Solitary but not Alone
Taki tried to sleep, but she had been accustomed to regular meals. This new sensation of hunger irritated her. A breeze rattled the door to her improvised pen and it wobbled and creaked. Unlatched. Taki had noticed, but it hadn’t occurred to her to leave. She never had done so before; not without the handler. She hadn’t considered it an option, but now . . . . Well, life had changed.The night beckoned, and why not?
Feeling a thrill of trepidation, Taki padded toward the opening and nudged the door with her nose, causing it to creak open a bit. She slipped through it and took her first solo steps into the vast openness. She felt . . . untethered . . . unsure what to do with this new experience. There was the water, and though she didn’t feel thirsty, it was something to do — a direction — so she headed toward the spring. To her delight, it took far less time to get there than when she walked with the handler. With her walk behind her, Taki was glad of a long drink. The unexpected coolness of water that had already given off most of the day’s heat surprised and refreshed her.
She slept that night sheltered by the stand of acacia bushes she had rested in the day before, and as the first rays of dawn awoke her, Taki heard the cold, early morning sound of birds flying in to water. Not only birds, but other animals approached the pool a few at a time, and then in larger groups. Taki watched and waited. It seemed a very long time, but at last a tiny antelope, a steenbok, wandered near as it browsed the low-lying vegetation. Taki had her first meal in the wild. It was not at all like the cut-up chunks of meat she was accustomed to. Much more work to eat than it had been to kill, this first taste of the wild satisfied her in a way she had never experienced. This could become a habit.
When she had licked the last juices from her body, she lazily rose and ambled back toward her pen. The handler was there, sitting on the tailgate of his Land Rover and playing a harmonica. She heard and smelled him long before she came within viewing distance. He looked at her, pocketed the instrument, and walked away. From force of habit, Taki followed him.
He had chosen a new direction today, and Taki wondered what they would see. Eventually, the man disappeared around a stony outcropping. When Taki, who had been wandering off this way and that, rounded the same corner, she saw the handler there, looking out over the plain below. She scented something new, yet not new. Curiously she followed as the handler continued on his chosen path. When he finally stopped, the scent had grown strong. Below their elevation, in the near distance, Taki saw a group of animals, large and larger, lounging in the shadow of a cliff wall. They were lions.