I met my niece for the first time when she was three months old. She sat next to me, in the car, while we drove through the Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari in Arkansas. I thought I spotted a hint of excitement on her pink face when we passed a pride of white peacocks and a troop of baboons. But that was just me. She was too little to tell, too new to the world to show any bias.
Two years later, more recently, we took her to the Philly zoo. And there, she sat in her stroller, sucking on a lollipop, and babbling a new song that she had just learnt, as we rode her past a big fat Amur tiger, a waddle of penguins and a flamboyance of tall orange flamingos. Lost in her own world, we might as well be strolling her in a community park.
But then, all of a sudden, as we were heading towards a tower of giraffes, she jerked from her seat, and called out to her mom. I thought I had finally figured what her favorite animal was, until we looked at where her fingers pointed. To a lone sparrow, pecking at the leftover feed that was meant for a kit of pigeons. A sparrow that looked similar to the flutter of sparrows that visited the porch of her house every morning.
An uncaged sparrow, modest and more ordinary looking than any other animals in the zoo, that to her was a friend, a visitor from miles beyond, and the only animal worth her excitement.