smell of fried
cabbage coming out of the small kitchen where my mom was preparing
lunch will always be the one I blame for what happened four hours
later that bright summer afternoon. Sadza,(stiff porridge) and fried
cabbage, would be the meal of that day, no meat to accompany them,
and it had been the same meal for the past three days. I had had just
about enough of that. I wanted meat, I craved meat, I needed meat -
even fish would do, and, since this was in a national park, where
hunting of wild animals and birds was prohibited, the only possible
option was fish, at least, fishing on lake kariba, the largest
manmade lake in the world, was allowed. So, without giving it much
thought, I gathered my fishing gear, and headed for the lake,
which was about three and a half kilometers from our compound.
I walked through
the Mopane woodland, on a curved narrow path that led to the lake,
quietly humming the rap to the new song I was working on, I vaguely
remembered the lion roaring we had heard the previous night. I paused
for a moment, listened intently for any sounds from around me, heard
nothing and told myself I wasn't going to be a sisi. I wanted fish
for dinner tonight and nothing would stop me from having it, not even
the thought of lions. Yes, there were potentially dangerous animals
here, buffalo, lions, leopards, elephants, to name just a few, and, I
had seen them all, walked into them and had my close calls with them;
of course, I had lived in game reserves all my childhood years with a
father who was a game ranger and clerk for national parks of
I came out of
the forest onto the pan, I was relieved to realize that there were no
elephants or buffalo helping themselves to the green grass that
decorated the whole area, nor were there any, drinking from the lake.
There were a few impalas and zebras dotted around the pan,
unworriedly grazing, which told me there were no predators around.
They simply raised their heads, briefly checked me out and went back
to their feeding business. The lake shore was still about half a
kilometer away, so I walked on. There wasn't anyone in sight by the
lake, which didn't worry me. I liked fishing alone. Quiet was very
important for me, besides, I was also busy in my head with the new
song, so, company would not be needed.
arrived at the
shore, prepared my fishing rods and wadded into the water. The water
level was very low such that I had to walk about thirty or so yards
before it got deep enough to fish for good size tilapia bream,
bearing in mind that I shouldn't go in too deep as the lake was
infested with crocodiles, and, as you probably know, they are the
meanest, stealthiest creatures on the planet, but as long as you are
not knee deep in the water, you are good, because, If it is big
enough to take you, you can see it approach you in the shallow water
but if you can't see it, then it's not big enough to overpower a full
grown man like me.
fish were biting
quite well, and, within twenty minutes of being here, I had already
caught eight good size breams and an average size tiger fish. I only
needed a few more and I would be done, ready to go back home before
dark. I checked my watch. It was half-past four, about two and a half
hours before sunset. Suddenly, I heard a distant yapping sound behind
me. I looked over my shoulder and squinted my eyes to try and see
what was making that sound, which was growing louder and louder by
the second-then I saw it. At first I thought they were just impalas
chasing each other but, nope, I was wrong; they were wild dogs, now
known as painted dogs, chasing after a female lion. Because of the
cloud of dust kicked up by their feet, it was kind of hard to count
how many they were, probably ten, running in a single file behind the
fast running lioness. They were headed in my direction, down the same
path I had used to get here. The lion was clearly running for dear
life and the dogs for a dear meal.
some of you may
be wondering, how is it possible for a lion that weighs between 110
and 180kg to be scared of a mere painted dog? A single dog or three
or four would definitely not even attempt to attack a lion, but seven
going upwards are just too many. To make matters worse, dogs do not
wait until prey is dead to start feeding, they feed while it's still
alive until it collapses and dies of either shock or bleeding, or
both, and am sure every animal in the wilderness knows this; so, the
lion was no coward, she was smart. She would have to outrun them,
which seemed almost impossible due to the dogs hunting technique of
cutting corners on their prey until it gets too tired to keep
I stood there,
mesmerized by what was happening, the lion seemed to slow down a bit,
as if considering battling it out with the dogs, then suddenly turned
its head towards me. I knew right away that she had seen me. The dogs
were almost surrounding her, still yapping excitedly, when the lion
did the unthinkable. She broke into a run towards me. There were
merely a few hundred meters between us and she covered them in just a
few seconds. As I watched, without hesitation, she splashed through
the water towards me. I was horrified. My heart was pounding, my
breathing heavy and loud as if I had just run an 800m race. There was
nowhere for me to run, because on one side was the deep blue waters
and on the other, one of the most feared animals on earth; it would
be a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. Without
realizing it, I had dropped my fishing rods and through the corner of
my eye, I saw one of them jerk violently, someone at the end of the
line had swallowed the hook, probably a tiger fish, but under the
circumstances, they could take away my rod for all I cared. Survival,
at this juncture, was much more important than fish.
happening, the dogs stopped just outside the water on the mainland,
their salivating red tongues hanging out of their mouths. They kept
trotting around out there, communicating in a language only known to
themselves. The lion, which had gotten to me and stood beside me,
looked back at the dogs. Her left side of the body touched my right
leg and I could feel a number of her pulses going. I was literally
frozen with fear. This was not real. This couldn't be real. How was
it possible that death could rub up against me like that, for, to us
humans, lions represent death? I was dreaming, yes, I was,
would wake up to the sound of my mum singing some church hymns as she
cleaned the house. There just was no other explanation to this.
like eternity, my senses started coming back to me. I didn't know
what to do but knew I had to do something. My fishing rod had stopped
jerking and that meant whoever had been on the other end of the
fishing line had somehow broken free, who cared? The dogs had stopped
yapping, only their panting sounds could be heard, half of them lay
on the grass, staring at us hungrily, the others still ran around,
rubbing up against each other, occasionally making light whistle-like
forgetting about the lion, I reached down, picked up my fishing rods
and raised them high above my head. I approached the mainland,
whirling the rods around in the air as I made sure to drag my feet
through the water, creating a loud splashing noise; while showing my
teeth in a menacing grin that I knew would have scared even me, the
owner. I was shouting on top of my voice.
hell outta here you jerks!"
worked, oh my
God, it worked! All the dogs scuttled off, at full speed, back
towards the forest, without looking back once!
I continued to shout, jumping up and down in the water. "Run
away and stay the hell away. You hear me, the hell away?"
stepped onto the
mainland and suddenly broke into a mischievous laugh that lasted a
very long time. I sat down where the dogs had been, calmed myself
down and looked at the lion still in the water. Surprisingly, I
wasn't scared of it anymore. As if my silence was her que, she did
the unexpected. She lowered her head into the water, picked up my
fish keepnet with her sharp teeth and slowly walked out onto the
mainland where I was sitting, her head held low while her tail slowly
swished from side to side to look harmless. She came up to me, put
down the keepnet beside me and stood there, staring far into the
forest that had swallowed the dogs. I noticed the tip of her left ear
was missing, as if it had been beaten off in a fight or something
sometime back. A small amount of blood was still dropping from a
fresh wound just above her front right knee. For a moment, I wanted
to reach out and touch her, pat her but thought better of it, I
didn't want to alarm her. She was still a wild animal. I just had to
wait for her to leave whenever she felt safe to do so. I was inwardly
praying it was soon, for the sun seemed to be rushing down towards
the horizon. As if she read my mind, she edged closer to me, and
pressed the side of her belly against me, before giving out a little
whine and walked off along the shoreline away from the forest
gave out a sigh of
relief, gathered up my rods and fish and walked home, telling myself
I wasn't going to tell anyone what had happened today, not my mum,
not my father, not my siblings, not my friends, nobody, It would be
my story till the day I die. Even if I told anyone, who would believe
such a story? Well, I just told you and you better believe it,
because it's very true. Later that evening at dinner time, as I
enjoyed the roasted tilapia, I told myself the delicious fish was
worth enjoying, they hadn't come that easy, and, most importantly,
they had saved the life of an innocent lion from the jaws of hungry
dogs. When I finally put my head down on my pillow around midnight, I
had a strange feeling that I hadn't seen the last of that strange
lion. I wasn't wrong.
did not go fishing
for the next couple of months. I chose to stay home, composing my
music and helping in the vegetable garden. Whenever someone from the
compound invited me to go fishing with them, I would come up with
some excuse or tell them I would catch up with them, which I never
did. My elder sister had started working at spar supermarket and we
could now afford meat regularly.
morning, my mother decided to cook beef trotters, and, those who have
prepared these, know how long they take to cook, especially on fire;
the whole day. I had to go fetch more firewood to add to the small
pile by the fireplace. I put on my army boots, grabbed my ax and made
for the woods about a kilometer from the compound. It was very quiet
as I walked through the short green grass, except for an occasional
chirp chirp from red eyed bulbuls that flew from tree to tree. I had
walked for a good fifteen minutes before the forest got thicker and
more dense with short acacia trees dominating all other trees here. I
stopped in the middle of a clearing full of dead logs. Elephants had
done a pretty good job of pushing over big Mopane trees in this area.
I told myself this was it, I just had to find a nice dead one, dry
enough to make good firewood.
eyes fell upon
one on the left side of the clearing. As I approached it, a sudden
uneasy feeling of being watched stopped me in my tracks. I listened
intently, my grip on the ax tightening. I was pretty sure I had heard
a twig snap. The hair at the back of my head stood on end. The way I
felt, plus my many years of living in the wilderness told me whatever
was watching me was no antelope or elephant or buffalo. The thickets
around me made it almost impossible to see what was out there. I
dropped on one knee to have a good look under the acacia bushes and
my fears were confirmed. Directly in front of me, about thirty yards
or so, were two round red eyes staring at me through the tall grass
under the bushes. Through the corner of my eye, to my left, at about
a quarter to, same distance, I saw two more eyes, and as I slowly
turned my head to my right, two more eyes glared at me. I knew I was
surrounded, and, each time I checked they had moved a few feet
my head, I told
myself the painful truth; I was done for. I was no match for three
lions, especially, armed with only an ax. Only a miracle could save
me. I wanted to scream so loud but the thick forest would just
swallow my screams; and, even if by some chance, someone at the camp
or compound heard me, by the time they got to where I was, I would be
minced meat in the lions' intestines. I had been so caught up in
thinking of a way out that I had forgotten to check behind me. More
fear gripped me when I thought I heard soft footsteps not too far
behind me. I was too terrified to turn around. Now, there is a
general belief that when in this situation with a lion, your best
weapon is to not turn tail but stare it down. One can stare down one
lion, two maybe, but how the hell do you stare down four lions, one
of which is behind you?
was going to have
to fight it out with these guys, yes, I was not going out without a
fight. One thing I knew for sure was that, lions do not like pain or
seeing their own blood, they usually avoid direct confrontation as
much as possible, resorting to creeping up on their targeted victim
and unexpectedly pouncing on it from less than twenty meters. The
element of surprise is their best weapon, which is why, once
discovered or noticed, they abandon the whole hunt and start afresh.
As I weighed my options, I knew this was a different scenario, these
guys did not want to surprise me because they had already surrounded
me, they wanted to take me on. As they edged closer to me, now only
about ten fifteen yards or so from me, my fear turned to bravery. A
surge of adrenaline rushed throughout my body as I whirled around to
face the lion behind me, which had gotten closer to me than the rest,
the ax held firmly in my hand. Something about it stopped me
immediately. It looked harmless, its expressionless eyes were light
brown and not red. It had lowered itself to its belly and kept
staring at me, its tail gently swishing from side to side. It also
was a lot bigger than the other three that were now giving out
terrifying low grunts and growls, seemingly waiting for further
instructions from the obviously older one lying there In front of
ones had now come together and kept pacing around, occasionally
making as if they were about to charge me. Their mouths were covered
in fresh blood, their stomachs round and full, hanging so low they
almost touched the ground; this meant that they had just been feeding
off a kill, and were not hungry. They were probably just pissed off
with me for passing by; or, wanted to kill me and save me for
desert…whatever their reason, they were terrifying. I was just
about to open my mouth and say something, I have no idea what, when
it dawned on me that I had seen this lioness before. Infact, we had
met before. I noticed the missing left ear tip. Yes, this was the
painted dog lioness! Oh my God! What the hell was going on? To be
honest, I did not know whether I should be happy or not, for, despite
this discovery, the other three lions' chilling growls and grunts had
not stopped, in fact they had increased a notch higher, sounding even
more menacing and impatient. From mere observation, they were younger
sisters of hers.
recognized her, she rose to her feet, walked around me to the three
sisters and a meeting of some sort took place right there in my eyes.
The three seemed unhappy with whatever their sister was asking them
to do. They kept grunting, rubbing up against each other and rolling
on the ground as if in protest but their growls had gone quieter. I
decided this was the time for me to make a move. I started backing up
slowly. The lions did not seem to notice as they continued arguing.
When I thought I had put enough distance between me and danger, I
turned around and slowly walked towards the compound. I was halfway
there when I suddenly felt I had company. I looked over my shoulder
and there she was, walking quietly less than five yards behind me.
She was making sure I got home safe. We got to the edge of the woods
where the compound yard began and she stopped. The yellow grass here
concealed her so well no one from our houses would see her if they
did not know she was there.
continued to walk
and when I was a few yards away from our house, the reality of what
almost happened, had it not been for the strange lion's sudden
appearance, hit me so hard I felt weak in all my joints. My legs
could not carry me anymore, and, before my body hit the ground, I
felt my mother's soft hand catch me and gently lower me onto our
Lesy?" She asked me softly, panic and fear evident in her gentle
could not speak.
My lips had become numb. All I could do was point in the direction of
the woods. She looked in the direction and saw the big brown eyes
behind the yellow grass for a very brief moment before they
I passed out
in her arms, I heard her utter the word, "Lions".
I came around,
two hours later, I was lying in my bed. My father sat in a rocking
chair beside my bed, a herald newspaper in his hands. He looked at me
and smiled. I sat up and spoke. "What happened to me?"
asleep." My father said gently.
what had happened.
said seriously, "can I ask you something?"
do I keep
running into this lion which seems to know me and like me?"
father's face lit
up for a moment as if what I had just said touched a nerve. He
shifted uneasily in his chair, cleared his throat and looked me right
in the eye before saying, "Which lion? Where have you been
running into it?"
told him about the
lake incident, then the woods incident that afternoon. There was a
growing look of interest and concern on his face as I narrated the
incidents. He did not interrupt me until I was done. Then, rising to
his feet, he said, looking down at me, "Come to the verandah, we
will talk about it all after dinner." Without waiting for my
response, he walked out of the room.
swallowing his last mouthful, my father began, his voice low and
years ago, you were just about six years old, there was a famous
pride of about fifteen lions, whose home range was between Nyanyani
river here and Nyaodza river, meaning they could freely roam all
around here at will and only preyed on wild animals until one day,
one of them, for some reason, killed and ate one of our own, a nice
old game ranger walking home from a bar in Nyamhunga township late at
night. A few of his remains were discovered a day after he went
missing and we all knew immediately who the culprits were. All the
park rangers were so incensed by this to the point where they
wanted the lion hunted down and shot, but the problem was knowing
which one exactly had killed him since they were all found together
near where the old man's remains were found." He paused for a
moment, lit his cigarette, and puffed on it before continuing.
had to kill
very sad and angry at the same time, I interrupted him, my voice a
bit harsh. "But why? One lion kills a man and fourteen more have
to die?" I could feel the sparkle in my eyes as I spoke and I
could see my mother, who had said nothing since I had woken up, shift
kills and eats a human being," my father replied gently, "
it becomes a man eater. It becomes a habit as he realizes how easy it
is to hunt people than other wild animals that are fully armed to
defend themselves. And, since it's impossible to know for sure which
one would have committed the crime, the whole pride has to be put
down, unfortunately. Unfortunately." He repeated for emphasis.
Scratching just below his left knee, he proceeded. "We shot and
killed all fifteen of them, including four very young ones. We loaded
all of them onto our vehicle and took them to the dumping area where
we burned them, but not before I had noticed one big female had milk
trickling from her mamae, a sign that she had very young
babies. I didn't tell anyone. The following day I went back to where
we had shot the pride and searched the whole area. It took me a good
one hour to locate a cub that could have easily been a few days old,
hidden in some thick shepherd bush. At that age she was helpless and
relied entirely on her mom. I picked her up and secretly brought her
home. I then took her to our house in Baobab ridge coz it was quiet
there and no one would ever know. If I had brought her here, she
would have been killed. People were very angry and also,
domesticating her would be against the national parks laws, I would
be reprimanded, or, fired. So, I kept it a secret. Only your mom and
I knew about it. We kept her in a small neat warm cage at the back of
the house and fed her for one and half years, during which time you
ate and played with her almost every day. You were too young to
remember but she certainly remembers you. Your scent has stayed with
her all these years."
paused again for
a long pull at his cigarette, which gave me a chance to speak.
that possible?" I said, not angry anymore but a bit emotional. "
I mean, it's been so long."
father explained, "lions have a very long lasting memory, unlike
leopards and other cats. They hardly forget."
don't remember any of that?" I was suddenly so serious. Wrinkles
of confusion had formed on my forehead.
my father matched my seriousness, "something terrible happened
one day when you were playing in the backyard with Regina. Yes,
that's what we called her." There was a very saddened look on
his face as he stared into the darkness in front of the verandah as
if he saw something only him could see. "At two and a half
years, Regina, because of the good balanced food we fed her, had
become too big for you. She outweighed you already and must have
pushed you back over one of the big rocks on the rocky outcrop at the
back of the house. When you fell, you hit your head hard on a flat
rock and had a bad concussion. Had it not been for the strike at work
that brought me back home earlier than usual that day, we would have
saw my mother
surreptitiously wipe a tear from her cheek. She kept quiet, with her
arms folded across her chest.
to be brought in and I did a good job of hiding Regina in the house,
and fortunately, the team had no idea of what a lion's spoor looked
like, all they said, after seeing some footprints near where they
picked you up, was, "You must have a large dog here." I
told them we did and that it had been taken for a walk. You were in a
commer for six months. That's probably how you forgot about Regina.
Your memory chose to bring back other things, maybe just so you
wouldn't blame her."
Is all I could say as I tried hard to remember.
incident," he continued, "I couldn't keep Regina here. I
had to release her into the wild even though it was unwise because
she knew nothing about survival in the jungle, but junkle was her
home. One pay day, when I was alone in camp, I brought her here and
sedated her before laying her in the one bush deep in the woods. I
waited in my car until she came round before driving off. She has
lived there ever since, and since she was female, it would be easy to
be accepted by other prides, or stay alone until old enough to mate
and start her own family. For months after that, when no one was
around, I would check up on her and bring her some food. Then one day
I saw her with a handsome fella and that was the last time I went to
see her. So, the other lions you saw weren't her sisters, they were
her daughters, that's why they obeyed her."
that, he rose
from his chair, walked up to me and laid his right hand on my
shoulder. "So," he spoke with a very low deep voice, "If
you love Regina, you stay away from her and the woods. She won't harm
you, but others might, and all of them, including her, will be put
down. You understand?"
quietly nodded and
watched him disappear behind the house, possibly for more cigarettes
night I didn't
sleep as flashbacks started hitting me hard in the head. Regina days
started coming back, more vividly each time. I told myself I would
pay her one last visit before going to the capital city of Harare for
college; in the safety of my father's car of course.
author's name in
of the message we
won't know where to send it.)