Once there was a young wombat named Benson who lived in a warm, safe wombat hole with his mother and his two aunts, Lillibet and Moss.
Benson’s friend, Zali, had a baby sister called Zip, who was still so little that she spent most of her time in her mother’s pouch. She couldn’t really talk, she could only say, “huh-huh.”
Zali and Zip’s grandmother was called Aunty Lal. Her real name was Lallapalloosa, but everyone called her Aunty Lal except for Zali and Zip, because she was their grandma.
One day she made little Zip a panda onesie. It was black and white and furry, with little panda ears and panda buttons all down the tummy. She looked so cute in it that all the grown-ups said, “Oh, she’s so cute!” whenever they saw her in it, and just wanted to pick her up and hug her.
Zip loved her panda suit. It covered her all over from head to toe, and it was soft and warm. It made her feel cosy and snuggly, as if she was in her mother’s pouch. She loved it so much that she wouldn’t let her mother take it off. She wore it every day and even at bedtime she wouldn’t take it off.
Benson didn’t think she looked cute. “I think she thinks she IS a panda,” he said to his mother. “She doesn’t say, ‘huh huh’ any more, she just growls instead. Yesterday she tried to bite me.”
“No!” said his mother. “She wouldn’t!”
“She did!” Benson said.
The next day at the playground, Zip’s mother, Teresa, said, “I don’t know what to do about little Zip.”
“Why, what’s wrong?” Benson’s mother said.
“She won’t drink her milk, and she won’t sleep in my pouch any more,” Teresa said. “She just sits in a clump of bamboo and chews on the leaves all day.”
“That’s not good,” Benson’s mother said. “A little wombat needs her milk.”
“I think it’s the panda suit,” Teresa said. “I think she thinks she’s a panda.”
“Can’t you wait until she’s asleep and take it off her?” Benson’s mother said.
“I tried that,” Teresa said, “but she wakes up and screams. She even tried to bite me once.”
“Oh no!” Benson’s mother said.
“She wears it all the time, even in the rain, and it keeps shrinking and getting tighter,” Teresa said. “I don’t know how I’m going to get it off her.”
Benson had an idea. “You could give her lots and lots of cakes and cookies until she gets really fat and the panda suit splits in half.”
“That wouldn’t be good for her either, Benson,” his mother said.
Benson had a scary thought. “If she never takes it off, will she turn into a panda?” he asked. He imagined little Zip growing into a great big black-and-white panda with sharp claws and teeth, stomping and growling and biting people.
“No,” his mother said, “what you wear can’t turn you into something you aren’t. If you put on one of Aunt Lillibet’s hats, you wouldn’t turn into Aunt Lillibet, would you?”
Benson imagined himself turning into Aunt Lillibet and he shivered all over. He patted himself up and down to make sure he was his usual self.
His mother was thinking. “I don’t think Zip wants to BE a panda. She just likes the snuggly feeling the panda suit gives her.”
“What if she thinks that the panda suit has turned her into a panda?” Benson said. “She’s only little. She could easily get mixed up.”
His mother said, “You could be right. I think I’ll have a talk to Aunty Lal.”
The next time Benson saw little Zip, she was still wearing the panda suit. The white parts were dirty and grey, and her feet were sticking out because the legs were too short for her, but Zip didn’t care. Zali did, though. She kept trying to pull Zip’s panda hood off, saying, “Zip! Gone! Zip! Gone!”
Benson tried to tell her that it was still Zip inside the panda suit, but Zali wouldn’t listen. She got more and more upset. Then she tried to pull the suit off. Zip didn’t like Zali pulling at her suit. She growled like a fierce panda and scratched Zali across the nose.
Zali yelped and started to cry. “Zip! Zip gone!” she sobbed.
Benson couldn’t stand it any more. He went up to Zip and got hold of the panda buttons down the front of the panda suit and ripped them off in one go. The panda suit burst open, and a soft brown wombat popped out.
“Zip! My Zip!” Zali cried joyfully.
Zip burst into tears. Benson took her hand, and he took Zali’s hand in his other hand and he took them both home.
Aunt Lal was in the kitchen, with a big package. She gave Zip a cuddle and said, “Never mind, little Zippie, look, I’ve got a surprise for you!”
She opened up the package, and there was a brand new onesie, soft and furry and brown all over, with little wombat ears. She helped Zip put it on. Zip smiled happily and snuggled into her arms.
Aunty Lal said, “And if this one gets dirty and needs a wash, I’ve made you a spare one. What do you think?” She held up a bright green onesie with zigzag points all down the back and dinosaur buttons on the front and three horns on the hood.
Benson sighed, thinking of a small green triceratops rampaging through the sandpit.
Zali picked up the dinosaur suit, and ate the buttons.