The hot afternoon sun gazed upon the ample grasslands, staring at the wildlife inhabitants so much that they had to linger around the watering holes, dipping themselves severally in an attempt to avoid it. They all knew too well that this meant the drought was just at the horizon, so many of them made attempts at finding themselves as much food as possible, even if it meant moving away. Yet, while the majority focused on their bellies, a group of zebras had a more ominous concern, one whose bones were still stained in blood, holding on to the skin that dangled precariously from them.
“He was so young,” his mother said, tears flowing freely as the others consoled her.
“If only he ran just a bit faster,” a member of the zeal added.
“He couldn’t have outrun them,” his father spoke, trying hard to be strong for his grieving family, “they hadn’t appeared in many days. It was only a matter of time before they came back. I just hoped it wouldn’t be him.”
“So would you wish it was the rest of us?!” one retorted, prompting accusatory looks from the others.
“Would it be so bad?! I’ve already lost my brothers, two daughters and an uncle to those monsters!” he snapped back.
“So have I!” another one chipped in, “I’m the only surviving member of my family left!”
“Look at what they did to me! I can barely walk!” yet another chimed in as an argument ensued, each one trying to prove themselves the most afflicted. Before it erupted into violence, an elderly zebra stomped the ground.
“My children, we have all lost loved ones to these animals. We are all in this together, alright? If we fight amongst ourselves, surely, how easy will it be for them to hunt us one by one?”
Amidst the sombre mood, the young girl’s hooves trotted about the plain, her impatience at the herd’s decision to wait around.
“Can we go now?”
“Mama, please wait,” her mother replied, her tears still visible.
“But you said we had to go. I want to go now!”
“Let’s go!” the girl demanded, nudging her mother.
“QUIET!” her father snapped, making her turn away, sulking.
“You didn’t have to be so…”
“This is not the time.”
“Then what next for us?” her mother asked.
“We must move on. The drought will be upon us, and we ought to find greener pastures.” With that, he motioned the rest to keep moving, including the foal.
“It’s not fair. We have to struggle to find food every day, while they get to pick which one of us they’ll eat. Why is life so unfair?” one asked. The others turned to see her, sympathizing with her as they too were in her position once, yet unable to do much about it. The elder brought her close to him.
“Listen, we ought to be familiar with the way of things by now. If we stick together, there’s a greater chance for us, if not, well, have a look. We must go, please,” the eldest spoke with finality.
“No,” his mother whimpered, crouching over her son’s remains.
“Please, I’m begging you…”
“No! I’m not leaving him again,” she insisted. Her husband trod her way, whispering in her ear while pulling her away.
‘Mama, we have to go.’
‘No, I’m not…’
‘We have to go. Come.’
‘Come mama, let’s go.’
“Let’s go!” her daughter shouted, excited that they were finally leaving that boring place. Reluctantly, she accepted and followed the rest of the herd, walking closely by the herd for fear of being taken away.
“Wake up, Kaka!” she yelled, stomping her little feet near her brother, expecting him to spring into action.
“Does she know?” one asked.
“Poor girl, she’ll know soon enough,” another added.
“Who’ll tell her?”
“Come, child,” her father gently nudged, “let your brother rest, he’ll join us later.”
“HURRY UP!” she shouted, joining the others.
“We have to hurry. It seems we are the only ones who didn’t leave early,” one said, urging them to walk faster across the plains, down the slopes and across the river, which had already shown signs of drying up. One after the other, they crossed the muddy waters and went on in the harsh sun for a few hours before they took a break to have a meal.
As they ate, Mama, noticed her father wandering away. She followed him, eager to lead him back to the rest before they set out to leave again. He had stopped at a bush shaded by a large tree, where he ate in peace.
“Where’s Kaka?” she asked him.
“Mama, please. Now is not the time,” he begged, looking away from her. this only prompted her to skip towards him and continue her probe.
“Where’s he? You said he was coming!” she went on. Only then did she see the sullen face turn to her in response, eyes threatening to burst open.
“It never gets easier, does it? I’ve lost so much already, I thought I’d be used to it by now. But it never gets easier, does it?”
“What never gets easier? Why are you crying?”
“No, I don’t want you to see me like this. Run along now, I’m right behind you, Mama.”
“But why are you crying?” He realised that she had no idea what happened to her brother, so he gathered himself to tell her the truth. But just before he did, his eyes widened and his voice shook with every word.
“G-go to the others. I-I’m right b-behind you.”
“Mama, go to your mother. I’m right behind…I-I’ll come soon,” he said, his hooves planted firmly in the ground. The girl couldn’t understand her father’s faint words, so she came closer to listen.
“Father, let’s go. We’re almost leaving.”
“Please, please, Mama!” he moaned, falling to the ground, still trembling. With every step she took, his pleas became incomprehensible, as all the girl could see was her father acting weirdly.
“Let’s go!” she demanded, nudging him to get up, unable to grasp his suddenly erratic behaviour.
“Twende!! They’ll leave us!”
“Please my dear, please…”
Her ears pricked at the sound of the low growling, her eyes fixed on the spotted creature above them; its paws treaded lightly on the thick branch above them as it stared at her, saliva dripping from its teeth, snarling quietly as it prepared to attack.
“Fa…,” before she could finish, he pushed her away as the leopard leapt onto her father’s back, sinking its teeth into his flesh amidst his screams for mercy. The little foal dashed to the clearing to join the already fleeing herd, terror weighing down her feeble legs. She saw her mother, who ran towards her in an effort to save her, nearly just approaching her before another leopard jumped down between them, growling menacingly at her.
“Mummy!” she squealed at her mother, who attempted to come forward twice before the cat lunged at her, forcing her to flee. The other beast leapt right infront of her, tripping her and placing its claws on her belly.
“Please, please, plea…aargh…aaargh!”
He tried getting a word out, but he couldn’t breathe. His eyes watched the beast tighten its grip on him, darting across to his daughter in the clutches of the other, mortified at the sight before her. He tried moving ahead, but the leopard sunk in deeper. He fought to move, but his strength failed him with every passing second, until he breathed his last, slumping onto the ground, while a horrified Mama looked on, unable to move
The leopard placed its paw on her fragile frame, stroking it a bit before picking her up in its mouth and joining its counterpart, who had dragged the body behind the tree and prepared to feast. As mama watched her father get opened up, the cat turned her away and made her lie down, licking her back to clean her, putting her at ease.
Just ahead, she saw its cub running towards her, and before she leapt away, it was scolded.
“Go and eat!” the leopard said to a disgruntled cub that stomped away to the other one.
“What’s your name?” she asked the frightened foal. She slowly looked up to the beast, and meekly replied.
“Mama. I like that name. Did he give it to you,” the leopard said, smiling at her. She turned to look at her father, but the beast turned her away and faced her directly.
“No no no, don’t look there.”
“Please don’t…,” Mama pleaded.
“You know,” the leopard interrupted, “it’s better you keep to the herd next time. There’s safety in numbers. Mmm?”
“Please, please,” she whimpered, fright choking her.
‘Look over there!’ she whispered to Mama, who turned to see her mother looking at them from a distance. She turned back to the leopard, who smiled and said.
“Run Mama, she’s waiting for…” No sooner had she finished that sentence than the foal sprinted to her mother, who was only too glad to have her child back.
As they walked away, she went to have her share of the meal while the other leopard watched the mother and daughter. Their cub joined him, and as soon as he laid eyes on them, began to give chase before he was stopped.
“They’re getting away!” he cried.
“For now.There’s more than enough food for us over there, boy.”
“They’re getting away!” he shouted again and chased after Mama, but she outran him and fled, leaving him out of breath and humiliated, much to his amused father.
“Almost got them.”
“Next time they won’t. I promise that,” he said.
“Go back and eat. We might not be so lucky next time.”
“Okay. But I don’t understand something.”
“You’re a child. You’re not allowed to understand many things.”
“But it’s true, you aren’t. What were you saying?” he asked, trying his best to stifle laughter.
“Why do you always go for the neck? The stomach has more meat anyway.”
“Because, my son, if they talk, we might have mercy on them. And if we do have mercy on them, we’d starve.”