This story was inspired by Antoine Yates and Ming the tiger, and also by my friend Dave whose reindeer jumped the fence and ran away.
…there’s no real wild, you know what I’m saying? And also if you can say that tigers need to be in the wild then you have to say that we should go inside everybody house, they should get rid of their fishes, they should take birds out of the cages.
Antoine Yates in the film Ming of Harlem (Wellcome Trust)
The reindeer was delivered to the Winter Wonderland just off the ring road. But as soon as they unloaded it, it jumped the fence and ran across the fields towards Tesco and Dunelm. People fishing at Rawcliffe Lake saw the reindeer at dawn. A walk-to-jog group spotted it on the Ings at dusk.
The reindeer walked into the city and turned into the open gate of one of the few houses with a front garden and grazed on the lavender that bordered the path. It knocked its antlers against the front door, scratching the paintwork. He let it in.
He kept the back door open when he was home, so it had the option of leaving. He put old strips of carpet down on the tiles of the utility room where he thought it would be most comfortable and it would be most practical to keep clean. But it chose the study on the whole where it lay on the floor and eyed his bookshelves. Sometimes it entered the dining room where it walked round the table and nibbled at his piles of paperwork. He bought hay bedding from Pets At Home. The hay came in small packages the size of a shoe box with silhouettes of rabbits on the front. It ate each one as if it were a light snack.
‘They’re social animals,’ his neighbour told him. ‘They need to be in a herd.’
She stroked the scratches on the front door.
‘And you’re not a reindeer,’ she said. ‘Plus they are nomadic. Walking across the hall is not being nomadic.’
It climbed the stairs and caught sight of itself in the full length mirror on the landing. It broke the mirror with its antlers and went into his bedroom. It clambered onto the bed and lay down on the duvet. He began sleeping in the spare room.
‘You probably need a permit,’ his neighbour said when he got home with a fresh supply of Febreze and was struggling to find his keys. ‘You should ask the council or the RSPCA.’
It licked the kickboards in the kitchen and groaned. It shed its antlers. He put them on the mantelpiece in the living room. In the mornings the reindeer seemed to cough and shudder.
‘I phoned the council and the RSPCA on your behalf,’ said his neighbour. ‘They think I’m having them on. You should contact the vets. You’ll need advice for the long term.’
She tried to look over his shoulder into the house.
‘If there’s to be a long term,’ she said.
Its cough worsened. He phoned the vets. The receptionist hung up on him so he decided to show up in the flesh. He bought some rope from Barnitts and made a sort of lead. He walked with the reindeer into the city.
It was drawn to a patch of grass opposite Sainsbury’s Local at the top of Bootham. It helped itself to the herbs planted in the raised beds. He didn’t have the strength to pull it away. A police community support officer leaned her bike against the kerb and said something into her radio. More police came and asked him about the reindeer. People from the council came and asked him about the reindeer. The owners of the Winter Wonderland came and said it was their reindeer. The reindeer kept eating the herbs.
The owners of the Winter Wonderland tempted the reindeer away from the herbs using a bucket full of carrots and led it into a horse box. They drove off with the reindeer.
Now and again, he takes down the antlers and holds them like he’s holding someone’s baby.
I am the nomad.
Across the rolling mounds of duvet, I clamber. The cold night, a welcome break. Yet it makes the travel harder, I can tell you. Negotiating sliding piles of cotton cloth cast-off. In this wild setting, you can virtually watch chaos theory in motion. A tumbleweed of midis, briefs and boxers settle to a stop, as I slide from the bed to floor. My footing will be strong now, if I can only ignore the ache in my spine.
Bleary eyed I stumble through the vast, open hallway. Traversing stairs, weaving coffee tables – guided only by the distant stand-by lights of living room electronics. I feel around the wall and negotiate the single step – it won’t catch me out tonight. As I start the tedious task of collecting water, I hit the first challenge. The glass in my hand is still warm from the dishwasher, this environment is ever testing.
A shake off the panic and run the glass under the tap. There is always a solution. A take stock for a moment but my nerves are rattled and the silence is starting to eat at me. In the lonely darkness, I do the only thing I can think to break it.
“Alexa, tell me a joke.”
The result – a heartbreaking sense of separation from humanity, an alienation that almost breaks me. But, no. I’ve been here before. I can make it.
I wrap my fingers around my eyes. A makeshift shield for the assault to come. It takes all the strength I have, but I manage to separate the fridge seal with a satisfying sigh from both me and it. Then; blinding light, numbing cold. The jug of water comes into focus through the cracks between my fingers.
Finally, the water rushes down. It strips the sandpaper feeling from my throat and replenishes me.
This is what I travelled for. This is what I needed to survive.
Practised, I take a moment to consider the best route back and decide to make camp on the sofa – if only for a while.
I am the nomad.
By Ben Warden