THE FREEWAY FOX OF LOS ANGELES
I was merely a month old in the US and in the city when the story I am about to tell you happened. It was the heat of winter of 1990, in, Los Angeles: that city of angels. It was also the peak of a construction campaign embarked upon by the people of the city to increase and to expand LA's ever expanding freeways, boulevards and roads. It's really been long, since this event took place.
Time, it seems has tried to obfuscate some of the minor details that would have titillated readers' ever inquisitive sense. I cannot now remember which of the numerous city freeways that was being built or expanded. LA is a city crisscrossed by numerous freeways, that if you do not take proper care, you surely would mistake one for the other. It is complicated that residents of over 20 years still consult their maps before setting out. There were no map-quests then.
The freeways, boulevards and street ways look so much alike that you could be lost for hours trying to reconnect if you exited in the wrong place. Yes, it happened to me that Keche (my wife) and I being new in the city were lost for eight hours, because we had, while driving around, made the wrong exit thinking it was that one that would have led us into the Gardena end of El-Segundo Boulevard. Instead, we found ourselves in Parlous Verdes – about forty miles away from Gardena.
Suddenly, in the middle of it all, the construction engineers and their technicians made a startling discovery. Burrowed along the route of the new freeway construction was a creature of no mean significance -a creature that literally altered the speed of construction – into slow motion. It was a creature which the LA people treated as important, if not more important than any living LA man of the period under consideration. A fine, hapless, helpless creature. It was a fox.
The fabled fox encountered in folklore and tales that have spanned generations. It was an overfed fox. Upon a closer observation by a few construction workers who for days watched the animal leave and return to its burrowed habitation, a debate ensued. Was the fox merely overfed or was it a female and may be pregnant? To untangle the riddle, some inquisitive members of the construction team decided to invite staff of the LA Zoo, to take a closer observation of the fox and see if it could be helped.
Foxes could be cunning, if the fable ascribed to them was to come to play. Warning to you reader: in America, harming an animal is frowned at. You could be jailed for mistreating an animal. In America, it is considered a civic duty for man to always help an animal in distress except if the animal tried to harm the man. Don't get me wrong. It is equally a duty to help a man in distress. But think of what a Julius Berger construction worker would have done to a solitary helpless fox found on the route of a construction site say, along airport road in Abuja or between Ihiala in Anambra and Owerri in Imo State, Nigeria. Dead meat, you bet.
Then the sudden verdict that gladdened the hearts of the construction workers came in: no, the fox was not overfed. Yes, the fox was pregnant. She was expecting multiple puppies in a month or so. It was telling. It was news all over the city, as news of the pregnant fox quickly made rounds through the myriad of broadcast studios, news outlets and newspapers houses that festooned LA. Then television crew teams from different viewership competing channels with their Outside Broadcast (OB) vans arrived and struggled for vantage positions at the scene.
Then photo-journalists, each anxious to snap the best pix of the fox, invaded the place. Then human beings, (moms, kids, dads and the teens) trooped to the scene, especially on weekends, to see the pregnant fox leave and return. Then construction stopped along a mapped out segment of the freeway, in order to observe the fox run its daily routine of leaving in the morning in search of food and return in the evening at sunset, back into the burrow where she stayed for comfort till the next day. The stop work on that mapped out segment lasted while the fox tale lasted.
By consensus, the subject of observing the fox leave its place of abode in search for food in the morning and getting back home after sunset became known as the story of the 'freeway fox of Los Angeles.' Every evening, during the evening news, television stations would update on the fate of the fox. Did she leave today? What time? Did she return? What time? Were there any slight modifications in her schedule?
As a fox, is she playing or played any pranks decodable by man? Why and how? Could it be the weather? Did noise from the construction workers make any impact on the schedule of the fox? Is she okay? Does she look happy? Any signs of labor? Any pains? Whatever happened to the male counterpart that made her pregnant? Where could he be now that his secret act of dalliance has attracted world attention? Occasionally, the crew would turn to the spectators to ask their personal opinion and how they felt about the fate and circumstance of the hapless freeway fox. Yes, some spectators responded, while yet others were outright and deadpanned. Some even said the fox had done it again, by characteristically burrowing on a construction path. Anything fox, must be foxy.
So, it was until it was time for the freeway fox to give birth. The process was smooth as a team of animal doctors was drafted to the scene to observe and possibly make delivery safe. Delivery turned out to be very safe for the freeway fox. After it, the fox and its puppies were transported to the LA zoo, where special medics gave them first class medical attention. Some of the news crew members followed in tow. At the zoo, medics first observed if the fox and its puppies had any diseases that could infect other animals in their new abode.
They conducted every check usually done on a woman and child before and after delivery. After pronouncing the fox and its kids healthy for the LA zoo, they were quarantined in an exclusive place which had been prepared in anticipation of delivery and relocation. It was then and then that the news about the freeway fox gradually receded into the deep thought of news hunters and watchers and then into near extinct. Somewhere in my mind, however, it never was extinct and would never be.
Remember, as a journalist, I had followed the story not only for its human angle slant, but for curiosity. Yes, for its curios uniqueness. An animal being treated so decently like a man! Better than a man? An animal? Not even man could be so decently treated from the clan from whence I came. I could not believe myself and what I was seeing. Remember, I had just come from Nigeria, where human beings were and are still treated worse than animals. A country where one Dr. Tai Solarin would take it upon himself to remove human corpses and carcasses, maimed, killed, brutalized and abandoned to decay on the road.
Yes on the road in the full glare of nonchalant appropriate government authorities and human beings. In the full glare of human beings who had been shell-shocked and hardened to resignation and surrender; that I had come from a country where the dignity of man is in an unending laborious struggle of being restored. I ruminated that I had come from a country where there, usually are, no medical facilities good enough to serve the immediate little needs of the sick, not to talk of a sick animal or an animal in need as the freeway fox of LA.
I cried in silence that I had just come from a country where pre-natal and ante-natal treatment for women is still in the Stone Age, I cried that I had come from a country where nurses slap and abuse pregnant women in labor to induce them do the needful. But above all, that I had come from a country where like the male fox, maybe, also of Los Angeles, who did the job and gotten away with it, Nigerian men and men in general have the habit of making women pregnant and abandoning them to their fate.
I ruminated about the impact and consequences of that on the lives of many women. Those who labored in excruciating pains and died without help. Those women, whose husbands and male counterparts had abandoned and who could not have helped when perhaps, they most needed it. I thought of the plight of man; the conception of man and the delivery of man. I thought of the role and roles of government in modern healthcare delivery and the thought continued ever since till I sat by the laptop keyboard this early morning to now bring you this. Ready to read more? Wait for the concluding part, next Monday.
Offoaro writes from Havensgate, Owerri.