As I set my paws in the vast expanse of land, I felt free. I jumped and roared to my heart’s delight. Was it another life when I was leaping through fires and dancing to the tunes of a vicious ringmaster? The escape had been the most extraordinary thing that happened to me. And here I was, Cooper, a circus lion, let loose in this jungle, stepping into a new world.
My heart surged with excitement. But, I felt fearful too. Would I be able to make a home here in this invigorating forest?
I had vague memories of me as a cub squabbling with my brothers and sisters and running amok in the wilderness. I spent most of my adult life as a circus lion entertaining humans. I lived a solitary life and other than my friend Zoro, I hardly ever met another animal of my species.
Zoro was the one who did not let the spark in me die. He would always say, “Cooper, my buddy, don’t you stop living. Don’t you stop loving!” A month ago Zoro died and I was aghast. Then I escaped.
I yearned to be a part of a herd. Sitting huddled in that demonic cage; I would often picture myself amidst fellow lions, stretched out on the brown soil as soft winds ruffled my mane. Alas! All I could do was dream away.
But, today I had what I never envisaged I could get in this life: Freedom. An array of noises welcomed me as I meandered my way deep into the forest. I soon found myself staring at a small stream gurgling with water. After I satiated my thirst, I looked around. A herd of monkeys jumped helter-skelter on the dense trees, parrots chirped away at a distance while a herd of deer steered its way through the overgrown grassland.
I sat near the stream and soaked the beauty that surrounded me. But, I was aware that I was alone. I had to fend for myself, in this forest teeming with all kinds of dangers. I was a lion who was meant to be ferocious but years of captivity had rendered me useless. I hardly knew how to hunt and though I tried to feign a blithe disregard to this crucial aspect, hunger slowly but steadily gnawed its claws around me. I had to survive. The circus had made me stoic and I was not going to give up.
Just then a soft groan caught my attention. I craned my neck and there it was. A tiny lion cub stared at me from a distance. I was dumbfounded by the presence of another animal and that too someone who was just like me. I stood up and sauntered towards the cub, who looked terrified. I could not make out as to how old the cub was, but a sense of warmth pervaded my being as soon as I set my eyes on him.
He whimpered looking helplessly at me and I felt a gush of feelings overpower me. Licking him vigorously, I let go of the barrage of emotions that had hitherto laid buried deep in the chasms of my scraped exterior. He, in turn, came close to me and positioned himself as if seeking shelter.
I did not know if the cub had played truant or he was ousted from the pride. After all, I was barely privy to the practices of the forest and of my species.
The two of us lay sprawled in the wilderness gaping at the stars as night befell casting strange shadows over the boundless forest. I had presumed that years of being bred as a circus lion had made me detached. But, I was wrong. I could love and protect.
As the morning sun emanated its first rays, everything that looked menacing in the darkness seemed to be washed over and turned into gold. My biggest concern now was the well-being of the cub. How could me a withering lion, take care of this little fellow? And what if the pride came looking for him and killed me?
As these thoughts haunted me, the cub woke up, yawned heartily and climbed on my back. All my fears and forebodings came to rest and I decided that I would take care of this little one, come what may. He needed me as much as I needed him.
It had been two days since I found the cub. We were alike in so many ways. Like me, he too could barely hunt. All we could manage in the last two days were a couple of small animals and left out meat of a wild boar.
I knew that I could not survive long on this scanty diet. I was famished and so was the cub. I felt spent and heaved restlessly most of the day. But, the cub whom I called Zoro after my deceased friend, was a trouper. He was bubbling with energy and would constantly lean on to me playing and bantering to no end. I, on the other hand, felt like a father-figure who had to make sure that Zoro was safe and sound.
Five days elapsed and those were by far the best days of my life. I was no longer chained and for the first time, I understood what freedom felt like. Zoro filled up my days with mirth and my heart encompassed with love.
But, we were both oblivious to the ways of the forest and the imminent dangers of the wild.
Night had covered the forest like a giant circus tent. Both I and Zoro lay lazing near a rock. It was as quiet as it could get in a forest, with winds rustling up the trees and faint animal sounds reverberating through the jungle. But, today the forest felt hotter than usual. I craned my neck towards the sky to find crimson halos all over the sky.
Zoro looked at me as his ears twitched. I stood up positioning myself in an alert mode. A minute or two passed and soon my worst fears manifested in front of me. At first, I could only hear them and then I saw numerous eyes steering through the darkness heading towards me.
Zoro roared but all the while he clung on to me. The pride had come looking for him. Five lions and three lionesses prowled towards me roaring intermittently. I was scared.
Zoro at once stood in front roaring and communicating something to them. A fierce-looking lion made its way towards me. I stood there stuck to the ground. These were my people and today I would be killed off by them. The irony hit me like lightning and I closed my eyes.
A couple of minutes passed. Nothing happened.
As I opened my eyes, all I could see was a massive ball of fire reaching us from a distance. The other lions were running in circles roaring in distress.
Zoro looked at me with his large hazel eyes which had turned red with fear.
The forest was on fire. The quietude of the forest had in a jiffy converted into a rambunctious cry for help. Birds screeched all over the sky flying in all directions and shadows of animals flashed in front of my eyes running hither and thither.
Zoro quivered and looked at his family longingly. The fire was getting closer with every second and I could feel the heat building up. Soon, a wall of fire surrounded us crippling us completely.
As a circus lion, I was trained to play with fire. But, to be surrounded by gigantic bellows of fire was not something I had imagined in my wildest dreams. The other lions roared and cried and I was the only one who was calm in this hour of danger.
I had to rescue the pride. These were my people, I couldn’t let them die. I had wrestled with fire all my life and today I could not let my people succumb to it. I looked at Zoro, who instantly got the cue and climbed on my back.
Without losing a moment I jumped through the leaping fire. The fire had still not spread its tentacles all over and so we landed in a safe zone. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Zoro’s family looked at me with a newfound love as I jumped towards them hastily. It was now their turn to be rescued. I quickly found a big tree trunk and rolled it to create a bridge. The lions and lionesses though terrified, slowly walked at the other end while I made sure they were all safe.
I leapt out of the fire when everyone was away at a distance, safe for now. But, I knew the fiendish nature of fire. I knew we couldn’t dupe it for long.
Walking away from the fire, we moved aimlessly towards the other end of the forest. Zoro still walked next to me. Soon the morning sun peeked through the black clouds carrying with it the promise of a new day.
I looked around and suddenly the realization dawned on me that I was walking with a group of lions and lionesses. Just then the fiercest looking lion from the group roared away ferociously and looked at me. It did not take me long to understand that I was part of the pride now. They had accepted me.
Today, I was not just Cooper, a recluse, a battered circus lion, but a proud member of a pride. Hope is indeed a beautiful thing. It uplifts you and sees you through the scariest of times.
And just when I thought, things couldn’t get any better, it did. It suddenly became overcast and black clouds took over the skies. The pitter-patter of rain slowly swallowed the fire that threatened our existence.
The rains not only dispelled the fires that were burning outside but it also embalmed my bruised soul.
I was finally home.
Photo By: efes
This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here: https://writers.artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
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