Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Nderitu and the Lions

African Writer Inspired By Strength of Lions

Lions are the largest and most feared predators in the African savannah. With flaming yellow eyes, vampire-like canines, a resounding roar, regal demeanour, heavy black or brown mane, sandy-brown fur (like the grass of the savannah), chiselled body, retractable claws and a ball of fur at the tip of its long tail, the 500-pound male lion (Mr. Panthera Leo, to be formal) evokes an air of majesty. BBC’s Big Cat Diary described these glowering panthers as nothing short of ‘stunning’.

Although smaller than its often-reclining counterpart, the female of the species (Ms. Leo) is no shrinking violet and it is she that does the hunting, often accompanied by other lionesses. Male lions don’t hunt because they’re too heavy to maintain a high-speed chase. They also don’t climb trees like other cats because even if they managed to go up, they couldn’t come down without slithering.

Lions are the most social mammals next to man and live in groups called ‘prides’. A typical pride consists of four or five related females accompanied by a couple of males. Probably related to the saber-tooth cats whose fossils have been found in Africa, the lion is a natural-born hunter. Like all big cats, lions usually hunt down prey much larger than themselves – zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, giraffe, elephant young. In fact, lions are the only African predators that can bring down a buffalo. Not only does the sharp-horned buffalo NOT die quickly but it is badly in need of anger-management therapy and will often charge at people for no reason. Human hunters branded this 2000-pound beast ‘the most dangerous game.’

Breeding season is a very interesting time for lionesses. To produce a single litter of cubs, the lioness may have to mate more than a hundred times in the space of about one week. She will also allow herself to be mounted by any mature male in the vicinity. This may sound like scandalous behaviour but it is actually a necessity. Firstly, the multiple copulations would be killingly exhaustive for a single male and, second, all the males will be kind to the cubs because any of them could be the father!

In lion society, it takes a village to raise a child. A cub – the cutest thing! – can suckle from any female with milk and is protected by all. Weaned cubs put extra pressure on the females to hunt and with an adult male lion gobbling around 75 pounds of meat at a sitting, these brave hunters have no choice but to roll their eyes, say a prayer to Diana - Goddess of Hunting - and step back into the killing fields. Although they’re often seen hunting during the day, they are largely nocturnal: like your domestic cat, lions can see pretty well at night, which gives them an unfair advantage over their prey. Between nocturnal and diurnal hunting, raising the cubs and keeping enemies like the African laughing hyena at bay, a lioness has no time to watch ‘Desperate Housewives’ or the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’.

At first sight, the male lion looks like the most spoiled creature anywhere. It shamelessly spends about 18 hours a day sleeping or otherwise lounging. It occasionally roars, snarls or brawls just to remind everyone who’s boss. In reality, the males do much more than mate, eat and sleep. It is their duty to protect the pride from danger, especially from other lions and from hyenas. A lioness may be more than a match for a single hyena but hyenas run in packs and constitute the largest threat to lionesses and their young. The sight of the larger, stronger, males usually sends hyenas flying in all directions.

You can’t stare a lion down – I’ve tried. Its unyielding yellow eyes inspire fear and – like an antelope or zebra – your first instinct is to run. A Discovery Channel narrator described the sensation as ‘the feeling that you are being sized up for the next meal.’ Humans are not normally on lions’ menu (thank God) but fair game is fair game and, unarmed, a person’s chances of overpowering a lion are between zero and nil. In fact, for many decades the most shocking story to come out of Africa was that of the man-eaters of Tsavo (a place near the coast of Kenya.) when U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt heard this bizarre story, he immediatedly sent for more information. It all started when Kenya and neighbouring Uganda were under British colonial rule. To boost trade and communication between the two territories (called ‘British East Africa’), the colonial masters resolved to link them with a railway line. As the natives were ignorant in railway works, platelayers were shipped in from India, another British colony.

Well, neither the colonialists nor the labourers knew what they were getting themselves into until the railway reached the danger zone of Tsavo. Huge, man-eating lions began coming down from the hills by night and making meals out of the workers. Over the next few months, so many Indians died in encounters with lions that the project stalled and was nearly abandoned altogether. One Indian died strictly from terror while 28 others were dragged out of their tents by night and spirited into the jungle to be fed on. In view of the peril, the, er, lion’s share of the Indians abandonded the project (now dubbed ‘The Lunatic Express’) leaving the colonial masters with just a couple hundred workers. Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson, a British railway engineer, eventually put an end to the madness by shooting two of the most notorious lions. One of them, an elusive male, had to be shot 6 times with a rifle before it finally succumbed. Its buddy, also male, was nearly 10 feet long. It took 8 men to carry the carcass back to camp as a trophy!

For more information about what happened at Tsavo, read the non-fiction classic ‘The Man-Eaters of Tsavo’ by Lieut.-Col. J. H. Patterson. (http://www.rtpnet.org/robroy/tsavo/tsavo+pics.html)

For a movie version of the feline terror, I highly recommend Michael Douglas’ Oscar-winning film, ‘The Ghost and The Darkness’

(c) Alex N Nderitu http://www.alexandernderitu.com/

Buy Alexander Nderitu's prose and poetry books at: http://stores.lulu.com/NewShakespeare

Edge of Composure

This is an excerpt from Alexander Nderitu's collection of short stories, 'Angela on My Mind' (http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/angela-on-my-mind/3494168).

In this particular story,a successful female Canadian architect discovers that she is being stalked and has to employ all manner of tricks to outwit the stranger.

'Edge of Composure' will put you right on the Edge of Your Seat...

I climb the winding staircase up to my bedroom.

I remove the clip from my hair and shake my blonde tresses loose before shedding my clothes and heading for the bathroom. I plug the drainage hole of my Jacuzzi, turn on the warm water jets, pour in my favorite bath salts and climb in.

There is no better way end to a hectic day than to soak in foaming bath salts! But as I begin to luxuriate, a sudden realization makes me snap my eyes open: what if the stalker has followed me home? Not only do I live all by myself in an expansive compound where a cry for help would go unheard but I’m lying in a bathtub buck-naked! I’m about as vulnerable to an attacker I as I could possibly be without throwing myself at him.

Dripping wet, I climb out of the Jacuzzi (My ex-boyfriend used to call it the “love boat” because he used to join me there), grab a robe, return to the bedroom and listen for any unusual noises. Nothing. I tip-toe to the top of the staircase and look down. Nothing. I’ve never seen the stalker near my house but I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned up here. After following me around for so long, he probably knows me down to my blood group.

I return to the Jacuzzi but its no fun now because I’m distracted, thoughts of being attacked pre-dominate.

You may think that’s it a little flattering to have your own stalker but it’s not. To have a stranger following you is to live a nightmare. You always wonder what he wants – to rape you, kill you, kidnap you, snatch your handbag or whatever. If you know the guy, if he’s some ex-lover or something, that’s better because you can confront him and tell him to get off your back or threaten him with court action but if it’s a stranger, watch out. He’ll be more aggressive because he knows you can’t threaten him with exposure. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t gone to the cops yet.

If I inform the police, they’ll recommend I apply for a restraining order. But stalkers like mine are psychos – they don’t obey orders, they obey their own twisted desires. An obsession is an obsession is an obsession. And since being crazy is not a crime, the uniforms can’t arrest the stranger just because he’s mentally unbalanced. For that, he needs to DO SOMETHING - there must be some damage to me or my property before he can be labeled a criminal, worthy of arrest. But I can’t wait for him to DO SOMETHING. I don’t want to use my bumps and bruises as evidence in a court of law.

I leave the Jacuzzi and go back to the bedroom where I change into lighter gear and go downstairs to the kitchen. As one who lives alone, I rarely use my living room and the expensive furniture and electronics there are virtually untouched. Apart from the bedroom, the kitchen is the only room I properly utilize and it's where I keep the telephone. I touch a button on the answering machine and then open the fridge as I listen to the messages.

“Hi, Claudette,” the first message crackles in, “Jane here. We’re going skiing up at Black Creek this weekend, just the girls, and we wanted to know if you can make it to come.”
Jane is a fun-loving friend of mine and when we’re together with her equally rowdy girlfriends we behave like freewheeling college girls. I make a mental note to call her back as I remove a bottle of orange juice from the fridge.

The second message kicks in as I head over to the cabinet to get a glass: “Debra here. Call me back ASAP.” Debra is a client of mine, a wealthy blonde heiress who always sounds urgent, even when ordering a doughnut. I’m certainly not going to call her back ASAP. I’m designing a sports center for her, not negotiating Middle East peace – there’s nothing urgent.

The next message comes in as I seat myself at elliptical wooden table: “Hey, baby…You looked real good today… And your lips … they’re so luscious…so beautiful…and your lipstick is so red…like dark blood…Did you know that you always twiddle your hair with your free hand when you’re on your phone?”

I’m thunderstruck. My hand is shaking so badly I have to put down my glass of juice or I’ll spill it all over the table. That was the first time ever that the stalker has called me. He must have gotten my number from the telephone directory: I’m listed.

When I heard “Hey, baby”, I thought some ex was trying to re-establish contact but the voice – a rough, masculine drone – is unfamiliar and his taunting message points him out as the stalker.

“You looked real good today”, he had droned.

I spent the whole day today going over a proposed building site and kept in touch with my office using my cell phone. The sleazeball must have been there!

“Did you know that you always twiddle your hair with your free hand when you’re on your phone?”

My God! If that psycho could follow me all the way to the other side of town just to stare at me, what’s to prevent him from following me home? I have to be prepared for anything!

I pull my knife drawer open with such force that it comes clean off the cabinet and crashes on the tiled floor. My heart pounding, I skim through the collection: an eight-inch chef's knife, several ordinary paring knives, a family of utility knives and a serrated bread knife. I settle for the longest weapon in the range - the chef’s knife. I put rest of the knives back in the drawer and return it to its housing.

Clutching the chef’s knife in both hands like a character in a slasher movie, I look out the kitchen window for any signs of intrusion. I gather no evidence but there’s plenty of vegetation out there, plenty of places to hide.

“And your lips … they’re so luscious…so beautiful.”

It’s just like I told you – there are sexual undercurrents. That’s why most stalkers are men following women. It’s a sexual thing.

“And your lipstick is so red…like dark blood.”

Well, mister, I have an eight-inch blade and I’m not afraid to use it! If there’s going to be dark blood on the floor tonight, it won’t be mine.

I take my juice, a pack of potato crisps and the knife upstairs with me.

Full story: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/angela-on-my-mind/3494168