The lion cubs run towards Patrick as he opens the camp’s gate. They are extraordinarily cheerful this morning.
“Spring day!” Zazu snorts excitedly and delightfully inhales deeply as the smell of blossoms fills her lungs. She trots past Sebastian and notices that he dips his head deeper between his front paws as she greets him cheerfully.
“Good morning, Sebastian!” He flattens his ears and covers his head with his front paw. “Wonder what bug muddled his whiskers this morning?” She frowns slightly and turns her nose up cheekily.
“The world is far too pretty to be spoiled by a male lion’s bad mood,” she coughs offended and playfully strikes at Patrick’s shoelace which folds into a double bow around his waterproof boots.
Patrick notices Sebastian lying listlessly under the tree. He pulls his Mackintosh raincoat higher up against his neck. Then he bends down worriedly next to Sebastian and strokes the woolly head gently. Sebastian sluggishly opens one eye and looks up at Patrick bleary-eyed and disinterestedly.
“No, old boy.” Patrick clicks his tongue in his cheek and shakes his head worriedly. “It seems as if the Covid-germ has flattened you here in the camp,” he says under his breath and needlessly pulls his face mask even further up, over his nose.
He rummages in his raincoat’s pocket and takes out a smaller mask which he carefully places over Sebastian’s mouth and snout. He makes sure his gloves are pulled close to his coat’s sleeves before he picks Sebastian up with concern. He lets Sebastian lie against his torso and strokes his back comfortingly while walking through the other lion cubs towards the camp’s gate.
He ensures that Sebastians’s young friends are all safely in the camp before he latches the gate. He walks slowly towards the examination table. “Don’t worry, big boy,” he says comfortingly, “Miss Doctor will have you feeling as healthy as a horse in no time.”
“Ugggh! Lion healthy!” Sebastian groans rebelliously and rolls his eyes in dismay as he looks dully at Patrick from upside down. “As if this stupid mask could make a horse’s difference to my lion face!” He frowns out of sorts and flattens his ears against his head ever further.
Sebastian snorts a terrible sneeze over Patrick’s shoulder. “No, man!” Patrick yells annoyed. “Keep your Covid-germs to yourself!” Patrick quickly enters the building and, quite fed-up, plonks Sebastian down on the examination table. He pulls the small blanket, which lies at the foot of the table, over Sebastian’s little cub body.
“You have the shivers!” he further scolds and looks worriedly at Sebastian as he notices that his eyes appear red and teary. “Just stay here, I’m going to call the vet,” he orders sternly and hurries down the passage. “As if I feel like running somewhere,” Sebastian growls sarcastically and rests his head on his front paws which he had tucked in halfway underneath him.
Sebastian had just shut his eyes tightly to sleep when he feels a gentle fumbling in his woolly mane. His mask is carefully removed from his face. He welcomes the gentle motherly touch and attention and weakly lifts his paw, but without opening his eyes.
“And who pulled the mask over your face?” the female doctor asks lovingly and pamperingly rubs the soft slipper-sponge underpart of his paw. For several minutes she fiddles in the pocket of her overcoat and pulls out a small flashlight which she flashes sideways in his eyes after carefully lifting each eyelid.
Then she examines his gums. She inserts a thermometer under his armpit to take his temperature. “Hhmmm,” she says meaningfully and looks at the reading. She places the stethoscope onto his little chest and listens intently to his heartbeat. “Hhmmm,” she says for a second time.
Sebastian frowns and opens his eyes up just a little. He shifts his tail intently, curious to hear her diagnosis. “Covid, or not Covid?!” he wants to growl impatiently but changes his mood when he sees her looking at him smilingly before picking him up lovingly and holding him in front of her.
“You are suffering from pride sickness,” she laughs softly, pleased with herself because she knows her diagnosis is correct. “Pride sickness?” Sebastian frowns. He doesn’t understand. “Yes… you are missing your pride,” the veterinarian replies excitedly, almost as if she could read Sebastian’s mind.
She stares at him meaningfully for a second longer and then hugs him tenderly and encouragingly against her chest. “Don’t worry, I understand that they are trekking your pride’s trail,” she assures him and lays him down carefully on the examination table again.
She takes a blood sample to test for bovine tuberculosis, a dreaded disease among lions, and then allows him to climb onto her lap where he eventually falls asleep peacefully with his head on her upper arm.
Patrick looks at her worriedly when he finds her sitting on the side of the table with the little cub in her arms. “Miss Doctor, you are becoming hopelessly too attached to the cubs,” he scolds her, pretending to be angry. “And especially this cocky little guy,” he adds almost fatherly. She laughs, softly and content, and shifts out from underneath the sleeping Sebastian. She injects him with vitamin B so that he can regain his energy. Then she also reviews his lunch.
“Zazu!” Vivo, the older lion male cub, shouts, “you are completely out of bounds with your silly mask!” He glares at Zazu menacingly. “It doesn’t matter, Sebastian has Covid and I am under self-isolation myself,” she replies cheekily and shrugs her shoulders uncaringly before walking proudly away and disappearing into the group of cubs.
Zazu hands out masks to her friends to ensure that they don’t catch the virus. She plans to ask Patrick to implement paw sanitation in their camp.
Vivo growls angrily as he watches the cubs. He swishes his tail to either side to indicate his bad mood. The cubs stare at him interestedly and when he growls a second time, they obey his command and skedaddle willingly in his direction.
Zazu jogs ahead and sits down in front of him on her backside, snout in the air and a warning light in her eyes. Vivo surveys the lion cubs speculatively while they adjust their masks and slides in next to Zazu.
Vivo growls contentedly and raises his voice. “The Covid virus consists of the following symptoms,” he starts sternly and reminds himself of the conversation he overheard Patrick having with one of the nature conservationists. “Fever, coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, chills – sometimes accompanied by shivers, body aches, headache, sore throat, loss of smell or taste, nausea and diarrhea.”
He makes sure the cubs understand the seriousness of the situation while studying them accurately. Lions’ grasp of understanding differs from that of people and he ends with: “Go and find your own place to lie down… two cub lengths apart,” he encourages the young lions and waits until they depart before he pulls the mask Zazu left unnoticed at his feet, over his face.
“What a busy morning!” Sebastian thinks as he looks around the camp in amazement and sees all his friends with masks lying far apart from each other and staring back at him despondently. “This is unheard of,” he thinks upset. “Cubs are such busybodies,” he complains dissatisfied to himself. “We should play, roll over each other, sharpen our nails against tree trunks and ready ourselves to hunt!” he wants to shout out rebelliously, but instead, allows Patrick to put him down on the grass inside the camp, closest to the gate.
Zazu jumps up when she notices him and trots towards Sebastian excitedly. “Uggghhh!” Vivo groans highly disturbed and mockingly adds, “relieved, in love and lost.” He laughs inwardly and holds his sponge-like paws amusingly in front of his eyes as Zazu trots past him with her tail in the air to welcome Sebastian back into the camp.
“Why do you have this mask over your face?” Sebastian asks dissatisfied when he sees Zazu. “Covid,” she replies precociously, pulling her whiskers with her front paws on either side of her mask, causing them to stick out straight in the air.
“Uggghhh!” Sebastian echoes Vivo’s recent groan and just wants to turn away to trot out of the gate when Patrick throws the latch. “Oh no, big boy,” Patrick scolds him good-naturedly and nudges the gate even closer shut against the pole. Then he walks away quite satisfied.
Sebastian looks at Zazu with interest, head askew. “And…?” Zazu asks curiously, studying his attitude. “And… what?” Sebastian asks almost decently with an underlying tone of irritation. “What is your Covid status?” Zazu insists haughtily. Sebastian bites his tongue as he tries to control his impatience. “I tested negative,” he snaps offhandedly and jogs to his favourite resting place.
“Confounded, lost, bored,” Vivo giggles mockingly and manages to duck down just in time as Sebastian angrily lashes out at him with his paw before lying down flat on his stomach. Vivo turns onto his back next to Sebastian, looking for trouble, curling himself up playfully into a bundle of pure delight when tufts of grass tickle his spine. He really likes Sebastian. “One day he will be a great leader,” he thinks wisely and stares through the top leaves of the oak tree as the sun casts a warm light on his dreamy little cub face.
Zazu apologetically slips between Vivo and Sebastian and lies down on her tummy on the cool ground. She slowly pulls the mask off her face. “Enough of this Covid thing,” she thinks drowsily, “self-isolation is really not nice.” She yawns contentedly and kicks out her hind legs against Vivo’s side. She moves even closer to Sebastian’s side and welcomes a lazy late afternoon nap before their main meal is brought in.
The other cubs remove their masks thankfully from their faces and draw deep, contented breaths of air into their lungs. “Good food, ideal weight and some good exercise drive away all ailments,” Malo reasons where she lies with her woolly head on Vivo’s stomach, all too happy that animals don’t have to wear masks. She contentedly frisks her tail gently to and fro, allowing her eyes to close slowly and for a long time.
The sunray deliberately caresses the cubs’ bodies and welcomes the harmony that prevails between them.
To be continued …
Author: June Botha
Proof reader / translator: Darelle de Lange