to intervene, but it is her birthday wish.
The party ends and friends say goodbye. Later that night the woman receives a text message that reads, “Happy birthday!” Below the text is a picture. The photo is dark and blurry, but two things are clear: a civet-sized hole in some mangled chicken wire and an empty cage. The civet is gone.