Haina and M’baye the lion
Ages ago, in the Kalahari Desert, the San people and the animals talked and lived together. M’baye was a lone lion who lived a quiet life in the savanna. He lived close to the desert. This way, the other lions would not bother him, since they preferred richer and wetter grazing spots. One day as he was hunting, he met a very young girl who seemed to be lost. She was wandering aimlessly, crying and calling her mother. The night was falling and she was frightened. Her tattered clothes had a taste of misery. Moved by the child’s appearance, M’baye approached her softly.
“Where do you come from, little girl? There is no village around here. And what is your name?”
The tearful girl answered in a faint voice, “I am Haina. I am lost. I don’t know where my mother is now, and I am thirsty!”
In tears, she let herself fall to the ground, her whole body shaking.
At once M’baye decided he could not leave the girl alone, but how could an old lonesome lion help such a poor little girl? After reflection, he decided to put her up for the night, and see what could be done in the morning. M’baye lay down next to the girl and with his head he motioned her to climb on his back. Haina hung on to the lion’s mane until they reached the cave where he lived. There M’baye gave her something to drink and to eat and he watched over her throughout night.
Next morning, M’baye brought some fruits he had collected and then lay down to watch her eat. To his surprise, Haina nestled against him as soon as she swallowed the fruits. Did she have the intention to stay longer? Clinging to him, she fell asleep. Whenever the lion was trying to move away from her, she would just clung harder to his mane.
“Don’t worry my dear. I am here,” he whispered.
A few days passed in this way. Haina was comforted, snuggling against him and reassured by his whispering to her, “Don’t worry my dear. I am here.”
She would repeatedly answer, “Yes, daddy M’baye, please don’t leave me!”
She let him go out to hunt and look for something to drink, but she would hang on to the shadows of the cave until he returned. At night, when the prairie dogs and the jackals howled, her body shook all over and then she would burrow her face against M’baye, murmuring to him to stay with her.
Years passed. For years she was wrapped in his love, the love of her daddy M’baye, a love that helped her gain confidence in herself and in life over time. She overcame her fears and became as peaceful as M’baye. She developed the courage of the heart that lions are known for.
Haina was now twelve years old. She freely moved around her daddy’s territory and together they often went for long walks through the savanna.
One day, having gone farther than usual, they decided to spend the night at the edge of an acacia forest. Night was falling and in the darkness they heard some sounds, songs and drums; a village celebration was going on nearby. They approached the village, cautious to stay away from prying eyes. M’baye recognised the San village. Being gatherers, the San move around, following the rains. They had just settled in this place.
Haina felt her heart beat faster. The songs, the drum beats, all echoed within her. She knew them. Her eyes began to shine, her body tensed with joy and curiosity. She turned her head and met daddy M’baye’s loving eyes. They spoke softly to her: “Go, go to your destiny.”
She hugged him and ran towards the village. The San villagers recognized her straight away and led her to her family. There was much rejoicing. They all hugged her and the village celebration and songs continued with more joy, with singing and dancing around the fire.
Later in the evening, the entire village sat down to listen to Haina.
“Tell us, what was he like, your lion, Haina.”
“Infinitely kind and invincible,” she replied.
“Weren’t you afraid of him?”
“Never! He watched over me all the time. He protected me, he cared for me and he loved me. He is my daddy M’baye. He is all fairness, all kindness. He loves me as much as I love him.”
So she told her story with her daddy M’baye, the lion that saved her life. She told them what a marvelous father he had been, how he had saved her and brought her up. There were no limits to her praise for him.
Everyone was raving about such a wonderful story. As for daddy M’baye, he was hiding behind the trunk of a nearby tree, listening to his daughter’s tale. Hearing what she said made him feel very proud. There were tears in his eyes.
“Didn’t he have any drawback?” asked a villager.
“No …well, he did have one.
“What was it? Please, Haina, tell us about it.”
“He had foul breath.”
And all burst out laughing.
Daddy M’baye lowered his eyes. Feeling hurt, he went back to the desert and never came close to the village. Time passed. The tribe was about to move again. Haina was worried. Where was he? Why did Daddy M’baye not visit her?
One morning, at dawn, Haina went to his cave. She found him and at once felt better. She was so happy to see him. She expected a heartfelt reunion, but the lion remained reserved, distant, and looked down on her.
“Pick up a stone, daughter, and hit my forehead with it,” he said.
“What a strange idea! How could I hit you, father? No, that’s impossible. I can’t hurt you!”
“It’s an order,” he replied. “You must obey.”
With a heavy heart, Haina did as he wanted. Blood gushed from the lion’s wound.
“Now you have to nurse it,” he said.
So she washed the wound and dressed it, and then for ten days she dressed the wound of the lion in silence.
After ten days, M’baye agreed to speak:
“My skin is sutured now. Nothing remains of the harm I suffered, at least physically. The scar on my forehead still shows and one can say that it is healed. But when the heart is hurt, it does not show. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you have hurt the person you love. Once hurt, the heart takes time to heal and you cannot see when the wound closure is complete. The words of a beloved one are far more murderous than stones. Haina, you hurt my heart on that night when you were reunited with your family. Since then, my awareness has been veiled by pain and my heart is no longer open to kindness. Will you please cure the wound your words have caused?”
Hearing that, Haina burst into tears. Now she remembered the talk around the fire and her clumsy words about daddy M’baye’s breath. She had meant no harm then. It had just been for laughs. She could never have imagined that mocking words could hurt the one who had saved her life. She was really sorry. She sincerely regretted it with all her heart. It was true that she had said those words without even thinking of their impact on her daddy. Of course he would have heard about it, one way or another, as there are no secrets in the savanna. And stories change form and waft out like dust in the desert wind.
Then she cried. She cried wholeheartedly. Her tears gathered into a rivulet of wet light that filled daddy M’baye’s heart. Thus do our wounds heal, to give way to a rejuvenated sweetness of the heart. Daddy M’baye gave his daughter a big hug and they wept together over such a hard lesson.
As goes the Armenian saying, “Words, like arrows, never come back once they have been shot.”
But a sincere regretful weep can restore peace between hearts and turn into tears of joy.
Artwork by CLAIRE BIGAND
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