Passing through the oversized revolving door, he danced on the precipice of bad decisions. He glanced down at the tear in his sneaker – a battle scar from a skirmish that reflected no aggression. It had been playful. Fun with a hidden element of danger not yet apparent. His head was just beginning to display early signs of imbalance – like a bobble head. Except the almost imperceptible bobbling was happening on the inside. It was a time when darkness loomed.

He’d always been full of jitters.

“Noah finds it difficult to sit still.”
“Noah has trouble focusing on the work at hand.”
“Noah is in constant motion.”

He found it gruelling to keep his head in the classroom.  Alone in the forest, surrounded by trees, Noah found peace.

His parents despaired.  They’d planned on their only son following their footsteps through university.  But by the time Noah was in Grade 10 they’d given up that dream.  Mostly they worried about what the boy would do with his life.

Noah followed his heart.  He took outdoor wilderness survival courses.  He studied animal behaviour with a internationally recognised wildlife photographer.  And then he landed his first job at a private game reserve catering to overseas visitors.

At first Noah did grunt work.  Fetch this, fix this, secure that.  But most of his labours were outdoor chores, so Noah thrived.  It wasn’t long before management gave him a shot at guiding.  Noah turned out to be the best safari leader in the pack.  He could hold a jeep full of paying guests spell-bound for hours with stories of animals in the bush.

In Noah’s third year of work, a two-week-old male lion cub was brought to the reserve from a neighbouring resort.  The cub’s mother had died and the baby needed urgent care.  Noah asked for the job.  As the survival rate in such circumstances was dismal at best, no one else volunteered.

Noah fed the cub, whom he affectionately named “Phila” (meaning “life”), five times in every 24-hour period.  Each feed took nearly two hours.  In order to keep the cub from imprinting on him, he would pick Phila up by the scruff of the neck to move him. Noah would brush him with a course brush to simulate his mother’s tongue.  Noah spent all his time with Phila and rejoiced when the little cub made it to ten weeks old and began to feed on meat.

Phila thought of Noah as his mother.  He would playfully swipe at Noah’s head, but as he got larger and gained a significant amount of weight, his spirited swings would send Noah rolling.  Once Phila caught Noah’s sneaker with his claw and tore through the shoe, nicking the toe.

Over the next four years Phila was successfully released into the sanctuary and established his own territory in the 14 000 hectare game reserve.  Often when we was out with guests Noah would see Phila and relate the story of his successful rearing.

But then without warning the park was sold.  Lock, stock and barrel.  Employees were assured they would not lose their jobs.  New management seemed pleasant enough and everyone relaxed.

It was in the third month of new ownership that Noah found out the proprietor’s intensions.  A party of three men flew in from the States.  Noah saw their rifles and queried this with his superior.  “Gotta turn a profit, Noah.  Trophy hunting.  That’s where the money’s at.”

Noah’s head reeled.  Hunting!  Canned hunting!  The fences which once protected them from the outside world, would now trap the animals and bring death.  Noah’s stomach turned, his breathing became rapid and his arms lost all strength.  He stood, it seemed, for an eternity while his mind tried to grasp this horrible turn.  Then he turned and retreated to his small staff bedroom.

He could not keep his body from shaking.  Images of Phila and the men’s rifles kept flashing through his head.  He had to do something.  He had to!

He ran to the tool shed and grabbed a pair of wire cutters.  He jumped into one of the jeeps behind the office block (thankful that the keys were kept in the ignition during daylight hours) and sped off toward the south fence.  Phila lived here.  This was his territory, his home.

Noah drove straight up to the fence and killed the jeep’s engine.  He hopped out, wire cutters in hand.  He strode right up to the barrier and raised the cutters to the metal links. He was breathing hard.  He tried to cut the fence, but he couldn’t.

Noah knew what lay on the other side.  Homes.  Thousands of them.  Traditional rural homes.  If he cut the fence and allowed the animals to escape, he’d be endangering the lives of the villagers AND the animals.  He dropped the cutters, turned around to look into the park and slumped up against the fence.  Tears poured from his eyes as he sobbed.

Noah handed in his resignation that very day.  He flew back to Cape Town to be with his parents until he figured out what he was going to do next.  His mind was never far from Phila and his heart ached for the cub he’d raised.

Now, many months later, the light has beaten back the dark in a war that was anything but playful. The lurking danger that had pounced on the back of fun has retreated. The bobbling has ceased. His head has reclaimed its stability and clings to it for dear life. His toe has healed, but the tear in his sneaker remains. As does the one on his heart.

 

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The first and last paragraphs of this story (in italics) were written by @whisper2scream and entitled “Broken and Repairing” and can be found here.
@pricelessjoy then took those paragraphs and continued the story beautifully and it can be found here.
I jumped on the band-wagon and wrote this story using whisper2scream’s piece as inspiration.
Anybody else want to play?  😉

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