Tag Archives: lion

Weekly Phot Challenge: Lioness vs Gravity

“I am,” the lioness said, “the queen of all around me. I rule supreme. In fact, I get to choose where I sleep, and nobody – and nothing – will disturb my well-earned rest.”110_1026

Right then, a big, ripe marula fell on to her head. The lioness looked around in surprise.

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“What..who..dared do that? I said no disturbance! In plain English! What can be unclear about that?” (Growl!!!)

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“It’s called gravity, you stupid. What goes up, must come down. It’s true for everything, even for lionesses with an ego problem.” The long-suffering lion was bemused, to say the least.

110_1028The lioness asked her sister, who said the same thing. “And don’t always argue with our husband. You may be queen, but he is the king. Come on down and stop making a fool out of yourself.”

110_1030 “Oh, all right. I’ll come down, but not because of a stupid law of nature. I’ll come down – regally – because I want to.”

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“Oh don’t be such a sourpuss,” the sister scolded the disgruntled lioness. “Come, I’ve got our husband’s Master Card and I’ve just returned from the spa. Why don’t we do some retail therapy? I saw some Impala nearby…”

IMG_5444The lion was much saddened when he heard that. Bank balances, he knew, were just like Marulas. And his dear lioness, much like gravity. His balance was going to go one way…down!

Wire-trapping the Past

Credit: bergsiggamefarm.co.za

Credit: bergsiggamefarm.co.za

Whenever the talk in Boggel’s Place turns to sheep farming (which is rather often), somebody will inevitably say something about wild dogs – those painted animals with the vicious hunting instincts. That they are a threat and capable of wreaking havoc, is above questioning, yet it is Vetfaan who usually gets up quietly to go and smoke his pipe outside. He knows not all vermin need to be shot on sight. No matter what their usual habits are and how much damage they have done in the past, he’d never forget the incident on his farm…

It happened towards the end of the 70’s, when he was a young lad on his father’s farm, but he can still recall those eyes when he found a wild dog caught in a wire snare out in the veld. Snares – as illegal as they were (and still are) – were used by some workers to trap small antelopes and rabbits. Of course Vetfaan’s father took a dim view of such practices, but this didn’t stop the trapping.

One day, while patrolling the fence around the farm, Vetfaan heard shrill yapping, a piercing cacophony of sound, emanating from a koppie just north of the fence. This was noman’s land, an arid wasteland where even the sparse Kalahari bushes didn’t attempt to grow, so Vetfaan climbed through the fence to investigate.

The wild dog had his foot caught in a wire snare and the animal must have endured torture for a considerable period of time. The animal was gaunt and in obvious distress. The howls of pain decreased to a whimper and Vetfaan approached as the animal cowered down on the ground. As usual on these patrols, Vetfaan was armed with his .22 rifle – in case he came across a mamba or some other danger.

There was only one way to address the situation. A few yards away from the animal, Vetfaan stopped to load the rifle. Putting the wild dog out of its misery was not only the humane thing to do, it would also prevent further stock losses on their farm. Vetfaan knew this. The wild dog, it seemed, also understood the inevitability of its demise. It lowered the once-proud head onto it’s trapped foot and waited. The wailing ceased.

In that eerie silence, the sound of the bolt ramming the bullet into the breech seemed unnaturally loud. Still, the animal didn’t react, except to close his eyes. Vetfaan lifted the gun. Took aim. Took up the slack on the trigger.

And couldn’t fire.

It just seemed so wrong: the animal was helpless, rendered incapable of escaping by the trap set by some heartless hand. Vetfaan was suddenly struck by the two wrongs: the trap – and the vermin caught in it. The wild dog, after all, was not on his father’s ground and had most probably done what it had been designed to do: hunting for prey. On the other hand, the trap was highly illegal and a coward’s way of hunting. If he killed the beast….would that be right?

He sat down on the red Kalahari sand and looked at the animal more intently. It was, indeed, a young male. Although gaunt and obviously fatigued, there was no denying that he used to be a magnificent animal. A live, healthy, magnificent wild dog. The animal opened his eyes to look at Vetfaan. He saw the silent plea: get it over with, will you?

Vetfaan shouldered the gun, took careful aim, and pulled the trigger. Despite the small calibre of the rifle, the boom of the shot seemed to echo over the veld forever.

For a while they remained as they were: wild beast and human frozen as silent statues under the blazing sun of the Northern Cape.

Then the animal moved it’s foot. Vetfaan could then see that only one toe of the one front foot was caught in the snare. The animal gave Vetfaan a last look – a lingering stare – before limping off. The bullet had gone true: snapping off the restraining wire that had kept the animal captive for so long.

Of course Vetfaan never told his dad.

It must have been a year later that he once again patrolled that fence. Acting on instinct he climbed through the fence at that spot to revisit the place where he had freed the wild dog. The shot-off wire was still there, rusting away in the veld.

That night he slept at the half-way spot like he usually did. The perimeter of the large farm was so long that his father had built a small stone hut at the place, especially for the cold winter nights when sleeping outdoors would have been very foolish indeed. The hut had a bed, a fireplace and a few candles – it was a simple shelter to rest in before setting out on the next leg of the patrol. Vetfaan ate his meagre meal, sat next to the fire for a while and turned in to sleep.

That night he heard the soft padding of feet around the hut. He wasn’t particularly worries as the door was shut and the embers still glowed reassuringly in the small hearth. That is, until he hear the soft growl…

Kalahari lions are unpredictable animals. In the vast open spaces of the Kalahari desert, their pale-gold fur serves as excellent camouflage, but that is maybe the only positive factor in their fight for survival. Stalking is extremely difficult and prey is scarce. These cats have learned to survive by eating almost anything they come across: from defying the quills of a porcupine, feeding on decaying carcasses and catching birds – to cannibalism. If it has meat, the lion will eat it.

Even humans.

Vetfaan stoked up the fire, checked the door and wondered how many puny .22 bullets would be needed to stop a lion. It became a long night of listening to the growling outside and the thumping of his heart.

Some time before dawn, the sounds outside ceased. Was the lion standing still? Or did it lie down in front of the door, scenting the fear of the human inside? Would it wait there until Vetfaan was forced to leave? The silence stretched out in an unbearable nightmare of possibilities…

Then, suddenly, there were sounds of a…scuffle? Running feet and indistinguishable sounds. Growls, Heavy breathing and more grunts.

And then…complete silence.

Once the sun started rising in the east, Vetfaan slid the bolt back to ease the door open to a crack. Nothing. No lion.

spoorThe only evidence of the night’s activity was the myriad of lion tracks all around the hut. Imprinted in the sand there was no mistaking the large paw marks of an adult lion.That, and the strange tracks of a wild dog, with one foot missing a toe.

***

Vetfaan once said that people are too quick to judge, especially when they insist on analyzing the past. The activists  now baying for the removal of Cecil John Rhodes’ statue, his name from universities and even his remains from the Matopos, seem to think that they can rewrite the history of the continent. The current fashion is to blame people long dead for the hardships of today; while completely ignoring the fact that we are what we are because we refuse to face the simple fact that we have inherited the world the way it is. We can’t change history. But we can learn from it.

And, like that wild dog, it is sometimes excitingly worthwhile to remember that very few people were just good or just bad. The Rhodes Trust with the Rhodes scholarships have benefitted more than 7000 students from Australia, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Jamaica & Commonwealth Caribbean, Kenya, New Zealand, Pakistan and Southern Africa. Notable world figures gained from these scholarships, including heads of state like: Bob Hawke, Wasim Sajjad, Bill Clinton, Dom Mintoff, John Turner and Tony Abbott.

In Vetfaan’s mind. shooting that helpless wild dog because of its perceived history would have been wrong. Sadly, he also reckons the activists  won’t stop. They’ve trapped Cecil John Rhodes in a wire trap. They’ve snared Jan van Riebeeck. Who’s next? Paul Kruger? Queen Victoria? Any historical figure with an European surname?

His message is simple: live and let live…but please get on with life…

Loving Killers

Credit: thoroughbredfineart.com

Credit: thoroughbredfineart.com

“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.

It did.

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!”

The Fable of the Lion and the Porcupine

“It’s funny how the Americans aren’t shy about colour. After the election, it seems quite natural for them to say that Whites voted for Romney, Blacks for Obama; not to mention the Hispanics and the Latinos. And they go on about gays and the youth as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.” Servaas shakes his head – the Americans, according to him, are a far advanced people. “Here we dare not mention such things.”

“You have to add marijuana and tax increases for the rich in the same breath, Servaas. Fearless about the future, they are. I think the biggest concern is the cut in government spending Obama wants to implement – that’ll never happen here. If our government takes away social grants, they will lose the next election.”

“You’re right Kleinpiet. If only the people who receive social grants vote for Zuma, he’ll be President forever. They don’t care about corruption and Nkandla – they have to feed mouths, and that’s all that matters.”

“Oh, I wish you’d stop talking politics!” Gertruida slams an impatient hand on the counter, making Boggel hop onto his crate. “Ever since the Chinese and the Americans are having elections and a possible change in parliament, you talk about nothing else. Mugabe, Zuma, Malema – I’m tired of listening to your negative comments. Can’t you say something nice about wool prices or Sammie’s new fridge in his shop? Anyway, you’re not promoting your country by always slamming everything that happens here.”

“Okay.” Kleinpiet raises an eyebrow. “Now let’s see: we can’t talk about hospitals, water quality, fracking, Marikana, police chiefs or schools. That leaves sport (if you say nothing about cycling), economy (if you ignore the trade deficit), and jukskei (if you don’t talk about quotas). And, maybe…the new notes the Reserve Bank issued. Nope, I think I’ll stick to Cactus, then.”

An uncomfortable hush settles in the bar. They don’t want to offend Gertruida, but they don’t like drinking in silence, either.

“I’ll tell you what,” Precilla brightens noticeably, “let’s talk about something that isn’t race related, has nothing to do with politics, and has no influence on the economy.”

The silence regains the upper hand. Really, if those are the requirements for a so-called civilised discussion, they have nothing to say to each other.

“Okay. Let me tell you a story.” Servaas signals for a Cactus, waits until it is served and then sits back. Then he tells them his lion story.

One day; a long, long time ago; a boy stumbled across a lion in Africa. The lion was very sick, so the boy fought back his fear and stopped running away. From a distance, he looked back.

Hey, Mister Lion – he said – you don’t look so good, what is wrong?

The lion growled half-heartedly for it was feverish and very weak. It said he wanted to eat a porcupine and now a quill was stuck in his foot. Look – the lion said – it is poisoning me. That’s why I am so sick.

The boy ran to his village, and asked all the elders to help. They laughed and told him to go away, they were busy with important matters. So to boy went to the next village, and the next; and got the same answer every time.

That night, the boy lay in his bed and thought about the lion. Such a big and mighty animal is dying because of a fight with a small animal, and now a quill was poisoning him. The porcupine most probably escaped, or was dead, it didn’t matter: the poor lion should not be allowed to suffer so much.

He told his mother the next morning that he felt bad about the lion.

Son – his mother said – lions and porcupines have been fighting since forever. Most often, the porcupine gets killed, but sometimes it manages to inflict a mortal wound with one of its quills. That’s the way of nature, Son, you won’t change it. And remember, Son, its the way of nature – one should not interfere with it.

The boy was saddened by this news, and went back to the lion the next day. He immediately saw the lion was dying – it didn’t growl any more.

Lion – the boy said – if I remove the quill from your paw, the fever will go away. And – he said – I have these herbs and leaves from the fever-tree that will help you recover. Please let me help you.

The lion could only nod his big head. He was thirsty, and hungry, and needed help.

Very carefully, the boy took that big paw in his hand, and little by little, he tried to dislodge the quill from the foot. Oh, once or twice the lion tried to roar his protest, but he was so weak,  it didn’t prevent the well-meaning boy to try and help him. Eventually, after a struggle, both of them were drenched with sweat: the boy from trying to help, and the lion because it had such a fever. Then, almost unexpectedly, the boy sat with the quill in his one hand and the lion’s paw in the other.

“Now, that’s a nice story, Servaas! I didn’t know you knew stories like that. I’m sure the lion recovered and they all lived happily ever after.” Gertruida is so happy, she orders a round on the house.

“Well, not exactly.” Servaas pauses mischievously while he downs his glass. “You see, the boy fed the lion for a while, and the lion got stronger.”

One day, the boy carried food to the lion’s den, like he always did, every day. The lion looked at the piece of meat, and said it wasn’t enough.

It’s all we have in the village – the boy said – if I take any more, my people will starve.

The lion was much stronger by now, so his roar of displeasure was heard all over the country. Then – the lion said – I will have a piece of you, instead.

He grabbed the boy and cut off a piece of flesh from the boy’s leg. The boy cried, saying it isn’t fair, but the lion told him to be quiet, nobody’s listening anyway.

The next day, the boy limped back to the lion, again with as much meat as the village could spare. Again the lion was displeased and demanded more. Again he cut a piece of flesh from the boy.

“Ag no, Servaas, this is a terrible story.” Kleinpiet is quite upset, especially because little Nelson is growing up so nicely and even walking about these days. He can just see the poor boy delivering meat to the hungry lion, and it hurts him to think how the child must have suffered. “You’d better give it a good ending.”

“It’s not for me to give the ending, Kleinpiet. The story is the story. Anyway, it’s almost finished.”

One day, the boy didn’t return to the village and the elders wondered what happened to him. When they went out to look for him, the lion ate them all.

“Ag no, sis man!” Gertruida jumps up, grabs her purse and storms out.

“She told you not to talk about politics, Servaas! Now you’ve upset her. I think you should apologise.”

But Servaas just sits there, a wry smile on his lips as he finishes his Cactus. It’s one of the oldest stories ever told. Funny, he thinks – America and South Africa and China and Sudan and Syria, even many others – they always make the same mistake. If you befriend a lion, you can’t feign surprise when it starts devouring you; it’s the natural order of things, after all.

Boggel hold up a hand. “Wait a minute! Are you saying the boy shouldn’t have helped the lion?”

“No.” Servaas holds out his glass for more. “That’s what happens in the story, and that’s how it ends. There’s a moral, too:  helping is one thing; but somewhere along the line, the lion should have started helping himself.

“And you know what? It’s still happening. Look what happened to the Egyptians, the Romans, or the English. Look at us now, or Zimbabwe. Look at America in a few years’ time. China will follow, but only after another generation or so.”

“Maybe we should be talking about the Springboks and their game on Saturday.” Vetfaan tries to lighten the atmosphere. “We can pin our colours to the mast…”

“Colours,” Servaas sighs, “...colours… Politicians want to rule but  forget who we are. They gather votes to  make them strong, then they destroy the village. That’s what’s wrong.”

A Lion’s Share (of love, amongst other things…)

Kalahari Lion

When Lucinda asked about the history of Rolbos, everybody chipped in with snippets of information. That’s why the story of Jantjie Lourens came up. Gertruida – who knows everything – says she knew someone who knew Jantjie;  and Servaas says yes, his name appears in the  church register, in the fifties… he got married to Katryn Klopper. She moved to a congregation in Cape Town a few months after the wedding.

It started (so they tell Lucinda) when Jantjie Lourens was out in the veld, looking for a lost sheep. Now we all know how sheep get lost. They’re not very clever. Sometimes they wander off into the bush and they never seem worried about finding their way back. Gertruida says you get people like that, too. Occasionally – not all that often – a lost sheep finds a lost sheep. And sometimes they stick together. That one sheep you don’t find today, might very well start a rogue flock somewhere – and if you happen on it a few years later, you suddenly own a whole bunch of vagabond sheep that hates being kraaled.

Servaas says this happened to him once. He found twelve ragged and woolly sheep in the kloof on the other side of Bokkop a few years back. And yes, he says with bristling indignation, of course they were his sheep.  He personally snipped his mark into the ram’s ear when he was a lamb – and lo! all the new sheep in that kloof had the same snips. They had to be the offspring of his sheep – and therefore they were his. Gertruida remarks that  it doesn’t work like that. Servaas tells her Darwin was a heretic and the church rejected his so-called theories. That’s when Gertruida asks Judge to hold her, for she feels a sudden urge to strangle somebody. They laugh at that and Servaas, despite his age, blushes to a crimson red. Gertruida always says you don’t have to convince the other guy he’s wrong, you only have to make him doubt his argument. That’s where you leave the discussion, she says.

Anyway, Jantjie scouted high and low for his sheep. He waited at waterholes. He climbed the little hills. He looked under the thorn trees. That’s when he found the cub.

People say that Jantjie had a a sort of an epiphany, right there. His sheep was resting under a bush with a baby lion at its side. You know – the picture of the lion and the lamb? Well, that’s what Jantjie saw. The cub was a sign. He wasn’t sure what it meant, but he was sure there was a message in that picture, especially when he bent to pick up the lamb and the little lion growled at him.

“What happened to the lioness – the mother of the cub?” Pretty Lucinda is puzzled.

They speculate about that. Vetfaan reckons she might have gone hunting, and got gored by a gemsbok. And, Kleinpiet adds, the farmers in those days put out poisoned meat for the jackals. Jantjie apparently also looked for the lioness, but not half as hard as he searched for his sheep. “I mean: what do you do if you find a lost lioness? Ask her to be a better mother?”

The cub must have been about a month or two old and Jantjie couldn’t get it over his heart to kill the kitten-like creature – so he took the sheep and the cub home. Now, Jantjie’s father – Grootjantjie – was an avid hunter of all vermin that have developed a taste for sheep meat. He took it personally if something started chewing on the odd hind leg pf one of his flock. Servaas says yes, he was in that house after the funeral, and the entire living room floor was covered in a carpet  made from jackal tails.

So Jantjie had to hide the cub in an unused shed near the wind pump, where he spent considerable periods of time with the growing lion. Soon after that, Grootjantjie got sick – Tuberculosis was still common in those days – and had to spend his last few months in bed. Jantjie could then take the lion out for walks, during which he tried to teach the animal to hunt for his own meals.

Gertruida says lions are cleverer than sheep. You can hand-rear a lamb and leave him in the veld; he’ll start feeding himself soon. Lions, according to her, are like cats. Once they know how to manipulate you, they don’t have to slink around the veld looking for prey. Cats own you – they’re never pets. They will sulk until you feed them; then they reward you with some purring and then you feel good about yourself. She calls it Feline Logic. Or human stupidity. It’s the same thing.

After Grootjantjie died, Jantjie and the lion inherited the farm. And the lion, knowing his next meal would be served up in the big bowl in the kitchen, never even glanced sideways at the sheep following him. The two of them, you see, had become attached to each other in a strange way. Even when the cub was kept in the shed, the sheep would hang around in the vicinity, grazing quietly and baa-ing his reassurance every now and then to let the cub know his best friend wasn’t far away. The two of them followed Jantjie everywhere, and he simply had to make peace with the fact that he had an unusual entourage wherever he went on his farm.

Lions, Gertruida knows, grow to be big animals. In the Kalahari they can weigh about 200 kilograms. Jantjie’s lion (according to local lore) was much bigger than that. Of course, it is rather difficult to convince the average lion to get on a scale and remain there until the needle stops quivering, so one must assume that this one was a fully mature and healthy animal when Jantjie disappeared.

It happened soon after his wedding, Kleinpiet remarks. The next day, in fact. Jantjie had fallen in love with a secretary he met at the auctioneers in Upington. The entire distric watched in awe as the two young people fell madly in love and eventually got engaged. Jantjie couldn’t do enough for her – it was an endless stream of flowers, chocolates, little love letters, messages and even a bottle pf perfume from Omar’s Emporium.

People say the ceremony was a quiet affair; with the pastor, Jantjie, Katryn and the few guests who took their chances with the lion. Everybody knew about the lion, of course. The animal – unlike the sheep who seemed quite happy to be left at home – developed the habit of driving everywhere with Jantjie.  People also knew you can’t shake Jantjie’s hand – the lion wouldn’t allow anybody near. It took, for instance, a lot of patience to make the lion understand that Katryn  was acceptable company – and even then she had to walk two steps behind her husband-to-be and the lion. Gertruida says that is how the pecking-order in the feline world works.They also say the lion kept poking his head between the bride and groom during the service. When Jantjie put the ring on her finger, the lion let out an almighty roar that filled the church. A single second later Jantjie and the lion stood abandoned in front of the pulpit – everybody else had fled to the vestry and locked the door. Jantjie had a stern chat with the lion, and it took a lot of talking through the locked door to convince the others to come out again.

Their wedding night was – again according to local gossip – a much disturbed night. Jantjie had locked the bedroom door, leaving the lion ititchen. All through the night the lion kicked up a fuss, roaring and growling and later even making mewing sounds. Apparently Katryn woke up the next morning to find Jantjie crying in the kitchen. The lion had eaten his sheep-companion during the night.

She told her parents the lion then came in and gave her a knowing look. Now, Gertruida has her doubts about that bit. The only look a lion can give you is a hungry look. Or maybe an angry look. They’re not much different, anyway: both are up-and-down scans before the yellow eyes settle on the little pulse in your neck area.

The lion padded over to Jantjie and lay down at his feet, emitting the growl-grumble-purr big cats do when they’re satisfied you understand them and their needs perfectly. Boggel remembers the cat they had in the orphanage: it did the same (only softer) if you rubbed the spot behind its ears.

That lion doesn’t like me, Katryn said, pointing at the lion with a trembling finger; and Jantjie, who knew the big cat well by that time, had to agree. He had to do something. Precilla also had a cat, a long time ago. She understands a bit about the cat-mind. Cats don’t share, she says. Either they get your full attention, or they start scratching at your furniture. A real upset cat will hiss displeasure or even bare it’s fangs to scare you back into behaving yourself.

Jantjie took a long look at his bride, nodded sadly and took the lion for a walk.

He never returned.

“This is such a stupid story, Vetfaan.” Lucinda shakes her head. “I’ve heard many stories in Africa, but nothing like this one. Do you really want me to believe this man had a grown lion as a pet, and the lion didn’t like sharing this Jantjie’s attention with his new bride? So he ate him?”

“Oh Lord no, Lucinda,” Kleinpiet parries, “the lion simply took back what he claimed to be his. Look, he ate the sheep to show he would sacrifice anything to be Jantjie’s only friend. The lion set the example, you see? If the lion wasn’t prepared to share Jantjie with the sheep, then Jantjie had to do the same in return.”

“True.” Precilla leans forwards to emphasis her point. “Remember, cats aren’t pets: they own you. With dogs it’s different – they submit to your authority. Cats however, are much more intelligent and much more emotional. They can love, hate, share joy, be mischievous … and unforgiving. You do something bad to a cat, and it’ll avoid you forever.  Cats feel love. They sense loyalty. They detest being ignored when they want attention. But…,” she pauses a dramatic second, “he didn’t eat Jantjie.”

Lucinda shakes her head. “So what happened?”

“No, Katryn stayed on the farm for a while. She waited and waited, hoping Jantjie would come back somehow. Search party after search party went out, looking for Jantjie or whatever remained of him. Eventually a Bushman found the tracks leading off into the desert. One lion; walking beside one person wearing a number nine boot; the same size as Jantjie.” Servaas takes a long sip of his Cactus and smacks his lips in appreciation. “The Bushman refused to follow the spoor. He said Jantjie was a tokoloshi, that he was under a spell. They believe in witchcraft, those guys.”

“Weeks passed. She eventually moved back to her folks in Cape Town. A year or so later the farm was sold on an auction.  The marriage was annulled, of course; and she married a much respected surgeon a few years later. She became one of the first women in South Africa to fight for animal rights, and was also involved in the establishment of transfrontier parks. There were several articles in the newspaper about her – Gertruida kept a few – where she said that humans shouldn’t prevent animals from roaming in their original territories.” Kleinpiet gives a wry smile. “I think she simply wanted that lion to be happy. As long as that lion was content, Jantjie was safe.”

Old Marco doesn’t buy it. “No. I may be Italian, but I no believe this story. You joking, si?”

“Nope.”Vetfaan is suddenly serious. “I bought that farm. I just arrived in the district when the auction took place and couldn’t believe nobody else was bidding on the property. Anyway, I was happy with the price and moved in as soon as I could. That’s when I first noticed the scratch marks on the bedroom door. Huge marks. Deep into the wood. Only later, when I heard the story, did it make sense. That cat wanted to share Jantjie bed on the night of the wedding…and when the door remained locked, he tried to show Jantjie the sheep wasn’t his companion. Jantjie was. And Jantjie knew that Katryn would be next unless he and the lion reconfirmed their friendship. That’s when he took the lion for a walk. A long walk. Because he was the lion’s pet, you see, and the lion wasn’t about to give him up. If you think about it, Jantjie must have loved that woman a lot, to leave her like that. He saved her life, if you ask me.”

“So this is love sory?”Marco guffaws his sarcasm. “We Italians like love story. Only ours end better.”

“No, Papa,” Lucinda says gently, “love stories tend to have tragic ends. Look at our operas. This one, I think, has best ending.”

On cue, Boggel puts on the CD. He loves Sonja Herold, and especially this song. Turning to serve another round, he watches the crowd at the counter with a sardonic smile hovering around his lips. These Rolbossers! They can cook up the most fantastic stories ever! Get them started, and the one ofter the other will add another bit, another twist, to create a convoluted narrative of note. No, it’s not lying, he decides. It’s how our forefathers sat around campfires at night, entertaining each other. It used to be the way families played with ideas before television took the fun out of evening-talk. It’s a gift…

“Lucinda?” He calls her to the back. “Now let me tell you what really happened.”

“Oooh! You crazy man! I think you were all fibbing back there!”

“Yes, my dear, I’m sorry.” He hangs his head in shame. “But let me fix it now…”

Head thrown back, Lucinda folds her arms while she taps out a staccato rhythm with the toe of her boot. “Ye-e-e-es?”

“I’m really sorry. I am. There was no lion…”

“I knew it! I knew!” She hisses the words from between clenched teeth.

“It was a leopard,” Boggel says with a twinkle in his eye. “A leopard…”

The Pride of Rolbos

“We should get a library,” Gertruida says, “and get you lot to start reading. All you do is sit around all day, gossiping and drinking beer. We should be better informed about what is happening in the world today.”

“Ja, maybe.” Kleinpiet draws an open book on the counter top. “The question is: whether we actually want to know what’s happening out there. I mean – does it make any difference how they paint the president or whether that new guy in France is left, right or centre? We still have the drought and the pothole in Voortrekker Weg, anyway. I think the world should be better informed about us – it’ll make them feel better.”

Vrede jumps up suddenly, the hairs on his back telling everybody he is upset about something. A minute later they see the truck parking in front of Boggel’s Place.

“That’s not Kalahari Vervoer,” Vetfaan remarks, “it’s not Thursday, is it?”

“No, it says Pagal’s Circus on the side. They must have lost their way.”Gertruida walks to the window for a better look. “And it can’t be the whole circus – there’s only this one lorry. A smallish one, at that.”

They watch as the huge man gets down from the cab. He’s dressed in blue jeans, and orange shirt with a wide collar and cowboy boots. When he enters Boggel’s Place, he takes off the Stetson to reveal his long ponytail and bushy sideburns.

“Ya’all know where I can stable my lion for a week or two?” Gertruida decides the American accent is fake but still feels drawn in by his disarming smile. “He has been performing for three years now, but lately he seems to be a bit under the weather. I think he needs a rest.”

“You have a lion in the back of that?” Vetfaan points at the truck.

“Yep, partner. Back there is the tamest, cleverest, bestest lion ya’all will ever see. Had him since he was a cub. Meek as a lamb, he is.”

“We only have the cottage at the end of Voortrekker Weg,” Precilla says, “nobody lives there now. I suppose you can borrow that for a while. But, what about the lion? We don’t have cages and stuff like that.”

“No problem, Missy. That there lion shares everything with me. Food, chairs, bed – the whole shoot. He’s not the outdoorsy type at all. Very domesticated. I’d be mighty glad if we can borrow that bungalow. I’m sure Leo will be just dandy after a week’s rest.”

After they’ve shown Big Pete (who made quite a joke of Kleipiet’s name) to the cottage, they return to Boggel’s for a debate on circus animals. They all saw how Leo calmly jumped from the back of the truck to follow Pete indoors – like a dog would, as Boggel put it.

“That’s not natural,” Precilla says. “That lion is missing out on being a lion. He thinks he’s a pet, like a cat of a dog, and that’s not what lions are supposed to be like. I feel sorry for the animal.”

Before she can continue, an earth-shattering roar rattles the window panes, followed by another. The patrons at the bar exchange horrified looks. Did the lion…?

A few minutes later Big Pete pushes open the door. “Ya’all know where I can buy some meat? Leo sure is hungry. I think he likes it here – he hasn’t eaten for days now.” On cue, the lion pokes his head around the door, sniffing the air. Boggel has some sausages on the braai behind the bar and the aroma seems to please the big cat.

Now, a free-range lion in the confined space of Boggel’s Place isn’t a common sight. And, as Gertruida will tell you, these big cats can be very scary up close. When it padded softly – like lions do – towards the bar, the patrons did a bit of unpractised (but perfect) collective gymnastics to join Boggel behind the till. Vrede, who has been sleeping at Vetfaan’s feet, wakes up when the lion starts licking his face.

It’s difficult to tell a dog about tame lions. Dogs don’t buy that sort of logic. They file lions under the same heading as crocodiles, puff adders and the municipal inspector from Upington. Vrede’s mind works overtime, weighing up the possibilities. As a good ex-police dog, he should serve and (heaven help him!) protect.  As an intelligent dog, he should have been running already. Yet, staring into the big yellow eyes of the cat; only inches away from his own; Vrede finds that his legs refuse any orders. Hy simply stares back – eyes wide with fright and tail tucked in between his legs.

The lion finds this a bit boring and ambles out through the back door. Minutes later they hear a crash as he overturns the half-drum that serves as Boggel’s braai, and when they eventually peek out, Leo burps his appreciation. He growls a throaty thank you – that sausage sure hit the spot.

By now the lion’s peaceful manner has calmed down most of the nerves, and after Big Pete calls him back inside, he gets introduced to everybody.

“My, he sure is tame,” Gertruida says as the cat rubs his mane against her leg, “ I’ve never seen a lion like this.”

Vetfaan arranges for some meat in the freezer on his farm to be brought to Rolbos, promising Pete to deliver it to the cottage. And, by the way, would he mind taking the lion with him when they leave?

Soon after, the roaring starts up again. Over and over the thundering sound reverberates through Rolbos. Sure, the customers in Boggel’s do not think, this time, that the lion has developed a taste for bipeds; but still – the sound is unnerving, to say the least.

When Platnees arrives with the meat, the sun has almost disappeared below the western horizon. Vetfaan tells him to deliver the meat at the source of the racket. Platnees refuses, saying he can hear that is one hungry lion. Does Vetfaan take him to be a fool? You don’t walk up to famished lions and hope they’ll take the frozen meat. It’s not a good idea. No, thank you, do it yourself…

Despite their previous encounter with Leo, the rest of the customers all shake their heads as well.

“It’s your meat, Vetfaan. It’s also your deal. You sold it, you deliver it. We’re not going anywhere until that lion is fed.” Servaas knows about lions. His grandfather once had an encounter with one. “Grandpa said they look all peaceful and happy, then you disappear down their throats. The family used to poke fun about this, until it really happened while he was tracking a wounded Kudu…”

After two quick Cactus Jacks, Vetfaan shoulders the carcass and slouches out towards the cottage. The din raised by the hungry lion was ear-shattering. He wonders how Pete can stand it.

He’s about to knock on the door, when he hears the sniffing sound behind him. Turning, he is just in time to avoid the huge paw – claws extended – reaching for the carcass. With a jump that would have made Nuriyev proud, he jumps from the porch right back to the middle of the street. Gertruida will measure the distance later and suggest he should consider joining the Olympic team.

Vetfaan finds out that lion-induced paralysis is not a condition confined to dogs at all. Although his mind screams at his limbs, he stands rooted to the spot. He watches as the carcass gets pulled apart … and then notices that the lion, the one crunching away at the succulent bones of the carcass, seems to have had a recent haircut. The mane is missing…

Big Pete stays for about a month. After numerous excursions into the Kalahari, Leo was officially declared completely missing, presumably happy with the young lioness he attracted with his roars and the dowry of one sheep’s carcass.

“That circus man didn’t look happy when he drove off. I feel kind of sorry for him, you know? Losing his lion like that…” Precilla liked the friendly man with the fake accent. “But I’m glad for Leo; he can be a real lion once more.”

Gertruida snorts. “He can’t know all that much about lions, Precilla. He though Leo was hungry for meat. A young lion at that age? Pete should have known Leo had an appetite for something much more exotic than frozen sheep!”

Sometimes, late at night, the windows of Boggel’s Place gives a little rattle – as if the air vibrates for a second or two. That’s when Vrede will give a small yelp before digging in underneath Boggel’s cushion, there below the counter. It has become custom to raise one’s glass during those moments and toast the freedom of the lion, formerly known as Leo.

“You know, Gertruida,” Servaas says as they hear the windows rattle again one evening, “I don’t want that library. It’ll take away the fun in Rolbos if we knew everything about the outside world. We’ve got enough here.”

For once she agrees. “Yes, Servaas. I suppose if you grow tired of Rolbos, you’ve grown tired with life. If you can hear a happy lion roaring, it beats the clamour of survival in the big cites.”

Leo will be spotted once more, a year from now. He’ll parade down Voortrekker Weg with the same head-held-high attitude Big Pete had taught him in the ring. The patrons in Boggel’s Place will close the door quickly before they flock to the window to take in the magnificent sight of Leo, proudly bragging with the two cubs at his heels.

“The pride of Rolbos,” Gertruida will sigh, while the rest of the planet rages – like they will forever – about unimportant things like money and politics. In the glass-and-aluminium world of international affairs, they can’t hear the windows rattle any more.

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