Kayennah Kacheek, Kadoatie Keeper
"Maybe today will be the day," thought Kayennah, as she strolled through the Neopian Plaza on her way to work. It was a beautiful sunny morning and, even though it was still very early, already a small queue of people was beginning to form outside the Welcome Center. Kayennah waved at them cheerily, for it was always lovely to see newcomers arrive in Neopia for the first time. Perhaps she would have been better off working there, she mused idly. Handing out welcome packs to grateful recipients - how stressfree!
Usually Kayennah loved her job. It was something she had dreamed of doing since she was a baby Kacheek and often she had to pinch herself to make sure everything was real. "How lucky you are, to have a job you love," her friends would remark, not without a hint of jealousy, and then she would have to listen to them describing the horrors of serving pizza all day ("So tiring!") or keeping the shelves stocked with toys/books/school supplies etc ("So boring!"). But her friends were also quick to admit that they could never do her job. "Dirty, smelly and so noisy," one friend had said, crinkling her nose in distaste, while others had nodded in repulsed agreement. Kayennah knew differently. Nothing about her job was dirty or smelly, though quite often it was very, very noisy.
Kayennah had reached the Wishing Well, which was deserted so early in the morning. She shook herself out of her reverie and fished in her purse for some change. Holding two bright silver coins in her hand, she closed her eyes. "Please," she said aloud, "please let today be the day that..." She broke off. "Oh, you know what I wish for," she said almost angrily. "I've been coming here every morning for the last ten days, wishing for the same thing!" With a sigh, Kayennah threw the coins into the deep well, listened for the distant splash as they hit the water far below, then continued on her way to work.
Opening the door to the Kadoatery, Kayennah took a deep breath and crossed her fingers, which she then hid behind her back. Marcus, the night time Kadoatie Keeper, was sitting at the reception desk, sorting through some paperwork. He looked up when the bell above the door sounded and smiled.
"Any luck with Bouncy?" Kayennah asked him hopefully.
Marcus shook his head. "Ten days and counting," he said.
Kayennah's shoulders slumped and she uncrossed her fingers. How was it possible for a Kadoatie to go for so long without any food? "Well, maybe today..."
Marcus snorted. "I wouldn't count on it. All last night it was a vinarok. A vinarok! I mean, who carries those around with them?"
Kayennah hung her coat on the coat rack and put on her coveralls. "I don't even know what one is."
"It's a tropical fruit, very rare and very expensive."
"Well, that figures. Every food item Bouncy has put on her wanted board has been very rare and very expensive. Poor Bouncy, she must be starving."
"Poor Bouncy nothing. She just a pain. Kayennah, we're at full capacity here at the moment. We have twenty Kadoaties to feed and keep happy. We're too busy to have to cater for spoilt bratty Kads like Bouncy." Marcus handed Kayennah the Kadoatery keys. "Have fun! And good luck."
Kayennah gave him a wave farewell. At the reception desk, she flicked through the nighttime feeding lists. All of the food items demanded by the Kads had been regular things, such as pizza, gruel, slushies, burgers, chia pops. Little ticks were next to each item, meaning the Kadoatie had been fed and gone to sleep happy. All except Bouncy. There was no tick next to her vinarok. Once again Bouncy had gone without food.
But surely Marcus was wrong? Of course, many Kads were bratty and spoilt, but Bouncy just seemed sad.
Kayennah pulled her badge out of her coveralls pocket and pinned it to her chest. It read "Kayennah Kacheek, Kadoatie Keeper," and wearing it usually filled her with pride. Some people thought Kadoaties made unpleasant petpets, always scheming behind their owners' backs. Even Marcus, the night time keeper, wasn't overly keen. He only took the job because the night work was convenient to him, not because he had a particular fondness for the Kadoaties.
But Kayennah knew differently. As a child, she had been given a Kadoatie plushie for sixth birthday and had been fascinated with them ever since. And now, after having worked alongside them for over two years, her fascination for them had turned into a feeling of true adoration. They were beautiful creatures who, although often aloof, could offer you a smile to melt even the iciest of hearts, when treated with respect and kindness. And really, compared to some petpets, they didn't ask for all that much. They weren't particularly social creatures, preferring to be left alone for the majority of the time, but that was easy enough. They seemed to have a rather extreme fear of the dark, but leaving the lights on was no major deal. Once a trainee keeper had forgotten this and turned the lights off with disastrous results. The Kadoaties had cried and mewed so loudly and so incessantly that the nearby residents had complained and actually petitioned to have the Kadoatery closed down. It had taken a great deal of hard work, donations to the Money Tree (and the inevitable firing of the unfortunate trainee) to keep the Kadoatery open.
And then there was the constant hunger. Kadoaties were seemingly always hungry and, if not fed at regular intervals, they were again prone to crying. This was perhaps the main reason Kadoatie owners chose to leave them at the Kadoatery while they went away, gallivanting on their vacations. After all, it wouldn't be much of a vacation if most of it was spent feeding your petpet. But again, this was normally no big deal. Thanks to the generosity of many Neopians, the Kads were kept relatively well-fed.
Kayennah thought the idea behind the Kadoatery was simply genius. The Kadoatery was opened at regular intervals throughout the day and night to the general Neopian public, who brought with them various items of food. By each Kadoatie cage was a food wish list where the Kads had noted down their favourite foods. If some of the food matched what was on the wish lists, then everyone was happy: the Kadoatie got fed and the Neopians had the pleasure of feeding a rare, exotic petpet, which they were unlikely to come across in everyday life (so expensive were Kadoaties).
Usually, everything ran like clockwork. Oh, occasionally a fussy Kadoatie would be booked in, who would insist they only ever ate expensive food, or maybe a Kadoatie would only put expensive foods on their wish list in the improbable but not impossible hope of actually getting such a gourmet treat, but after a hour or two of not being fed, these Kadoaties would tire of crying and being hungry and quickly change their wish list to more common, affordable foods.
And then, ten days ago, everything had changed.
Ten days ago, Kayennah had stopped leaving work filled with her usual feeling of happiness, a sense of a job well done. Instead she had been going home feeling unsettled, gloomy, anxious and worried, and these feelings gnawed at her all evening, all through the night, and only seemed to deepen when she arrived back at work the next morning. She had started visiting the Wishing Well next door - well, anything was worth a try!
Ten days ago, Bouncy had arrived.
Like most Kadoaties, Bouncy, a beautiful Rainbow variety, had been confused at first at being left by her owner. Like most Kadoaties, Bouncy had cried hard for the first hour or so, before settling into a mewing lament.
"She'll be back," Kayennah had reassured her. "Your owner will be back for you soon. Until then, here is your wish list board. Just write down which foods you like and I'm sure people will be happy to feed you."
Bouncy had watched the first few feedings with interest. Hordes of eager people raced through into the room where the Kadoaties sat in their cages, their cries increasing with their hunger. People would stop by each cage, look at each wish list, chat for a while with the Kadoaties. If no one had a particular food item, more people would come in, and then more.
Once the Kadoaties knew they would be fed regularly, they settled down quite happily in their cages. They mostly seemed willing to endure the occasional fussing over from the Neopians if it meant they got food from them.
Here, Kayennah thought now, was where Bouncy was unlike other Kadoaties. In the ten days Bouncy had been here, no one had been able to feed her, and yet Bouncy didn't cry. Other Kadoaties would have been howling the place down by now, but Bouncy just continued to peer sadly out of her cage, waiting for the next influx of visitors to come and then she would smile all the time they were there, even though they failed to feed her.
Something wasn't right, and it was making Kayennah very unhappy indeed to have a Kadoatie remain unfed for so long. For one thing, Bouncy's owner would be very displeased about it when she returned to collect her petpet. And for another, Kayennah loved Kadoaties too much to just sit back and see one go hungry.
There came a slight mewing from the Kadoatie room. Glancing at her watch, Kayennah saw that it would soon be feeding time. There would just be enough time for her to say good morning to all the Kadoaties before letting in the feeders. Quickly, she made her way through to where all the cages were kept. The slight mewing became louder then louder still when the Kads realised it was just she, Kayennah, and not people bringing food.
Kayennah laughed. "I know, I know. You're all hungry for breakfast, but how about a hello first?"
A few of the Kadoaties turned their back to her, sulking. "Ooh, grumpy," Kayennah teased, checking their wish lists. "Fizzy faerie jelly, ummagine, buttered toast, black eyed peas, lemon bubble pizza, non-magical Lime Chia pop. I think we'll have some satisfied Kaddies this morning!"
She checked the list of a spotted Kadoatie named Chani and frowned. "Ummm, veggie faerie burger? You might want to add something else, Chani; those are still quite expensive."
Chani mewed a little but compliantly added tureen of olives and speckled hot dog to the list.
When Kayennah reached Bouncy, she smiled. "Hey Bouncy, what's for breakfast?"
Bouncy looked at her hopefully, smiling shyly.
Kayennah's heart sank as her eyes wandered over the list. "Vinarok, frozen negg, grape slurpship. Oh Bouncy, your owner never said you only ate such expensive foods. How about a candy Fyora staff? They're lovely!"
Still smiling, Bouncy shook her head.
"Well, you never know, you might get lucky." Kayennah reached into Bouncy's cage and rubbed the top of the Rainbow Kadoatie's head affectionately. Bouncy mewed happily.
Outside the Kadoatery, a large queue of excited people had gathered, each of them clutching bags stuffed full with food. Kayennah opened the door and they raced through to the feeding room, where the Kadoaties were now crying very loudly indeed. Kayennah followed the visitors through.
"I've got seven different varieties of pizza with me today," one Zafara announced. "Who wants pizza?" Several Kadoaties cried their approval.
"Who wants a speckled hot dog?" a Faerie Xweetok called, before flying over to Chani's cage and feeding the hot dog to a gleeful Chani.
Kayennah lingered near Bouncy's cage where a young Royal Girl Uni was looking at the expensive wish list. "Oh, I don't have these foods," the Uni said sadly. Bouncy looked up at her, smiling. The Uni stroked Bouncy's bright fur, "You poor thing, you must be so hungry. I'd love to be able to feed you but I don't think Daddy would let me bring such expensive foods here. I could ask him though. But he's not very keen on Kadoaties, He knew someone who had a mutant Kadoatie once and it bit him so now he thinks Kadoaties are vicious creatures. But you're not vicious, are you? You're lovely."
Bouncy should be crying, Kayennah thought as she watched. But she isn't. She looks happy!
Later, when all the visitors had gone and Kayennah had completed the breakfast paperwork - again, Bouncy was the only Kadoatie to go unfed - Kayennah thought long and hard about Bouncy. No Kadoatie could possibly go hungry for so long and not even make a fuss about it. Quietly, Kayennah let herself into the Kadoatie room. Everything was quiet. All the Kads were asleep, as tended to happen after a meal. Even Bouncy was nestled down in her cage, sleeping soundly. She should be crying, Kayennah thought again, watching the Kadoatie's body rise and fall with gentle sleeping breaths.
Peering closely into Bouncy's cage, Kayennah noticed something red around Bouncy's mouth. Carefully she reached in and wiped at the sticky substance. Holding her finger to her nose, she sniffed the goo then cautiously tasted it. Why, it was tomato sauce!
"How in Neopia...!" she muttered, a look of puzzlement crossing her face.
In the cage next to Bouncy slept Crybaby, a white Kadoatie. Kayennah curiously scanned Crybaby's wish list and there among a selection of pizzas was chip butty with tomato sauce! Now, Kayennah knew a sleeping Kadoatie should not be awakened, so she left the room, pondering hard, many unanswered questions racing through her mind.
The lunchtime visitors were just as excited as the morning ones had been. It seemed to Kayennah that no matter how many times the Kadoaties demanded food, kind Neopians were only too happy to oblige. In fact, many of the visitors were regulars - people who would come to the Kadoatery several times a day - so Kayennah wasn't too surprised when the young Royal Girl Uni who had been chatting to Bouncy came back.
"Is Bouncy still here?" the Uni asked, barely able to contain her glee.
Kayennah nodded. "Yes, her owner isn't due back for another two days yet."
The Uni squealed. "Look!" she exclaimed, opening her velvet purse. "Daddy said no, but then I asked Mummy who said yes, of course! Oh, Bouncy will be so happy!"
Kayennah eyed the vinarok, a yellowy-orange coloured fruit which had green vines wrapped around it. "So that's what a vinarok looks like," she said. She smiled. "I think Bouncy will be very pleased!"
Together, Kayennah and the Uni walked over to Bouncy's cage. The Rainbow Kadoatie, looking very pleased, was being petted by a red Lupe.
"Oh, did you feed Bouncy already?" the Uni asked in disappointment, seeing Bouncy's happy face.
The Lupe laughed. "I'm afraid not, young Uni. I only brought some slushies with me. But I thought poor Bouncy here could do with some company." He looked at Bouncy. "I hope you get your food, Bouncy," he said before moving to another cage.
"Look, Bouncy, look!" The Uni took the vinarok out of her purse. "I can feed you!" She pushed the Vinarok through the bars of the cage.
Kayennah was surprised to see a look of dismay cross Bouncy's face. Instead of the ecstatic reaction they had expected, Bouncy's eyes filled with tears and she turned her back on Kayennah and the Uni.
The young Uni looked dismayed herself. "I thought she would be happy!" she said softly.
Kayennah thought quickly. "I think Bouncy is very happy," she reassured the girl. "I think those are tears of joy that someone finally got her her favourite food."
The Uni smiled, cheerful once more. "Oh, I hope so! Bouncy, enjoy your food!" And she skipped happily out of the Kadoatery.
For once, Kayennah didn't let the visitors linger. All twenty Kadoaties had been fed so there was no reason for anyone to stay behind. When everyone had finally left, Kayennah knelt down by Bouncy's cage. The vinarok still lay there on the cage floor, untouched.
"Bouncy?" Kayennah said softly. "Don't you like your vinarok?"
Bouncy was mewing sadly.
"It's what you wanted," Kayennah said encouragingly.
Crybaby, in the cage next door, snorted loudly. "She didn't want any expensive food!" Crybaby mewed. "Bouncy only put those foods on her list so more people would talk to her."
"What do you mean?" Kayennah asked Crybaby.
"Bouncy is lonely. She misses her owner, she misses company." Crybaby sniffed haughtily. "Why, I have no idea. Most Kadoaties are happy to be by themselves as long as they know they will always get fed. Kadoaties aren't exactly the most sociable of creatures, you know. But Bouncy's lonely."
"How do you know this?" Kayennah asked.
"She told me,"Crybaby mewed. "She noticed that more people visit the cages of Kadoaties who want rare foods. Kadoaties who get fed straight away are ignored after that. Which suits most of us just fine. But unfed Kadoaties have a constant stream of visitors, all seeing if they have the right food. That's why her wish list was so fanciful. Not because she wants that food, but because she wants the company."
Kayennah nodded in understanding as everything fell into place. "And you, Crybaby, have been sharing your food with Bouncy so that she doesn't go hungry, right?"
Crybaby sniffed again. "Well, I'm not completely heartless!"
"Of course you're not!" Kayennah ruffled Crybaby's silky white fur. Crybaby bristled slightly but looked pleased, nonetheless. "Thank you, Crybaby, for being so generous. Oh, just when I think I know everything is there to know about you guys, you go and surprise me!"
Bouncy was still mewing sadly. "I'm sorry!" she blurted, tears spilling from her large eyes. "But I don't like being on my own! I'm not used to not having no one to talk to and play with, but everyone in here just wants to sleep."
Kayennah smiled. "You're not on your own, Bouncy. I'm here; I love chatting with you Kads! You don't have to go hungry to get company. Now, how about eating that vinarok?"
Bouncy cried loudly.
"What is it?" Kayennah asked in alarm.
"I don't even like vinarok!"
Laughing, Kayennah took the vinarok and passed it through to Crybaby, who eagerly wolfed it down. "That's for being such a caring Kadoatie," she told Crybaby. "And as for you." She turned to Bouncy. "How about you come keep me company at my desk?"
Bouncy mewed happily.
Crybaby mewed happily, too. "Great, now we can all get some sleep without listening to Bouncy moaning about being lonely!"
So, for the rest of the afternoon, Bouncy sat next to Kayennah as she worked at her desk. It was one of the best days Kayennah had ever had and she wondered how this morning she could possibly have considered working in the Welcome Center when she had such a great job already.
When Marcus came to take over the night shift, he was more than a little surprised to find Bouncy sitting on the desk.
"Problem solved," Kayennah told him, handing him the keys. "It wasn't brattiness, just simple loneliness."
Marcus's jaw dropped. "You mean, I have to have her here with me while I work?"
Kayennah grinned. "Oh, I think even you, Marcus, could get to love a Kadoatie if you tried!" She stroked Bouncy's ear. "See you in the morning, Bouncy. Make sure Marcus behaves himself!"
Bouncy mewed happily.
On her way home, Kayennah paused by the Wishing Well. She didn't have to make a wish any more but she threw some spare change in anyway. "Thank you," she said simply, and she went home filled with a sense of job well done!