Every boy in my tribe has killed a lion, I mean everybody except me. Allow me to explain. See, I was born a size smaller and I never won a single fight growing up. Now, many years later, at the age of fourteen, my body isn’t as strong as the rest of the boys and I’m incapable of physical activities. The boys in my village don’t like to walk with me and the girl’s say that I’m not a real man. I am an outcast in Maasai land.
Now you see that statue in the middle of the village? Yes, that one of a strong muscled man with a feather in his hat? Well, they call him the Lion Killer for he killed a lion with his bare hands. You may wonna remember him because he’s kind of important to me: he’s my father. I told you he was important.
Anyway, back to the story. The day was Saturday afternoon, the time two o’clock, the sun hot as a bonfire. As usual I sat on the wooden fence alone in my solitude and watched the skinny cows graze. I always wondered what they ate from the dry grass. But eat they did. From my peripheral, I watched my father and the elders bumping heads deep in discussion. I knew they were talking about me because they kept glancing in my direction. And then they approached and my father addressed me. “Son, its time. It’s time for you to become a man.”
“What must I do father?” I already knew.
“In our culture it’s a curse if a boy can’t kill a lion. Son, please understand what am saying: you have to do it or never return home.”
“Where will I go father?” I was scared and heart broken by his blatant words. What could be more painful than a father denying a son?
My father looked away and I knew that the conversation was over. I couldn’t see his eyes: I couldn’t read his face but I hoped it reflected ambivalence, a change of heart. The elders watched him too. Any kind of emotion on his part as a leader would be deemed as weakness. Finally he turned and I saw the indifference and something else that made my heart sink, embarrassment. My father was ashamed of me. The gods were punishing him for a crime he had committed not by giving him a weak son ...ah… me.
My mother, tears in her eyes brought me some food and a warm cloak, my dad gave me a spear for my forlorn quest. The spear was so heavy that I had to drag it on the ground as I walked into the savanna grassland towards the forest. Destiny was calling on me.
The whole village was there to see me off and it was the first time in my life that nobody laughed or teased me. They were saying goodbye to a dead boy. And they knew it too: I knew it too. I turned and morosely looked back one last time: nobody had moved, nobody waved. They felt sorry for me I could tell.
Soon the prairie turned rocky and then bushy. The tears finally came and I sat underneath a thorn tree and cried. Years and years of being teased and now finally this? My heart was broken. I don’t know how long I sat there but finally I stopped crying and sat very still. I knew I was my own worst enemy: I had to get myself out of the way or die. I stood up and looked around the thorn trees and brushes. I quickly fashioned a bow and cut out some deadly arrows, I started training how to shoot and my aim got better by the minute.
The following day and my confidence boosted I walked deeper into the forest in search of lion paw prints or other signs of the predator. I can do this! I kept telling myself. I can kill the King of the jungle. I was stoked and on a new high.
The days were hot, the nights cold, the vegetation thick. I ran out of food and resorted to birds and rabbits. I stayed alert and refused to think about my solitude and how the village had turned its back on me. My new goal was to find a lion, and if not, then a new home, a place where the music would play in my heart, a place of serenity.
One morning, I heard a noise that sent shivers down my spine. I knew it was a lion but the noise it was making was unlike a usual lion. I crouched low and stealthily approached bow and arrow at ready. Then I parted the bushes and what I saw made me almost drop dead with shock. There lying on the grass was a full grown male lion, mane like a bush, teeth like razors. The lion jerked its head in my direction and I stood there hypnotized as our eyes met. Then the animal roared and it was the scariest thing I had ever heard. But surprisingly I was too paralyzed to run. I don’t know how long I stood there but slowly the shock wore off and I realized that the animal wasn’t going to chase after me: I raised my bow and aimed. The lion narrowed its eyes at me but didn’t move. All I had to do was release the arrow and I would be the village hero, my dad would once again be proud of me, I would get my life back. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill the animal. Maybe it was something in the lion’s eyes, something none threatening, something soft and caprice on my inside. I took a closer look and realized what it was, the lion’s hind leg was bleeding and the beast couldn’t move.
I sighed in relief, walked over to a rock and sat down. It was surreal to be so close to the beast. I studied the creature and tried to relate it to all the stories my dad had told me. About how two lions killed 140 people, about the lion being man’s enemy. Why kill an animal unless in defense? I wondered as I realized how soft hearted I was. Wasn’t this the reason why I was in the forest? To kill a lion?
I made camp near the rock and sat all day watching the animal lick its wound and emit whimpers of pain. Once in a while, the lion would stop to study me and then refocus on its wound.
Late in the afternoon, I shot a deer and dragged it over and watched the lion eat heartily. Just being in the presence of such greatness amazed me, if only the villagers could see me now. But then I thought about my father’s condemning look and how he would deem me weak for allowing the lion to live. He would call me a coward. For once in my life, that thought didn’t bother me at all. I would probably never be my father’s son again, but just being in the lion’s presence took all my fear away. I had done it! Look at me now hunting and gathering? I was afraid no more. I was a warrior.
For weeks I fed the lion back to strength and eventually the animal started limping around. Every other day I brought a deer then walked away and watched the lion feed. I never got within striking distance: I never tried to touch the animal. “I’m gonna call you Moja,” I whispered after the lion was fed. The animal approached me but I moved away. And even after the lion resumed its full strength, I kept killing deer for it and the lion kept coming back for dinner. We would sit there at a respectable distance and watch each other like good old friends but every time Moja approached, I would quickly climb up a tree. I wasn’t afraid, but I wasn’t a fool either.
One day, I saw something horrific, a snake… no, a dragon snake with black wings. The black snake towered as high as the trees and left a trail of black smoke in its wake, broken tree branches in its path. I followed from a distance and was horrified to realize that it was headed straight for my village! I thought of my mum and dad and wanted to run ahead and warn them, but I knew that I couldn’t overtake the creature.
Finally my village came into view and I took out my horn and blew it desperately. Unarmed men came running from their houses, my father in the lead, a spear in his hand. The dragon snake paused and hissed, assessing the situation, then it attacked. My dad threw his spear and it grazed the snake’s head forcing the creature to turn on him. It was so close too and my dad turned to run. The other men threw stones at the creature but the snake’s eyes were unrelentingly focused on my dad. And then my dad tripped and fell on his back, watched the snake approach. I moved. I dashed through the grassland bow and arrow in hand, courage I never thought I possessed. The snake opened its mouth to swallow my dad and I shot an arrow into the creature’s mouth, watched it collapse.
“Dad?” I yelled, “Give me your hand!” My dad reached out and I helped him up. It was all adrenaline. We turned and started running.
“Look out!” Someone yelled. It was too late. The snake’s left wing flapped and hit me, knocking the wind out of me. I landed a distant away from my dad, stunned, felt like a brick truck had fallen on me. I tried to rise but all I could move was my head, which stared as the snake rose up again like a cobra above me. I turned to look at my dad. He was crawling towards me on all fours, coming to my rescue. I knew he was hurt. I readied myself to die.
Suddenly, a thunderous roar arose from the grassland and the intruder distracted the snake’s attention. My eyes sparkled with hope as I recognized Moja, my lion friend.
The snake turned on the lion and Moja roared and leaped into the air. The lion slapped the snake with its paw and the creature reeled backwards then crushed to the ground, dead on impact. But Moja wasn’t done yet. The lion bit the snake’s head off and spit it to the side then finally satisfied, turned onto the rest of the village. Everybody including my dad panicked. Someone threw a spear and it missed the lion by inches, Moja roared.
“It’s okay!” I yelled. “ He’s my friend!”
The lion walked over to me and in my desperation to protect it from the men, I reached out and touched it for the first time! Moja licked my hand and the whole village stared in shock. And then the lion turned and ran into the savannah. Nobody spoke for a long time after that.
Finally my dad struggled to his feet and trudged towards me. The villagers edged closer and stared at me as though seeing me for the first time. “The lion tamer!” Someone yelled and another picked up the chant.
“The lion tamer! The lion tamer!”
My dad grabbed my right hand and raised it in the air. I looked into his face and for the first time saw the father I had always wanted. His eyes were full of pride: he was happy and ashamed of me no more. I finally had my dad back.
In my village in Maasai land, every boy has killed a lion, except me.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...