‘We’ll follow them tomorrow at dawn,’ said the tour guide from the Hemingway Lodge, tipping his hat back and misquoting his bard. ‘In Africa everything is true at first light and a damn lie by noon.’
Harvester squinted through the heat haze, his eyes betrayed by glimmering reflections of the Serengeti. Out there, maybe the endless plains were vast water holes, but wouldn’t there be groups of impalas, gazelles, and wildebeest drinking their fill? A flock or two of pink flamingos? He lowered the camera, and rubbed a hand across his brow. ‘Can’t make out much.’
‘Call it a day, and rest up,’ said the guide. ‘That’s what our pride is doing.’
Mason King Junior from Amarillo lowered his rifle, a 416 Rigby. ‘Great for lions,’ he said. ‘And buffalo…in fact, any big game. Bring ‘em down sweeter than sugar candy. Ain’t that the goddamn truth?’
Harvester studied him: bull-necked, big-bellied, safari shirt soaked with armpit sweat, creased combat pants, snorting out bravado at every stop. Harvester turned away, and began to repack his NikonD5.
Next morning before sunrise, the guide stopped the Land Rover about seventy metres downwind from the pride. ‘We’re in luck,’ he said, lowering his field glasses. ‘Fresh kill.’
Harvester looked out and up at the sky. Perfect vision. A few vultures circling. Through the camera lens he could make out individual blades of long grass swaying gently in the breeze. Reminded him of maize fields. The lions, though, were half-hidden.
‘Closer,’ he told the guide. ‘I need a clear view.’
‘And me’, said Mason King Junior. ‘Get to it, mister. I’ve paid plenty for the shot.’
The guide seemed to hesitate, but shrugged and slowly rolled the Land Rover forward. Two male lions, shaking their resplendent auburn manes, were feasting on the body of a young buck – rebuffing three growling lionesses each time they approached.
‘Okay, good’, said Harvester, unwinding the window and leaning out of the cab with his Nikon. He could smell the kill – coppery pungent tang as he focused. Close enough to see the buck’s gory innards, close enough to see the lions’ bloody jaws, close enough to see giant paws swipe away the lionesses.
Behind him, the Texan was arming the rifle. Which lion on death row – it would be one of the dominant males – was devouring its final meal before execution? Harvester imagined the slug penetrating the lion’s body, a reactive jump, a painful roar, and a frantic tongue trying to lick away the wound, as life ebbed away.
He wouldn’t be killing. Pictures would be his trophy. An exhibition, even, at Carnegie Hall. He rattled off a few succulent snaps before he heard a commotion behind. Then the acrid smell of wildlife. Sharp claws dug into his shoulder, ripping his skin, exposing his flesh, as he was dragged screaming out of the Land Rover.
It’s all a damn lie, he thought as a shot rang out and darkness descended…