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I need an aspirin, I said in my head. The thought of going to Africa was bad enough, but the plane ride was ten times worse! There was a baby crying the whole way, and the mother had earphones plugged into her ears. She was not trying to comfort the poor thing! Plus, the food tasted like plastic toys you get in fast food chains! Oh, how I wished I was back in London!
I was so annoyed that I was going to that stupid boarding school. My parents wanted me to be in Africa to “enjoy nature”. And like I can’t do that in England!
Anyway, it was only June third, so I had seventy-eight days, in counting, to “get used to my surroundings before school” in my father’s words. I figured I’d go to the jungle, because if I had to go to Africa, I’d want to see the beautiful animals that resided there. It would be better than meeting the other freaks whose parents wanted to get rid of.
Finally, I was in Africa. The airport was puny and had only a few one plane hangars. I took a cab to Akoi Girl’s Academy. My room was disgusting! It was full of dust and dirt. The bed looked like it had been there when the school was first opened in 1923. I did not want to stay long, so I put my bags down and left.
The halls of AGA were decorated with beautiful paintings of tigers and lions and deer-like animals. Every few meters, a sparkling diamond chandelier would jut out of the ceiling. The floor was a glossy oak, no dust and no creaky boards. The door was a shiny glass and I could glance out and see the open plain with just a tiny path. So I stepped out into the warm sun and followed the sandy path.
I spotted some of the hoofed animals that were in the paintings. They were graceful as they moved about. They hopped and skipped and galloped across the savannah. All of a sudden, they lifted their heads in unison and ran off. That was when I found a cheetah go after the animals. After what was only maybe thirty seconds, the cat had a meal.
As I continued along, I beheld so many other creatures. Giraffes reached the highest branches of the acacias. Elephants with long, gray trunks bathed themselves in the dusty soil. Hyenas chased wildebeest, while lions baked in the mid-day sun. Zebras paraded across the plain, their stripes all blending as one.
Eventually, the trees became more densely packed that I found myself in a lush forest.
Birds flew past my nose and monkeys playfully swung from the tall, emerald trees. It was very dark, and at this point, I was without a doubt thirsty. It was real foolish of me to not have brought a bottle of water.
Without warning, I heard some clamor in the bushes, when a handsome but vicious-looking tiger jumped out, jade eyes glowing. His muscular build was almost as intimidating as his snow-colored teeth. I screamed as loud as all of the birds in the forest combined. I awkwardly turned around to rush back to Akoi.
“I’m lost!” I bellowed into the loneliness. I found myself bounding in circles. I forgot my thirst, for I was only worried about that tiger.
“I can help.” I heard a voice from behind me. I twisted around to check what it was, and gasped.
The tiger laughed pleasantly. “I am nothing to fear! I only wish to help. What is your name, girl?”
“L-L-Lydia Ashby,” I stuttered.
“Welcome, Lydia. I am named Kwahu. And this,” Kwahu gestured around him with his long, stripped tail. “This is my forest.”
“Well, Kwahu, it is,” I swallowed. “Nice to meet you. I-”
“You are probably wondering how I am talking,” the cat interrupted. “Well, I am the king of the jungle, and thus I must be multi-lingual. I need to know Human, Bird, Cat of course, Deer, and other animals like Elephant and Crocodile. Dog is optional.” He winked.
“So, I am not an oddball?” I asked in disbelief.
Kwahu laughed deeply. “Of course not, Lydia! You must be parched! Come along.”
As I followed, the tiger brought me through the forest. He chirped to birds as we passed. Finally, he announced that we were at our destination.
“Oh my,” I whispered in awe. It was a lovely oasis. There was a waterfall that flushed into a babbling brook. There were gorgeous acacia trees that stretched so high, I thought they reached the heavens. African violets surrounded the compact but beautifully clear pond. And the best part was the quietness except for the songs of the red and yellow barbets and the gurgling waters. It was all harmonious and tranquil.
“Nice, isn’t it?” Kwahu got me out of the trance. “Lydia, you may stay as long as you like until you want to go home. All I ask of you is for you to hunt your own food, for it is hard enough for me to fend for myself. I have been collecting spears just in case, so you may use some.”
I smiled, a little more comfortable. “Thank you, but I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Oh, not at all!” the tiger said. “It has been kind of lonely. I talk to the birds, but sometimes they are afraid I will eat them. The tigers are territorial, and the others fear me. Stay as long as you please, but when you want to leave, just alert me. I will help you home.”
“Thank you, Kwahu.”
I was there for about three weeks. The water was pure and crisp. The impala I learned to catch tasted very similar to the stringy meat of venison.
I really became close with Kwahu. We told each other anything friends of many years would. We played happily in the river. He taught me how to speak bird, too. It was also fun to chase the gazelle that would wander into the forest.
One day, in the third week, Kwahu said, “Lydia, you’re my best friend.”
I smiled. “You’re my best friend, Kwahu.” There was a silence for a while as we looked at the barbets. “What will happen when I have to leave?”
“I mean, I will have to go back sometime. I have parents, and I have to go to school, but…”
He cocked his head. “But what?”
“But, I want to stay, I really do, but I can’t.”
Kwahu nodded. “I understand. Tomorrow, I will take you home. Still, I will keep you safe for the rest of your life, you can count on that. I always keep promises.”
I held back tears. “Thank you, Kwahu.”
That night, I had trouble falling asleep. I have to go. It’s for the better. I will be okay. He will be okay. He always keeps his promises.
“Wake up!” Kwahu shook me out of my slumber. “Wake up, Lydia! Poachers!”
I shot up. “Poachers?”
“Yes!” the cat said nervously. “I can smell them.” We both heard a gun shoot in the distance, and the two of us flinched. “And hear them! Stay here, I’ll go after them!”
He turned to go away. “Wait!” He stopped. I went over and gave him a hug. “I love you, Kwahu.”
He licked my face with his huge, sand paper tongue. The tiger put his immense paw around my shoulder. “I love you too, Lydia.” Kwahu turned around and raced out of the hidden wonderland. The guns continued to explode in the distance.
I waited and waited and waited.
To this day I miss him. I still stay in the private oasis he and I shared, knowing if I leave I would get lost and never make it to Akoi or the sanctuary. My parents are probably nervous, and they must have sent out searches for me. I have been here for about four months. I get scared at night sometimes, and when that happens I remember the big, lovable tiger and his promise to keep me safe.