Lunga the leopard woke up with a start. He suddenly remembered that today it was his turn to preside over the meeting of the Jungle Drama Club.
It was still dark as the sun had yet not shown its bright smiley face on this part of the planet. Lunga gazed at the trees and the leaves flickering in the wind and gave a big wide yawn. He was up during the night hunting for his food and right now he felt like having a nice long nap. But this wouldn’t be possible – not at the moment anyway- for today was going to be another day for acting and drama which he and some of his fellow creatures had to perform for the human visitors to the game park.
Lungasighed a growly sigh when he thought of the performance he had to put on when the humans – the Horrors he called them – came to watch him! First he had to stalk – then he had to look fierce -not that he wasn’t- but he had to wear the look; baring his prominent incisors by opening his mouth really wide so they could have a good look and say – ‘Oh my Gawsh did you see that – what teeth – I managed to get a good shot of it on my Iphone.’
Well – time to go. The drama group had gathered deep inside the forest to discuss the proceedings for the day.
Binga the bear had flopped by a tree with his mate and they looked like two humungous lumps of tar! Crocky the croc had come with his buddy and they were sitting there looking like two ragged rocks!
Peacocks and peahens were in one corner strutting around and muttering something quite incoherent. Now what was the word for a whole crowd of peacocks? Lunga checked the internet – yes he too had a connection not only the Horrors! And there it was – ah yes it could either be a ‘muster’ of peacocks or an ‘ostentation’ (try to say this fast!) of peacocks or a ‘pride’ of peacocks (the lions would definitely object to this last one so thank goodness there were no lions in Sri Lanka!)
The jumbos took up a huge amount of space but then what could they do? They stood tall and big BiG BIG… with gigantic bodies; they flapped their large ears and curled their long trunks and whisked their short tails this way and that. Can you believe that their trunks are really elongated noses, a picking- up- device, and a water sprayer? Wow!
A herd of buffalos were looking mournful in another corner. Didn’t these guys know how to smile? They wore their horns like crowns on their heads. Dangerous things those were and could pierce right into you if you got too close.
The spotted deer stood at a distance, still and silent, gazing with their large eyes.
The monkeys were as usual making a huge rumpus up on the trees. They were screeching and leaping from branch to branch, hanging by their tails and moving with great agility. Lunga gave them one big growl – ‘Shush you idiots – how can I do anything with all of you squawking like that!’
A herd of fat wild boar, their short tails twitching, trotted along the road – the baby boars ran close to their mothers who nudged them into line. They took care not to get too close to the tree on which Lunga was perched, because they knew that if they roused his temper it could lead to a major confrontation.
So – Lunga took his seat on the branch of a tree and began to speak in Leopard Lingo.
(We have to translate this into English for you to understand – so here goes—-)
‘Oh my fellow creatures – we have gathered here to discuss the plan for the day. First we will point out the locations where we will have to be present. Next we will appoint the participants, then the times – what time should you be there and for how long -and of course the entertainment one has to perform for the Homo Sapiens. I do suppose you know that means human beings in English.’ (Lunga loved using Latin words to impress the others.) ‘So – now to work.First things first.’
Lunga went on to explain the instructions to the animals who were gathered there.
‘First I will indicate my place -I will be on the big tree at the turn off to Block Two.
Elephants – Jimba please listen to me (he was extra polite as he recalled the time Jimba’s father jabbed his father with his tusks during a hostile disagreement) – you and your wonderful herd – will gather near the trees of Block One.’
He instructed the deer to roam the jungles and the peacocks to perform their famous dances.
‘What about us?’ Binga the bear wailed. ‘ Nothing for us to do?’
‘Oh my gosh yes – you are very important –hmm why don’t you walk on that rock by the river -first one and then the other and then you can do a small climb on that tree nearby so they can take shots of you.’
‘Ah – we don’t want to be shot – we don’t want to be killed!’ Binga and his friend clutched each other in fear.
‘No you idiot, ’Lunga growled. ‘I meant camera shots – not gun shots.’
‘Okay – ya we’ll walk and climb and look at them to make them happy!’
A croaky sound came through and the two crocodiles were looking grumpy.
‘Ah yes’, Lunga said – ‘and Crocky and his friend can bask in the sun. Crocky you have a nice mouth so open it wide for them to take pictures okay.’
‘I have a complaint to make – these guys who come they sometimes call me an alligator – don’t they know the difference? How can I tell them that our jawlines are different unless I chop them in two – then there’ll be another riot and I’ll be declared a ‘dangerous animal’.
Hmm – Lungathought – gosh this Crocky is a real fastidious guy. ‘Just say ah and shut your ears – then you won’t hear all the silly comments and they might get the hint from your jawline okay?’
Crocky just blinked in reply.
The meeting was over. The animals moved around and went back to their allotted places. Now they had to do their bit for the day – morning, and evening and sometimes even mid-day. After that when darkness descended they could retreat into the jungle and do whatever they wanted.
The first jeeps arrived just before sunrise. These were the keen ones who wanted to catch everything before the mid-day sun made it too hot for the animals to come out into the open.
Soon several other vehicles drove in. All sorts of people were inside. They were of different colours, young people and old, fat and thin. Some of them had binoculars hanging round their necks and some had cameras with enormous lens reaching out like large tubes slung on their shoulders. The jeeps were filled to capacity and the passengers were peering out trying to see some animal – didn’t matter what!
A driver jammed the brakes and the tracker who sat next to him said in a hushed voice ‘There’s a leopard on that tree – can you see?’ he pointed in some direction where all eyes followed. No, none of them could see the leopard. His spotted body was well camouflaged against the leaves.
Lunga moved on the branch so they might see him.
‘Ah there – I think I can see him.’
‘Just be patient – ah he’s climbing down – now look quickly and you will see!’
Lunga decided his time on the tree was done. He climbed down slowly – so they could have a good look.
Oh yes they had- because he heard the squeals of delight!
‘Ah there he is – let me take a picture.’
The occupants in a jeep down the line of some fifteen vehicles shouted – yes shouted in the jungle where one is supposed to keep as quiet so as not to disturb the animals – but did they really care? Bah!
‘Hey – move on – you’ve been there for almost eight minutes and we haven’t got a chance to see the leopard. Move on before I come and shove you over.’
‘Don’t talk to me like that – I’ll knock you out in a trice you big mouthed fool.’ The vehicle jerked forward and crashed into the jeep in front.
‘See what you’ve done! Who’s the fool now? You jolly well pay for this – what’s your number?’
‘It was your fault – if you had moved nothing would have happened!’
‘Stop shouting! – we’ll miss the leopard!’ from someone else.
Lunga meanwhile sauntered into the bushes. He could hear the shouts from the onlookers – ‘There he is – he’s going inside!’
‘Move that side- let us also have a look.’
‘We can’t see anything – move MOVE—’
Lunga’s time span was over. Now it was the turn of the others.
They, the homo sapiens, the human beings who considered themselves the most intelligent animals on planet earth, continued screaming at one another.
The peacocks were lined up a little further all ready to dance. They heard the first jeep crashing towards them. They moved cautiously onto the grass by the roadside, and well, they did it. One step forward one step back and run around in a little circle. Ta la lalala! The peahen couldn’t do much because the peacock was THE dancer of the two. So she just hovered on the side while Mr P was prancing up and down fanning out his exquisite dark blue and aquamarine intricately patterned tail. More jeeps cluttered the roadway overtaking one another to get a better view and take some good shots of the performance.
The deer skipped along together in between the bushes so that the onlookers had glimpses of them as they moved. Wild boar trotted together edging the road so that they had more prominence – they weren’t going to give the spotted friskies a better audience! Bolay, a young chubby boar was so fascinated by the peacock’s dance that he too began twisting his body and shaking his shoulders and jerking his head from side to side. He even tried to put his tail up and wave it around. His father rushed up to him and gave him a hard knock in the legs. ‘Awww –that hurt!’ Bolay cried.
‘Stop that at ONCE!’ his father screamed. ‘You are disgracing all of us!’
The humans took pictures and more pictures and the morning slid by. They decided it was time to get back to their bungalows and have a rest before they embarked on their afternoon safari.
It was interval time for the animals and they meandered through the forest awaiting their turns for the next round of visitors.
Mid- afternoon brought on another batch of tourists. They drove fast along the rough jungle tracks and most of them were peering out of the vehicles and some were jabbering into their mobile phones.
one also! There there!’ They focused their cameras and took the shots as Binga and his friend ambled along looking slyly at the visitors.
A brightly coloured male jungle fowl wearing his splendid red comb on his head and his rather plain looking mate were tripping from place to place in search of food. The eagle with his great hooked beak perched on top of a tall tree; below, painted storks and white egrets were taking a slow walk through the water. Parrots, kingfishers, barbets and many other varieties of birds could be seen flying through the jungle, perching from time to time on the branches of the trees. The forest resounded with their calls.
‘Ah there are two crocodiles,’ someone yelped and sure enough on the banks of the villu (a waterpool in the jungle), was one large croc with his mouth open and another slightly submerged in the water his eyes bulging.
Oh my goodness here are the elephants – Mama elephant walked past with her little baby by her side. They picked some leaves from the trees and moved quickly into the forest. A short while later a large male elephant came out. He raised his trunk and gave a resounding trumpet call and showed off his massive tusks sending shivers down the spines of the onlookers.
‘Will he charge? Must be careful – don’t get too close-’ for once they were talking in whispers.
Quite unexpectedly, Dandy, a young male elephant dashed up to the vehicles and gazed at the stunned occupants.
I’ll show them – I can dance too! He skipped down the road swinging his body from side to side and sat with a hard PLONK on the sloping edge, but it was too sandy and he just slid down landing upside down on his back with his legs up in the air.
The humans were too astonished for words!
What shall I do, what shall I do? Dandy panicked – I know I’ll give a loud trumpet and end the performance. He had forgotten that his trumpet was still undeveloped and when he did try all he could do was say ‘Hrrrrumph!’ in a weaky squeaky voice! He then struggled to his feet and ran into the jungle. The onlookers roared with laughter!
Well, time was catching up. The jeeps had to be out of the park by 6pm and they now rushed this way and that to move away. The humans hung out of the vehicles – some of them balancing precariously over the side bars to take photos of the animals.
The animals wandered into the cool forest. The day’s work was over so now they could do as they pleased. Bolay and his friends practised their dance steps, tok-tok-tok- while the elders lay sprawled eyes shut, making a gurruffing sound. Some of the animals slept while others stayed alert. The cicadas screeched and the frogs serenaded one another.
The humans were asleep on their cots ensconced by mosquito nets, some breathing gently while others grunted and squawked their snores into the darkness.
Lunga felt hungry. He stretched his brawny limbs and padded softly into the night.
(Published in “Milk Rice 2” Stories for Children, Popsicle Books 2013 –an imprint of the Perera Hussein Publishing House – compiled and edited by Ameena Hussein.)