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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

Adopt A Polar Bear

The sky slowly darkened, and snow began to fall more heavily. The thermometer showed twenty degrees below zero. Max was about to abandon today's search when he detected movement in the snow at the limit of his vision.

The object moved towards him. At fifty yards he could see that it was a polar bear. It continued to approach, having sensed Max, upwind. At thirty yards the face of the magnificent creature was clear.

Max pulled the crumpled photograph from his pocket and compared the image to the beast. There was the three-inch scar on its nose; there was the tear in its left ear - both badges of some distant conflict. This was Bruno.

The hungry bear was now twenty yards away and starting to run at Max.

His rifle-shot struck the animal between the eyes. It tumbled and slid to a lifeless halt on the ice, barely ten yards in front of Max.

His mind returned to the Christmas Day, three years previously, that he had spent with his brother and sister-in-law in England. They had clearly been delighted with the expensive, weekend break for two that Max had purchased as their Christmas present. He had awaited the reciprocal gift with anticipation.

Max imagined, in a perfect world, that John and Janet would discretely offer him a night of sex with Janet. He felt this to be unlikely, however, and would have been happy to settle for a case of good wine. He was intrigued to be handed an A4 envelope.

On opening the envelope and reading its contents, Max was mortified to discover that John and Janet, on his behalf, had sponsored a Canadian polar bear.

He re-read the documentation, and lamentingly confirmed that, despite now possessing an adoption certificate and a photograph of Bruno, the gift contained nothing at all of any use to him.

He had feigned enthusiasm and said something suitably eco-friendly. However, the mental comparison of Janet’s naked body with the scarred face of this polar bear, lost in the Arctic wilderness, left him with a profound feeling of depression.

Max was nursing this resentment at home later that evening in the company of the bottle of malt whiskey that he had bought himself for Christmas, when he had an inspiration which would lead to John and Janet’s innovative gift changing his life.

Stage one of his plan required locating Bruno. The representative of the adoption department at the World Wildlife Fund was most helpful. It appeared that Bruno was, indeed, a real bear and had been regularly logged as returning during the summer months to the town of Churchill in Manitoba, Canada, on the shores of Hudson Bay.

Stage two of his plan surprised his relatives as he sold his flat and moved to Churchill, to arrive in the middle of the Arctic winter.

There were no tourists around at that time, and so it gave him an opportunity to make friends with the local people. He claimed to be writing a book on life in remote Arctic settlements. The locals were friendly and welcoming people and eager to talk about their lives and skills. Contributing to Max’s supposed research also added interest to their lives during the unremitting tedium of the winter months.

Max was thus able to study two critical skills, the learning of which constituted stage three of his plan: hunting and cooking.

During his first summer, Max made no attempt to locate Bruno. He accompanied his new friends on hunting expeditions to acquire their expertise, and he took a job as an assistant chef at a local restaurant. There he learned the best local recipes for Beluga whale, seal, over 270 species of sea birds and, of course, polar bear - culinary delights only enjoyed discretely by locals lest the sensibilities of the eco-tourists be offended.

It was the end of his second summer when fellow locals helped Max to load Bruno onto his sledge and accompanied him to the restaurant kitchen. Stage four of his plan would soon be complete.

As Max and all the friends he had made tucked-into polar bear steak au poivre from his own personal bear, he felt a tinge of guilt about his uncharitable attitude to that Christmas gift. Despite his initial reaction, he had proved that a gift of adopting a member of an endangered species could be a life-changing experience.

John and Janet had also noted the way in which their gift had made Max re-think his life, although, admittedly, they had assumed his interest in tracking Bruno to be more akin to that of David Attenborough. Indeed, last Christmas they had chosen to once again not offer Janet in celebration of the Nativity, but rather provide another vicarious animal adoption.

Anja was a Bengal tiger who had been regularly tracked in the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans in Eastern India where the River Ganges meets the Bay of Bengal.

Max had already read some books on Indian cookery and now possessed hunting skills. Tomorrow he would be booking his ticket to Kolkata.