I dare you to spend a week in the thorny embrace of Africa's serpentine savannahs, on a quest so whimsical and wonderfully harebrained; hunting, not with a spear, but a pen. An odd conquest indeed, one pursues the elusive laughter of the spotted hyena. I spent the week in an electrifying tango with this intriguing specimen, tagging it with the name Narcissus, for the affectionate manner it observed its reflection in the puddled homes of the rains.
Ahh! The first sighting of Narcissus! The thrill was blistering as an unseasonal African sun after a thirst-ridden duel with the dunes. Hidden in the boundless savannah, tethered to the shadows of a desolate acacia tree, I watched Narcissus roam – strength and playfulness twirling in a captivating dance. His coat, a curtain of dappled gold and black, was a shimmering enigma under the gilded rays of the sun.
Dedication, dear readers, wears the dubious veneer of insanity at times. Hence, from my rickety perch on the tree, armed with a generous dollop of enthusiasm, and an unsteady pair of binoculars, I set out to labor the days away.
Narcissus was a robust communicator it seemed. His mornings were spent amusing himself with his reflection, practicing an elaborate set of ‘ha-ha’s and “hee-hee’s,” a generous cocktail of chuckles and giggles, the art of Hyenic laughter, if you will. I imagined him to be a somewhat flamboyant comedian, preparing for the grand stage of the wild.
Those nights under the silhouette of a bloated moon, I watched him dancing away with Daphne, a delightfully rotund hippopotamus. Narcissus, the entrancing raconteur, would regale her with stories and an enchanting buffet of sounds – purrs, grunts, giggles, culminating, always, into that haunting laughter.
"To think Narcissus," Daphne would harrumph, her large, lumbering body echoing her chuckles. "A master comedian stuck in the wild. Such is life!"
The odd friendships of the wild don't end there – on the third day, a peculiar band of mongoose named The Prickly Quarters approached Narcissus. Explanation for their names? Simply, their bristling weapon of fear – their bushy tails, and their inexplicable fondness for confined living.
Their quarrelling was a symphony that heralded a new dawn. “An audience, Narcissus! That's all we need!” they would chatter, scampering around, a bustling flurry of brown, black and white. Narcissus, ever the entertainer, would bumble around, obliged to amuse.
The solitude of the Savannah, it appears, is but an illusion.
A troubling event occurred on the fourth day when Narcissus, amidst a fervent storytelling session, felt a pang of hunger. Now, a Hyena must eat, but the sight of Narcissus pouncing on Larry (an antelope, formerly existing in happy oblivion) was a heartbreaking spectacle.
“Not Larry! He had two left feet but oh, what a dancer he was!” squeaked Carol, Larry's antelope wife from the sidelines, her soft gaze moist with loss.
Narcissus, I supposed, after the muffled plea from Carol, may experience a fleeting stab of guilt. But it fades away, concealed beneath the necessary brutality of life. The Savannah, much like the world, harbors a compelling cocktail of emotions – tangled blues, searing reds, radiant yellows, and solemn silences streaked with murky greys.
My week, under the gargantuan African sky, echoed the laughter of Narcissus – a stunning portrait of life, as variegated and moving as the African sunset. The days whirled past in a deranged dance – of friendship, survival, laughter, loss. And Narcissus, wedged in amidst it all, was but a humbling reminder of nature’s caprice.
Tales of the Spotted Hyena? Stories of the African wild, if you may, are as enigmatic and discordant as Narcissus’s laughter – fascinating, haunting and unpredictable. Here, dear reader, I leave you. Batteries are running low, the sun has long since retreated, and Africa wraps herself in a blanket of stars and whispers. Narcissus croons a soft lullaby into the night. The Prickly Quarters twitter in excited whispers. For now, I must retreat too, into the bosom of Mother Nature, awaiting the arrival of a brand-new morn laden with fresh tales.