Where The Maned Brothers Rest

Lesley Mukwacha


© Copyright 2022 by Lesley Mukwacha

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Having driven just over a thousand kilometers through one of Africa's mighty deserts, the Kalahari desert, alone, without resting, my body was almost giving up, my eyes felt heavy, my arms stiff, and my neck a bit sore. The memories of my just ended twenty-day tour of Namibia had kept me going despite the tiredness; the coast, the national heritage sights, and the cultural visits had been more than amazing, they had been exceptional, and looking out either side of the highway now, seeing nothing but the open plains, stretching well into the horizon, everything changed. Not taking anything away from Botswana, and not saying the country has nothing to offer either, I mean, it surely has the Okavango delta, the famous Savuti national park, the Chobe national park but these were nowhere near where I was driving, except, of course for Magadigadi pans which lay on my right, but I had done enough sight-seeing for now. I just wanted to get home and be with my family and friends and share my experiences with them, watching their eyes widen as I would be doing what I was best at, telling stories like no other person they knew.

I had to stop and rest. My first and last stop since departing Windhoek, Namibia's capital city, had been at the Trans Kalahari border, and because it had not been busy at all, in less than thirty minutes I was done with all border formalities and back on the wheel, happily inhaling the welcoming cool fresh air of the Botswana side of the Kalahari desert. I clearly remember swearing loudly as I shifted into the last gear of my 4x4 on realizing I had not, as planned, made use of the toilets there, but then again, those toilets are usually not very hospitable inside; am sure you catch my drift. The bush or roadside was a better option, and up until now I had managed to not pay attention to my bladder's distress calls; but now, I had to go. It was now tormenting me and I knew the last fifty kilometers to my intended place of stay for the night would not be doable, so, without giving it much thought, I steered off-road and stopped by what had been a nice picnic spot.

The big acacia tree that had provided shade there had given in to old age. All that remained of it was just a small portion of the almost fully decomposed trunk and pieces of bark that had fallen victim to the ever-harvesting termites of the Kalahari desert.
I switched off the car, stepped out slowly as I listened to my aching body, and stretched while I yawned and scanned the area around me for any unwanted company, there was none. I looked up at the clear blue sky and nodded, murmuring the words, "It sure is a beautiful day". I checked my watch, it was 5 pm and beginning to cool down as it would only be just about a few hours before the sun disappeared, perfect time for the kings and queens of the jungle to get ready to go hunting. Wait a minute. Did I just say kings of the jungle? Do not get all excited now, this story has nothing to do with those lazy guys who spend three-quarters of their day lying under trees and bushes, occasionally rolling onto their backs and the males sometimes doing something as silly as squirting urine into the air, besides, there were no big trees in site, not even bushes big enough to accommodate these giant cats, well, except for one bush about sixty meters from the main road to my left. The grass was not very tall such that if anything, even the size of a leopard was to move through it, it would be noticeable, so I walked about twenty meters away from the car along the main road and began to set my bladder free, enjoying the moment with closed eyes and a distant smile about my face. There was total silence except for the soft trickling sound of my urine as it came into contact with the grass in front of me. When done, I did what men always do, shake shake shake and retrieve before pulling on my trouser zipper; then it happened. The hair at the back of my head stood on end.

Ok, now that I am pretty sure that I got your attention, I am going to get right into it, but before that, I have got to say something. There are only two things in Africa, no, actually, three, that can cause your hair to stand on end, number one, the most feared, most deadly, most venomous snake in the world, the notorious black mamba, number two, the mighty king of the jungle [The lion] and number three, the thought that a ghost is staring at you from the shadows at night while walking through a graveyard. It was not night yet and I was not driving through a graveyard so that ruled out the ghosts. It was in the desert with no rocky hills, caves, and large trees so that ruled out the notorious guy, leaving us with only one culprit, I guess we all know who that is.

Slowly, I turned around and found myself staring right into the menacing, expressionless eyes of a male lion, frozen, less than ten meters away from me. Right between me and my car. There was nowhere to go. The most feared animal in Africa was staring up at me with such intensity I almost asked it if there was something I could do for it. My knees felt like jelly as I weighed my options. Run? How, on jelly legs? Fight? How, without a weapon. I weigh around 100 kgs and a full-grown male lion, between 200 and 250kg. And, having been a safari guide for more than 10 years, I knew exactly what I was up against and all the things I had said during my briefings before walks and drives in game reserves like Kruger national park, Hwange National Park, and Mana pools, started coming back. I realized this day that, remaining still and staring a lion down is not as easy as presumed, it is not even voluntary, it is because one cannot do anything else. You cannot move as fear grips you so tight that your body can not react to the commands coming from your brain and it is amazing how we all suddenly turn Christian, praying to a God whose existence we did not even acknowledge before.

  Back to the maned brother, he seemed very calm and collected as he continued to stare at me, his tail swishing slowly from side to side, a sign that he still was undecided on what to do next. I thought of turning tail but then realized I could not move my legs and even if I could, outrunning a lion seemed just as difficult as engaging in a fight against it. My many years of being a safari guide had taught me that never turn your back on a cat as that would be a sign of fear or weakness and would result in actually getting attacked.
Suddenly, I remembered my grandmother, many years back in the village where I grew up, calming and luring a dog by getting down on one knee and tapping at the ground with her fingers while whistling softly. Instinctively, I dropped down on one knee and started doing that. Surprisingly, the tail swishing stopped and the lion sat down on its hind legs, then eventually lay on its tummy. For a second, his eyes left me and went over to that bush about sixty or so meters away from us, but I did not follow them. I knew that instant that he was not alone, and that realization alone sent shivers throughout my body. Squaring off with one lion was one thing, but being surrounded by a pride was unthinkably catastrophic.
Then, as I was wondering what would happen if the lion suddenly came over and sat or stood beside me, I heard the sound of an approaching vehicle from behind me. I chose not to turn around and look. A few moments later, a small open truck pulled up about 20 meters opposite us and through the corner of my eye, I could see the shock in the eyes of the old man driving it. Without saying anything, he killed the engine and opened the passenger side door, cautiously stepping out onto the road, his eyes not leaving us for a second. He cautiously went to the back of the vehicle. The lion’s gaze, which had left me momentarily, followed the guy around as he lifted what seemed like a blanket covering something. His hand reached under it and came out with a huge chunk of what looked like donkey or horse meat. He threw it a few meters away from the back of his car, after which he climbed back into his vehicle. The lion, who immediately smelled the fresh meat, suddenly rose to its feet and quickly trotted over to the meat and started tearing at it. As I turned around I noticed another male lion trotting from the bush towards me. I told myself that that was the end of me, but miraculously, as if I did not even exist, he ran a few meters past me and joined the brother. Slowly and cautiously, I rose and tiptoed to my car, opened the door, and slid in. I quickly closed the door, lowered my head onto the steering wheel, and listened to my loudly racing heart.

My savior looked across at me and said, “Do you believe in God? ”

I said, “I don’t know man.” Then, with a slight shake of his head, he murmured, “You should.”

Without saying another word, he started his car and drove off. After watching the brothers feast on their gift from the stranger for nearly half an hour, I started my car and continued with my journey. Instead of pulling into my initially intended place of stay for the night,  I suddenly had enough energy to drive another 350km, and, as I laid my head down on the soft pillow in my hotel room later that night, I remember being so grateful that I had lived to see another day.

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