The humans were let in the gates at eight. They trickled in slowly at first but by mid-day the zoo was full of them: chubby tourists with fanny packs and baseball caps; mothers with tight ponytails and t-shirts stained with baby food pushing their sleeping toddlers along in strollers; middle aged men wielding cameras with huge lenses taking photo after photo of the zebras and elephants for the portfolio no one would see but themselves. Around this time of the day, the zoo employees would open a metal door and pile of hay and raw meat would slide down the chute into the centaur's habitat.
Arbios looked over his shoulder at the sound of the door opening and the resulting thud as the pile of food hit the grass but did not move. Clopia didn't look at all, but instead continued to slowly pick the hairs off her rump, one by one. She had long ago picked all the long hair off her head as well the majority of the finer hairs on the horse half of her body. The zoo keepers had brought in doctor a few months back to see what could be done about it.
“Trichotillomania,” the doctor had concluded after observing her for a period. “In a human I would prescribe cognitive behavior therapy, but for an animal, the best we can do is dose them with anti-depressants. You can also try exercising her more.”
Today was an exercise day. The zoo keepers walked cautiously up behind Clopia and swung a rope over her head, leading her into a room with a large centaur-sized treadmill. They left her in there for an hour and watched through a window as she stood, arms folded over her chest, looking back at them. She would swish her tail and defecate on the tile floor, but she showed absolutely no interest in the treadmill. Once the hour was up, the zoo keepers sighed and came from behind the window.
“Come on, girl,” one of the keepers said as he tossed the rope over Clopia's head once again.
“Die in a stampede,” she replied, but all the zoo keeper heard was a whinny.
Back in the habitat, Arbios still had not partaken of the hay and meat left by the keepers.
“Not hungry?” she asked and she lowered herself onto the grass.
“Not for that slop,” he said. “Just once I'd like to hunt something down and feel its hot blood gush as I tear out it's throat.”
“You could take one of them down pretty easily,” Clopia nodding towards a group of humans leaning over the fence, gawking at them.
“Yeah, about as easily as I could walk over there and eat that dead chicken in the corner.”
“They could at least leave the feathers on. That's the best part.”
She went back to slowly picking the hairs off her rump.
“Look kids!” said a woman with a group of fifteen youngsters. “Here are the mighty centaur. It says here that they live in forests and eat berries, hay and small mammals.”
“I also like long walks on the beach and French Poetry,” Arbios said. The woman didn't seem to notice. “Wanna mate and freak out the kids?”
“Not really,” Clopia shrugged.
Arbios watched her methodical movements as she pulled out a hair and held it out for the breeze to blow away and then repeated the process.
“Why do you do that anyway?” he asked.
“Its something to do, I guess.”
“Doesn't it hurt?”
“Ugh! How come the lady centaur is bald?” one of the youngsters said loudly, scrunching up his face in disgust. “She's ugly.”
She growled and leaped up, running at full speed toward the fence that separated the habitat from the humans. She slid to a halt when she reached the water and puffed herself up to her fullest height. Nostrils flaring, she stared at the youngster.
“I will come over there and feast on your eyeballs, you little shit-head,” she said, shaking with rage.
Arbios came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Come on,” he said quietly. “It's not worth it.”
He led her back to the shade, then went to the pile of food and began to eat.
“Want some?” he said, holding out a chicken leg to her.
“I'm not hungry,” she said and resumed her plucking.