JOEL AND HIS BROTHER Hayden did everything together.
They played catch, they built forts and they watched DVDs together. Hayden always let Joel choose which ones they watched. Joel always picked the ones he knew Hayden would like.
At the weekend they played games around the house. Hayden usually won at tag, but more often than not Joel found the better hiding places in hide-and-seek.
There was only one problem. They couldn’t ever go anywhere by themselves.
Hayden was in a wheelchair and since they lived on one of the steepest streets in the city, Joel couldn’t manage pushing Hayden up or down it.
‘Why can’t we move somewhere flat?’ he asked their mum.
‘And why can’t I get an electric wheelchair?’ added Hayden. He winked at Joel to show he was only joking. Joel wasn’t sure why. He thought it was a pretty good idea.
Mum sighed. ‘You know we can’t afford to move at the moment.’ She patted Hayden’s back. ‘We’ll get you the chair soon. I promise.’
Hayden grinned at Joel.
‘Anyway,’ said Mum, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you both. We’re going to the zoo tomorrow.’
Joel sat up. ‘Really? Can we go see the monkeys? And the zebras? And the–?’
‘Finish your chores and we’ll see,’ said Mum.
The next day they woke up early, ready for the zoo. Joel made a list of all the animals he wanted to see, while Mum packed lunch for them all. Hayden added a velociraptor and a polka-dotted hippopotamus to the list.
‘The zoo doesn’t have those,’ Joel said.
Hayden grinned. ‘I still want to see them though.’
Joel helped Mum get Hayden’s wheelchair into the car and they set off.
Joel and Hayden both loved the zoo. The paths were pretty steep, but they had the Zoo Cruiser, a little truck that could fit their whole family.
Mum pulled up outside the zoo’s entrance. She and Joel got Hayden out of the car.
‘All right. Off you go,’ she said.
Joel and Hayden stared at her.
She smiled. ‘I booked the Zoo Cruiser for you both. I’ll be back to pick you up at two. Call me if there are any problems.’ She gave them some money to pay for the passes.
Joel grinned. ‘Thanks Mum!’
Mum drove off and Joel pushed Hayden inside. One of the keepers met them at the door.
‘I’m really sorry,’ he said. ‘The Zoo Cruiser’s stopped running. We won’t be able to take you around today.’
‘Oh no!’ said Joel. ‘When will it be working again?’
The zookeeper shook his head. ‘I’m afraid it won’t be. The hills are too steep for it.’
Joel looked at Hayden. If he couldn’t push him up the street at home, there was no way he’d manage the hills at the Zoo.
Hayden shrugged. ‘Joel, you go around. I’ll call Mum.’
The zookeeper smiled. ‘Don’t you worry about that, young man. I’m sure we can find someone to help push.’ He went and found one of the other zookeepers.
‘Here we are,’ he said. ‘George isn’t so busy today, so he’d be more than happy to take you on a personal tour.’
George was very round and smiley. He reminded Joel of a marshmallow with legs.
George shook hands with Joel; then he patted Hayden on the head. Hayden made a face at Joel when he did that.
George took them around to see the monkeys, the zebras and the llamas. Joel had a great time pulling faces at the monkeys. He wasn’t so keen on the llamas. One of them spat at him, and they smelt horrible.
Hayden wanted to go and see the sun bears but George stopped at the top of a hill. His face had gone red and he was out of breath. His hair stuck to his forehead in little wet threads. Joel thought it looked as if a bowl of spaghetti had been tipped over his head.
George leant on the back of Hayden’s wheelchair. ‘You’re heavier than you look, lad,’ he said to Hayden.
Hayden laughed. ‘Maybe you’re just not as strong as you think.’
George clucked his tongue and pretended to be insulted.
‘Let’s stop and have lunch,’ said Hayden.
Joel unpacked the food.
‘Could you pass me a drink please, Joel?’ asked Hayden.
George jumped up instead. ‘Allow me.’ He grinned and gave a pretend bow.
Hayden leant forward to take the bottle. His chair started to roll.
‘The brakes!’ yelled Joel.
George didn’t seem to understand. He just stood there.
Joel dived for the chair, but it was picking up speed.
‘Help!’ Hayden’s arms flew out as he hurtled down the hill. He tried to reach for the brakes but he couldn’t find them.
Joel chased after him.
Hayden managed to grab the brake on one of the wheels but he couldn’t reach the other. The chair swung sideways. It hit the kerb and Hayden launched out into the bushes. He yelped. Joel covered his face.
George ran past him. ‘All right, lad?’
Joel peeked out through his fingers.
Hayden was sitting up, grinning. ‘That was awesome! Can I do it again?’
‘No way!’ said George. He was laughing too.
George called their mum and waited with them until she arrived. He gave them some free passes to the zoo. ‘Next time,’ he said, ‘I’ll remember the brakes.