Possibly a Leopard (c)

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

When I was about nine, my parents took me to a camping site. We drove on mountains and between mountains, and near the banks of a river far below. The river flowed through large white and purple rocks, its waters clear. It sparkled at me in spite of the distance between it and the road we were on.

After some driving, the car stopped on the road’s edge. We exited and walked downwards through a path about a meter wide. On the left edge was a vertical drop to the same river. I dared to look for only a split second. We went down for about ten minutes before we reached the river. Then, to cross it, we had to step and hop on stones laid there by others who had come before us. Once on the other bank, we were in a different world. I stopped and listened to the river’s water moving and splashing, to birds whistling, animals gawking, and a dog barking and now running toward us. It came close and jumped around each of us. It had long brown and yellow hair, so long that it looked like it had a mane around its head. Just a few minutes later, I learned that this was Simba.

We walked by the river’s bank. It was sandy with a few boulders spread out. We reached the camp’s gate just a few steps after. The entrance had two columns of stones and two short gates made of metal bars and painted black. A sign connected the two columns. It said, Camp Oneness, and below that the line, Be One with Life.

I suddenly felt excited. I opened my eyes wide and looked into the camp, past the trail leading from the gate. There were many trees, large and small, mango and guava and orange and many other trees I did not know. All had birds flying and whistling through them. There were other birds too, like fowls and ducks.

And, there were tents, just few, maybe ten or so.

I ran up to where the tents were, wanting to look inside.

“Sara, wait for us,” I barely heard my dad say, I was too busy, my head was screaming, look inside, look inside the tents.

“Sara…” my dad again. Sara was short for Saraswati, my full first name, after the deity of knowledge.

I ran back to them, out of breath from excitement. “I want my own tent.”

“No.” It was my mother this time.

“Why not?” I yelled and squeezed my face, wanting to show her that I was tough and that I was ready to challenge her if she did not give me what I wanted.

No answer. In fact I think she was ignoring me, like the matter was done and sealed and I no longer existed.


He gazed at me in response, his incredible smile pasted on his face. My plea was working. The man loved me too much. He started turning to look at my mother, but I did not wait for them to have some weird discussion about why or why not. I ran back to the tents to pick the best one.

When I made it back there to claim what was mine, all mine, I decided I had to choose carefully. So first I was going to inspect each. I went to the top row and unzipped the first. It was magnificent. It was magic. Just like in the movies. Just like the tents where queens sat. It was love at first site. I knew it was the tent for me. It had some yellow fabric thing flowing from the top line to the sides, with green flowers painted everywhere. The sides had flaps like windows, two on each side. There was a wide log that looked like a small round table. And the blankets… there were blankets and a rug and round pillows, maroon, tumeric orange, purple, and violet, each with sparkling golden threads around.

I stuck my head out and yelled. “Dad. Come see my tent.” Then I went back inside to organize everything. I wanted some pillows and a blanket in the corner near the tree-log-table so I could sit and read and write. Then I would move the other blankets to one of the sides so I could look out through a flap when it’s night and dark and maybe I would see some stars or the moon. For a moment, I was mad at my parents for not bringing me there before.

At night, just before dinner, my parents and some other guests gathered and sat around a bonfire. The fire rose and flickered and danced; its flames rose almost to my height.

“Be careful Sara. Move back.”

Be careful of what mom? But I moved a step back.

The adults talked about stupid stuff. Simba the dog paced on the top ridge, near the jungle’s line, and barked a few times.

“What is he barking at?” I asked the fire.

“Probably a fowl between the trees, maybe an owl.” It was the person bringing us food. I think he worked there, at the camp. “But can you hear this other sound?”He asked.

“What sound?” I asked.

“Listen.” He pointed up to one of the mountains. “Listen. It’s coming from there.”

I turned my head so my ear would catch the sound. “It’s like roaring. But far. Very far.”

“Yes. Roaring.” He smiled.

“Well what is it?”

“Can you guess?”

I was growing impatient with this adult person, so I just stared at him and gave a don’t-do-this look.

“It’s a tiger.”

“A tiger? No way. Are you serious.”


“Is it big?”


“Would it come here?”

“No. Here we have leopards.”

“Oh, okay. But wait… why not? Why wouldn’t it come here?”

“I think that mountain is bigger, with more jungle, more space for it to roam and hunt.”

“Well, then how big are leopards?”

“Oh about twice your size.” He nodded and pursed his lips, then went away. But I wanted to ask him more questions, like what do leopards look like? Are they also cats?

I went to my dad and borrowed his phone to look them up. The pictures looked amazing. They had all these spots on them, like freckles except black all over the body, even on the head. And the ones near the middle of the head between the eyes were much smaller. Their eyes were beautiful, whitish light green, with black lines all around. An article said they were agile and nocturnal, brilliant and ferocious hunters, with a long tail, and often lolled and slept on tree branches during the day.

The fire burned, and I watched. I saw all kinds of animals and birds around it. These were not real though. These I imagined.

“Look up.” It was the same man who told me about the tiger. “There.” He pointed at the sky. There were hundreds and hundreds of stars.

“See the three stars in a line,” he continued. “That’s Orion. The Greeks named it after another great hunter, and one of its stars is Betelgeuse.”

We all went to our tents after dinner. My dad was a bit worried. He said he and mom would be right next to me, and a few other things about the bathrooms and the outside lights. He then gave me mom’s phone.

Inside, the tent was grand. The yellow was dreamy, the drapes arching down majestic. I was a queen, or a princess, or a girl in wonderland. It was more magical than in day light.

I lied down on my rearranged bed by the tent’s right side, lifted the flap, and looked at Orion’s stars. And near Orion there were so many more sparkling dots.

An owl hooted. Simba barked again.

Sometime must have passed because now there were no longer adult voices and it was very quiet.

On the other side of my tent some of the fallen yellow leaves crunched against each other. Something, or someone, must have stepped on them.

I did not move, waited for a few seconds and listened intently. Something made a low growl, then more leaves cracked and crunched.

A leopard? Could it be?

I dared not move. A part of me wanted to check, and meet it, and see its freckles. Another part was very scared. What if it tried to eat me? But it wouldn’t. It would only want to meet and talk.

I lifted the corner of my flap ever so slightly, just enough for the corner of my right eye to sneak a peak. On the opposite side of the tent more leaves were crunched. I let go of the flap and froze.

Mr. Leopard. If it’s you I want you to know I want no trouble, because I can fight you know.

The low growling now seemed to come from near the front of my tent. I turned my head and watched the zipper.

If the zipper moved, I will scream from the top of my lungs and scare it away. That’s what I would do.

I focused on the zipper, barely visible in the night’s darkness. My heart pumped. My hands gripped the pillows around me. The animal outside, whatever it was, turned and paced and crushed more leaves. I held my breath so it would not hear me, so it would think there was no food inside the tent.

I wanted to call dad, but the phone was on the log, on the opposite corner. I did not want to call mom, then she would tell me she was right and would never let me do what I want, but I had her phone anyway.

The zipper did not move. The animal was still by the tent’s front though, I knew it, I could smell it, I could even hear its breath. If it tried to come in or do anything funny I would throw pillows at it and scare it. Or I would scare it with my hands. I looked at them and curled my fingers. My hands were probably bigger than any leopard’s paws, and my fingers longer than any claws. There was nothing to fear.

The animal seemed to draw closer. It now must’ve been facing me, with only the tent’s zipped front flaps between us, and its snout trying to decide what was on the other side. I stared back. I would be ready.

Many more leaves moved and crushed. The zipper sounded loudly, the flaps opened wide and the tent was suddenly full of light, too too much light.

“Sara, honey, time to wake up.”

The leopard must’ve ran off. “Dad, you scared it away.”

One response to “Possibly a Leopard (c)”

  1. Wonderful story. Feels like a real family. I love the suspense.
    Remind me of being intense in India, and Tanzania
    And reminds me of the boy in the curious incident, talking to himself, boosting his morale, trying to understand the outside world. There’s a wonderful Stage version of this book.

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