The Penguin That Didn't Like Water
(Perth, Western Australia, Australia)
Penny the penguin turned around and looked at the crowd gathering.
"I wonder if she's going to swim today," she heard one of the keepers say.
The truth was Penny didn't like water. In fact she hated it. When she was younger, she used to have bad molts and never had very good feathering. The water always felt too cold for her to swim.
To cool off, occasionally Penny would duck under the waterfall, and then quickly slipped out again.
Penny went and stood on her favourite rock.
Penny baffled her parents. She was a constant worry.
"Why can't she act like a penguin?" Mr Penguin complained.
"Who's ever heard of a penguin that doesn't like water?" said Mrs Penguin.
"She would die from hunger if it wasn't for the fact that we live at the zoo," said Mr Penguin.
"Yes," agreed Mrs Penguin. "Our relatives in the wild have to get their food from feeding on sea life caught swimming under the water."
"All penguins love the water. We are designed for it." Mr Penguin shook his head in disappointment. He just couldn't understand it.
"All, except our daughter," said Mrs Penguin, then sobbed, "We've failed as parents."
"Now, now, Betsy. We did our best," said Mr Penguin and put his flipper around her to comfort her.
"What can we do? It's such an embarrassment having a daughter that doesn't swim." Mrs Penguin sniffed.
Mr Penguin was lost for words. He could only hang his head.
Meanwhile back at the rock, Penny watched as the people pointed at her. She loved the limelight and wished she could have been an actress.
"Look Mrs Bishop," said one of the school children to her teacher. "That's the penguin that never goes into the water."
All the school children were talking about Penny. She was the star of the zoo. Penny loved it. She puffed out her chest to appear taller on her short stumpy legs.
"She's so adorable," another said.
"I wonder why she doesn't go in the water?" asked the girl with the ponytail.
"Maybe her mother forgot to teach her how to swim," said the boy with spiky hair.
"I wish I could take her home. She could sleep in my bed," said the girl with the dreamy eyes who loved penguins.
"You're so weird, who's ever heard of a penguin sleeping in a bed," scoffed the boy with freckles sprinkled across his nose.
It was Penny's favourite time, listening to the crowd talk about her. If she didn't go into the water, then she would continue to be the center of attention.
Then one day something happened.
Penny was taken out of the penguin exhibit. She was transferred to an enclosure in a building far away. The keepers had decided it was unnatural for Penny not to be in the water. They thought it would be best to keep her away from the crowds. That way, she might not be so distracted and eventually would go for a swim.
Penny was upset.
"I don't know why I'm here, there's nothing wrong with me," she complained.
"There must be if you're inside here," said one of the penguins. "This is for sick and injured penguins. I hurt my flipper when I fell off a rock. I was rescued and brought here."
"But I'm not injured. Nor am I sick," insisted Penny and tears flowed down her white feathered front.
"What other reason could there be for you to be here?" another asked.
"I know you. You're the penguin that doesn't swim," piped up one of the penguins, suddenly recognizing her.
"Yes, we've heard about you," they said.
"So how do you get around in the water if you don't swim?" asked another penguin.
"I don't go into the water," mumbled Penny.
"That's impossible! All penguins love water!" they gasped.
"We were made to be in water," one other penguin commented.
After that, rumors started that Penny was strange and wasn't fit to be called a penguin. It was unheard of for a penguin not to like water. All the other penguins began to talk about her behind her back.
"She must have penguin flu," said some. "She's here because she has a skin disease," said others.
"It could be contagious," one of the penguins suggested. "We need to keep away from her, in case we catch it too," they all agreed.
When the food arrived the other penguins pushed Penny out the way.
"When we've finished you can come back," they told her.
Penny threw her body from side to side as she waddled off. She went and rested on her rock far away from all the other penguins and waited. She didn't know why they didn't like her and wished she could go home.
Penny waited and when she saw that all the penguins had left, she went back to get some fish, but there was nothing left for her to eat. Not even a morsel. Every day was the same. Penny began to grow thin. The carers began to worry.
"Penny is getting thinner. She doesn't want to eat," said one of the carers.
"Maybe she's homesick and needs to go back to the exhibit," said the other carer.
"I agree. She doesn't seem to want to swim anyway," sighed the first carer. "I'll arrange for her transfer by the end of the week."
Later that day, Penny waddled off to the other side of the enclosure. She stopped at a small pool and noticed fish swimming.
"If I dive in, maybe I'll catch a fish," she thought. Penny felt weak from hunger.
She needed to eat. She looked around, but nobody paid her any attention.
Penny closed her eyes. "Here goes," she said just before she dived into the water.
Penny was astonished. The water didn't feel as cold as the few times she'd tried before. Using her flippers as paddles, she darted and shot through the water like a torpedo.
"This is cool," thought Penny. After half an hour of fun Penny got out of the water. She'd even managed to catch a few fish to eat.
Penny was surprised to see all the penguins were gathered at the pool's edge. She had an audience. For the first time in her life Penny felt shy.
"We thought you didn't know how to swim," said the penguin with the damaged flipper.
"And we thought you didn't like water," said another.
"I think I do," said Penny and told them how much she enjoyed it. "I went into the water because I was hungry and wanted to catch a fish," she explained.
Suddenly all the penguins felt bad. They hadn't been nice to Penny.
"The fish have just arrived. Come join us," they said. The other penguins felt guilty that they hadn't let her share the fish before.
That week Penny ate and swam every day. She began to put on weight. The carers were amazed. The following week she was allowed to return home.
"We're not sure how it happened, but one day we found her swimming. Penny loves the water now," her carers told the keepers at the exhibit.
Penny's parents were glad to see her.
"We missed you a lot. It wasn't the same without you here," they told her. They started making strange braying noises like a donkey because they were so happy to see her.
That afternoon, Penny returned to her favourite rock.
"Look there's the penguin that doesn't like water," said a group of passing school children.
Penny felt pleased she was the center of attention again.
Then a strange feeling came over Penny. Without warning she dived into the water and swam around. She frolicked and played with the other penguins. They swam as a group in a circle and 'porpoised' out of the water into the air.
When Penny jumped out of the water the crowd had grown even larger.
"We thought that penguin doesn't like water?" People were pointing at her.
"But look at her now," they were saying.
"You're a star," said one of the penguins. "A super star."
Penny dived back into the water. She knew everyone would be watching her, just like before. And now they loved her even more.
"That's our girl," said Mrs Penguin beaming with pride.
Mr Penguin said nothing. He just nodded with a tear in his eye.