It was chilly at 3 am, but it would be over 90 an hour after sunrise. I crawled through the opening to the blind, flopped on my belly and slid over to the side so there would be room for Paolo. He crawled in and kicked the covering into place behind us. On the other side of the water hole, Dr. Arnis would be scrambling into his hidey-hole. This was old hat for him; he lived at the research station here in Kenya. I was here on a grant from the London Zoological Society, and it was my first time in "the black hole" as Paolo called it. He was a student from Rome, but he had been coming here for each of the four days since we arrived. Dr. Arnis wouldn't let me come while I had my period: my musk -- as he called it -- would keep the animals away.
"Is nothing to see until sunrise, Cara." It never bothered me before, that my name was an endearment in Italian. But now, Paolo used it every chance he had. I understood him: he was 20, with dark good looks and a flashing smile; a head taller than I, his broad shoulders and washboard abs caught my attention during his evening workouts. I was older, but not that much, only 31. Besides I don't look 31, I kept reassuring myself: breasts firm, belly flat, long tan legs. Which you make sure you give him glimpses of -- as often as possible, dont you? We were alone a lot. It was hot and sweaty most of the time. Under normal circumstances, a twenty year-old had raging hormones. Here, in Africa, working closely with a "white angel", as he called me behind my back, it was a wonder he had been as restrained as he had, so far he had only undressed me with his eyes.
I could handle it. I'd been pawed by bankers in London clubs and by farm boys in Ireland and everything in between. Some came away from the experience happy and some sad ... depending on my desires at the time.
We lay in the cramped space, looking out through the glassed-over openings, my right flank touching his left. He tried to surreptitiously reach his right hand down to his crotch and rearrange himself inside his shorts. He leaned on me a bit as he twisted, and mumbled something about a rock on the dirt floor.
Just before sunrise, I nudged him. As the sun touched the eastern horizon, I could see the outline of a lioness, not 5 feet in front of me. She was dead still and low in the grass. I followed her gaze toward the water: a small group of antelope were there. Suddenly they were flushed toward the waiting huntress by a pair of lions on the other side. The lioness leapt forward into the small pack and sank her fangs into the neck of an antelope buck.
The buck died quickly, under the onslaught of the three lions. It was beautiful and brutal. And it was all RIGHT HERE, not 10 feet in front of me. I could smell the lions -- they were not at all like the dusty, musty, slothful creatures we had at the zoo. They radiated savagery, power. Their ribs were visible, though they looked healthy enough. They were upwind and I could smell their sweat, mixed with the urine and feces that had come from the antelope at the moment of his death. They ripped great strips of flesh from the just dead buck, swiping at each other when they got too close. Blood covered the muzzles of the three lionesses as they tore into the beast, growling in a vicious undertone as they ate. I couldn't believe how much blood there was. It ran in rivulets down the shallow bank toward the water.
I could see across the water; already activity was returning to normal. Small groups and individuals returned to drink before the sun began its daily bake. Well, as normal as possible, if you were the prey and the top of your food chain had just done its bloody job 30 yards away.
The trio were suddenly silent, and then, just as suddenly, crouching down and snarling ... hostile but sotto-voce. A large male sauntered calmly into the scene from our left. He must have walked nearly on top of the low hump created by the wood and metal blind. He dwarfed the lionesses, and walked toward the carcass with a proprietary air. "The lion's share" they call it. Well, he was here to take his.
I had heard lions growl before -- captive lions, circus lions, zoo lions that had all the survival needs driven out of them by endless days of pre-slaughtered slabs of horse flesh. And I had heard the lionesses growl just after the kill. But when this fellow spoke, the world listened. He looked at the breakfast his mates had prepared for him, ignoring their snarling, and made a pronouncement that left no doubt about ownership. The rumble erupted from him, and the earth shook -- literally. It was the loudest, most powerful thing I had ever heard from a natural creature. Wherever I touched the earth, I vibrated. It reverberated in my bones. When it was over, the stillness rang in my ears.
I looked at Paolo, who returned my stare with round eyes and open mouth. He smiled and pulled my ear close to his lips. "Magnifico, yes?" His breath was hot on my ear, my neck and my jangled nerves twitched down to my toes.
The lion leapt over the body and tore into the abdomen with his huge mouth. All but one of the lionesses retreated from the carcass and began their cleanup. Paolo and I lay frozen.
I glanced up at the sky and began to feel the heat. I began to shuck my sweatpants off. Paulo rolled up on his side, head propped on his hand, to watch me wriggle. I struggled a while, waving off his offer of help. I can take my own damn clothes off, thank you. But, it was not going to happen, I decided, and looked at him. He bent at the knees, until his head was at my waist level. As he reached down to pull my pants down over my boots, he looked up at me, catching me watching him thru the valley between my breasts. Handing the pants to me, he laughed. "Wait, Cara. I am helping." He pulled my arm straight and help me slip the jacket off. I was more comfortable in what I thought of as my "Africa clothes": white cotton T-shirt and baggy khaki shorts.
"This is pretty cramped, isn't it?" I smiled my thanks at him. "Can I?" And I gestured toward him.
"Grazie, Cara. It was easier when I was here alone, but it is more fun with you." Charming. On the make. Wiseass. His warm-up pants were more practical than mine: long nylon zipper from ankle to waist. Where does one buy something like that? I wondered.
His muscles rippled under the skin as he pulled his shirt up. He was bare-chested under the sweatshirt, and I had a chance to admire the broad smooth planes of his muscular olive back from close range. His maleness, like the lion's, oozed from his skin, I could smell them both. He caught me staring at him and smiled. Self-confident bastard. We balled the clothes under our chins and resumed watching.
"Paolo, how long do we stay here?" I whispered, bringing my head near his. There were hungry lions only 10 feet away, and I wasn't interested in attracting their attention.
Why was I asking him? He had only been here four days. Great! Now I've lost the power of independent thought. He shrugged. "Until the master," he nodded at the cat, "is done."
He ate. As with most wild animals, his ability to concentrate on the task immediately at hand was perfect. He looked nowhere else, did nothing else. He ate. When done, he yawned massively, cleaned his face with his tongue -- it must have been 8" wide -- laid his head on his paws and shut his eyes. The girls, as I had come to think of them, resumed their meal. We might be here a long time.
"Shhlluurrp!" I jerked my attention from the cats to Paolo. Over the minutes, I had become accustomed to the ripping, snarling lion-breakfast noises. Paolo was eating an orange. He mugged a smile at my surprise and offered me some. I hadn't realized how long I had lain in the same position, nor how long it had been since I had eaten. I stuffed the orange section into my mouth. It exploded in flavor and juice ran down my chin. I closed my eyes and a small moan escaped from my throat. "Cara, Cara," he laughed at me, "you are hungry too." He wiped my chin with his thumb. It was rough, callused and dirty. I was embarrassed for the second time to be treated like a child by this ... this ... BOY.
We watched. Time passed slowly as the lionesses pulled at the carcass. The sun beat down on our shelter and it was getting hot. I looked at Paolo: sweat was rolling down his torso. I could feel my T-shirt sticking to my back. I was tired from laying on my stomach. I rolled on my side to look at him. Might as well get to know him a bit, I thought. As I opened my mouth, he looked at me and slammed his hand over his mouth to stifle the laugh.
"I am sorry, Cara. But you are looking at me twice." Huh? I gave him a look -- the look -- this look had shriveled more than a few oh-so-fragile male egos. This boy was too ... innocent? honest? self-confident? ... to be taken aback. He gestured at my chest. I looked at myself. The sweat had run down my torso, too. It had pooled at the ends of my breasts where the shirt was (a) nearly transparent and plastered to my breasts, (b) smeared with dirt except© where my nipples stood straight out against the fabric. It did look like a large set of eyes with dirty circles around them.
What the hell, they're just tits. They're the only ones I have, and I'm not ashamed of them. In fact, I was rather proud of them. As I looked down at my nipples, I could feel them against the shirt. Mmmm, not bad.
"If you can bring your attention up just a little, please?" He looked at my face with a sheepish grin.
.... There is more of this story ...