There are always decisions that define character. Jack had made many mistakes in his life, those regrets time unable to heal, but he’d always believed he was doing the right thing at the time, the honest, decent thing. Now, those mistakes had led to him being a baitman running blindly across a Zambian plain, and although another wrong turn approached, he could do nothing but run for it.
A hero is not a man who knows he’ll win, a hero is someone who fears they will lose, but continues because it is the right thing to do. When the cry came that the lion was heading for the village, for the innocent who had warmed him with their friendly hospitality scant hours earlier, Jack knew he had to help them, protect them any way how, use his own life to shield theirs if necessary. He believed it was the right thing to do, their lives worth more, so he ran.
His heart beat through his mouth and ears as he lolloped frantically across the plain, the ground throwing every other step off course, the grass slashing at his exhausted legs. Through the blackness of the plain he could discern the halogen glow of Leo’s camp, and vaguely in the distance the silhouettes of the thatched village Lapas.
No fires were lit, nothing to ward the big cat away. Of course not, Leo had paid the tribe good money to draw the animal in if necessary. Now it had worked, the small community was defenceless.
When Jack finally reached the huts, breathless and bandy-legged, the village was still, deserted, his wheezing gasps and scuffling footfalls amplified by the silence. There was no sign of the residents, nor Leo and his crew, no red targets revealed their watching eyes. Where were they? Had Jack made another mistake?
He looked up the row of huts and froze. The lion casually walked around a hut at the other end of the village, and began sauntering down the path towards him. It was a male, proudly maned and regal in it’s strength. Staring at Jack he marked his territory with a fecal deposit on the ground. The village is mine, was the message, and I’ll eat you whenever I like.
NO ONE SPOKE, MOVED OR DARE BREATHE
Suddenly, hands grabbed him and wrenched him off the path. Jack was thrown onto the floor of a Lapas. It was Abebe. The African had courageously pulled him into his home, joining the family crouched tense and still, as were the other villagers in their respective dwellings, silently waiting and praying for the beast to pass, or the white hunters to complete their task. Lesedi hugged her baby, wide eyed with fear, Mosi squatted, pinched and angry.
“Fool,” hissed Abebe. “You can’t fight Sundiata.”
“Where are your guns?” said Jack. “I can try and scare it away.”
“They took back their rifles, spears and machetes too. Only whites allowed to kill Sundiata.” So much like Leo, dead set on playing the hero, even if it meant a massacre.
Jack thought to make a run for it, give the beast a prey to chase, draw him away from Abebe and his family, when a vast shadow crossed the mouth of the hut, and a low, soft growl filled the air. The lion was here, and the previous safety of the Lapas now trapped them.
The shadow departed, but the growl did not. It stayed outside, moving around the walls of the hut, as the lion circled, pondering it’s attack. Dirt and twigs fell in clumps from the walls, as the beast scratched the sticks that made them, once strong, now shockingly fragile. No one spoke, moved or dare breathe.
Round and round the animal prowled, with an occasional grunt, sniff or prod at the human dwelling, but it did not leave. Abebe’s hand clasped in prayer, then Lesedi’s and Mosi’s joined his. Leave them be, if they were still and prayed, the mighty Sundiata would not smell their juicy meat, he would depart for other climes. Then, just as Jack hoped their prayers may be answered, it happened.
A roar split their ears, as the lion rushed the wall of the hut, breaking through in a shower of stones, sticks and mud. Suddenly, it was there, straight into the middle of the room, teeth and eyes shining with ferocious hunger.