Even though Gavin was relatively young for a tapir, he lived down the hall from James Blinkhorn in the nursing home. He wasn’t supposed to be there, the room was empty but he only inhabited a small corner of the living area, so it was ok. He had a long nose, almost like an elephant, and he was covered in an assortment of spots and stripes.
Mr Blinkhorn woke up every morning, in the small hours of the day. Every time, he would yawn and say to himself ‘Today is a good day to die.’ It was true, every day was more beautiful than the next and although in his old age, he had grown to appreciate life greatly, he would be content to drop dead on any one of them. But the only problem was who would look after Gavin when he went? James got dressed, tied his shoelaces,, combed back his grey hair and straightened his tie. He knew that bow ties were no longer in fashion, but he didn’t care. It reminded him of the days when he was young, when everyone was so much more sophisticated. He switched off his lamp and walked down the hall to Gavin’s room.
It was an unused room at the back of the nursing home, and it was gathering dust and cobwebs, but Gavin’s corner was immaculately clean, with a small bed, an armchair, a few pictures on the walls and a small string of lanterns hung up in the corner. James placed down the mug of sweet corn that he had saved from last night’s dinner, and Gavin tottered over and helped himself. He was about three inches tall, so each kernel of corn was about the size of a loaf of bread to him. As he nibbled at the pieces, Mr Blinkhorn sat down next to his corner and sighed.
‘Do you believe in badgers?’ He asked.
Gavin put down his piece of corn. ‘I have heard of them”, he said knowingly, ‘and seen pictures in books, but never have I seen a real one. My cousin Jesper tracks badgers as his job, but he’s never found one. Perhaps they aren’t real?’ Gavin looked up at James.
‘Maybe not, but it would be quite unfair to deny their existence without gathering any information. Should we go on a badger hunt Gavin?’
‘Oh let’s do.’
James fetched the fold-out walking frame from his room, and Gavin climbed atop the bag rest. It was not yet six o’clock, and the nursing home was silent as a countryside graveyard. James and Gavin wheeled out the back door and down the crunchy gravel pathway to the forest. It was bright pink in the light of the sunrise and blue jays the size of cats chirped in the ancient oak trees.
‘Perfect weather for badgers.’ Gavin remarked, and it was. They wheeled around tree trunks that towered up and up like giant skyscrapers, until they came to a small babbling brook. It jabbered of the mountains from which it had come and the sea where it was headed, whispered silently of secrets it held within its banks. They turned south and followed it downstream. ‘South for badgers, north for sparrows.’ James said, and they walked on.
After some time they came to a small hollow in the ground, not two metres from the stream.
‘Is it a badger hollow?’ said Gavin.
‘I don’t know,’ replied James, ‘perhaps we should check.’ Gavin climbed down from the walking frame and slunk silently into the mouth of the hollow.
‘Looks clear.’ He whispered, and crept inside. After a few moments, there was a squeak, and three rabbits bounded out of the hollow and off into the trees. Gavin emerged covered in white fluffy fur.
‘Not badgers,’ He said. ‘rabbits.’
They walked on, following the river until quite suddenly the woods next to it became very dense with brambles and vines.
‘Could we go around it?’ wondered James, peering to the right. The wall of shrubbery seemed to go on as far as the eye could see.
‘It’s a badger wall, we’re getting close.’ His nose twitched. ‘We can’t go around, that would be going east, we want north for badgers.’
James lifted Gavin onto his shoulder and abandoned the walking frame, then they started forward through the brambles.
‘I didn’t need it anyhow,’ said James as he trampled through the undergrowth.
‘Course not.’ Said Gavin.
‘Hey!’ James stopped in his tracks, there had been a sound like a roar, just quieter.
‘That’s a badger for sure,’ said Gavin wisely.
‘How do you know?’
‘My cousin Jesper heard a badger once when he was tracking them, I haven’t written to Jesper in a while, I must send a letter….’
‘Okay.’ James sped up, excited at the prospect of seeing a real live badger. He pushed his way into a clearing, and there in the middle was a great mound of earth with a hole in the top.
‘A badger hole,’ breathed Gavin.
James walked up to the edge of the hole and placed Gavin on the ground, who then picked up a pebble, and tossed it down. There was a clunk, and an ‘Ouch!’ then a slightly familiar face appeared.
‘Jesper?’ said Gavin.
‘Gavin!’ said Jepser. They hugged and then turned to James.
‘James this is my cousin Jesper, and Jesper this is my friend James.’ Said Gavin, James reached down and Jesper shook his finger politely. He looked very similar to Gavin with his long nose and sort of round ears with pointy ends, but Jesper didn’t have any spots or stripes and he wore a large pair of round glasses on his nose.
‘So Jesper, what are you doing here?’ Asked Gavin.
‘Well, I was out tracking, and then I found this wonderful badger family who are very nice. I’ve been living with them for a while.’
James walked to the other side of the clearing to let them catch up, and lay down in the grass. The last thing he heard before he fell asleep was Jesper asking Gavin if he would like to live with him and the badgers, and Gavin agreeing. James felt peaceful, he could let go, since Gavin would live with Jesper now everything would be fine. And he smiled.
The patches of sun shining onto the grass faded for a moment as a cloud passed. The wind swept through the trees restlessly, tearing several leaves from their branches. They fluttered through the air, to and fro until they came to rest on James’ now still chest.
‘He was found in a clearing in the forest next to a badger hole.’ Said the nurse. ‘But he wasn’t attacked, he died of natural causes. He was smiling.’
‘And his friend Gavin that he spoke of, do you know who he is?’ Asked Amber Blinkhorn, wiping tears from her eyes.
‘That was probably just a figment of his imagination.’ Said the nurse. ‘You do know that your father had Alzheimer’s?’
‘Yes.’ Replied Amber. ‘But did you check in the room where he said Gavin lived?’
‘We did, it’s just an unused room in the patients wing. All we found was a pile of sweet corn in the corner.’