“Mandisa!” I said from the bank of the watering hole. “Come now, bath time is over.” She sprayed a trunkful of water over her back, looked over her shoulder at me, and grinned. I rolled my eyes in reply, nodding. “Fine. One more, then it is time for dust.”
She finished her bath with a methodical last spray. Mandisa always dragged her feet when the time came for dust. “Mama, I do not like it. The dust itches my eyes.”
“You want the bugs in your skin, then?”
“No! No bugs! Ewwwwwww!”
Several nearby calves giggled and stomped their feet, chanting, “Get them off, get them off!” They ran around each other, spotting “bugs” and squealing with mock disgust. Mandisa saw this as an opportunity to avoid the dust and joined in, squealing the loudest of all. My sisters looked at me with exasperation. We were meant to join another tribe at midday and the morning sun was climbing higher. Before I could put a stop to the nonsense, Mama Nomuula called, a deep rumble of command,
“Enough. We move.”
None were foolish enough to dally when Mama Nomuula gave her orders. I got in line behind an elder sister, then realized that there was, indeed, one foolish calf in our tribe. Mandisa snuck, silent and stealthy, back to the water.
“Mandisa–” I began, a lecture on my tongue, but stopped. A scent of low musk hit my trunk with a change in the wind’s direction. Long tails twitched above the grass at the edge of the water. Mandisa, giggling, stomping, spraying water, didn’t sense the danger. The she-lions, the three that I could see, stopped crawling and waited.
“Mandisa.” My command voice was pitched too low for the she-lions to hear, but I didn’t dare cry out and startle her. “You must come to me.”
She shook her head, pretended not to hear. One of her silky ears flapped too close to a she-lion, who could not resist taking a swipe. My baby trumpeted her pain, wheeling away.
“Swim, baby, swim!”
She made for the opposite bank without delay, trunk held aloft, the rest of her below water. The she-lions, with the scent of blood on the air, broke cover and revealed their numbers, eight in all. They ran away from me and toward where Mandisa would gain her feet on the shore. They were too many to fight, but not too many to distract. Breathing strong, I let out a trumpet, a blast of sound as good as a blow to the head for the she-lions. Before they could recover I charged, kicking dust in their faces, brandishing tusks too short to be fatal but long enough to gore. These she-lions were braver than most; after falling back they regrouped to encircle me.
I looked away from them, unwise but not to be helped; my baby, my sweet Mandisa, was already galloping through the long grass, calling a wordless alarm.
Motion near my right flank. I wheeled, but the she-lion was already in the air and her aim was true. Teeth popped through the skin of my neck, claws sought purchase along my spine. I bucked, whipped my trunk at her, screamed my rage in her face, yet she would not be thrown. I could not think through the pain, could only feel more teeth popping through my underbelly. I stumbled under their weight. If I could not keep my feet I would not keep my life.
One of them, overconfident, went for my throat. Her mistake was my reward; with trunk clamped around her throat, I leaned forward. The musk stung my nose, I wanted more than anything to throw this revolting thing away, but throwing would give her a chance to rejoin her sisters. I took a risk and fell on her writhing, scratching body, my full weight on my knees. Whatever was left of her after the crunch of breaking bone, I did not look to see. Four she-lions were still attached to me and now I was on the ground. I breathed, calmed myself, gathered my strength.
I prepared to heave myself to my feet when a trumpet that was longer, louder, and more menacing than any other, echoed to the far reaches of the long grass. The she-lions, all but the one clinging to my neck, scattered. I looked up, expecting to see one my sisters, to find a brother instead. His tusks were thick, yellowed with age, scarred and sharpened. His muscular form bore down on us and the she-lion let go her hold, then bolted.
The brother charged them down, lashing out with those glorious tusks. Nearby many voices were raised in anxious conversation, descending upon me. Trunks ran over me from head to tail, comforting themselves and me. A tiny trunk slipped into the side of my mouth, quivering with fear.
“Mama. My Mama.” Her voice was laden with guilt. I ran my trunk across her back.
“It is nothing. The brother saved me from the worst.”
Our eyes collectively sought the stranger. He regarded us from a respectful distance, sides heaving. Before I could venture a greeting or thank him, Mama Nomuula joined the crowd.
“Tumelo, can you stand?”
“I think so, Mama.”
“Make room! Let her rise!”
I gained my feet at a cost; my wounds reopened, leaking blood down my flanks. Moaning, I walked a few steps to the watering hole to drink, and the strange brother followed.
His voice was warm when he asked, “You are called Tumelo?”
I offered him my trunk for a friendly touch, but he wrapped his around mine. Such quick intimacy would have been rude under other circumstances. “Yes. I thank you for your courage.”
“It is not courage, when one can do a thing when need arises, which others cannot do. I am called Kopano.”
“We are well-met, Kopano. Would you . . . care to travel with me?” I motioned toward Mandisa, hovering close behind us. She still sucked, but not for much longer; I desired a calf by one such as Kopano.
He laughed, a bright sound that glittered against the anxious muttering of my sisters. “I am meant to travel south. There is a group of brothers, alone and unruly, which needs me. But . . .” His ear flapped playfully along my cheek. “If we should meet again, I am yours.”
I watched him take a drink, then begin his trek south. Mandisa huddled close for a suck while Mama Nomuula corralled the tribe in preparation to continue our journey. When I entered the line she sidled up to me.
“Will you be well for this walk, Tumelo?”
“Yes, if it is a slow one. I am not badly harmed.”
“Then it is well.” She took a few steps, then turned. “And Tumelo? We shall certainly meet Kopano again soon.” It was a promise, not only to me, but to my sisters. The tribe is always stronger when the blood of Unity runs in its veins.
The runner up was also quite deserving for giving a realistic impression of the lion attack.
So, this means that Tara has the honour of doing two prompts in a row. However, since this is a second win in two weeks, she has the option of passing on the prompt writing back to me, so she can make another entry the following week.
The fourth edition will be announced very soon, and this time it’s Tracey Lynn Tobin with the prompt, though she won’t be judging.