Cleo sat on the concrete bench, fidgeting with her blouse’s collar and cuffs. It should be a prank, she thought. Why am I here?
She read the text again, her palms sweating.
Everyone is not who they say they are. Quietly get out and meet me where you had your first kiss. You know it. I’ll explain everything. Murphy.
She knew no one called Murphy, but here she was anyway. The bench opposite the Ostrich enclosure at the local zoo. Her teenage crush had planted a big one on her here during one of her many visits that ultimately gave way to her soft spot for animals. Few people in her life were privy to that and she thought none of them capable of pulling this. It had to be real.
The sender was a no-reply number. It can’t be Fome, she thought. He never showed a tendency towards pranks in the three years they’d been dating. Besides, he was too sweet a man to pull her out of work for a simple joke. He would be just as alarmed as she was if she could reach him now, but his phone had been switched off each time she tried.
She sighed and picked up her bag. This is plain stupid.
She didn’t immediately notice the man who suddenly appeared next to her, but she caught the faint smell of cigarettes he brought with him.
She turned, startled. The man, dressed in the dark-brown zoo staff uniform, couldn’t be much older than her, maybe thirty. It wasn’t just his melancholic flat tone that set her on edge.
No one ever called her that name.
“Murphy, yes. You received my message.”
His directness suggested it wasn’t a question. She said nothing, watching him glance around furtively.
“Follow me” he commanded, suddenly scurrying down the path that led to the elephants. She slung her bag and followed with weak knees, her stomach churning butterflies.
She silently warned herself to turn and run away. What if he was a killer? A kidnapper? Yet she kept following him, convinced that if he knew her birth name and the exact spot of her first kiss, he knew things.
Her office pumps made it difficult to keep up, and she soon was far behind. He rounded the bend by the elephants, disappearing from sight. She broke into a small run, trying not to lose him.
She stopped mid-stride, her hands flying to her chest.
He was by the open gate of the enclosure, expressionless, holding something long and shiny. A-
He put it to his lips, and the opening sequence of “Here Comes The Bride” rang.
Cleo’s mouth opened but nothing came out.
A well-decorated elephant came out from the enclosure. Cleo threw up her bag in hearty laughter when she saw the words written on the animal’s side, even before Fome emerged from behind it, beaming, with a pocket-size box in his hand.
“Yes! Yes! I will marry you!”