| The unmerciful
ground met my chin again as I fell for the umpteenth time.
My cuts stung like fire under my fur. Dust had gathered
in every laceration, wreaking havoc with my pain senses.
Every fall was like a death, and every rise to move on
was like torture. But even the unbearable torment could
not match the pain and sorrow I felt inside. If not
driven by that, then the will to survive made it possible
for me to reach the Great Plains once again. Collapsing
for what I believed to be my final rest, I lay still not
even having energy enough to bring tears from my dry and
reddened eyes. My eyes rolled from the nearby bushes to
the blue sky lethargically for some sign of mercy.
"Why?" I whimpered weakly, "Why did this have to happen?" I closed my eyes, almost wishing for death to come and my suffering to be over. A rustle in the bushes made my ears turn instinctively to the sound. Being unable to lift my head to see, I called out in an agonized tone. "Who's there?!" The rustle stopped for a moment, then an elderly voice came out at me.
"Siombe? Is that you?" My heart leapt for joy within my pain wracked body. I called back in a weak tone.
"Roho, I need help." I managed to squeeze out. The voice called back to me.
"Keep talking Siombe, I can hear you are nearby." I was too weak to continue words so I purred loudly so he could hear me. A few seconds later, Roho stumbled out of the bush and into my vision. Roho was an old fennec, growing grayer by the day. He was far past his prime but was well known and respected for his healing abilities. He was loved by many, and also seen as a great example, particularly because he always kept himself up, in spite of his blindness. Roho moved towards my purring and placed a paw on my head. I groaned.
"Help me Roho, it hurts so bad." Roho's face fell.
"What happened to you Siombe?"
"Hyenas." I whimpered, "They attacked me and my-"
"Hyenas!" Roho exclaimed cutting me off, a hyena attack is serious business, especially when it happens to a cub. "Where did they hurt you?"
"Everywhere." I moaned feeling a sudden wash of pain drain my energy. Roho stopped for a moment to regain his calm. Then he quickly took charge of the situation.
"You must be more specific Siombe, you do realize that I am unable to see everything. What hurts the most?" I felt myself over gently without moving.
"My back, it hurts the worse. And I have all these cuts on my belly. My shoulder hurts really bad too." Roho sighed deeply and nodded. He spoke in a serious tone.
"Siombe, I am going to have to feel these cuts to see what I need to do. I won't lie to you, it will hurt very badly. I apologize in advance." I whimpered aloud not wanting to feel any more pain, however; I knew it had to be done. Bracing myself for whatever he was about to do next, I grunted out a short acknowledgment.
Roho began probing my cuts with his paws. The pain was not that bad at first, and I relaxed a little. Then he hit a certain spot, and I screamed out in agony. Roho folded his ears back and muter something about hating this part of his healing.
"Are you okay Siombe?" he asked. I began to cry with the pain but I tried to sound brave.
"I'm fine. Go on Roho." Roho nodded and began irritating my wounds once more. I bit deeply into my lip not wishing to make a sound again. I knew this was as hard for him as it was for me, having to listen to my pained cries and not being able to do much about it. Even though I understood that to be bad, I still believed myself in the worse position. Suddenly, I found myself whimpering my thoughts aloud.
"I want Kwasi." Roho stopped for a moment and looked at me sadly.
"I don't know where he is right now Siombe. But as soon as I find him, I will let him know what happened okay?" I nodded, and then gave a quick verbal affirmation. Shortly after that, Roho finished finding my wounds and began to make up some things to help me heal. I really didn't know what he put on there, but it was cold and slimy, and smelled kinda funny. Even with all those bad properties, I still felt better somewhat. The incessant sting left me, replaced by a gentle tonic pain. I opened my eyes and looks at Roho as he stepped away.
"Do you feel any better?" I nodded.
"I guess so," I murmured, "I feel kinda sick." Roho nodded.
"That is normal after all the trauma you suffered, it's a miracle that you are still alive." I raised my head with a little bit of pain and looks at Roho.
"Can you get Kwasi for me?" Roho nodded.
"He was with me a moment ago, but left to check something out. He should sniff me out any moment now. I came away from where I was waiting when I heard you." I nodded and tried to make myself comfortable. A few moments later, a rustle in the bushes and the sound of familiar grumblings came to my ears. Roho looked over from my spot at Kwasi as he came from the bushes looking a bit upset.
"Why did you move Roho? You were not where I left you." Then he caught sight of me. I rolled my eyes towards him as he cried out in surprise. "Siombe?! What happened?" He rushed over to me, standing over my mangled body almost in tears over the sight. I tried to sound brave but my breaking voice probably made me sound even more pitiful than I looked.
"I got attacked, by hyenas." Kwasi's face contorted into a deep looks of disdain and anger. He never liked hyenas, and had a long past with them. To hear that I had been attacked by them made his very blood boil as it coursed through his veins. His anger seemed to be mounting quickly, so I made a quick add-on. "I found him though." I murmured softly. Kwasi looked at me incredulously as he heard what I said.
"You found your father?" I nodded with a deep wince of pain and a look of sadness. Kwasi looked around, "Where is he?" I spent the next few moments telling Kwasi about what had happened, the journey, the meeting, and finally Msmangu's death. He listened silently, twisting his face in sadness as he heard what I had just been through. I stopped frequently, to hold back tears or to try to stop letting them go. Roho sat there and shook his head sadly after I finished the story. Kwasi leaned down and licked my damp face gently.
"It's over now Siombe, everything will be fine. Let's get you back to the Plains." He nuzzled himself under me and lifted me onto his back. A quick cry of pain escaped my mouth but I told him to press on. Kwasi nodded and we went through the bushes back to the Great Plains.
The next few days I would remember as some of the saddest times of my life. My nights were filled with the reoccurring dream of watching my father tortured to death. I could not sleep, became irritable, and severely depressed. No amount of pouncing, playing, or even tickling could cheer me up at this point. I was at the ultimate of all lows. Kwasi watched over me day and night for the several weeks it took to heal. I could tell he felt terrible for me, and I knew that I should have been more receptive to him; but I was just too caught up in my own personal nightmares. I had nothing now, my father was gone forever. All I had were friends, and that was not enough.
One day, while I was padding through the savanna with a depressed look on my face, I came to a cliff and sat down to overlook the plains. Everything looked drab and bleak, like there was no tomorrow. I was so into myself that I didn't even here Kwasi approach and sit beside me. I looked up at him, then looked away. He put a paw on my back supportively.
"Are you going to be okay?" I shrugged and looks away feeling tears coming on.
"I don't know." Kwasi nodded and sat next to me for a few moments. After a period of silence, I looked up at him. "I just don't know if I can go on. I have lost too much." Kwasi paused and then looks down at me.
"Did I ever tell you about what happened to my parents?" I looked at him curiously.
"I thought Nuru and Sameria were your parents?" Kwasi shook his head.
"They took me in, but they are not my true parents." He laid his bulk down next to me and put me in his paws. I tried to relax and looked at him feeling a story coming on. "I was in another pride far far away a while back. I was a cub, much like yourself, and was in line for a kingship under my father, Mohatu. I was happy as most cubs were, until one day, my friend Suru and I went out to play. When we returned, our home was littered with dead bodies, and signs of a great fight. Among them, I found my father and my mother. Both with ripped out throats near some lionesses I did not recognize." I shuddered at the sound of this story, having had a terrible experience just recently as well. I looked at Kwasi sadly.
"Does the pain ever go away?" Kwasi shook his great head.
"No, it just finds a new place to hide in your mind. And it hides more often than not. But it is never gone, and sometimes when something familiar happens, it will come back and make you sad all over again." I looked down sadly, thinking that I had many nights of pain ahead of me. Kwasi patted my head gently, "But it does not have to rule your life. Pain is part of being a lion. We must live with it, and learn from it. What does not kill us, will make us stronger." I turned away from him abruptly and sniffled. He turned my head back gently with a paw. "What's wrong?"
"I feel like such a wimp, crying like this. Real lions don't cry." Kwasi chuckled aloud at this and smiles at me.
"If it makes you feel any better," he said, "I still cry." I looked at him skeptically.
"You?! But you're so big and strong. Why would you cry?" Kwasi looks at me with caring eyes
"Why is not important. Even the biggest of lions cry sometimes. It is not a show of weakness, but of strength. Of being able to let go of pain through tears. It shows how strong a lion really is." I looked away and then he continued. "But that is not the true reason that I came here, to tell you my life story." I looked at him.
"Why did you come then." Kwasi pawed the ground and cleared his deep throat.
"Well, my concern for you has been mounting. I know you have lost a father and that it has been weighing heavily on you that you really have no one to call your own." I nodded and looked down forlornly. Kwasi continued. "I came, because I want to make you an offer. I want to adopt you Siombe, and be your father for you. I know I can never do as much as he might have, but I don't want you to ever think you are alone again." My head shot to him quickly and a warm smile was on his face. I hugged him as best I could, only thinking of one way to express my happiness; I cried.
The concept of living with Kwasi took root immediately; partially because I was on the 'rebound' somewhat from losing a parent and looking for someone to latch onto. Whatever the reason, my level of happiness slowly increased during the first few days. Kwasi was very kind, and highly supportive in whatever endeavor I engaged in. All seemed to be fine, and I was adjusting well. There was only one problem those first few days. That being Nalia. I can vividly recall her not being pleased that I was her son now. She obviously didn't want another cub, having her paws full with my new sister Sabulu. I remember one of our less calm adventures together, all involving a little bath. I was playing in the mud with a few friends, when I had the misfortune of Nalia appearing.
"SIOMBE!" she called out loudly, "what are you doing?!" I winced knowing instantly that I had made a mistake. My friends snickered at me somewhat as I dragged myself from the mud and over to Nalia. I looked up at her cutely.
"Playing?" This produced a big laugh from the other cubs and made Nalia even more irate.
"I just gave you a bath this morning, why did you go and get dirty again?" I shrugged and blushed somewhat murmuring to Nalia lightly.
"Nalia, err mom, please, not in front of my friends." Nalia was too worked up to calm down though.
"I take my good time to give you a bath, and you are getting dirty again? Do you not care? Do you not care that I am trying to help you stay clean? You are not some filthy hyena that rolls around and plays mating games as a cub! Did they scratch you too deep or something?" I winces and shrunk back at this onslaught thoroughly embarrassed. My friends stopped laughing and looked on feeling sorry for me. I looked up into Nalia's eyes pleadingly, wishing that she had not been so bold as to attack a still soft spot in my emotions.
"I'm sorry Nalia. I really am." Nalia seemed to soften a bit and sighed.
"Well you're going to get another bath, and this time I expect you to stay clean." I glanced over my shoulder at my friends with embarrassed eyes. They looked back at me, comforting me wordlessly yet shuddering in their own fur. For us, the cubs, a bath was the highest form of torture. It was punishment, something done only to bad cubs. Only a beating was worse. I folded my ears back and curled my legs up as Nalia lifted me off the ground. She looked at my friends with an apologetic look, one that I did not see but heard about later. Then she left and began one of the most interesting torture sessions in my life.
Away from the group, Nalia put me on the ground and sighed sadly. I looked away, on the verge of tears at being embarrassed so badly. I lay down on the ground and sniffled.
"Why'd you have to do that mom? I was just having fun. You didn't have to make me look bad in front of all my friends."
"Siombe, you know that I cannot have you getting dirty like that," Nalia sighed, "I apologize for making you look bad in that case." I was not convinced and felt bitter about it. I stared at her angrily.
"Then why did you have to bring up the hyena attack?" Nalia looked hurt somewhat.
"I'm sorry Siombe, I really didn't mean to make you look terrible but you just made me so upset. You don't realize how hard I try with you sometimes but you play so much it is hard to be calm." She lay down and put me in her paws. "But I am going to have to bathe you anyway." I yelped and tried to get away. She grasped me quickly with her paws and growled at me as I tried to get away.
"Please mom! I don't want a bath! Can't you just spank me and be done with it?" Nalia frowned.
"Come now Siombe, you did something wrong and you have to accept the consequences, now stay still or I will crush you." She squeezed me with those last words, not enough to cause terrible pain, but enough to make me reconsider my struggling. I looked at her once, for a moment flashing an angry look and then one of sadness. She did not outwardly respond but instead began my bath.
While Nalia licked me all over completely destroying the scent I had worked so hard to gain, I did little to move away. A few moments of silence passed before Nalia flipped me over to bathe my undersides. I always hated this part, especially since she could never keep from tickling me. This time it seemed worse than usual and I ended up squirming in laughter.
"Mom! Cut that out!" Nalia stopped and smiled.
"There, all done, and you look to be feeling better too. That wasn't so bad now was it?" I tried to stop giggling.
"You tickled me!" She grinned innocently.
"Who me?" she purred, "I was just finishing up your bath." I pawed her strongly for a moment then squeezed away with an uncomfortable look. She glanced at me sadly.
"You're not angry at me are you?" I looked at Nalia with a scowl and flopped on the ground.
"You embarrassed me in front of my friends, gave me a terrible bath and then ask if I am angry at you? How can you be so mean?" Nalia sighed.
"Siombe, you must accept that I am sorry. I do not usually lose my cool about things." I looked away from her still feeling hurt. Nalia placed a paw on me gently, "Siombe, I understand that you've had a rough life, I know you must be really hurting after this whole thing with the hyenas and your father," she nosed me gently as I lowered my head, "but you have to believe that Kwasi and I are here to help you move on, and get over this whole thing. You have family now, I am your mother now and I only want what's best for you." I paws the ground in front of me gently before turning to look at her over my shoulder.
"Yes, really." Nalia purred in my ear as she gently licked my cheek. "We are here for you Siombe." I sighed somewhat happily. There was no reason to stay angry at this point, she was right. At least for the moment anyway, and all I wanted to do was get back to playing. I wrapped my paws around her and hugged her as best I could.
"Thanks mom." I purred. Nalia smiled gently. At this point Kwasi came in looking a bit forlorn. When I saw him, I ran over and around his legs a few times purring happily. He smiled and patted me on the head as I passed by.
"Hello Siombe." he said softly. He looked up at Nalia and smiled, "Hello love." The two approached each other and nuzzled. I looked at them curiously, something seemed a little wrong.
"Umm, are you two okay?" Kwasi and Nalia smiled at me in unison; a very odd thing.
"Everything is fine son." Kwasi said, "We just need to discuss a few things."
"Yes Siombe," Nalia added, "You can go play now. Just don't get too dirty." I smiled quickly, being completely oblivious to the fact that she obviously wanted me to go. However, I took her advice and quickly scampered off to be with my friends.
That whole situation turned out to be a very meaningful one. Through some miracle or mysticism, very soon Nalia and Kwasi were going to have cubs. Although I did not understand what was going on, I could catch the gist that it was something good, and Kwasi and Nalia were very happy about it. As for myself, I was not sure, so I went to the one person I knew might know about what was happening; my sister Sabulu.
"Cubs are bad things." Sabulu pouted, "Mommy and daddy are going to forget about us and all they will care about is the cubs."
"No way! Kwasi would never forget about us." I rebutted, "Neither would Nalia." Sabulu frowned at me sadly. She was a big cub for a leopard, and had a pair of odd bluish eyes. When she was happy, they sparkled with joy, when she was angry, they were as cold as the winter winds. Her spotted coat and longer tail made her attractive in an odd sort of way. Kwasi and Nalia had adopted her after they found her wandering aimlessly one day. Her past was a blur to me, something I never fully knew. She was prone to wild mood swings but still was in good enough humor most of the time to be an ideal playmate. She turned her head to the side and spoke in a soft voice.
"You've never been in a family with new cubs before, how would you know?" I didn't want to hear this obvious poke at my past and present situation, but I dismissed it and pressed on.
"No, I haven't been, but I do know that they care and they would never just forget about us." Sabulu shrugged and sighed slightly. An uncomfortable pause followed, in which we both just looked at the ground in thought. I broke the silence first. "So, umm, are you up for a little play? I found a neat spot for us." Sabulu smiled quickly, obviously happy to get off the subject.
"Sure!" she exclaimed as she followed me to my special playplace.
A few days later, Sabulu and I got into an argument and a fight ensuing. Although Kwasi tried desperately to break us up and solve the problem, it was all in vain. In a blind fury, Sabulu ran into the Elephant Graveyard; we found her shortly after, mauled by hyenas beyond help. I still carry the guilt of that event in my conscious to this day, and regret that I was the cause of her departure. Much consoling came from Nalia and Kwasi to me as did much reproachment. It was a double-edged sword. It was terrible on them more than anything, feeling that they could do nothing. However it was not all bad, I learned a valuable lesson in kinship, and being a brother. It was valuable training for the next few events.
When Nalia began to go into labor about 108 days after the deed was done, we were all present to see it. It took a great effort on her part to deny the natural inclination to hide away to have the cubs, but she overcame it, and I witnessed the miracle of birth for the first time. Needless to say, I was not the least bit able to help when the actual pain hit her. It was scary, but still an experience none the less that I will never forget. In the end, I was left with two new brothers and a two sisters, Mohatu, the first born; Jasmina, second; Azeem, third; and Sarina fourth. I must admit that out of all the cubs, I took a liking to Mohatu first. I was so excited when I was able to help clean him up after the birth. He was so small, and so cute; I couldnt believe it. He is the only one that I still have much contact with today coincidentally.
The times were good for a long time after their birth. I did much playing and caring for my siblings. They seemed to have taken a liking to me too, and I was pleased about that. Being not of their blood might have caused trouble, but instead they accepted me as their older brother and we had a lot of fun. Times were good on the whole, a few friends lost, a few gained. I grew even closer to my surrogate family, feeling a stronger bond than ever before. In particular, I began to care much for Nalia; Kwasi always seemed to be away doing something or other and she was all I had when I was feeling down.
When I was almost an adolecent, I was playing around in my special playground when I had the misfortune of falling and breaking my hind paw. It was an extremely terrible situation, I could not move, nor could I stop crying long enough to call for help. The pain was unbearable and I thought I was going to die when suddenly the shadows took form and emerged as someone who would play an important role in the rest of my life; the panther named Amathambo.
"Owww!! It hurts! It hurts!" I cried out not understanding what happened to me. When the panther came into view I almost stoped breathing. He was very large for his species, almost the size of a small lioness. He had a casual air of seriousness about him, one that was very hard to pin down. Rolls of ebony fur caught the light and accented his muscles with a luscious sheen. As he turned his dark eyes in my direction, I did not know what to expect. Then he spoke, in an authoritative tone that soothed me somewhat.
"What seems to be the problem little one?" He came over slowly, and at this time I was so scared I froze. There had been an incident of a cub attacked by a panther just recently, and I was afraid I was going to be the next one. He purred in a deep, mellow voice as he neared. "Do not be alarmed, I am not going to do anything to you. Did you hurt yourself?" Just then a twinge of pain that shot through my body loosened my tounge into rapid, incoherent speech.
"Yes! I fell from the tree, something is wrong with my paw, it hurts really badly." He looked down at my foot and nodded as if he knew what he saw.
"I think I may be able to help you with that; if you would let me." I paused; hesitant and uncertain. A complete stranger that came from nowhere suddenly was offering help. Should I accept? Another shot of pain helped push me to the correct answer.
"Yes, okay. Just don't hurt me anymore!" The dark panther nodded and proceeded to look at my paw. Then he pushed a deep green leaf over towards my head and asked me to chew it. I looked at him skeptically, but saw not harm in having a last meal as it were. So I ate the leaf, and he watched in silence as my world slowly faded to blackness.
When I next awoke, I was back at home, beside Nalia. I arose groggily, not knowing what had just happened. Nalia licked my head several times, she must have been worried because my head was very wet and she had a tendency to do that when she was worried about me. Nalia purred gently, but happily to me.
"It's good to see you awake Siombe, how are you feeling?"
"Groggy," I replied, "The last thing I remember was eating that leaf the panther gave me." Nalia nodded and smiled. Suddenly, I became aware of something on my leg and paw. Looking down, I saw my leg completely encased in something dark. Only my toes were showing but otherwise my foot was completely gone. I panicked.
"AHH! Something is eating my leg!" I tried to jump up but Nalia forsaw my panic and held me still.
"Relax son, it is there to help you." She cooed. I still wasn't convinced when suddenly that familiar black form stepped out of the nursery shadows.
"It will come off in a few days, after your paw has done it's healing." I looked at the panther as Nalia did. I was surprised, she didn't let just anybody in the nursery, nor was she quick to trust. But this panther was here none the less, and seemed to be unscathed. Nalia smiled at him.
"Thank you Amathambo, we will never forget this." The panther nodded deeply, almost a bow and rumbled gently at us.
"My pleasure Nalia. I will be back periodically to insure that he is healing well. Good day." He said before she swept out like an ethereal being. I looked at my foot and then to Nalia, completely confused. She grinned at me and mussed my head gently.
"Looks like you will be staying in here for a while Siombe, at least until you heal." I glanced at my toes once more and wiggled them slightly before looking to Nalia.
"What is that, thing?" Nalia shrugged
"I don't know son, but he put it on there so your foot would heal. I don't know how he came upon you, but you are fortunate he did. When he brought you here you looked as if you were dead, but he had merely put you to sleep so you would not feel much pain. He is a healer you know, and one of Kwasi's friends." I nodded halfheartedly and lay my head down.
It turned out that Amthambo was not just any healer, but a truly great one that hailed from the south. He had travelled up north to find the survivors of a pride his father helped destroy. His father had been a ruthless panther, and consistantly tormented him and his brother Blackheart. Years of abuse came to an end when Amathambo left home, during the destruction of Kwasi's old pride. Finding him to be the only survivor, he had come to the pridelands to make amends for his father's mistake. During the time when I had been out, he and Nalia had a long conversation, the content of which is long forgotten. Of course I found this out much later, but at this moment I was only concerned with one thing:
"Does this mean I can't play anymore?" Nalia shook her head.
"For the moment yes, but not never again. Perhaps next time you won't be climbing trees eh son?" I looked to the side feeling mortified. To fall out of a tree was not only embarrassing, but a sign of growing up. It meant that I would be coming to adolecence soon and then what? I had to know.
"Umm, mom?" I purred softly. Nalia twisted an ear towards me.
"What does it mean when I come to adolecence?" Nalia paused and chuckled.
"Well son, one thing is that you begin to grow a large mane around your neck and a little on your chest. Then you develop in, other, ways.." She looked uncomfortable. I pressed on, extremely curious now.
"Well, you develop an interest in lionesses for one." I gulped and suddenly looked to the side abashedly. Nalia caught my gaze and nudged me with her nose jokingly. "Something you are not telling me Siombe? Perhaps a special someone you already have?" I looked down at my encased paw and grinned sheepishly.
"No." I said gently. As wonderful as her sense of truth was, Nalia was not convinced by my little fib and reached around with her tail to tickle at my exposed toes. Not wishing to move, I giggled a little bit before quickly relenting. "Okay, okay, there is someone." Nalia tried to feign surprise.
"Oh really?! Who?" Not wishing to give in still, I muttered a name; Nalia nudged me again, "Who is it Siombe? You don't want me to start with my tail again would you?" I spoke up quickly.
"Lukesia." Nalia smiled. She already knew Lukesia, we played often and went off alone even more often. She probably knew that I had a cub-crush on her all along, but just wanted to hear it from me. She was sly in that way, but that was not the point. It just proved even more that I was growing up whether I wanted to or not, and growing up, was the one thing I feared more than anything else in the world. A few weeks later, the cast rotted away and I broke free a new lion. Alas, if I had known that the dam holding suffering from my life had broken also, I would have surely endured that cast for another few weeks.