(Writing a short story, that isn't influenced or related to events of my life, after quite a long time. Incidentally, the last one I wrote - about 10 years back - had the same title and was also about a wild animal. However, the context here is different. Anyway, it's a fairly simple and uncomplicated story; nothing dramatic or extraordinary. But I really enjoyed writing it and have been inspired to write more such stuff. Hopefully, some of you will enjoy it.)
She let out a tired sigh; a soft moan of sorts. The pain in her wounded left paw was immense and the cracked shoulder blade of her left leg had sapped her completely. She simply did not have any energy left to even lick her paw anymore.
Laxmi, the lioness, cut a forlorn figure that wintry night at the Gir Sanctuary.
Abandoned by her pack and left to fend for her own, the 13-year-old lioness had not eaten in days and was in a pitiable state at present. Her frame had become bony and the color of her fur seemed to have faded to a pale brownish-grey.
To add to her woes, while trying to desperately hunt down a porcupine this morning, her left paw had been maimed by the rodent’s sharp spikes. She had thought that the little animal would provide a decent and easy meal in these desperate times. But instead, the little thing had left her badly injured.
And now, she could barely walk.
It was not just the pain in her foot that was tormenting her, though. The pain went deep. Within a span of one day, her life had completely capsized.
Laxmi used to be the proud queen of the Dhari territory of the Gir Sanctuary. Her mate, Bhairav, was the leader of the pride. With a large, flowing mane, a burly frame, and an incisive mind, Bhairav had been overseeing the group for several years. Their pride contained about 20 individuals and all of them revered their leader unwaveringly.
Those were good days. Laxmi used to bask in the glory of being one of the partners of the pride’s handsome chief. She was a terrific hunter herself and had led the pack on countless hunting forays. In her prime, Laxmi had a glowing light brown skin and a pretty sturdy frame. There had been occasions when she had even brought down an adult male buffalo single-handedly.
Around three months back, she had mothered three cubs with Bhairav. Laxmi had been rearing them lovingly and the overly mischievous trio – two females and a male – was coming up beautifully. Laxmi loved watching them bask around in the sun and scramble up all over her body. She was a doting mother and intended to bring them up as the finest lions of the pride.
But everything changed in that one day. That one, dreadful day.
A fully-grown male lion from the opposing territory had come charging into their pack one morning and caught Bhairav off-guard as he slept. The rival lion – with a massive and sinewy build – had come with the clear intention of overthrowing Bhairav and take over as the leader of the pride.
The entire pack had been jolted unawares but could do nothing. The rival was in his prime, was about a foot larger than Bhairav and was looking to kill. Bhairav used all his endurance and might to tackle the rival lion, but the brute was muscularly built and overpowered the leader without much discomfort. With a savage bite of the throat, he brought down Bhairav for good.
But he was not done yet. The leader taken care of, he now wanted to ensure that his off-springs were wiped out as well, lest they pose a threat to him down the years.
He was shrewd, the rival. He must have been tracking this pride for days and knew well who the children of Bhairav were. They were the only cubs in the pride at present and the rival lion had to wipe them off. The triplets had been cowering behind Laxmi as the rival was savagely taking down their father. Laxmi, who had been paralyzed with fear, now realized that the lion was charging towards her.
She desperately tried to frisk her cubs away, but it was too late. The rival sprang up on her from behind and with a fierce swipe from his powerful paw, broke her left shoulder. Laxmi watched in terror as the male lion advanced towards her helpless cubs. They quailed with fear, looking for a way to escape the approaching beast. But the little ones had no chance.
Laxmi tried to lift herself, but couldn’t. The pain in her shoulder was blinding. The last sight she saw was the palpable fear in the eyes of her cubs. They reflected the horror of approaching death. It was a vision that was to be etched in her heart forever.
Laxmi grunted gloomily as she relived that terrible morning again. The rival had not killed her. He did not consider her a threat. She was just a minor deterrent who he had easily taken care of and now had left her for the dead. But she was not allowed to live in the pride anymore. The new leader had made his intentions clear on that.
After being disbanded from the pride, Laxmi had carried the carcasses of her cubs and somehow managed to bury it on a mound of earth. After blanketing it with some twigs and leaves, she had sat there for a while, watching over the spot; protecting it from scavengers. She growled at a few vultures that had probably sensed the dead animals underneath the earth and were hovering beside it.
But as the hours trickled by, she realized staying there was fraught with danger as she was severely injured and wouldn’t be able to fight off a pack of hyenas or jackals if they found her in this condition.
Limping away miserably, Laxmi had found a quiet place among a dense growth of bushes on the outskirts of the sanctuary, far away from her last territory, and had been staying here ever since. But the distance had not been able to wipe out the terror from her mind that she had witnessed there.
Laxmi loathed herself for not being able to protect her young ones. And now she had left them alone even in their death. She knew well that perhaps her cubs had been ravenously devoured by vultures and hyenas by now. Laxmi wished that the rival had killed her too instead of forcing her to live such a wretched existence.
This jungle. Which once made her life so glorious had now turned on her. It had become a savage haven, witness to her unrelenting sufferings.
Sitting under the bush and staring impassively at the moon above, Laxmi feebly attempted to lick her injured paw. She let out a moan again. Almost as if calling out to her cubs. Hoping that they would come scampering at her from behind a thicket and clamber up her body again.
Famished, weary and enervated, Laxmi shut her eyes. Hoping that this would be the end.
A distinct clang woke Laxmi up abruptly. The sun was just about peeping through the skies and the early morning winter air had cast a slight mist. Laxmi wasn’t able to see clearly in the distance through the bushes and the fog, but she could sense some movement. And then she sniffed the air and her ears immediately twitched…It was a human!
Laxmi got up and winced. Her left leg was still very sore. But she endured the pain and slowly moved ahead. The clanging sound was getting nearer and as Laxmi reached the edge of the expanse, at a small clearing, she noticed a little girl beside a well. She was carrying a metal bucket – the source of the clanging noise – to draw water from the well.
|Photo courtesy Laurent Baheux|
The little girl had her back to Laxmi and was bent over. This presented the perfect opportunity for her to finally make a successful hunt. Laxmi hadn’t ever killed a human. She had noticed them on numerous occasions at the edge of the forest but had never considered them as food. This, however, was a different situation. She wouldn’t have to strain herself too much here. This was an easy meal. And one that she desperately needed.
Her feline instincts now took over. She crouched down and disregarding the pain in her leg, gently moved towards the girl, who still had her back to her, without making the slightest sound.
As the lioness was within six feet of the girl, she finally got up on her feet. She was ready to make her move now.
Just then, the little girl turned over. Her expressions turned to shock and horror as she noticed the lioness in front of her. The bucket of water slipped from her hands as she let out a little yelp and tripped over backward onto the ground.
Laxmi could sense the dread in the girl and swiftly advanced close to her. Her prey was on the ground, inches from her now. Vulnerable and defenseless. She could smell her soft flesh. The attack was to come any moment.
But it didn’t.
Laxmi looked on at the quivering child, who seemed to be crippled with fear. She knew her end was near. Her face shuddered. Her eyes widened in terror.
Her eyes… The horror of approaching death was imminent in them…They reminded Laxmi of something. Something she had been witness to recently. Something that will remain carved in her memory for all her existence now.
Laxmi stood rooted to her spot. She then noticed that the girl’s leg was bleeding. She bent over and sniffed it. The girl winced, and shut her eyes tightly, expecting the lioness to sink her canines into her. But instead, Laxmi tenderly licked the wound.
The little girl opened her eyes and looked at the lioness in shock. She couldn’t grasp what was happening. She stiffened up and clasped her hands tightly. Her brain was going benumb.
Laxmi then moved her head up and licked the girl’s face softly. Almost as if trying to pacify her.
She could now hear some commotion at the distance. It seemed to be a group of humans clamoring and hurtling towards the spot.
Laxmi could have easily grabbed the little girl by her neck like a rag doll and vanished in the thickets beyond. But she didn’t. She simply moved away from the girl and turned towards the clump of bushes she had emerged from.
The sound of the group of approaching humans was getting closer now. Laxmi strode near the bushes. But just before entering them, she turned her head to take a final glance at the little girl.
She was still gaping at the lioness; dazed and confused. But her eyes…They didn’t reflect fear anymore. Perhaps they understood.
Satisfied, Laxmi made her way into the dense undergrowth. Her left leg was still paining agonizingly. Her hunger pangs were still tormenting her. She had let go of an easy prey. At the cost of her own life, perhaps.
The animal in her desperately wanted that meal. But the mother…The mother simply could not allow it…