Grouchy Little Monsters
By Sue Tidwell
Grrrrrrrr, hiiiiiiisssss! Ear-piercing snarls slashed through the tent walls as I lay like a sacrificial lamb. Alone. Rick had stayed up talking with Rod, leaving me to brave the beastly symphony on my own. Surely, I thought, I could handle a measly hour without my almighty protector by my side. Besides, he was close. Surely he’d come to my rescue if I needed him.
After dodging our quota of bat feces for the evening, Sue and I had decided to call it a night, leaving the menfolk by the fire to combat the guano attack on their own.
While Rick’s calm, competent presence always filled me with a sense of ease, it gave me even more peace of mind in Africa. You know, a place where death “takes a thousand forms” as Capstick put it. Without Rick in the tent, I was a bit more on edge.
Just moments before the terrifying screeches surfaced from the riverbed, I had been lying on my cot, exhausted but vigilant, listening to the familiar sounds of the night — bellows, chirps, cackles, hee hees, grunts, whistles, squeaks. Slightly comforting was the lack of Simba’s easily recognizable umphhs. That part of the serenade typically didn’t come until later.
Then, out of the blue, the harrowing high-pitched vocals of two cats — two large cats — shattered the relative peace. Instantly, I knew two leopards were engaged in a fierce battle. Surely it could be nothing else.
A similar ruckus had exploded just outside our bedroom window in Idaho a few years back. Thinking two mountain lions were actually fighting 10 feet from my bed, I peeked cautiously through the curtains to investigate. Instead, I saw Jinx, our panther-sized tomcat, savagely driving off a newcomer. If I hadn’t seen the battle with my own eyes, I would have never believed that two domestic cats could create such blood-curdling sounds. Once I grasped the situation, I pounded on the window, distracting Jinx, allowing the small intruder to make a run for it.
Not only did the scuffle put a whole new meaning to the words cat fight, it answered why our humble abode wasn’t plagued with stray or “dropped off” cats like so many country homes. Jinx was the answer to that mystery.
As loud and fierce as that battle was, it was nothing compared to the skirmish taking place outside our tent in Tanzania. I jumped up, ran to the zippered screened door, screaming for Rick. No way was I stepping outside my canvas sanctuary.
Rick, however, didn’t show. Instead, my urgent pleas brought Joel scrambling towards me from his sleeping area behind the dining hut. Through the screen, I watched our unarmed host advance hastily towards me. Seeing that he had nothing to protect himself, I frantically cried “Joel, go back, Go back! Leopards are fighting!” My calls only slowed him a bit. Even more urgently, I again screamed “Joel! Stop! Go back! Go get help!”
As Rick’s Grandma Alice used to say, he listened like shit on a barn door. In other words, he didn’t listen one teensy-weensy bit. He continued his approach, bypassed our tent, and skulked carefully towards the sounds of vocal murder.
By that point, I was panic-stricken. I was sure that Joel, who I had absolutely fallen in love with, was going to be ripped to shreds right in front of my very eyes. Like a ping pong ball, I bounced between screen windows in the tent. One opening gave me a view of what was sure to be a leopard making mincemeat out of Joel. The other window gave me a view towards the patio as I continued to scream for Rick at the top of my lungs. I’d dart to one window, peek at Joel; then bolt back to the other screen to yell for Rick. Nothing. Back and forth again.
I was beside myself; terrified to step one foot from my little refuge but horrified at the possibility of watching our enchanting storyteller and comedian get torn to smithereens. Sweat, resulting from my maniacal tizzy, rolled off of me like the water over Niagara Falls.
Finally, Joel’s shoulders relaxed, he turned, and ambled towards my tent: “Ahhh. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s only honey badgers fighting.”
Well, gee-whiz, that was just swell. The medium-sized member of the weasel family is known for its super-sized attitude. Basically, the only thing sweet about honey badgers is the fact that they love feeding on honey and honeybee larvae. Other than that, they are pure nastiness. Despite its small size, the honey badger has a reputation for being, pound-for-pound, Africa’s most fearless creature.
Still, I was quite happy to know that honey badgers were brawling in the riverbed — not leopards. Badgers are a handful, but at least they were less likely to transform Joel into scraps from a woodchipper.
During this whole nerve-racking ordeal, I saw neither hide nor hair of my knight in shining armor. At least, not the one I married. Still, it baffles me that no one but Joel heard my frantic screams. After all, I’ve never been accused of having a delicate voice. Yet, somehow, Rick and Rod — tranquilly smoking cigars, reliving the day’s events, and dodging volleys of popo feces — were clueless. The garish cries of a crazed woman and two battling beasts had melted in with the rest of the sounds of the night. A typical evening under Africa’s moonlit skies.