Little Ming had walked briskly to the zoo and as instructed, had not turned round once (except for one tiny peek when going round the corner of En-lai street). Then she saw nothing unusual - just a handful of people scurrying either home for supper or off to work. She couldn't decide.
At the zoo, as expected she found the gateway unlocked and went in.
By this time, the animals had already eaten and were mostly dozing in the bottom of their cages and enclosures. Only the monkeys shrieked an hello as she walked by. But now NOT daring to turn around, Little Ming felt that a thousand eyes were watching and following her every move.
Little Ming walked past the penguins' pool but looked in at the antics of the birds still swimming and diving before proceeding onto the elephant house. There the baby elephants were rolling in the dust while the larger ones sprayed water on each other and had begun to bellow, gently at first but getting louder all the time.
Were they bellowing at each other or at Little Ming or at something else?
The giraffe house was the enclosure furthest away from the gate. Little Ming had only just realised this on arriving there, when she also noticed it was getting dark and the security lights were only just warming up and beginning to glow. For the first time she felt uneasy. Not afraid - but butterflies, big butterflies, were to beginning to gather in her stomach.
The thought of all those prawn crackers - so warm and aromatic - did not help either. They just reminded her of the last time she had eaten! So so long ago.
Once amongst the stretching and yawning giraffes, who were oblvious of her, Little Ming soon found the required waste bin. It was green and empty save for an envelope addressed to her. Picking it up and looking around Little Ming was now certain she had been followed and someone else was very near by.
Credit due, she did not panic. She put the money and prawn crackers into the bin and rammed the letter into her coat pocket. She turned on her heels. Then, she remembered what Granma T had said.
"Breath deeply, don't be afraid and walk very quickly - no running, back to the entrance but STAY in the middle of the walkways. Do NOT go near any of the cages."
Back at the entrance Little Ming paused. For she had lately been running and was now quite breathless. The street was desolate -no rickshaws, no market people, no pedestrians what so ever. In fact there was no - one.
Just a few golden pools of light from the rooms in the apartment house opposite.
Now was the time to open her letter. It contained the instructions on what to do next.
Go home, study the map.
Go to the light maze in the International Gardens
Solve the problem and release the plaque!
Attached to the letter was a strange map.
Little Ming wasted no more time, she carefully refolded the letter and the map and made her way safely back home.....oblivious to what was happening behind her.
In the meantime...