Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
I wished again that my father hadn’t remained at camp. I wondered if he’d deliberately taken his malaria tablet on my brother’s big day. Maybe he was passing the baton to someone he thought worthy. My father had the kind of mind that developed theories the scientific community mulled over, but that mind was absent when it came to judging Brian.
Judgment, for me, though was becoming ever clearer.
Two weeks on the savannah had expanded my five senses to the place where I felt more human—more primal—than I could ever remember feeling. The musk of the blue wildebeest, the woosh of an impala, the throaty rumble of a leopard in the cacophony of the night, had all contributed. A sixth sense had even appeared—emotional in nature. It helped me know that this safari—this journey— was not mine. It was Brian’s.
If I had any doubt, I could look down at my clothing. I was wearing the maroon bell-bottoms and Thom McAnns I usually wore to school. It was Brian, younger by a year, who my father had outfitted with utility pants, vest, hat, and boots.
“There—” said Diriku, as we crested a rise with too much speed.
I looked to our left where the black, tapered finger pointed. Brian yanked the steering wheel, adding to our turbulent ride. Fifty yards east of a copse of acacia trees, a dark anomaly appeared in the landscape. It was the circle we’d burned four days earlier in the butter yellow grasses. The resulting new growth was supposed to attract attention. I was adjusting my binoculars when the jeep came to an abrupt stop, well short of the trees.
“What are you doing!” I yelled, righting myself back onto the seat.
“We’re here, aren’t we?” Brian held his palm up over his shoulder, waiting for Diriku to hand over the 350 Weatherby Magnum. I got out, kicked the door shut, and grabbed my rifle from the back, angry that I’d settled for a twenty-gauge shot gun and bird license.
That’s when Diriku hushed us, nodding at a wave of movement alongside the green ring. A wart hog appeared at the edge. It must have been among the acacia at the watering hole. It stood frozen, having spotted us, and my neck stiffened in response. Then out from the trees a lion flew and within seconds tumbled onto the wart hog. They rolled out of sight before twisting back into the ring.
“Shoot, Mr. Brian,” said Diriku, his voice ever even, and my brother obeyed. The report of the enormous rifle pierced my left ear—my plug must have fallen out. An instant ringing sounded. It took a minute to see that both the wart hog and lion lay unmoving. I couldn’t believe it; my brother had hit them both.
The three of us climbed back into the vehicle. Brian crept to within fifteen feet of the slain creatures before cutting the engine. We got out slowly, rifles in hand, Diriku just behind us. Three steps forward and the lion reared its head and shoulders. The roar expressed from his inflated lungs blew past us. He might as well have been an elephant in our faces—the force so incredibly strong.
Bile coated my throat.
“His hind quarters are paralyzed, Mr. Brian. Shoot.” Diriku’s words warbled in the vacuum, but Brian wasn’t moving.
I raised my rifle. Small as it was, I had seen what it could do. I imagined my father’s arms encircling me, telling me how proud he was. How sorry he was that he’d always overlooked me by putting his love in someone less deserving.
I was following the procedures he’d taught—pausing mid-breath—butt into the shoulder pocket—second joint squeezing the trigger—when I felt my determination exhaust itself.
Was it pity? Acceptance?
“Brian!” I called, “he’s yours—shoot.”
For twenty-five years I’ve relived that moment. The moment I realized I couldn’t make my father see me, anymore than my father could make Brian into something he was not.
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