THE GAME OF LIFE
de Silva Wijeyeratne, G. (2007). The Game of Life. Living. September- October 2007. Pages 32-33. Volume 03, Issue 01. ISSN 1800-0746.
Life and death are all around in the middle of the African bush, in Kenya.
Life and death are all around Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne as he dines in the middle of the African bush, in Kenya
“Is it normal for an impala to have ‘made in Taiwan’ embossed on the side?’ I quipped in mock jest. I had nicknamed ‘our impala’ the plastic impala. ‘Our impala’ was presumably the same bachelor which had been foraging the night before at the waterhole in front of the Samburu Sopa Lodge in the Samburu Game Reserve. This was our second night in Kenya and we had accustomed to the idea that we did not have to speak in whispers at the dinner table. The wildlife was used to the laughter of visitors, the chink of glass, tales and reminiscences being told and re-told, drifting across the parched bushland to the waterhole. Other lodges may seem to be more plush and manicured, but we loved the Samburu Sopa because the dining and public areas sat squarely in the African bush without any hint of manicure from the gardening staff. This was Africa straight out of the books and movies.
The plastic impala stood still, bathed in an ethereal glow. The lodge’s night-light illuminating the artificial waterhole painted it a pale Sodium Yellow, mixed with a suffusion of cold white from a million stars on a clear sky. Nestlings of African Palm Swifts occasionally squealed from the dried grass woven roof on which their lame excuse of a nest was glued with bird saliva. Two Desert Rose trees shone brightly and gauntly in Sodium Yellow. Behind them the African bush closed in threateningly in ominous shadows with a few Accacia canopies shining in starlight cold white.
Black-backed Jackals had trotted around last evening. A slightly nervous air about them. Predator can easily turn prey in the African bush. Jackals have every reason to be nervous. The night is a dangerous time, leopards, lions and hyenas are around. The Common Bushbuck which had visited the water last night, was even more nervous.
As we began our dinner, our impala had begun grazing with the usual air of caution of an animal which may never see the stars shine again. But this night, its feeding had been punctuated by long pauses of it standing immobile. At each frozen interval, it looked as if someone had hit the pause button on an old fashioned black and white film. Finally it froze totally. By now the entire group having dinner had been distracted by the commentary of those of us having a facing view. A whisper ran through the group. There must be a predator. My Swarovski binoculars with bright night viewing was right next to my dinner plate. Not that I was desperate to use it. I had spent some time watching the jackals the night before. There was no need to be unduly excited. I looked around at the tired faces and imagined how the tiredness would vanish if a leopard were to appear.
‘I see it moving, is it not a leopard? whispered Marini. ‘Jackal’ I wanted to say but whipped my Svarovski’s to my eyes. Plastic impala now had blood and adrenalin flowing through it and had come to life. It was advancing with exaggerated movements towards the predator. A strategic ploy used by animals such as deer to tell the predator, ‘we have seen you and you will not be able to catch us, ha ha ha’. Well, a ploy used by those deer
big enough and well endowed with strong sharp horns to pierce a hunter’s heart, never to see the stars again.
Cold Starlight danced off the top and Sodium Yellow from its side, a big spotted feline. The big spotted one had not been stealthy enough. Wood screamed on concrete floors as the diners pulled back their chairs sharply and stood. Binoculars danced lightly from hand to hand accompanied by feverish instructions ‘the leopard is there, there … no no ….. there.
The game was up. A spoilt hunt. The wind gods cast the die in the favour of the impala tonight. Both hunter and prey will see the African stars again, cold and un-blinking, as cold and un-relenting as the arithmetic of life. One life must fall this African night for the hunter to live. But it won’t be our impala, now less plastic with the danger gone.
Lemon cheesecake for some, fruit for the others, just coffee for me. But before I could pour the milk, plastic impala stiffened once again. A hunter stood at the edge of the African darkness, in the threshold between Sodium Yellow and Starlight Cold, an elegant frame, with dark vertical stripes on its sides. The hunter melted away on slender legs. My first Aardwolf, a kind of hyena, an almost entirely nocturnal hunter seldom seen by visitors. Gone before I could even whisper ‘over there’.
Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne is a corporate personality who is also a writer and photographer who popularises wildlife. . E-mail him at email@example.com to subscribe to his wildlife e-newsletter.