Po and Anna: An Extract from 'The Spirits of Sanctuary'


Po, the polar bear,  lived under Anna’s bed.  Well, not all the time.  He was 1.6m tall at  his shoulder and weighed 600 kg, so it was a very tight fit.  In fairness, he was only there in the evenings, when her mother tucked her in, smoothing the sheets and cooing love.   After that, when just her night light was on, he left the shelter of the bed and gave a good stretch. 


As his body length was over 2 metres, he occupied most of the room.  He sat to admire Anna’s ceiling, onto which her night light projected the moon and stars. Po was thinking of home. Anna watched him from her bed and felt his longing for a special kind of night sky.  He  looked over to her and their eyes met in understanding.  The lost and lonely little girl and the star-watching polar bear.


Anna didn't speak much these days and Po knew why.  He had been with her in the taxi on the perilous journey from Homs to the Greek coast.  He had sat beside her on two terrifying sea voyages in unseaworthy boats.  Then, in the refugee camp,  Po had been her best friend and companion.  He could comfort her with gentle nods, when her fears rose.  He allowed her to rest in his soft coat when she was unsure . She could fall asleep with her head on his giant white paw and wake with the hope that the day would be better than the last.


In time, Anna and Po, with her mother Salama, reached a final destination, a country called Cymru and a city called Caerdydd.   For Anna, it was not home.  There were no lemon trees, nor a veranda over which grape vines travelled.  How could it be home without her grandfather, father and brother?    Here, it was frequently wet and often cold.  There were languages she didn't understand.   The word she had heard used most was ‘immigrants’, but she couldn't begin to fathom it.   So, she lived with Po day to day, as best she could.


People she didn't know had decided that she should start school again and her mother had agreed.   She found the school building bright and welcoming, with teachers who smiled at her. Most people there smiled.  But, even so, she found it daunting and, at the beginning, was sometimes scared.   Every morning,  Po walked quietly alongside Anna to her school. Anna’s head reached somewhere between Po’s belly and his shoulder.  The bear had a lolloping gait.  His huge feet padded out a slow rhythm, while her feet tap-tapped along to keep up with him.  Not that Po was hurrying and he liked to hear her little feet tip-tapping along.


On each of these journeys, Po would take care not to trip up Anna's mother, Salama,  nor upset her mother's Bengal Tigress friend, Benzeera who walked by her side.   As they got used to taking this journey every day, the best pace to get them there was established.  Po and the Benzeera weren’t necessarily part of the agreement, nor in truth even seen or consulted, but they were happy with it and a feeling of comradeship developed.  For Po, the most important thing was to keep Anna safe and this was working out well.


In the classroom, Po squeezed under Anna’s table, his heavy nose on her lap. His black-bead eyes checked in on  her  periodically between his snoozes, just in case. In return, Anna stroked him, feeling the whiteness of his coat in her fingers, through which came the reassurance that she needed. No one else had a polar bear friend like Po.


One day, her class was asked to bring in their favourite story. On the evening Anna left Homs in a broken down taxi, her brother Kenan had given her a book, with the promise that one day he would find her and they would read it together.  The cover was of a very white polar bear staring attentively at a deep dark blue night sky, from which the stars shone like diamonds.  It was her favourite. It was Po.


© Gaynor Kavanagh