The sun awakens slowly and draws her eye over the earth. Her misty ray is unwilling to break through the cold layer of the passing winter months. The park smells of smoke and is covered in black patches where the fire played havoc.
“September month,” sighs Timmy, the big, old turtle, with a heavy heart as he lifts his head high from his shield to welcome the early morning sun into his shell. “What is September month?” frowns Sebastian curiously and pulls his small lion cub face into a furrow of interest while he lies with his head on his paws. “That is when the new flowers sprout and the bare, dried branches start to show new, green leaves and colourful blossoms,” explains Timmy the turtle disturbed as he withdraws into his shell, not in the mood to talk.
“When predators like you hunt fat, overfed bucks,” he adds melodramatically, angering Sebastian. He sighs again and pulls his short, wrinkled turtle legs deeper into his shell. Sebastian watches him, annoyed, and blinks uncertainly. “What do you eat then?” he asks worriedly. “Ugghh,” sighs Timmy and groans as he exhales loudly. He shifts his old body in the shell until he is more comfortable.
“I don’t have teeth and I eat the tender bits of plants and sometimes worms, snails and insects.” Sebastian shudders down to his little toe and covers his face with his paw as his entire body contracts from narrowed blood vessels at the horrible thought. “Grrrrr,” he shudders. “Whoo, hoo, hoo,” laughs Timmy softly in his turtle shell, before he falls into his winter sleep once more. Sebastian glares at the dark brown, bony shield in frustration.
“Take the big, old man to the camp. We’ll set him free as soon as the grass grows back.” Isaac, the game warden, points at Timmy as he lifts the latch on the gate in order to care for the animals. Norman bends down, lifts Timmy up and walks away. Sebastian swipes at Isaac when he reaches for the cub. “Come here big boy,” laughs Isaac playfully as he strokes Sebastian’s fluffy fur. “You are going on a helicopter ride,” chats Isaac excitedly, close to Sebastian’s ear. “Good heavens,” growls Sebastian and hides his head inside the man’s jacket. Isaac laughs and hugs the little body closer to him as he walks towards the helicopter.
“We are taking you to your new home, until we find your pride,” he says lovingly. Sebastian blinks his little eyes repeatedly as the longing for his lion-mom overwhelms him. He presses his lion head deeper into the safety of Isaac’s arms so that his tears smudge the inside of the jacket. Isaac gently strokes the soft fur and leaves him be.
The roaring of the helicopter worries Isaac and he covers Sebastian’s ears with his hands as he tightly holds him close. He climbs into the open area of the helicopter and moves to the front seat where Sebastian’s cage is fastened next to the pilot’s seat. He opens the gate and allows Sebastian to stand on his back legs while he pulls the safety helmet over his head. Sebastian growls rebelliously and stretches his body upwards when Isaac tries to cover his ears with the headgear to fade out the noise.
Then he moves Sebastian backwards and closes the gate again. He checks that the cage is secured on the seat. Sebastian sits on a soft, cosy blanket. He smells the blanket suspiciously and sneezes when the fluff tickles his nose. “Baby powder,” he mutters and wipes his nose with his paw. He decides to move forward, far away from the fluffy blanket. He looks with interest at the instrument panel in front of him.
“Fascinating,” he thinks and his eyes dart over the board to see all the lights simultaneously. Matt smiles when he notices the cub’s fascination with the activity on the board. “Are you ready, my friend?” asks Matt and laughs as he knocks against the helmet with his knuckles. Sebastian watches him wide eyed and swats at Matt with his paw. He purrs softly, happily and licks Matt’s hand with a rough tongue when he strokes the cub’s soft face.
Then Matt gets serious and turns his attention to the flight controls. He manipulates the helicopter purposefully to lift off smoothly from the landing zone. He talks clearly with the control tower as he presses the mouthpiece closer to his lips. “Humans do funny things.” Sebastian recalls this statement by one of the biggest males of their pride as he sits upright and watches how they move further and further away from the surface of the earth. Matt corrects the controls and the helicopter tilts forward easily as it gains momentum and speeds past the buildings to take Sebastian to his new home.
Sebastian cannot contain his excitement as he stares at the tree tops flying past beneath them, the bright blue sky with patches of fleece clouds, and the destruction that the fire caused in the park. Then he notices wild bucks drinking at a watering hole. “Why are the elephants so tiny?” he wonders, but immediately forgets about it when his thoughts turn to his mother and he starts looking for her. His eyes search for prides of lion, but stops looking when Matt rolls the helicopter sideways to turn to the western part of the park.
Matt flies steadily over the few camping sites and lowers the helicopter onto the huge cross that indicates the landing zone. Sebastian looks at Matt with renewed interest.
“Impressive,” he thinks. “One day when I’m big, I want to be a helicopter pilot,” he decides proudly. Matt presses the mouth piece against his lips and confirms their arrival. A young man runs towards them and unties Sebastian’s cage. He shows his thumb in approval when he greets Matt and runs hunched over, with Sebastian’s cage, towards the closest building. He closes the office door behind him and deposits the cage on the steel table.
“Look what we have here,” he smiles at the female veterinarian. Sebastian watches her with curiosity as she approaches the cage. She wipes her hands on a towel and lifts the latch of the cage. She takes Sebastian out and holds him above her so that he has to look down at her. “Hello, big boy,” she says with a friendly smile. “You look like a sturdy little fellow,” confirms her expert eye. Sebastian growls softly. “And cheeky to boot,” she laughs.
She holds the cub against her so that he looks over her shoulder and walks to the camp where he is going to stay until the rangers find his pride. “I have a few friends to share your camp with you,” she reassures the little cub. “But first I have to listen to your heart, lungs and blood flow to ensure that you are a healthy newcomer,” she talks non-stop and places him on the examining table outside the camp.
She puts the stethoscope’s earpieces in her ears and moves the flat, rounded resonator gently over Sebastian’s soft chest. The cold instrument makes him uncomfortable and he playfully takes a swipe at it. He likes the lady doctor and purrs while he bumps her with his head. She rubs his soft fur and laughs out loud when he stretches out on the table, inviting some love. “Let me take you to your new friends,” she tells him and contently picks him up. She knows that you can never tame, or change, a lion because their instincts are too strong. She opens the gate to the camp and puts him down carefully.
Zazu playfully trots closer and looks at Sebastian curiously. “Where did you come from?” she asks and gives Sebastian a slobbering lick across his cheek. “Yuck,” he says in disgust and hides his face between his paws. “Hey guys,” calls Zazu and the other cubs stand closer. “We have a new friend,” she adds excitedly. The cubs trot closer and greet Sebastian with friendly expressions as they rub against him, purring softly. Sebastian’s tail moves in contentment. He immediately feels right at home amongst his new friends and they playfully roll around in the grass.
Late afternoon Patrick arrives with a big bowl filled with cut up pieces of meat. The cubs are all older than ten weeks and can eat solid foods. Sebastian is suddenly ravenously hungry after all the excitement and he grabs a lovely, thick piece of meat from the bowl. He drags it all the way to the shade of a nearby tree and stretches out on his belly with his paws in front of him. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” says Zazu next to him.
Sebastian looks up, bothered. “Its only good manners to say thank you for your food,” complains Zazu. “Ugghhh?” frowns Sebastian stupidly. “Close your eyes when you say thanks,” instructs Zazu. “Good heavens,” rumbles his intestines and he covers his fillet protectively with his paws before he shuts his eyes tightly so that Zazu can pray. Zazu smiles when she sees the saliva dripping down Sebastian’s mouth and on the ‘n’ of ‘amen’ he already tears the first piece off the meat. He eats peacefully. His lion friends all join him.
They eat in peace and groan in enjoyment as they fill their hungry tummies.
The sun struggles through the leaves and casts a warm ray over the contented cubs. Sebastian blinks his eyes, fighting against the sleep. His tummy is full. He opens his mouth and roars a powerful roar. He stretches out his little lion body and allows the sun to award his fluffy body with its heat while he slowly takes off to dreamland. His friends move closer and cuddle against his warm, relaxed body. Patrick stops by the gate and smiles broadly at this picture. He turns around, filled with joy.
“Today was a good day,” he thinks happily and locks the main entrance of the care centre. He leaves his footprints in the dust as he walks back to his own hut where he will listen to the sounds of the wild animals in the dead of night, admiring the wonder of creation with his human heart. The sun casts her last ray over the veld and disappears unnoticed behind the mountain top where she covers herself with her night attire.
To be continued …
Author: June Botha
Proof reader / translator: Darelle de Lange