Saturday 15 June 2019

'Hyena' by Cheryl Powell

They come at night. Out of the heat-trembling savanna, dust shadows loping into the sleeping streets of Harar, tongues lolling and dripping, fangs grinning in anticipation of meat.

Every night the old man waits, like he always had, under the acacia tree listening for the scuff of their claws in the dirt. He will offer them fly-blackened meat, its rottenness seeping, for he knows the pull of their hunger.

There are always three: a mother and two cubs. The old man knows they care nothing for him and chides his own foolish attachment. He has conditioned them with meat, that is all. Only for meat will they approach his hands, allow him to bury his fingers in their thick dry coats and to rub their cupped ears, soft gravel laughter shifting in their throats.

They lick his fingers, their rough tongues brushing his withered skin. He admires their savage hearts; for they are singular, their lust only for blood and fat and bones. Yet, when they leave, he feels the wound of separation.

This particular night the old man does not move. There under the acacia tree with the offer of meat beside him, he does not hold out his hand to greet them. The mother steps forward in the dust and sniffs the air, and the cubs stand, lowering their heads, moved by strangeness. She raises her muzzle to the old man’s face, traces the outline of it, touches his skin gently and is silent.

On heaped haunches the cubs wait, studying the meat, smelling its gore, feeling that pull of hunger. But, on a signal from the mother, they turn away and retrace their tracks, back to the fringe of the city, into the darkness of the heat-trembling savanna. And they leave the meat untouched.

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