“He’s dead. I found him this morning.”
The group at the bar turns as Vetfaan shuffles in. His already-dark mood hasn’t improved. In fact, it obviously got worse. But…this time they understand, for they have been following the unfolding drama over the past few days.
“You sure?” Even Sevaas is upset.
“Ja man! The vultures are busy with him right now. You can go and see for yourself.”
The two cubs were born during the winter a few years ago. Although Kalahari lions are relatively rare, Vetfaan stumbled across the twins while looking for some lost sheep in the rocky outcrop on his farm. He had seen tracks there before, but somehow the lions never hunted his sheep. It was as if they understood that such an act would bring out the hunters. It was a question of live and let live, Vetfaan decided. As long as the lions did their thing without bothering him, he’d let them be.
So Vetfaan kept his distance and the little pride lived quietly on a large range of land, hunting their natural prey under the guidance of the old male, who Vetfaan dubbed Nelson – because he was such a wise old creature.
But then old age got Nelson. He became mangy and thin, arthritic and sick. Vetfaan found his skeleton many months later – just a scattered bunch of bones, picked clean and bleached white by the scorching sun. These things happen in nature, but still Vetfaan stopped his pickup, stood next to the pitiful remains and took off his hat to observe a moment of silence.
Later, he thought his action was poignantly funny. Why did he obey the instinct to pay his respects to a dead animal? You do that for humans, not for natural animal killers. But still…
Anyway, the twins had in the meantime grown up. Many times their tracks were all too visible in the loose sand; two brothers working together to hunt and feed the family. Vetfaan had never seen two males leading a family, but the twins seemed to be quite content to share the throne as joint leaders of their kingdom. Twice Vetfaan found the pride under the big acacia tree on the hill where he discovered the family the first time. There they were, the two males side by side, being groomed by the females.
Of course, Vetfaan’s accounts of the lions caused a lot of conversation in Boggel’s place. At least it was more interesting than the politics of the country and it seemed to be the perfect example of harmony in a country where conflict was the order of the day.
“Man,” Vetfaan once remarked, “I wish we could be like those twins. Share and share alike. That would be great.”
But last week things changed.Why did it happen? Who knows? Maybe it was inevitable, come to think about it. Whatever the reason: the outcome spelled tragedy.
It started with the roaring. Now, if you’ve never heard a Kalahari lions roar, it’d be difficult to explain. Over the endless plains of red sand, those roars carry a long, long way. And sometimes it isn’t the sound that’s so terrifying, it’s the trembling of earth you feel and the silence that follows the roar that is deafening. When those lions get angry, nature seems to want to hide and get away from the fury.
So Vetfaan heard the roars. Felt it.
And he knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. He took his .308, got into his pickup and followed the sound. Eventually he found them. The twins were squaring up to each other, roaring and snarling, jaws dripping with saliva. Their magnificent manes framed the two growling faces while they circled each other. Round and round they went, pawing the sand and telling each other to back off.
Vetfaan had never seen two males fight. Oh, there had been the occasional skirmish – the usual fang-showing and maybe even a wild swipe at each other – you know, business as usual? But not like this. The brothers were serious about this one. One had to back off for the other to claim the right to the throne. No more sharing. Only one would be king.
He watched from a safe distance. Saw them roar and circle and growl and snarl. And then…the real fight started.
Afterwards, Vetfaan couldn’t find the words to describe what had happened. The twins tore into each other, bloodstained fangs ripping into the once-loved kin. The huge paws drove talon-like nails into soft hide, tearing and cutting through fur and muscle. The handsome faces became disfigured by injury and hate and blood as their determination to eliminate each other intensified.
When Vetfaan told them of the fiight, tears streaked down his cheeks. “They wouldn’t stop, man! I wanted to get out and shout at them to stop being such utter fools. They had it all, they had peace, they had a family! But no! I roared my engine, pressed the hooter. It didn’t help. Then I fired the gun – and they simply ignored me. It was terrible…”
It had to end.
By late afternoon the one brother lay dead at the feet of the victor. His blood seeped into the ground as his brother limped off, no longer roaring with such intensity, but growling and…whining as he lay down some distance away.
“He paid a price for killing his brother. Through the binoculars I saw the wounds he had received. I’m not sure whether he’s going to make it.”
“And now he’s dead, too?” Gertruida puts down her National Geographic. “That’s terribly sad.”
“Why did they do it, Gertruida? They had such a good life…and now they destroyed themselves…and the family, for that matter. A new male will move in. He’ll kill the young cubs and teach the females to hunt my sheep. I might have to shoot them all in the end.”
Gertruida nods. Yes, that’s the way it works.
It’s Oudoom who tries to put a perspective on the events. “They just did what we’ve been doing for ages, guys. We have a horrible way of destroying harmony. The Nationalists did it in the past. The ANC is doing it right now. And it’s an international phenomenon, let me tell you. Syria, Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan, Croatia, Christians and Muslims…the list goes on and on.” He sighs as he signals for another beer. “In the end, nobody wins.”
“The stars seemed to shimmer
The sweet scents of the garden,
The creaking gate seemed to whisper,
And a footstep skimmed over the sand.
Then she came in, so fragrant,
And fell into my arms!
Oh! sweet kisses, oh, languorous caresses,
While I, trembling, was searching
For her features, concealed by her mantle.
My dream of love faded away, for good!
Everything’s gone now.
I’m dying hopeless, desperate!”