Maria and Teresa [from the archives]

Maria and Teresa
My mother is a poem
I’ll never be able to write,
though everything I write
is a poem to my mother           

                        ~Sharon Doubiago

 

Maria and Jose:

On an exceptionally hot African afternoon during the peak of their yearly migration season a herd of weary wildebeests decided to rest for a while on that seemingly endless stretch of dry grassland. Some of them sat basking in the hot sun trying to relax while they can and some others were seen grazing on the dry, sun-baked, brownish-yellow twigs of grass that grew scarcely at this time of the year. Amidst the dry grass shooting upright from the parched land, occasionally there stood some still green fresh stalks – considered to be a rarity. The herd members were indulgent in their respective tasks; the sun beat hard on their backs; the dry air circulating among them carried pungent odours of their sweat. It was indeed an exceptionally hot day.

The herd comprised of more than a hundred thousand wildebeests and a few thousands of new born amongst them. The infant wildebeests, as a rule, would stick around with their mothers, never once leaving them save for those occasional playful sprinting of a few yards when they were in those rare and ecstatic fits of joy that comes only to the innocent at heart.

Not far away from the herd Maria and Jose were relaxing under the cool shades of the lone Baobab tree that stood like a scarecrow in the middle of the vast expanse of grass. More often than not Maria would open her watchful eyes in a manner of alarm whenever she sensed any movements nearby. Making sure that it was only her son Jose tossing and turning in his sleep she would smile comfortingly and close her eyes again.

Maria lay there with Jose by her side, thinking about the days gone by before she had given birth to him. Three infants before him – two brothers and a sister – had died in her womb only to be helplessly left behind as a bundle of flesh and blood. She had stood there beside the motionless corpse for a long long time. On all three occasions standing and guarding them against the hungry Hyenas that had caught the scent of death and had gathered near the corpse, and the Vultures that were circling the sun blasted sky. She had stood there till the packs of Hyenas were dangerously close. By then the Vultures had outnumbered the Hyenas, and were becoming less intimidated by her presence.

“It’s all over Maria, we need to move on. The herd is waiting”, Obose, the herd leader said in an indifferent tone.

“No!” cried Maria, “…The Hyenas… They’ll eat my child. I can’t bear to see my child being eaten”

Obose was not destitute of such emotions. Like any great leader fighting for the common good he had trained himself to be detached when it was needed. He had to decide what was best for the herd - for its survival and future. Succumbing to emotions at the time of crisis would not only mean a mistake, but a failure. And in the world of predators and prey failure can only mean one thing – death.

“It’s all over, Maria. We have to move.”

Maria resigned and moved with the herd. Once she turned to look back to see her child’s body being ravaged, torn and tossed by the hungry scavengers, discarded pieces of flesh and bones flying everywhere while the beasts satiated their hunger. She never turned again.

Maria woke with a start. A cloud of anxiety marred her serene countenance. She looked at Jose. He was smiling in his sleep. Like a butterfly in the spring garden without a care or worry, he seemed to be dreaming of greener fields and bright yellow flowers. Maria felt a strange sense of calmness looking at him. She knew the reason for her calmness. It was her child. Her Jose. She had borne him - a healthy male, her only priced possession, her only solace. Her Jose. With him she had found a reason to live in the herd. She could talk to the women of the herd with equal dignity and voice. She could tell them how fast Jose runs when he tries to chase those Wagtails near the yellow lake. She could tell them how he hates to eat grass and how he loves to play in the puddle. She could tell them about his brown eyes, his bushy tail, his nimble feet, and his soft horns that had showed up only last week, and how he occasionally tries to gore her in fits of kiddish anger.

Maria smiled contently.

 

Teresa and Sofia:

Teresa sat licking her ankle in the shadow of the rock, whose perch she had chosen to be her home. She was in pain. The wound had worsened over the week and whenever she had to walk, every step she took was with terrible anguish.

It is what they call the fancy hunting. It was not done for survival. To survive they had other means – probably easier ones. But this was done to reduce competition. They say, a healthy mother, slender yet sturdy, having to feed three hungry mouths would certainly pose a problem when territories were intruded. But you may ask, what good a competition would a lone Cheetah and her three kittens give to a pride of two Lions, eight Lionesses, and eleven cubs? They would say it is still a competition. And they want it hunted down. It was one such fancy hunting by a pride that left Teresa with a deep cut wound in her ankle and two mouths less to feed.

Sofia, Teresa’s only daughter (now her only child) sat beside her in silence. For a seventeen month old Sofia was inactive and withdrawn. The nightmare of her brothers being dragged by savage beasts and her mother’s wasteful efforts fighting against them had shocked and troubled her young heart. The playful, jubilant, young kitten had now seized to feel the wondrous excitement of life. Life now was an endless run from the merciless. If it wasn’t for her mother, to have braved the beasts in her insane fit of anger Sofia would have ended up like her brothers; a lifeless bundle of flesh and blood. Although it should be said it wasn’t any different now.

It has been two weeks and two days since the mother and child had eaten anything. The pride’s fancy hunt had left them weak and ailing. For the first few days Teresa could chase and hunt without feeling much pain. But the African sun is merciless. The dry air, the blistering heat, the infectious flies, and her troubled heart worsened the wound. She knew that she could not do it anymore. She knew that all was over for her now.

Hunger blinds the eye, shuts the brain and you cease to think clearly. All you would think of doing was be to cry out in anguish and complain. But the child lay there for weeks together without as much as uttering a sigh. It troubled Teresa very much. At times she would think of Sofia pouncing at her in anger and burying her claws into her flesh saying, “Get me food. What kind of mother are you?” In fact, she would have felt happy if Sofia did that. It would have inspired her to stand, to shake of the pain, to stalk, to run, to chase, and to kill. But that never happened. Sofia never complained.

“Stay here by the shade. Don’t go out in the sun. Mother will be back in a while”, saying that Teresa got up, exerting great physical effort. The child just nodded without any expression in its face. The mother limped and left in pain.

 

Maria:

The yellow lake was not far from her home. A lazy, lethargic walk for a while in the hot sun would lead her to the lake. Water was essential to keep her alive and hoping. A faint glow of hope somewhere in the recesses of that troubled heart – a hope to tend the wound, to lessen the pain, to run without effort, to stalk the prey, to kill it, to eat it, and to let her child eat it.  To live. And to survive.

Water kept her alive. Hope kept her going. She kept walking.

From a distance, through the tall growth of grass Teresa could see the lake now. Yellowish brown. The overflowing lake now had become a puddle of mud and slush because of the heat. And since most part of the year the lake looked the same it got the name “the yellow lake” She saw that a herd of wildebeests had taken refuge near the lake to quench their thirst. It was a huge herd. She could see that many of the animals gathered in small groups sat relaxing in the hot sun. She knew very well that a few more paces of walk and the wildebeests would pick her scent and then sensing danger they would exercise caution. Even if she managed to get away with their catching scent of her, and tried to stalk them to quite a distance, she would then have to run in bursts of speed, working against her physical ailment and suffering. And that was not a very comforting thought. It was not in the least comforting to think – so near, yet so far.

She thought of Sofia. Few more days without food, the young lass would succumb to hunger and will die. What a terrible death that would be. What a terrible way to see one’s life end like that. What a shameful death for a carnivore. She sighed and proceeded to walk forward slowly. Suddenly, something caught her eye. A lone mother and child wildebeest lay under the Baobab tree that was not a hundred paces away from her. The stifling heat of the afternoon might have reduced the airflow and might have ceased to carry her scent to this pair of wildebeest. They lay there without caution or sense of danger. Teresa stiffened her limbs, crouched, and gripped the ground beneath her feet. This was a chance that she was hoping for.

One step at a time, with great caution she began to stalk. Her breathing became heavy. Violent puffs of air breathed out of her wide nostrils hit the ground, creating clouds of dust in front of her.

Front leg. Hind leg. Front leg. Hind leg. She counted each step, crouching, bending, and staying alert. One false move and the prey might sense her presence. She cannot take chances now, she thought. It’s either now or never. It was important that she did this without mistake. It was important to her and to her child and for survival. She took another step, but this time a decayed twig broke under her feet, and made a sound.

“Quick, Jose!! A Cheetah!! Run!! Now!!,” Maria lunged forward waking up Jose.

Jose got up frenzied. He could only see a coat of bright yellow and dark black spots charging towards him and his mother before he turned to run towards the herd. He kept a great pace and kept beside his mother. Maria was running, at times turning back to see the pursuing beast, at times turning to her child, urging him to keep the pace. The herd members had sensed the beast, now they all gathered in groups and were running beside the lake towards safety. Maria knew that Cheetahs would get tired very soon and would end their pursuit because of lack of energy. She had to keep the pace and maintain the distance in order to tire the beast. She kept running.

“Jose! Noo…”

A small sized boulder had blocked his flight and Jose tumbled on it and fell hard on the ground. He lay there for a moment and then got up to run. But it was too late. The fall had reduced the pace. It had reduced the distance.

Maria stopped. She knew that Jose would not make it. She ran towards him.

Teresa leapt in the air covering a great length. Her claws sprang from inside her paws and glinted in the sun. Her jaws opened wide and the protruding canines caught the neck. It buried inside the flesh cutting the hide. Deep. Deeper. Deep until the veins were cut and the blood issued forth profusely. Her face was smeared in blood and parts of flesh flew from the sides of her mouth. She held her jaws gripped to the neck like a metallic vice. Her claws dragged the flesh and ripped apart the hide open.

Maria choked. Her breathing collapsed. Blood flowed ceaselessly from her neck. She crumpled on to the ground, dead.

“Mother… Mother…” cried Jose standing a few paces from his mother. The savage beast was now dragging her corpse.

He began to run towards the beast when Ali caught him.

“Stop!! You can’t do anything about it now”

“But my mother… my mother…”

“She was a brave woman…” Ali said in a trembling voice, “Now, let’s go. We have to keep moving”

Jose moved towards the distant herd with his head bowed down. He never turned back to look at his mother. It was a shame to see her being dragged. He joined the herd and kept moving.

 

Teresa:

Teresa limped and dragged the kill slowly. She reached home before dusk. Sofia was sitting there by the rock motionless as always. She did not utter a word at her mother’s arrival. She kept silent.

“Eat it. After you’re done I’ll drag this up onto that tree. We need to keep this for few more days. The Hyenas can’t climb the tree.”

Sofia began to tear bits of flesh from the corpse and began to chew on it with her sharp teeth.

Teresa sat there thinking about the brave mother who had jumped into her hungry jaws trying to save her child. She felt a sense of shame for having killed that mother. She closed her eyes. She saw that mother’s face – serene, with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment for having saved her child. She now opened her eyes and looked at Sofia. She felt the same serenity, the satisfaction and accomplishment. She had saved her child.

Teresa dragged the corpse on to the top of the tree and kept it there. For days to come she would drag it down in the mornings and Sofia would then feed on it and then she would drag it to the top. Whether it was to provide her child with a constant supply of food for many days or it was her way of seeking penitence for having killed that mother, one could never tell. Teresa never ate in all those days.

On the fourth day after the corpse got exhausted of its flesh Teresa died of hunger and pain.

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