All characters in this story belong to Samuel Reiman and Kovukono, and are not to be used without the permission of the writers. E-mails may be sent to srreimanabroad@aol.com and conor0191@aol.com.

I MIGHT LOVE YOU

 

            He’d barely been able to sleep that night. It hadn’t been pleasant when he’d finally drifted off, either. His conscience tortured him even in his sleep. He wanted to forget what had happened, but he knew it wouldn’t be that easy. It was never that easy, not for anyone.

            When the sun finally rose, Jabari felt no better. His limbs felt like lead, though whether it was from the lack of sleep or the dread of the morning, he didn’t know. He felt drained, physically and emotionally; it was a weariness that felt as if it wouldn’t leave. He pushed himself up off the ground and headed for the pride, his head hung low.

            He arrived at the den and found the entire pride staring as he entered. He headed toward the back of the den, toward Rajua and Pinduli. The sight before him pained him. There lied Rajua, talking happily with his mate, his son on the floor in front of them, still fast asleep.

            I don’t love you.

            He involuntarily drew in a sharp breath. Rajua and Pinduli looked up, their conversation stopping. “Jabari,” said Rajua quietly.

            “Rajua.”

            “Did you sleep well?” Rajua asked politely.

            Jabari shook his head, then replied in a dead, hollow voice, “No. I didn’t.”

            “And where is Ketisha?”

            “I don’t know,” said Jabari. “She was with Lengo, but . . . I don’t know.” Jabari looked away from the two of them for a few moments, then turned back and asked, “Where’s Weusi?”

            “She left, Jabari,” said Rajua. “In the middle of last night. She came back here to get Aushi and left immediately.” Rajua paused. “I’m sorry to hear what happened to Ruya.”

            “She’s gone?”

            Rajua nodded.

            “She’s gone . . .”

            “Jabari, there’s one last thing that she requested before she left. She wanted your breaking vow.”

            Jabari looked away from Rajua, unable to look him in the eye. “Yes,” he whispered. “I know.”

 

 

            Issa looked up as she heard the distant rustle of grass, along with the rest of her pride sisters with her. It seemed to be coming right toward them, whatever it was. “Hey, is that who I think it is?” asked a lioness.

            Issa sat up to get a better look. She gasped in delight, then ran toward the noise. “Weusi!” She ran up to her ex-pride sister and nuzzled her enthusiastically, the others not far behind her.

            “Where’ve you been?” asked Kifaa excitedly.

            “And is that yours?” asked Issa, noticing a little head poking out from behind Weusi.

            The questions went on and on without answer for almost a full minute, all of the lionesses overjoyed to see their pride sister home again. Weusi was slightly overwhelmed by the reception, wanting to step back and get away. It scared her somewhat to have so many lionesses around her all at once. For a month she hadn’t been around anyone but Aushi, her cub.

            “I—I’m back home, right?” Weusi asked.

            The lionesses looked at her in confusion for a moment before smiles crept across their faces. “Uh, yeah,” said Issa.

            “Can I stay here?” asked Weusi. “I’ve got a cub.”

            “Of course you can stay,” said Zula. “Come on, let’s get back to the den. You have no idea how much we missed you.”

            They led her back to the den, asking her questions, all of which could be summed up as “Where have you been?” They stopped trying to ask when it seemed the most Weusi was willing to give was a simple nod of the head. She seemed to be immersed in thought, almost unable to talk.

            When they got to the den, the questioning was performed again, though. The king and queen were especially happy to see her. Nothing had troubled their minds more than her fate when she insisted on leaving with Jabari when he was exiled. All of them wanted to know if she was alright, what had happened while she was gone, and just who was the little cub tagging along with her?

            Weusi lied down in her old spot in the den, finding it unoccupied. “Are you okay, Weusi?” asked Issa.

            The question seemed to be the first that penetrated her. “Hmm? Oh, yes. I’m fine. This is Aushi, by the way,” she said, turning to the cub by her side. “Aushi, say hello.”

            “Hi,” said Aushi timidly.

            “Good girl.”

            Kifaa spoke up. “Weusi, if you don’t mind me asking . . . where’s Jabari?”

            Weusi blinked. “I—I really don’t know.”

            “Is he dead?” asked Zula.

            “He might be. I left him.”

            Smiles appeared on a few of the lionesses’ faces. “Well, it’s nice to know you finally got rid of that jerk,” said Issa.

            Weusi looked at Issa blankly. Issa thought she might have said something wrong. Then Weusi smiled. She let out a small chuckle, then let out a full—bodied laugh. The other lionesses stared at her, worried. Her laugh became inaudible as she ran out of air, and Weusi drew in a long, gasping breath and continued laughing. Aushi pressed herself close to her mother’s side.

            “Is something funny?” asked Issa.

            “No,” Weusi choked out. “No, no, no . . .” The laughter finally subsided. “I’m sorry,” Weusi said between the last few giggles, and then, “I love you, Issa.”

            Issa smiled. “And we all love you, too, Weusi. It’s good to have you home.”

            Weusi smiled back. “Maybe.”

 

 

            Over the next few days Jabari saw Ketisha and Lengo several times while wandering through the lands. He never spoke to them. He didn’t want to. He was sure that if he just let it be that eventually time would fix his depression if nothing else would. But still days continued to pass and the pain hadn’t gone. Was there any hope that Weusi would forgive him? Why had he even thought about leaving her in the first place anyway? Just one day after she had left he had thought about seeing what it was like if he had tried to hook up with one of the other lionesses, but he couldn’t even get close enough to start talking to one of them; he just couldn’t get his mind off of Weusi.

            And if it needed rubbing in even worse, the marriage of Ketisha to Lengo and the reuniting of Juveda with Bagra had meant Lengo and Bagra were now both a part of the pride, and in the traditional custom, all were required to attend the ceremony. Although Rajua let him off the hook, the effects were still hard felt by Jabari as he wandered the lands alone all day. A couple of times that morning he thought about running off, then a couple of times he even thought about committing suicide. There was nothing else left for him to do.

            I have nothing left to live for, so why am I still here? Shouldn’t I make something to live for? But I can’t. I can’t get my mind off of her . . . when will she return?

            You know she’s not going to . . .

            Stop telling me that!

            But you know it . . .

            No I don’t. That’s the future, nobody writes the future, it’s what you make of it . . .

            So make something of it.

            Like what?

            I don’t know, but do something. Or else you’re just going to stay here and I’m going to bug you all day. Couldn’t you see that you were going insane once you started talking to me?

            I’m not going to end up like Juveda.

            But she’s okay now. Didn’t you see her yesterday when she was walking with Bagra and…

            Okay, shut up! Shut up!

            “Gods, I need to get out of here.”

            Jabari looked around. For miles – water, grass, trees, even a small herd of gazelle to hunt down if he wanted to. The last time he had been this alone he had thought of it as freedom. But now he had learnt, the hard way, that freedom is nothing if you have nobody to share it with.

            He looked around again one more time to see if anything had changed, if anyone was coming, then after seeing no difference, he knew that the only reason something was going to change was if he made it happen. He began to walk away.

 

 

            Aushi ran into the den. “Mommy,” she called. She looked around but could see no sign of her through the mass of sleeping lionesses. Spotting her aunt in the corner however, she ran over to Kifaa.

            “Kifaa?”

            “What is it Aushi?” she asked with her eyes still closed.

            “Have you seen Mommy?”

            “No, I honestly can’t say I have. Why, what is it?”

            “Nothing. But I woke up and she wasn’t in here so I went outside to search for her but . . . ”

            “You didn’t go too far, did you?”

            “Nooo . . .”

            “Aushi,” she groaned and made to stand up, “You know you shouldn’t go out too far on your own.” Kifaa had taken the greatest liking of all the lionesses to Aushi, and after Weusi had told her privately, as the “sister that she trusted the most,” about Ruya’s death, Kifaa had promised to herself and Weusi that she would never allow Aushi to be harmed.

            Kifaa still wasn’t able to replace Issa, however. Kifaa was undoubtedly a good foster mother to Aushi, but sometimes it seemed as though she lingered too much on the subject of Weusi and Jabari’s “love.” Issa knew differently; she had been doubtful of Jabari’s intentions with Weusi all along.

            After all of the excitement had died down upon Weusi’s return, Weusi had taken Issa aside and explained everything to her. The beatings, the cubs, Bagra, the pride, Jabari with Ketisha, Ruya’s death, and then the leaving. Although Issa promised that she wouldn’t tell anyone else unless it was okay with her, common sense told Weusi after how angry Issa was with Jabari at the end of the story, that she would not be afraid to spread the word of how cruel Jabari had been and how much of a lowdown he really was.

            Nonetheless, Weusi deep-down earnestly hoped that she wouldn’t talk about Jabari. She had had some time to think the whole thing over, and although she never really thought about going back and even at the least seeing Jabari, she praised the fact that her final words had been “I don’t love you like I loved you yesterday,” rather than plainly “I don’t love you.”

 

 

            Jabari lay in the grass, staring at the savannah moodily. He was barely aware of the lioness by his side. Her one-sided conversation fell on deaf ears; Jabari was preoccupied with his own thoughts. Jabari couldn’t ignore her poke to the back of his head. “Are you even listening to me?”

            Jabari shook his head, clearing his mind. “Sorry. What were you saying?”

            “That we should go hunting. It’s getting near dark.”

            “Maybe. We hunted yesterday.”

            “We didn’t catch anything,” she pointed out.

            “We can go a day without hunting.”

            “But I’m hungry.”

            “Alright, then. We can hunt. Want to go now?”

            “Let’s wait until it gets a little darker. I should probably stretch anyway; we’ve just been lying around all day.”

            “Alright.”

            “And maybe we can do a little more hunting after it,” she said coyly, nuzzling up to him. “Hmm?”

            Jabari looked away. “I’m not in the mood.”

            “I can put you in it. Come on, Jabari, let’s have a little fun.”

            “No.”

            The lioness leaned away, annoyance on her face. “Come on, Jabari, I’ve been with you for almost three weeks now. Males usually jump at any chance to jump on a girl like me. You aren’t—you know . . .” She whispered the last word. “. . . gay?”

            A small chuckle was brought forth from Jabari. “No, I’m not gay.”

            “Then why don’t we have a little fun, hmm?” She pressed herself closer to Jabari than she had the last time and kissed him on the neck. “Come on—” she whispered.

            Jabari pushed her away, not quite as nicely as he could have. “I said no, alright? No. No, I don’t want to have sex with you tonight. Can I make that any plainer?”

            The lioness frowned. “You’re thinking about her, again, aren’t you?”

            Jabari looked away from her face, feeling ashamed. “Yes,” he said after a pause. “I—I just . . .”

            “Jabari, she left you three whole years ago! For crying out loud, that’s almost half my life!”

            “I just feel that she wouldn’t want me to . . .”

            “To what? Get over her? She’s gone, she’s dead, think whatever you want, but she walked out of your life a long time ago, Jabari!”

            A tear slid down Jabari’s face. “I can’t stop thinking about her. About how horribly I treated her. About how much I miss—”

            “Aiheu, Mano, and Afriti! Weusi, Weusi, Weusi, that’s all I ever hear. Look at me, Jabari. I’m here right now. I want you right now. She could care less about you, she’s probably already shacked up with some other guy by now, and you’re still here and pining over her! What is your problem?”

            She couldn’t see Jabari’s face. She knew that he was crying, but it seemed absurd to be doing so. Jabari knew why she told him this; it was perfectly logical, perfectly reasonable. Every lioness he had come up to had been like this with him, sooner or later. She hadn’t been the first to blow her top after three weeks of staying with him; some had done it much sooner.

            “Why don’t we just go hunting?” he suggested softly.

            The lioness calmed down. “Fine, we can go hunting,” she said. Maybe he would be a little more reasonable on a full stomach. Maybe he’d even already decided, maybe that was why he’d chosen to carry through her plan. “Come on.” The two of them got up and began to stalk through the savannah.

            It didn’t take much effort to bring down a kill. She watched him closely as they ate, smiling as he dined at a leisurely pace, letting her take the parts she desired most. He was politer than almost any lion she had ever met, she had to give him that.

            He finally leaned back, finishing after she did, and lied down on the ground. She walked around the carcass and lied next to him, purring contentedly. She nipped at his ear. She knew he could tell she was ready. He laid his head down on his forepaws, looking away from her. “You should get some sleep,” he said.

            She looked at him almost disgustedly, then half-groaned, half-sighed as she turned away from him, laying her head down as well. She wasn’t going to get anything from him at all, not even a kiss.

            Jabari woke the next morning to find that she had left him. He felt ashamed. He’d driven yet another lioness away from him. But how could he help it, while Weusi still haunted his mind?

 

 

            “Firiki?”

The young male turned around from his post and looked at her. “Yes, Kifaa?”

“There seems to be some concern regarding the antelope herd in the west, they . . . ”

            “Kifaa, doesn’t it seem that I have more important things on my mind right now?”

            Kifaa sighed, “Yes sir,” and let him walk off.

Feeling defeated once again, she didn’t take any notice at first of the sound of the two sets of footsteps approaching her from behind.

            “What’s the matter now?” asked Issa.

            “He’s not listening to us again! I told you this was a bad idea, I was more than happy when we didn’t have a king and we just went with our gut, now what’s the point of having one when the only difference is that we have to ask permission from him when we want to do something, and he just ignores us!”

            “You’re wasting your breath, Kifaa. Don’t forget that I was against him joining our pride, too.”

            “Are all guys like this?”

            “No.”Kifaa whirled around. “Oh, hi Weusi, I didn’t know you were here, too.”

“I came up with Issa. Kifaa, not all guys are bad, well at first appearance they all seem arrogant but once you get to know them – that’s when you get to tell who you like and who you don’t.”

            “Weusi, it’s been three years . . .”

            “Don’t think I don’t remember a couple of things. In fact, I think I see some of the things that happened in more light than I did at the time.” Weusi smiled slightly and walked off.

            Issa and Kifaa watched her until she was out of hearing distance. “You want to know what I heard the other day?” asked Issa.

            “What?”

            “Well, I think it’s just a rumor but Zula said she was just beyond the boundary the other day where she actually glimpsed Jabari wandering on his own.”

            “Never!”

            “It’s true.”

            “You don’t think that he could be thinking of . . .”

            “Well I thought about that a little bit and the idea frightens me still just as much as it probably does you, but I have a plan.”

            “What is it?” Kifaa asked slightly uneasily, glancing again to check as Issa did that Weusi was still wandering away and not listening in.

            “Well,” Issa chuckled, “It’s not going to be fun, but the results I believe will be worth it.”

 

 

            Jabari didn’t know that he was close to his old home. Instead in his mind he was far away from ever returning to any place he knew. But really he just didn’t know. He had met so many lionesses, hunting in many different places, followed rivers down and upstream and sometimes just followed a good herd or two so that he always had some food at the ready. For the past few days he had been following this herd of antelope that now had seemed to station themselves just in a patch of rich savannah grass. Then he thought that now would be a good time to stop wandering, he’d been doing it for so long. After all, chances were that a lioness would eventually come and try to take one of these down, that’s how he’d met Oshia, Anwani, Pakamwi, Kamili, Zamani, Kipande, Saba and Kweli.

            It took several lazy days while he’d been following these antelope until he finally met another lioness.

            Like the previous mornings, the day had started for Jabari very lazily, until he finally decided that he was hungry and it ought to be time that he ate again. He checked on the herd, almost exactly where he had left them.

            So he had gotten up, stretched, and then slowly had begun to creep up on them on his belly with the wind blowing far away from them. He had singled out the meatiest one. Although it is customary for a lion to target the weakest prey, what motivation did Jabari have to live except to have some fun? And what was fun about trying to kill the easiest one of the herd?

            So once he had singled out the toughest one, all that was left to do was to wait for the right moment and charge. He moved his paws a couple of steps closer to the target, then watched as the antelope’s mouth descended back onto the grass, and then he sprung.

            In an instant the race was on, and Jabari watched as the herd moved around jostling in between each other, as the meaty antelope slowly started to get further and further out of his reach, until . . .

            ROAR! He was suddenly knocked down to the side and rolled over and over as the rest of the antelope somehow managed to avoid running over him. Once he was at a halt and the sound of the stampede had faded out to far in front of him, he felt it was safe to lift his head back up, and that’s when he saw her, in his mind, for the first time.

            “This surely can’t be the one you were trying to bring down, was it?”

            Jabari looked underneath the lionesses paw. Sure enough, that was the one. This lioness must have used his chase as an ambush and darted out from the side and taken the antelope down for him.

            “Yeah—that’s the one,” he replied.

            “Hmm,” she looked back down at the carcass, “I like a guy that likes to push himself sometimes,” she smiled and looked back up at him, “What’s your name?”

            “Jabari,”

            “That’s nice, mine’s Is—er . . . Ki—no . . . ”

            “Isakino?”

            “Huh? Yeah, Isakino, yeah, that’s my name.” Oh boy, this is going to be harder than I thought. “You, uh, you wanna share this?”

            “I don’t feel like running after the rest.”

            “I’ll take that as a yes,” she said with a smile. She began to wolf down the meal, Jabari doing the same.

 

 

            “Aushi!

            “Present, Mom.”

            “Never let me see you doing that again. It’s crude, it’s unbecoming for a female—”

            “It’s bathing, Mom.”

            “Then get someone else to help you,” said Weusi. “Firiki gives us enough problems without you needing to do things like that.”

            “Mom,” said Aushi patiently, “I’m almost four. I can take care of myself—which I was just trying to do—and Firiki doesn’t even care about me. Sure, he might think I look okay, but he’s not a pervert.” Aushi smiled. “I’d worry about yourself, if I were you.”

            “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

            “You’re still looking pretty good for someone your age. What is it, thirteen? Fourteen?”

            “It’s nine, you little urchin, and don’t you forget it. Or I might start remembering that you’re just two.”

            “I didn’t have to hunt when I was two.”

            “I can make exceptions. Where’s Issa?”

            “She—uh, she’s busy.”

            “Where, though? She’s late, she said she’d go hunting with me.”

            “She said she couldn’t make it,” said Aushi quickly.

            “What? When?”

            “Earlier. Yeah. And she said that you don’t need to worry about it. Why don’t we just go hunting instead, have some mother—daughter time, huh?”

            “You’re lying.”

            “No, I’m speaking fictionally.”

            “Alright, fine. If Issa wanted some time to do something, she could have just told me.”

            “So you want to go hunting?”

            “When did you last eat, honey?”

            “Yesterday.”

            “Little early to be eating again, isn’t it?”

            “I won’t eat much, Mom, I promise.”

            “Alright,” said Weusi. “Let’s go. How about we get some antelope?”

 

 

            “So, where’re you from?” asked Issa, settling down close to Jabari. Between the two of them, antelope had been completely devoured.

            “Pretty far away, probably,” admitted Jabari. “Honestly, I really don’t know where I am. What do you call this place?”

            “I don’t have a name from it. I’m not from around here, either.”

            “How does a lioness like you become a rogue?”

            “You have to really work at it,” said Issa, grinning. “Really, though, I just had to leave. My pride sister—one of my best friends—she died. I just couldn’t stand being around the place anymore.”

            “What was her name?”

            “Oh, you probably wouldn’t know her. It was a pretty common name.”

            “Go ahead, try me.”

            “Weusi.” Issa couldn’t have hoped for a more startled reaction. “What?”

            “She—she’s dead?” Jabari almost whispered the words.

            “I told you it’s a pretty common name. You sure you’re not thinking of someone else?”

            “How did she die?”

            “It—oh, it was horrible. I don’t really like to talk about it.”

            “Please, I need to know.”

            “She—she was—uh—hunting. And there was a horrible stampede, and she—she got right in the middle and . . .”

            “No . . .”

            “We just found little pieces of her afterward.” It was a good thing Jabari was staring at the ground; Issa’s gleeful face was completely at odds with her tone of voice. He more than deserves this.

            “Di—did she have a cub with her?”

            “Now that you mention it . . .” Issa had to look away to hide her grin as she saw Jabari hanging onto her every word. “ . . . No, she didn’t have a cub.”

            “She didn’t?”

            “No.”

            “Oh, thank the gods! I just—I thought . . .”

            “What?” asked Issa, forcing her face back to normal as she looked back at him.

            “I have a mate named Weusi.”

            “Don’t you mean had a mate?” The words slipped out before Issa could do anything. Her heart skipped a beat as Jabari looked at her questioningly. “Uh, I mean . . . how many rogues have mates?”

            “There was a time when I wasn’t a rogue.”

            “Yeah, but that must’ve been, what, years ago?”

            Jabari nodded. “She left me.”

            “Really? Why would anyone one to leave a handsome lion like yourself?”

            “I—I put her through some awful things.” Jabari looked down at the ground. “If there was anything I could do to change what happened . . . You have no idea how quickly I’d take that chance.”

            “But she left you.”

            “She’s still my mate.”

            “But she left you.

            Jabari swallowed, then said, “We’re still married.”

            “What?!” Jabari looked up at Issa, startled by the outburst. “You two are—um . . . why? How?”

            “I know it was wrong,” said Jabari. “I—I just couldn’t let her go.”

            “What if she’s decided to marry someone else?”

            “I don’t know.”

            “You have got to be the most selfish, self-centered lion I know,” said Issa disgustedly. She didn’t have to act for this.

            “You don’t understand,” said Jabari.

            “I don’t? You’re so pathetic! You’re holding onto her, and you’re doing it just to please yourself. I mean, look at you! You’re a waste. You’re not even a waste, you’re a—a pathetic excuse for a use of space. Aiheu, haven’t you ever taken a decent look at yourself? Gods, I’d just kill myself if I were you!”

            Ironically enough, Jabari smiled. “I suppose this means that you won’t be offering yourself to me, at least.”

            “What? No! Gods, no!”

            Jabari looked down at his paws. “So, when are you going to leave?”

            “Leave? I’m not leaving, I live here! You get out of here! Gods, just leave, and don’t come back!”

            Jabari pushed himself to his paws. “Thanks for the meal, at least. It was nice to meet you, Isakino.” He began to head off, away from the lands.

            Issa watched him go. Good riddance. He’s only a nuisance. It’s a good thing we got rid of him before Weusi saw— Issa gasped as she turned her head and saw two figures crouching in the grass on top of a hill a short ways away. Her ears lied flat against the back of her head. I’m never going to hear the end of this.

 

 

            Weusi watched as the two figures in the savannah talked. Aushi had grown strangely silent. Perhaps she was as stunned as Weusi to find her long-gone husband here, and sharing a carcass with Issa, above all else. Weusi just watched emotionlessly as the two conversed, Issa growing angrier and angrier, until finally Jabari left. Only after Issa looked up at her did Weusi rise from her hiding place. She turned to go.

            “Mom. Mom!” said Aushi, walking by Weusi’s side. “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

            “You couldn’t have known, could you?” said Weusi, her voice toneless. “You wouldn’t lie to me. You know I trust you with all I have. You wouldn’t have led me here at all.” She turned to look at Aushi. “Would you?”

            Aushi would have given anything to be anywhere else. She felt herself growing smaller under her mother’s gaze. “Mom . . . Mom, I’m sorry—” Aushi stopped as she saw rage brewing in her mother’s eyes. “We just thought it’d be best if we could get Jabari away from here . . . before you saw . . .”

            “And why would that be?” asked Weusi. Her voice had turned icy. “What does your father mean to me?”

            “Mom, I didn’t mean for this to happen—”

            “You lied to me!” Weusi roared. Aushi cringed. Moments passed, Aushi unsure of what her mother would do. When Weusi finally spoke, her voice was barely a whisper. “I gave you all of my trust, Aushi. You knew how much you meant to me. You are the only thing that came through what he did to me. And now you lied to me. And about my former husband, your father, of all things.”

            This was worse, far worse, than the screaming could have ever been. Weusi’s face was expressionless, but her eyes leaked tears. “Mom, I—I’m sorry.”

            “I trusted you.”

            “I know.”

            “I trusted both of you.”

            “I—I know.”

            “I thought I could have a good life here. That we could have a good life here. But now . . . I . . .” Weusi looked down at the ground.

            “Mom, I’m sorry—”

            “Sorry isn’t enough. And you can tell Issa that, too.” Weusi headed off.

            “Mom—”

            “Don’t you dare follow me!” Weusi screamed. Aushi stopped dead. She watched as her mother headed off into the savannah.

 

 

            “Aushi! Aushi!” Aushi turned to see Issa running toward her. “Where’s your mom?”

            “She—she just ran off . . .”

            “Oh gods, she’s going to kill me.”

            “I told you this was a bad idea. She was bound to find out.”

            “Would you have preferred it if that scumbag walked right up to her? Would that have been better?”

            Aushi hung her head. “I don’t know what would have been better.”

 

 

            Firiki sighed. It echoed around the empty walls of the cave. He was the only one who stayed in the den anymore. It had been so different at the beginning. The lionesses looked at him with hope and smiles. Now they whispered behind his back, and what he could hear of it wasn’t pleasant.

            He didn’t understand. Back at his home, he was one of the most respected lions in the pride. The king’s word was act, and the prince—well, that was almost just as good. But he wasn’t a prince anymore, he was king now. Yet he hadn’t had a civil conversation with this pride for almost three days now. Even the few who were still polite to him were finally turning sour.

            Maybe he’d picked the wrong pride. Maybe he could have approached them a little differently. It didn’t matter; he could think up plenty of things he could have—maybe even should have—done differently. But this pride still refused to treat him even somewhat politely. He had come to lead them, they had been without a king for so long—and now they practically slapped him.

            It wasn’t anything obvious, of course. “Civil disobedience” was what he thought the term was. They still hunted for him—reluctantly. They refused to sleep with him anymore in any sense of the term; the den had been vacant for weeks. No one, it seemed, wanted to catch the plague.

            They still came to him with all of their problems, of course. He was still their leader at least in that sense. They knew how to respect authority. Barely. Sometimes he wished he’d just cut off a few of their favors, forced them to do a few things his way.

            He would never do that, of course. They needed his guidance, not tyranny. He’d thought about talking to them about the cold shoulders he’d been receiving, but that, too, would likely get him nowhere. He’d never get the truth, not from them.

            He rolled over onto his back. The group of antelope that had come into the kingdom just three days previously were already leaving. There hadn’t been a good, steady rain for almost the entire rainy season. And to top it off, the lioness called Weusi had gone missing since yesterday, simply leaving.

            He’d suggested that she’d left, of course. She’d come here without any reason whatsoever, what was to stop her leaving again? Yes, she had left her daughter behind, but her daughter had grown up, hadn’t she? She wasn’t a cub anymore. And from what he’d heard, Weusi had been angry with her daughter. Hell hath no fury, etc.

            All of it, very logical, very well thought out, very reasonable.

            The lionesses hadn’t listened to a word of it.

            He’d given up. They could worry themselves to death; he was content with counting her gone. In Firiki’s mind, none of them had a rational thought in their head. He’d never much cared for Weusi, anyway. She gave him the creeps, at first. So cold and impersonal. Yes, she’d warmed up, but she’d only ever been polite with him. Any attempts to get close to her were rebuffed. It was completely unwarranted; he only wanted to know her better, as he did every member of his pride.

            But she was gone now. There was nothing he could do about that. Or the antelope. Or the rain. He wasn’t Aiheu, for Aiheu’s sake. Why couldn’t they ask him to solve something that was actually solvable? He sighed and rolled over again. His eyes widened.

            “Weusi.”

            The lioness stood in the mouth of the cave. “Firiki.” She walked toward him.

            Firiki stood up. “Where have you been? The lionesses have been going cra—” He was cut off as Weusi kissed him longingly. He was left breathless as she pulled away. “Weusi?”

            “Firiki.”

            “What are you—uh!” Firiki’s back legs were knocked from under him as Weusi forced him to sit down.

            Weusi smiled. “I’d hope it’s obvious. Oh, well.” She leaned forward and ran her tongue across him again, clarifying her point.

            Firiki knew something was different. That much was obvious just from her actions. She breathed heavily, obviously filled with lust, yet he could detect barely any pheromones. This wasn’t heat. “Weusi—”

            She cut him off with another kiss. “You talk too much.” She smiled. “You’re a big, strong lion. You know what I want, don’t you?”

            “Yes,” said Firiki quietly, still somewhat confused.

            Weusi’s smile grew naughty. “Then let’s have some fun. Lots and lots of fun.”

            Firiki felt her push him over to the ground, stunned slightly by the sudden turn of events. The surrealism dissipated. Really, he thought as he began to apply himself enthusiastically, what was so bad about Weusi?

 

 

            The discovery that Weusi had returned wasn’t made until a day later. It had been one of the younger ones, Kweu, who had found out. She had been told by her mother to ask Firiki if he’d like some of their kill. She never got to asking the question; she was stopped dead as she say Firiki and Weusi together, and was disgusted and enthralled by the sight. She ran back to her mother and told her exactly what she’d seen.

            There was, of course, great confusion on the part of the lionesses. No one knew what the meaning of this was. Weusi didn’t care for Firiki any more than the rest of them. Aushi didn’t wait for answers; as soon as she got the news, she headed over to the den.

            She found Weusi and Firiki kissing each other passionately. “Mom!”

            Weusi broke off to look at her daughter. “Oh, it’s you.”

            “Mom, what do you think you’re doing?”

            “Well, a few minutes ago, it was having sex. What do you kids call this?”

            “Mom . . . Alright, I need to talk to you alone.”

            “You can say whatever you want right here.”

            Aushi sighed in frustration. “Firiki . . . can I talk to my mother alone.”

            “Alright,” said Firiki reluctantly, pushing himself up. He walked out of the den, then stopped as he felt Weusi nip his tail. He smiled back down at her. “Don’t take long.”

            “Don’t worry,” said Weusi. “We won’t.” She turned back to Aushi with a glare. “Will we?” Aushi was silent. Firiki exited the den, leaving the two lionesses alone. “What?” asked Weusi, annoyed.

            “Mom, what are you doing?

            “Enjoying myself. Is that so wrong?”

            “But with Firiki?”

            “Was there anyone else in here?”

            “Mom, you hate him! We all do!”

            “I never hated him. I reserve that for your father.”

            “Mom, he’s ignorant, he’s lecherous, he’s crude—” Aushi shook her head. “Mom, what were you thinking?”

            “That I wanted to have sex.”

            “Mom . . . Mom, you’re still married.”

            “That’s impossible.”

            “It’s what Jabari told Issa—”

            “I have nothing to do with him!” thundered Weusi, getting to her feet.

            “Mom, he loves you—”

            “I don’t give a damn! You think I care how he feels? You remember Bagra? Remember Rajua? Those are mates! Not scum like him!”

            “You think that Firiki’s any better?” yelled Aushi back.

            “I despise Firiki! He is a miserable shell of a lion!”

            “Then why are you doing this?”

            “Because I can do as I damn well please!” Weusi swiped at her daughter in anger. Aushi barely ducked out of the way. “You think you can tell me what to do? You think any of you can? This is my life, I’ll do with it as I see fit!”

            “You have sisters that care about you!”

            “Like you do? You, who were hiding your own father from me? Issa—the one other lioness in this pride that I trusted completely—both of you lied to me, straight to my face! How could either of you care about me? How could any of you care about me? At least Firiki values me.”

            “Mom, he’s using you! He doesn’t care about you, he cares about himself, that’s it!”

            “I don’t care,” said Weusi savagely, her growl gaining on her voice. She turned and began to pace the den. “I don’t care at all.” She laughed. “The more I think about it, the more I just realize that I’ve been an idiot. Your father thought I was. That pride of his thought I was. And you—hiding things from me, never telling me anything—”

            “Mom, I don’t lie to you—”

            “You think I don’t know? A mother always knows what her cub is doing, whether they think she does or not. You gorged yourself silly during that famine, you knew about your father and Ketisha, you made sure all my pride sisters knew every embarrassing detail of my past, you took every beastly little piece you could from the carcass when we were traveling, you never thought I was watching.” Weusi stopped and stared at Aushi, her eyes lit aflame. She advanced on her daughter.

            Aushi stood rooted to the spot. There was no way Weusi could have known even half of the things she’d said. “Mom, you don’t—”

            “How about Giza? Remember that hunt? Who rushed the count? Who killed the wildebeest? Who was thinking only of herself? It wasn’t Giza, no, she’s lame because of what you did!”

            “It was an accident!”

            “An accident? Like that fire we had, back in your father’s pride? Or quite a few of those stampedes here? That time Ruya fell off into the river and Bagra nearly died getting him out?”

            “I didn’t mean for those to happen!”

            “They did!” screamed Weusi. “You’ve been nothing but a selfish little pest your entire life. You love no one but yourself—”

            “Mom, it’s not true!”

            “Ruya!” yelled Weusi. “He would be alive today if it weren’t for you!”

            “No!”

            “You knew where your little brother went, you knew he’d been gone far too long, you knew you were supposed to tell me and you killed him!

            “Mom, I didn’t—”

            “You didn’t care, you were having fun playing! You knew he had to be watched, you knew he needed your help, but did you? No! You might as well have led the hyenas to him!”

            Aushi was in tears. “It’s not true!”

            “It is! So before you go giving me advice, Aushi, why don’t you take a good, hard look at what you’ve done.”

            “Mom—”

            “Get out!” screamed Weusi. “I don’t want to see your face again! Get out!”

            Aushi turned and ran out of the den, as quickly as she could, crying bitterly.

 

 

            The lands surrounding the pride were mainly flat and trees were scarce. And the few that existed were thin, except for an occasional few which the lions therefore liked to sleep underneath. That’s where Kifaa was now. It was the middle of the day and the sun’s rays were hitting all the open terrain. She at the time had no intentions of getting up and walking into the heat. She was enjoying just the same the breezes that passed every so often and the beautiful view she had of the surroundings around her. Not too far away was a large waterhole which the sun gleamed down on, turning it a lovely shade of blue. It was a good day.

            A reality of sort then finally came to Kifaa when she saw her sister Issa approaching the waterhole for a drink. Kifaa wanted to stay where she was in the shade, but her desire to know about what had happened with Jabari overran her and she knew she had to get up. She wasn’t overwhelmingly willing to however, the waterhole was quite far from where she had been laying.

            Kifaa began to make her way over, not necessarily in a hurry though, it was too hot and she knew Issa would stay there lapping up water for probably quite a while.

            About half way between where she had been and where Issa was there was another tree that did a good job of providing shade when needed. Kifaa made her way to pass under it for a temporary relief from the sun as she walked.

            As she approached it however, she began to make out the sound of some strange noise. At first she had no clue what it was, but as she entered the shade of the tree she was able to make out the sound of someone crying. Kifaa made her way around to the back of the tree out of curiosity and sympathy where she found Aushi head in her forelegs, sobbing into the ground.

            “Aushi?”

            She jumped. “Who—Kifaa? Go away! Leave me alone!”

            “Aushi, what’s the matter?”

            “None of your business you bitch, leave me alone!”

            “Aushi! That is no way to speak to . . . ”

            “I don’t give a damn, Kifaa, get lost!” Aushi swiped at her and Kifaa took a leap back as once again Aushi collapsed onto the floor in tears under the tree.

            Kifaa took a couple of seconds to pull herself back together, Aushi needed her help. She went back up to her and then asked her in her best motherly voice, “Aushi, what’s bothering you?”

            Aushi sobbed for a few more seconds before lifting her head up and trying to pull herself together also. “Mom.”

            “What about her?”

            “She’s changed.”

            “How?”

            “She’s not the same anymore. I want my old mom back,” Aushi cut off there and began sobbing again. Kifaa got down next to her and put an arm around her.

            “What—what’s changed about her Aushi?”

            “Everything.”

            “Can you be more specific?”

            “You wouldn’t care.”

            “Yes I would, what makes you think I wouldn’t?”

            “Issa doesn’t.”

            Kifaa sighed, “Is this about Jabari?”

            “My dad, yes.”

            “First things first, I know this sounds cruel but, stop calling him your dad, that will make you get over him.”

            “No—it—it’s not about Dad, it’s about Mom, Mom misses Dad.”

            “What makes you think—”

            “Well, maybe she doesn’t miss him but . . . Kifaa, she’s been having an affair with Firiki.”

            “What!?”

            “I know, she hates him! But that’s how desperate she is.”

            Kifaa just looked at her in shock while Aushi began to cry again. She couldn’t be telling the truth, but still, then why would Aushi be crying? Kifaa herself had noticed changes in Weusi over the past few years but she had recognized them as being for the better, a growing sense of maturity taking place in her sister. Still, it seemed she needed to help Aushi somehow.

            “Aushi, when . . . when is the time that you remember your mom being . . . happiest?”

            Aushi sniffed and thought about it for a moment. “I guess . . . I guess when she was with Bagra, I was really young I don’t remember much about it or him for that matter, but I just remember he was really nice, and Mom was really happy.”

            Kifaa looked at her, she remembered the mentioning of Bagra a couple of times, how it seemed to her that Weusi had idolized him. “Why didn’t she marry him?”

            “I don’t know. I think he was already married actually.”

            “Oh, that’s a shame.” Kifaa paused again for a second, “Why don’t you speak to her about th . . .”

            “SHE WON’T LISTEN! She won’t listen Kifaa, she doesn’t give a damn about anybody but herself anymore, what she’s happy with, she—she won’t . . .” again Aushi burst into tears, but they poured out much more rapidly this time, harder than they had before.

            “There, there, Aushi . . . ” she said stroking her trying to calm her down, “I’ll go and talk to her if you want.”

            Aushi mumbled something which was barely audible or understandable, but Kifaa knew it went along the lines of “She won’t listen.”

            “Well we have to try.” Kifaa got up and stared down at Aushi for a couple more seconds, just in case she wanted to say something else, but she remained silent.

            Aushi was the youngest in the pride and Kifaa dearly cared for her, they all did. This was not the first time that Aushi had burst into tears for reasons that the elder lionesses had long forgot existed, and Kifaa as her aunt had tried her best at trying to be more motherly to her, more supportive for her, more understanding towards her.

            Kifaa smiled. She really loved Aushi.

            Then she walked off, heading in the direction towards Firiki and Weusi in the den.

            Issa remained drinking at the waterhole. The water was cool and the sun on her back was warm. It was a good day.

 

 

            Kifaa stormed into the den, knowing that she needed to get this job done now once and for all, not for her sake but for Aushi’s.

            “Weusi!” she shouted, but then she glanced around the den, Weusi was not in there, only Firiki. “Where is she?” she demanded.

            “Gone.”

            “What?”

            “Gone.”

            “What do you mean gone?”

            “She’s left, said she’s not coming back.”

            Kifaa paused. “What?”

            “That’s what she said.” Kifaa looked at him confused. There was no emotion in his voice. If they had been having an affair, it sounded like he couldn’t care less.

            “Weren’t you two having . . .”

            “Sex, yes.”

            “Well . . . but . . . you seem so . . .”

            “When I came back in she was so angry she said she didn’t want to have sex with me, said she hated me, wanted to kill me even, I told her to leave so she spat in my face and said ‘I don’t want to see you ever again anyway’ and left.”

            “You bastard! She has a daughter here!”

            “There’s no reason she can’t leave too, Weusi only went this morning.”

            “What makes you think you can just come into our pride and throw out one of our best friends? You complete . . .”

            “She didn’t seem too popular.”

            “More than you! Where is she, which way did she leave?”

            Firiki shrugged, “I don’t know.”

            Kifaa turned around, started to head off, stopped, turned back again, spat into Firiki’s face too, then turned and left.

 

 

            “Aushi! I . . .” but Kifaa stopped. Aushi was not behind the tree. “Aushi?”

            Kifaa looked all around her but Aushi was nowhere to be seen. But there was Issa, maybe she would know.

            “Issa!” she yelled running up to her at the waterhole, “have you seen . . .” but to her astonishment Issa was crying too.

            Kifaa slowed down.

            “Aushi?” Issa managed to get out of her voice.

            “Yeah.”

            Issa slowly lifted her paw and pointed into the water. Kifaa followed and gazed down into it.

            There from within she could see the figure of Aushi, blood spreading through the water.

            “I . . . I tried to stop her.” Issa said.

            But there was no doubt about it, Aushi was dead.

            “Oh . . . oh, Aiheu—Issa, she—Issa!” Kifaa burst into tears and buried her head into Issa’s shoulder. Issa wrapped a foreleg around her sister, her eyes tearing up as well. “It’s not fair . . . It’s just not fair . . .”

 

 

            Night had fallen. The two lionesses sat over Aushi’s body. Issa had dragged it out of the water and laid it in the savannah, according to tradition. Kifaa had been unable to stop her weeping. Even now silent tears slid down her face. She turned to her sister. “Issa, what are we going to do?”

            “About what?”

            “About this! And Weusi and Jabari!”

            “What do you expect me to do about them?”

            “Weusi is gone!”

            “I could care less.”

            “How can you say that? She was your own sister!”

            “She wasn’t any of our sisters, Kifaa!” said Issa angrily. “She’s always been going out and causing trouble. First with Jabari, then with Firiki, and who knows who she’ll shack up with next?”

            Kifaa’s eyes widened in shock for a moment before she slapped Issa across the face. Issa stared angrily up at her sister. “Don’t you dare say that about Weusi.”

            “She abandoned us, Kifaa. That’s it, plain and simple. She doesn’t care about us; the only thing she cares about is herself.”

            “Listen to yourself! You know that’s not true!”

            “It’s close enough.”

            Kifaa drew her paw back as if to hit Issa again. She dropped it, slamming it to the ground in anger. “Fine! You know what, if you’re not going to do anything, I will! I’m going to go out there, and find Weusi, and bring her back here!”

            “You do that,” said Issa coldly. Kifaa stood up, turned around, and didn’t look back.

 

 

            Weusi’s not dead. She can’t be dead, Isakino said that that lioness didn’t have a cub. Well I guess I’m going to keep searching for her.

            It had been weeks since Jabari had met Isakino and had been told that a lioness by the name of Weusi had died. Now, Jabari could have almost sworn that he was in a desert. It wasn’t sandy, but there were no trees, no water, not even any prey to hunt. It had been about three days since he had been walking through this, and he was starting to get hungry, and tired.

            Then Jabari stopped in his tracks. He was almost certain that he’d heard someone call his name.

            “Jabari!”

            There it was again. Jabari whirled around. It was a lioness—and it looked exactly like Weusi! In fact, it was only when she was feet from him that he was able to tell that it was in fact not her.

            Jabari’s face fell.

            “Who are you?” Though he had a feeling he knew what the answer was.

            “You don’t remember me?”

            “You’re not Weusi.”

            “No, I’m her sister.”

            “Issa?” he groaned.

            “You don’t even want to think about her, it’s me Jabari, Kifaa!”

            “Kifaa, of course. How did you find me?”

            “Paw prints. You don’t seem too enthused to see me.”

            “Why should I be? You never really liked me.”

            “No, but I never really hated you, unlike some others.”

            “So, have you by any chance seen Weusi recently?”

            “She was at our pride a couple of days ago, but then she ran off.”

            “Why?”

            “She saw you.”

            “What? When?”

            “When Issa was talking to you over that antelope.”

            “That was Issa?”

            “Yes, what did she . . .”

            “That bitch! You mean I was that close to Weusi and she sent me away just so that . . . so that I didn’t see her?”

            “I’m afraid so.”

            Jabari dug his claws into the ground trying to slow his pulse down.

“Kifaa.”

            “Yes Jabari?”

            “Remind me to kill her next time I get the chance.”

            Still the same old Jabari, Kifaa thought. Violence isn’t always the answer. Maybe I’ll try and teach him that.

 

 

            Reality started to set in on Weusi again. She could feel. She was waking up. One thing though that she could not feel, was Takasa next to her. Weusi opened her eyes. Sure enough, Takasa was not next to her. It didn’t take her long to find him though; he was sitting at the edge of the cave with the carcass of a zebra.

            “Had a nice sleep?”

            “Fine thanks.” Weusi got up and walked over to the carcass, it had been a while since she’d last eaten.

            “So, Weusi, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but, last time you passed through this area you were with that lion . . .”

            “Jabari.”

            “. . . yeah, Jabari, whatever happened to him?”

            Weusi chewed on a piece of meat for a few seconds before swallowing, “I prefer not to talk about it.”

            “Oh . . . okay then.”

            Takasa remained sitting down while Weusi continued to eat.

            “You know,” he finally said after a while, “it’s a shame that he’s not with you anymore. He was a nice lion.”

            “Sure,” Weusi replied.

            “No, seriously. You remember that time that you were stuck behind that flooding river? He couldn’t rest until you came back, and then it was only about ten minutes after when you said that you were going to be back that he went out searching for you.”

            Weusi looked at him, “True . . . yes . . . I – I do remember that.”

            “And then there was that time that neither of us could find any prey, and he went out and got all of us a whole buffalo!”

            “He was hungry.”

            “Yeah, but still. What are you holding against him anyway?”

            Weusi smiled. “Now why would a nice lion like you want to know something like that?”

            “Oh no, I’m just asking, I’m not . . . no, Weusi . . . don’t worry, I wouldn’t . . .”

            Weusi chuckled. “It’s fine Takasa. We got divorced.”

            “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I just . . . I actually thought you two got on rather well.”

            “Really?” Weusi stiffened up a bit, “Give me another example.”

            “Well . . . how about that time when we all went out to the mountains searching for . . . ”

            “Oh Gods, Takasa, please don’t talk about that!”

            “Why not? Weusi, I don’t get you, I never saw anything that would lead me to believe that you would ever have had a problem with Jabari.”

            “The beatings, the commandments, the selfishness?”

            “I never saw any of that.”

            “Well it happened. Why aren’t you taking advantage of me anyway, Takasa? Come on, I’m used to it, just be a male for once, bring it on!”

            “Weusi, I’m not that kind of lion.”

            “Obviously not, but Jabari was! I said I didn’t want to talk about it, why are you making me talk about it?” she was starting to get angry now.

            “I want to help you Weusi.”

            “Help me; does it look like I need help?”

            “Well, yesterday when you came here you were acting very differently, a lot quieter, a lot moodier, and a lot more aloof than you were before.”

            “That’s what you think? Really?”

            “Yes, Weusi, that is what I think, and I think it’s because of Jabari that you are acting this way . . . ”

            “Well then stop talking about him, please!”

            “I think it’s not as simple as that.”

            “Obviously not, otherwise you would’ve . . .”

            “Weusi, listen to me.”

            “Alright, I’m leaving . . .” Weusi got up from her meal and started to walk out.

            Takasa sighed. “Okay, but be careful dear, the waterhole’s not too far.”

            Weusi stopped.

 

            “I think we’ve been here way to long.”

            “Oh, but Jabari, I love this place! And Takasa, he’s so nice.”

            “Yes, that seems to be the problem.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “Don’t worry about it.”

            “Jabari, I really want to stay here.”

            “Weusi . . . look, I’m only trying to do what I think is best for you, for us, for Takasa. If you want a family, we’re going to have a bigger cave than this. We must.”

            Weusi sighed. “Okay, I—I see your point. Alright, I’m leaving.”

            “Good. But be careful dear, the waterhole’s not too far.”

            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “Last time I was out there I thought I caught a glimpse of a crocodile.”

            “Jabari, that’s nonsense. Why would such an evil creature want to be near such a nice cave like this?” Weusi walked out, and the inevitable happened . . .

            “Arghh! Jabari, Jabari!”

            “Weusi!” Jabari ran out after her and swiped at the crocodile distracting it from her. The crocodile was quickly able to clamp its jaws down on Jabari’s left paw, but Jabari knew its weakness. Crocodiles can clamp their jaws down in a few milliseconds, but it takes them some effort to be able to open them back up. Jabari put his back paw onto the crocodile’s snout and got out his free right paw and started slashing into the back of the crocodile.

            Weusi closed her eyes from her safe-point as he did so.

 

            She was back in the cave, safe.

“He . . . he saved me.”

            “Yes he did, didn’t he?” replied Takasa. “You had to drag him out when he was done with that thing. Still wouldn’t let go.”

            “But he was fine when it was all over. It . . . it just scratched him.”

            “That was a miracle.”

            Takasa watched her carefully. She stood as if she was uncertain of what she wanted to do. “He didn’t like you,” she said.

            “I kind of got that.”

            “He said you were ‘too nice.’ That’s always what he said, ‘Takasa’s too nice, he’s up to something.’” Takasa grinned. “He couldn’t bring himself to trust anyone, almost. Not completely.”

            “You know, I never did get an answer for what he was exiled for.”

            “It doesn’t matter anymore,” dismissed Weusi with a wave of her paw. She continued on her way down to the waterhole, Takasa looking after her. When she got there, she took a quick look around before she started to drink. Sure enough, she saw two yellowish eyes open and roll toward her, no more than fifteen feet away. She ignored it and kept drinking.

            The crocodile moved closer.

            It really was rather obvious, Weusi reflected. It was a lousy hunter, this crocodile. Same as the one that had attacked her years ago, its mouth was wide open before it was ready to grab her. She watched the crocodile, and when she could reach it, she smacked it’s upper jaw, sending it back down. She planted one forepaw on its snout firmly while the other swiped out an eye. The crocodile shied away, heading back into the water. Weusi watched it go, feeling a tear slide down her face. She finished her drink quickly and headed back to the den.

            Takasa was stripping down the carcass. He stopped and looked up at Weusi. “’O hea’, losh lef’,” he said through a mouthful of meat. He swallowed and looked up her with a guilty grin. “I’m forgetting my manners.”

            “Do you love me, Takasa?”

            “Uh . . . wow . . . Weusi, don’t you think . . .?”

            “It’s a simple yes-or-no question.”

            Takasa licked his lips slowly. “Weusi . . . I do think that you’re a very nice lioness—attractive . . . and I care deeply for you, you know that.”

            Weusi stared at him for a moment, then lied down. “Bagra was a lot like you.”

            “Who?”

            “He—well, Jabari tried to get rid of me.”

            “He what?

            “He just left me. Said he was going to leave me and find a better mate. Well, you knew me back then. Happy all the time, so trusting, so believing . . . Jabari lied to me and told me he’d be back, he was never planning to come back, I should have seen that. But this lion, Bagra, he found me while I was waiting, and he stayed with me. He just cared for me. I was pregnant, there were a lot of things I couldn’t do, and he helped out. And with the cubs, when they came. Jabari came back with his new mate and chased him off, then took me back to this new pride.” Weusi found herself staring at the carcass blankly. “Bagra was always so good to me.”

            “There’s no reason not to be,” said Takasa gently. “You’re a good lioness, Weusi.”

            “I left Jabari. I took Aushi from her home, all the way over to my old pride. I raped the male over there. I said horrible things to my daughter. I practically told her I hated her. I left her alone, and she can’t take care of herself yet, no matter how much she thinks she is. There’ve been a few times that I’ve actually thought I’m quite insane.” She looked up at Takasa. “Does that make me a good lioness?”

            Takasa didn’t want to see her like this. He still fondly remembered the smiling, happy, carefree lioness that had stayed with him years ago. Innocent, that was the word he was looking for. He moved next to Weusi and draped a foreleg across her back. “You’ve just changed, that’s all. You’ve been hurt. You can get better.” He nuzzled her gently. “Trust me.”

            Weusi pressed her head into his mane and slowly began to cry.

 

 

            “I really don’t see why you’re still following me,” said Jabari.

            “Because you know I’m right!” said Kifaa stubbornly. She’d been following him for three days now, the two of them walking from nowhere to anywhere, stopping only to sleep and eat. “I came out here to find Weusi, and look who I found! You! You call that coincidence?”

            “Listen,” said Jabari, stopping to look at her, “I stopped believing in the gods a long time ago when I called and got no answer. Coincidence is the only thing this can be, unless the gods hate me, which is something I haven’t ruled out.”

            “I thought you said you didn’t believe in the gods.”

            Jabari sighed and continued walking. “Sure, why not. I’ll believe in the gods on odd days and practice solipsism on the evens.”

            “Practice what now?”

            “Never mind.”

            “You have got to be one of the most stubborn lions I know.”

            “Really? Why do you say that? I’m just dying to know.”

            “Do you ever listen to reason?”

            “On alternate leap years.”

            Kifaa groaned. “Look, I know that this is practically impossible for you to do, but could you at least just stop and listen?”

            “We can stop tonight.”

            “It is tonight. Come on, Jabari, I’m tired, you’re tired—”

            “No, I’m not.”

            “You’ve got rogue sickness. Look, we don’t need to keep walking.”

            “And why not?”

            “Because we’re not going anywhere!”

            “Your point?”

            “AUGH!”

            “Yeah, complain about it some more.”

            Kifaa tackled Jabari, only managing to make him stumble slightly. She held on as he dragged her. “We’re stopping, and that’s final!”

            Jabari sighed. “Well, if you feel that strongly about it . . .” He shook Kifaa off and sat down.

            Kifaa collapsed, sighing in relief. “Finally.”

            “So, how long do you think it’s going to take you to get your second wind?”

            “Days.”

“Great. I can leave tomorrow, then.”

            “Jabari, why are you doing this to yourself?”

            “Why do you care? I can do what I want with my own life.”

            “You’re not going anywhere.”

            “Believe it or not, I know that.”

            “Do you even care what happens anymore? Look at yourself!”

            “What do you want?” asked Jabari, irritated.

            “I told you, Weusi needs you—”

            “And I told you I don’t need her.”

            “You think you don’t? Look at yourself! Why are you doing this? Haven’t you ever stopped to ask that?”

            “You know, I think you’ve found about twenty different ways to phrase that question.”

            “Damn it, talk to me, Jabari!”

            “About what?”

            “Weusi!”

            “You want to talk about Weusi? Fine,” said Jabari. “Let’s talk about Weusi. She left me. She didn’t love me anymore, she told me that herself. She took the cubs, I never saw her again, and I don’t really know if I want to. End of story.”

            “She’s lost, Jabari. She needs help.”

            “Then go help her. Don’t come to me asking for it.”

            “You can’t be serious,” said Kifaa, sitting up. “What, don’t you even think about her?”

            “I think about her all the time.”

            Kifaa’s jaw literally dropped. “And you don’t care?

            “No.”

            “You hate her, don’t you? You haven’t changed a bit, you know that? You just think that she’s a lying, cheating—skank that gets whatever she deser—”

            “I love her!” Jabari roared. “I have to forget about her! You think she’ll take me back again? Ever?! I broke her, and I am ashamed of that! She’ll never be the same because of what I did to her.” He glared angrily at Kifaa, then turned away. “Gods damn it, you look so much like her.”

            Kifaa watched him. He was hurt, anyone could see that. She hadn’t told him about Aushi; now she wasn’t sure if he could even handle it. She didn’t understand it. He was Jabari just as much as he always had been, but he was weaker, frailer. She opened her mouth to retort, but thought better of it. “I’m going to go sleep over there.”

            “Fine. Great.”

            Kifaa walked over to an acacia and laid down her head, staring at Jabari. He remained sitting, unmoving, until after she had fallen asleep.

 

 

            Kifaa stirred. She managed to open her eyes against the daylight just enough to be able to tell that Jabari wasn’t there. She groaned. It wasn’t that she didn’t expect it, but she had been dreading that it would happen.

After all, this was a new experience for her. She had never committed herself to something like this since . . . well . . . ever. But what was her goal? Well to get them back together, to make them happy, maybe just to make Weusi happy. But how to do that? She didn’t even know where Weusi was, and even if she did . . .

            “Kifaa.”

            “Whoa!” Kifaa jumped, “Wha—Jabari, you—you’re here?”

            “Where did you think I was?”

            “Well—Jabari, what are you doing here?”

            “I don’t know. You wanted me to stay with you. What am I doing here?”

            Kifaa frowned. “I don’t know what you mean.”

            “Do you have a plan?”

            “Plan? For what?”

            “Weusi, me, that whole thing,”

            “Oh . . . oh, of course. Of course.”

            “Well, any ideas?”

            Kifaa sighed, “No, not—not really,”

            “Well we need to find her first, don’t we?” Kifaa didn’t reply. “I mean, isn’t that the first step?”

            “Jabari, if Weusi saw you now, what do you think she would think?”

            “I dunno, I haven’t seen her in over three years. What do you think she would think?”

            “I think, Jabari, that you can’t just walk up to her. You need to make a present, you need to make something or do something that would make her appreciate you, want to be with you again. You can’t just walk up to her.”

            “So what do you suggest?”

            Kifaa sighed. “I don’t know Jabari, I don’t know.”

            Jabari collapsed down next to her and groaned. Kifaa found that she could feel his pain. It was strange, she had never really cared for Jabari that much but all of a sudden she really wanted him to be happy. But why? Why was she so concerned about him?

            Then a shudder ran instantaneously all the way down her spine and across her body.

            “Jabari?”

            “Yes, dear?”

            “What are you doing?”

            “What does it feel like?”

            “Jabari, stop it!”

            “Why, I’m experimenting. Does it make you appreciate me?”

            “No . . .”

            “But you like it, don’t you?”

            Kifaa couldn’t deny it, it did feel nice. It was the first ever time a male lion had warmed up to her. But despite all these thrills that she was feeling for the first time, something inside her was telling her not to go on.

            “Jabari, it does feel nice, but please stop!”

            “Why? Kifaa, you’re so much like Weusi!”

            “Then save it for her!” Jabari closed in further on her, “Jabari, stop this now!” Her voice was now demanding. “Jabari, STOP!” she had to throw her whole body to get Jabari off of her as he had been sliding further and further across her.

            Jabari and Kifaa were now both lying awkwardly on the ground apart from one another both breathing deeply and rapidly.

            “Jabari, understand, I feel your pain, but please, if you give in on me you give up on Weusi.” Jabari glared at her, “Jabari, listen, work with me here. Please, for your own sake gods damn it, work with me!”

            Jabari dropped his head back onto the ground.

            “Please, Jabari?” then Kifaa felt something she never thought she’d feel: A tear. “Please.”

            “Alright, Kifaa. I’ll give you ten days. If I’m not back with Weusi then . . . well . . . we’ll see.”

            Kifaa started to relax. She didn’t like it, but it was a start. A start of some agreement, of some understanding, with Jabari.

            “Okay Jabari,” Kifaa answered, “ten days.”

 

 

            Takasa stared at her beautiful crystalline eyes. They seemed—shattered, somehow. It didn’t matter. Things had happened, they had come and gone. The future was what they could look forward to. Not the past.

            “I do,” he said quietly.

            Weusi smiled. She leaned closer to him. Both of them nuzzled. The shaman looked on, smiling himself.

            “You may kiss the bride.”