They inhaled lunch in order to get to the animal park on time, but Charles drove slowly, giving himself time to lecture George and Bill on the finer points of camel riding. Charles had skimmed a magazine article on the subject and was proud of his new knowledge. He wished he’d read the book the article was based on, unaware that the author had never ridden a camel, never even touched one. The author had once stroked the neck of a llama in a petting zoo and regularly read the essays of a Texas camel aficionado, camel breeder, and more to the point, camel salesman.
Charles wouldn’t have indulged himself in lecturing George and Bill had he ever noticed that men freely dispense opinions on subjects they know nothing about, but in public are reluctant to speak of things in which they have expertise. Any woman who’s been on a date could have told him that, but Charles had never been good at listening.
The “boys” arrived at the animal park at three thirty. A lean man of medium height was pacing back and forth in front of the office. He pushed his beat-up Stetson back on his forehead and hooked his thumbs in his belt as Charles parked in front of him. “You the camel jockeys from the church?” he asked.
“Yes, indeed, that’s us.” Charles puffed out his chest, as he shook hands with the man.
“I’m Jerry, the manager. Hoped you’d be here earlier. The staff leaves early on Saturday, and we close around four. We’ll only have enough time for each of you to ride once around the paddock. That should give you an idea of what to expect tomorrow, if you pay attention.” Jerry looked at each of the men. “If you’re ready, let’s get to it.”
In his faded jeans, denim shirt, and worn western boots, Jerry looked like the quintessential wrangler to the Magi. Pleased, Charles said, “That’s what we’re here for. Lead the way.”
The Magi followed Jerry to a barn. The shaded interior offered respite from the summer sun, but today it kept the barn cool and uninviting for the redoubtable Magi. They hesitated, as Jerry slid the wide door open and walked in, covering their angst by examining the door, the walls—anything that would give them an excuse to stay in the sunlit doorway and watch as Jerry walked down the smooth clay floor of the barn’s center aisle.
A row of wooden box stalls lined the aisle on each side. The Magi could see the interiors of the first stalls, as the upper half of the stall doors were open except for vertical metal bars. A few stalls were empty. In others, dromedary camels watched the men, tore mouthfuls of hay from racks hanging from a wall of each stall, or chewed their cud with a pronounced elliptical movement of the lower jaw.
Jerry, now fifty feet away from the Magi, grabbed a lead shank and halter from pegs on the door of an empty stall. Charles stared absently and listened to his voice. “Okay, Charles; here’s where ya show ’em who’s in charge, who’s got the balls and talent in this here outfit.”
On the far end of the barn, a camel lifted her nose regally, rolled the food around in her mouth, paused to look through her long eyelashes at a bird flying past the window, and resumed chewing. Content, she considered the pleasures of the mundane and congratulated herself on the life she led. Opportunities are limited if your brain is the size of an orange. She had long ago narrowed her options to being a radio talk show host or chasing grass, and chasing grass seemed more respectable for a lady.
The sound of the door sliding open at the end of the barn disturbed her reverie. She rocked forward, as she lifted her hind quarters, and from side to side as she extended her left and then her right front leg. She was standing when the door to her box stall opened.
Damn! This means work, and just when I’d gotten comfortable. She turned her rump to the door, buried her head in a corner, and laid her ears back. She wanted to make it clear she wasn’t an easy camel. A lady has to have standards.
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