Authors: Nicola Davies
edru had been fishing with his best friends, Samuel and Samuel’s big brother, Enzi. They’d chosen a spot where the river rushed over rocks and was clear enough to see fish underwater and shallow enough to keep them safe from crocodiles. They’d ridden the currents between the boulders and chased fish into nets stretched between their hands, sometimes holding fish in their mouths because two hands were not enough to hold on to their nets and their catch.
“If I had a mouth as big as yours,” Pedru teased Enzi, “I’d have twice as many fish.”
Enzi grinned, showing just how wide his mouth could stretch. “I think I could swallow a crocodile!” he declared.
“My mouth is small,” said Samuel, “and I still caught more fish than you, Pedru!”
By the time the boys had tied their fish onto sticks to carry home, the sun was already dipping behind the trees.
“We’re going to have to hurry,” Pedru said. The others nodded. They knew it was a long way back and it could be dark before they reached the village. Of course, they were brave boys and not afraid of the dangers of nighttime in the bush: the hippos grazing on the bank that will bite you in two if you disturb their supper; the leopards and lions stalking you, quieter than breath; the hyenas that will crack your bones; the crocodiles that will drag you under the water. No, what worried the boys much more was how angry their mothers would be if they were late getting back. So they hurried along the path and didn’t speak until they saw the tops of the village huts over the tall grass.
“We’re late,” said Samuel. “I can smell the cooking fires already.”
“Don’t worry,” Enzi replied, putting his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “We’ve caught so many fish that Mamma will be too busy cooking to be angry.”
Enzi was right. He and Samuel had caught more than thirty fish between them. Pedru looked at the fish on his stick: ten. Ten small fish were not going to keep him out of trouble for getting home late, but ten fish and a fat guinea fowl might.
Pedru stopped walking. “You go,” he told his friends. “I’m going to see if my snares have caught anything.”
Before the brothers had time to remind their friend that dusk is not a good time to be creeping around in the long bush on your own, Pedru was gone.
Something had gotten to the snares before him. Freshly scattered guinea-fowl feathers dotted the clearing; whatever had eaten the birds could still be close by. Pedru scanned the ground for tracks. There, framed by the crisscross of bird feet, was a single print: four oval toes arranged like petals around a central pad, with no claw marks. Cat. Big cat.
he told himself.
A leopard that would take the birds from the snares and slip away
Not a lion.
Not a lion that might be waiting here for a bigger meal.
The hair on Pedru’s neck stood on end, and his heart pounded. Run! Run! He must run away right now! He streaked through the grass and bushes, ignoring the thorns that tore at his skin. Sweating and panting, he reached the path, with the sound of voices up ahead and the smell of fires. He leaned on his knees to catch his breath, laughing a little at himself for being so scared, relieved at being safe again.
Pedru’s legs were punched from under him. His body hit the ground, and the air was knocked out of his lungs. For a moment, he didn’t hear or see anything. When his eyes and ears worked again, he found he was being dragged along on his back by his outstretched right arm. He twisted around to see what could be holding him, and he looked straight into the face of a lion.
He went numb. Time slowed down. Sounds drained from the world, leaving a bowl of silence, with Pedru and the lion at the bottom of it.
Pedru stared at the lion. It was so close that even in the fading light he could see the spotted lines on its snout where its whiskers sprouted, the deep notch on its left ear, and the scraggy tufts of mane on its neck. He could smell its breath, hot and meaty, and feel where its teeth had pierced his arm and crushed the bone, although he was too afraid to feel any pain.
The lion was bumping his body back along the path, dragging him into the long grass.
As soon as it feels safe, hidden in the bush,
Pedru said to himself,
it will eat me
. Suddenly, he stopped feeling numb and started to be very angry. This lion was not going to put an end to him!
His stick, with the fish still tied to it, was gripped in his left hand. He swung it with all his strength and hit the lion hard on the head. He felt the blow strike, and when he looked at the lion, it had a cut between its ears. Pedru hit it again, and for a moment it looked right at him, its golden eyes hot like the sun. Then it snarled and ran away, and Pedru saw that it had taken his arm.
edru woke up in the hospital. Or rather, outside the hospital on the porch in the back, because all the beds inside were full. Pedru’s father, Issa, was sitting beside him, fanning away the flies with an old newspaper.
“How did I get here?” Pedru asked.
His father smiled. “I put you on my back and cycled like a crazy man.”
It was ten miles over dirt roads from the village to the clinic at Madune. Even for Pedru’s father, the best hunter in the village, probably in all of Africa, this was quite a feat.
Issa put down the newspaper and placed his big hand on the top of Pedru’s head. “Now, my son,” he asked gently, “tell me, how do you feel?”
Issa had always told Pedru never to answer any question without thinking first. So Pedru thought hard about his answer. He turned his head and looked to his right. Where his arm had been was a bandaged stump, like a white stick, ending just above where the elbow had been. For a moment, Pedru’s head swam and he shut his eyes. But when he opened them again, the arm was still gone. It hurt badly where the doctor had sewn up the wound the lion had left, but Pedru knew that it would stop hurting in time. The other pain, however, would not go away so easily.
“I’m scared,” he told his father. “Scared that I won’t be myself anymore. I’ll just be the boy with one arm.” Pedru tried hard not to cry and went on: “And a boy with one arm can never be strong and be a hunter like you.”
Issa listened carefully, his brow a mass of creases as he took in Pedru’s words. It was a few moments before he spoke. “Pedru,” he said, “tell me what you can see and hear.”
“The holes in the roof,” Pedru answered. “Children crying. Grown-ups whispering.”
“No, not here in the clinic,” Issa said. “Out there.” Issa pointed beyond the porch to the patch of grass and trees where the town of Madune ended and the bush began again.
Pedru propped himself up on his good arm and looked and listened. He’d always been proud of his sharp eyes and ears, and Issa had taught him to know every bird and beast in the bush. It was a comfort now to look out into the trees and sky, so lovely in the first light of day. Pedru found that his eyes snatched up every detail, like a hungry guinea fowl pecking corn.
“Good!” said Issa. “Go on!”