And The Lions Laze

Anna G. Joujan 

© Copyright 2022 by Anna G. Joujan 


Photo (c) 2001 by Richard Loller

Photo (c) 2001 by Richard Loller

The first time I went back to the land where I spent my earliest childhood years, I discovered the thrilling lull of a lion’s lullaby. At the time, I resigned myself to never getting to actually look a lion in its face. After so many years of nearly sighting the queen of the beasts, but not quite, it seemed to be simply a state of life I was to live with. This is what I wrote at the time, in 2007, then a starry-eyed youth in my late twenties . . .

It is a sound unlike any I have ever heard before, and a sound impossible to describe with the written word. But once you have heard it, you can never forget it. So my sleep has been sweet, lulled into slumber each night to the soft and steady hum of the lions.

It has been the week of the lions. A small pride of females moved into the camp—no one knows why, as it is unusual for them to choose such a relatively inhabited spot, humanly speaking, for their hunting grounds. But they are most definitely here. And our daily life has been significantly disrupted.

I first realized how much so when a vehicle arrived early Monday to pick us up from school. The driver explained that the lions were right there behind the school, and so it was not safe for us to take our usual 5-minute walk back for lunch break.

For the remainder of that afternoon, we heard consistently intermittent reminders that one large cat was lounging right behind us. She was just hidden enough by the grasses for us to not be able to get a good look, but tauntingly close enough that each rustle in the grasses left us with almost-glimpses.

The next disruption occurred when the subject of my morning runs came up among staff. While I had asked about running before I came, it has ended up being debated off and on, as local folks notice my habitual roaming of the grounds.

It was with trepidation that I awaited the outcome of these deliberations—being an utter addict, if I were to be cut off from my run, I would be a lost soul indeed. Ultimately, to my great relief, it was decided that I could keep my routine, on one condition: I can no longer run with headphones.

So I am, for the first time in about 10 years now of running, getting used to what I call my silent runs.” It’s been actually quite a nice realization to find that I can adapt to hearing only the sound of my own feet and breath. No doubt when I am once again living in an area where I can run with my iPod, I will welcome its return, but for now, I am happy without.

And so we have come through what I will remember as the week of the lions..

A few years later, I would return to the same spot. Towards the end of my time, again working as a teacher, though this time a bit older, though not necessarily wiser, I went on a road trip with a coworker and friend. We revisited the game park where I had worked before and, thanks to the benefits of connections, we were able, as penny-pinching non-profit workers, to go on one of those authentic “game drives” that wealthy ex-pats clamor for, inadvertently funding a years worth of porridge meals for the guides who escort them on their ventures.

That day, we lifted our cameras in sync with the other foreigners in the Hummer. The day wore on. The night began to drift upon us, the sun lowering on the horizon. Our guide, wary of the very real dangers of being out in the bush past dusk, began the drive back to camp.

I realized then that I had not quite let go of the small twinge of hope that, maybe, this time, it would happen; my heart sunk a bit, knowing it was too late. The sun was setting. It was time to go back. And soon, it would be time for me to leave this country. One. Last Time.

A part of me then realized that it was right for it to end this way. A poetically beautiful irony that I could spend much of my life living so close to what I had longed for, and yet not quite making it.

A parallel, in fact, to the search for my father’s grave. I would return to the country three times after our initial departure, each time hoping to find that spot, tucked into the woods, where I knew the villagers had laid a single stone to mark his resting place. With only the visual memory of the aging villagers, I wandered through the woods, peering closely at each clearing on the ground. So close. So. Very. Close.

The brakes hit with a jolt. We looked at each other with a bit of eyebrows-raised concern. Had we hit an impassible patch in the road? Would we be stranded here?

The guide stood up, turned towards us, and triumphantly held up his right hand to command our attention, his left hand holding a high-beam flashlight. He slowly turned the flashlight, our eyes following its beam, until it settled on the bright eyes of a great lioness, lazing in the dirt a mere 6 feet from our vehicle.

I gasped. I grabbed the arm of my friend, and, nearly hyperventilating, attempted to report the brilliant news to him. He smiled in response, nodded his head, and gently turned me back towards the sight at hand. I gazed at her loveliness, marveled that she did not flinch, did not run, simply stared right back at us.

It felt like a moment, and an eternity. She never moved, except for a slight twitching of her tail.

Eventually our guide sat back down, the engine revved up, and we rumbled back to camp.

That was it. The moment was gone. Except that it was not. The moment will never be gone.

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