Up in the tall, tall tree, the little spider monkey hugged her infant to her chest. The air was thick and yellow-brown. The bright burning was coming. Clutching her baby she descended. It was time.
The creatures of the forest, predator and prey together, were gathering, deep in the mystical heart of the jungle. Silently they formed a circle around Her Sacred Place, wingtip to paw, talon to claw. The huge black jaguar turned his head and gazed amber-eyed at the little spider monkey, but she wasn’t afraid.
The people of the forest emerged from the trees. They lay down their bows and quietly joined the circle. The little spider monkey looked up. High in the canopy, the spirits of the forest shimmered.
They waited. And prayed.
Mother Gaia rose from the earth. She threw back her head and opened her mouth wide. Her ululation filled the air. The lament grew. The creatures of the forest joined in. The air vibrated.
On the other side of the ocean, the Powerful People were chomping their way through a lavish lunch, while discussing the iniquity of inequality and admiring the ocean view.
The crystal glasses began to rattle. Then a wave, shaped like a monstrous hand, rose up from the ocean. Huge watery fingers plucked the Powerful People from their table and dropped them into the sea one by one where they bobbed and floundered.
The hand closed into a fist and rose skyward, speeding away and disappearing over the western horizon. As it neared opposite continent the fist unclenched and scooped up a massive handful of ocean.
Cool air ruffled the little spider monkey’s fur. She smelt the moisture in the air and heard the hiss of the dying flames. Mother Gaia began to sing the sweetest song the little spider monkey had ever heard. And the forest breathed again.
The water receded around the Powerful People leaving them standing on the beach. Sweet music filled the air. They stood and waved proudly to the crowd, as if claiming victory from the sea. But then the waves rolled back. The Powerful People were no longer waving. They were drowning.
This afternoon we’re packing our bags and heading off up country for a few days. This is the kind of thing we’re hoping to see, so maybe there will be animal adventure stories next week. After all, this is Africa!
In the meantime, be warned. A deluge of chapters from my work-in-progress novel for younger readers is scheduled. I hope you have the opportunity to dip in.
Here are the rules: Write a story about the picture you’re given. Select 3 nominees. Give them a new picture.
So, the story which, although prompted by the photo, is also a homage to my little old rooster who gave his last cock-a-doodle at the weekend.
The little rooster is first to awake, greeting the pre-dawn with his joyful call. Young squirrels start their chatter and mama guinea fowl calls from the fence top like a loud rusty gate.
The little rooster calls again; the hens shift about on their perches. He hops down and struts about, pecking at the floor of the hen-house, waiting for the day to begin.
The side gate opens. The hens hop down and jostle for position, peering through the chicken wire. Food arrives and with it, freedom. Pecking soon done, they all file out across the yard.
The little rooster rounds the corner of the house and sees mama sparrow tugging at the earth. Out pops a fat green caterpillar. She takes off and lands on the edge of her nest, offering it to the first new-born chick to raise its beak.
Then, a flash of yellow as a black-masked bird swoops in. The little rooster watches as he plucks another long strand of bamboo leaf and flies up to the high, high branch which sways over the pond, to weave it deftly into his beautifully-crafted nest.
Then the little rooster sees his favourite little black hen settled in the shade of the myrtle bush. He shuffles in beside her. He’ll take another stroll later; there’s no hurry.
It’s a good two-hour drive from Maun to the entrance of the Moremi Game Reserve in the Okavango Delta. Not that it’s particularly far, maybe 100km, but on the second half of the journey, the tar runs out and you’re on a so-called gravel road, which is actually more like sand, scree and boulders. But, heigh-ho, this is Africa, and we’re on holiday.
We set out on a bright winter morning, fuelled by a good breakfast at our lodge. We fill up the tank of our trusty hired 4×4 and proceed, on the watch for the donkeys, cattle and goats who all graze happily at the side of the road and might suddenly step out onto the highway seeking pastures new on the opposite verge.
At Shorobe, halfway distance-wise, the tar road runs out and a little further along, the warning signs for cattle on the road change to warning signs for wild animals.
Soon we spot an elephant splashing about in a small waterhole near the roadside. We stop and roll down the windows. The elephant looks at us. Somehow he seems wilder, being outside the reserve. But he’s not interested in us. He wanders off to conceal himself behind a bush. No paparazzi, please!
We spy a group of giraffes and wonder at how they can disappear behind the slenderest of trees. ‘Now you see me, now you don’t’. Next there are groups of docile bokkies, all big eyes and stumpy little tails.
At about eleven o’clock we arrive at the South Gate of the Reserve, shaken by the road but stirred by the sights. We have until about 4.30 if we are to avoid driving back in the dark (which is not recommended, given the state of the roads). I understand that the gates close at 5.30. We have plenty of time.
The map we are given when we sign in is short on information, but we spot a sign after the first waterhole and follow a narrower, sandier track which promises a lagoon. We nod to a handful of giraffes. We pass several dried up patches of mud, which may or may not have been part of the lagoon (it is the dry season after all). But we convince ourselves that lions are hiding in the long grass (they probably are). We see zebra and buffalo, lots of them! The track winds bumpily away, through a profusion of birds. Two hours in, we’ve no idea where we are, but never mind, we have plenty of time.
A little further on, we spot a lone hippo. We turn off the engine and listen to him grazing. We watch spellbound as he tucks into his lunch and will him to look up and pose for the camera, but he turns his back on us.
We move off and he gazes up at us; we get the photo. As we leave the open grassland behind and return to the bush we wonder where we might within this large expanse of wilderness.
We pass what we think is a familiar lump of splodged elephant dung by a fork in the road. Have been here before? Without any signs around, the map is not helpful to our dilemma.
We head off down the untried fork. As the afternoon shadows lengthen I have the feeling we are headed in the wrong direction. However, on the plus side, we are passing a series of shallow waterholes and there are animals everywhere.
Eventually we come to a battered wooden sign at another fork. The only name we can match to the map is ‘Third Bridge’; this is definitely the wrong direction. Another vehicle draws up containing a party of cheery people from Namibia, looking for their campsite and also lost. I pass them our map; we all decide that they are heading the right way.
We turn around again. I’m looking at the time. It’s doubtful that we will make it back to the Gate before 4:30, but never mind, we’re enjoying the animals, although not stopping anymore, unless said animal is blocking the road, like the big bull elephant, and the herd of buffalo.
An hour later we are back at the original fork. There is only one choice left. We follow. We reach a vehicle which is waiting for two others to pass. We tuck in behind and watch a honey badger shoot across the path of one of the on-coming safari trucks. The track widens out and vehicle in front stops; as we draw level, we see that it’s our Namibian friends. Clearly one of us is heading in the wrong direction. We shake our heads and decide to follow them for a bit. Maybe we’ll find a sign up ahead.
There is a sign: ‘First Bridge’ and a few yards on, there is the bridge. Now we know which of us is wrong. It’s us. On the plus side, we know exactly where we are, and we know that if we turn around we’ll get straight to the Gate. On the minus side, it’s about 40 km away, another hour.
Off we go again, bumping over the sandy track. This will be interesting. Pressing on through the narrow bush-lined tracks, we slow down only slightly for the evening-time animals, and we arrive at the Gate at little before 5:30. The sun is sinking fast, but what are headlights for? At least we’re not marooned in Moremi with only the thin walls of the 4×4 between us and marauding animals. Heigh-ho, this is Africa, and we’re on holiday!
“It had all been going so well,” said the Lilac Breasted Roller to his mate. “Everyone thought we were the National Bird of Botswana. Even though there’d never actually been one.” The bright coloured little bird sighed heavily. “It was such a PR triumph just letting all those safari visitors think that.”
“I know,” replied the female. Her wings drooped.
“But now the Kori Bustard’s been given the title. It’s official.”
“That bird’s not nearly as pretty and charming as us,” she said flapping her bright turquoise wings.
The male sighed again. “You may as well close our Twitter account.”
The sun is low in the sky, but the baked-on heat of the day throbs out of the concrete stoep. The bush sings with insects. I sip my sundowner slowly, the sharp, grassy taste lingering on my tongue, the liquid cool in my throat. Condensation beads on the glass and drips drops of fine rain on my bare knees. Wood-smoke from someone’s early evening braai wrinkles my nose.
The thicket rustles and a tiny antelope appears in the small clearing beyond the stoep. He sees me and freezes. I keep still-still not wanting to frighten him. We stare at each other. I hardly dare breathe. He is so close, so wild and timid. Motionless, our eyes locked together, a minute passes, two…
‘Top up?’ a large hand holding a green bottle accompanies the question. The little animal starts and skips off into the bush. The spell is broken.