The Magical Night
For years our parents read about Africa and watched the DVDs of African Queen and Out of Africa compulsively. About a year ago, safari brochures began to accumulate on the coffee table. They’d sort through them and argue about the merits of one over the other. Mike and I listened and smirked. The furthest our family ever got from Minneapolis was a trip to the Black Hills. It was gross because Mike gets car sick.
So, you can image our dumbstruckness when Dad announced on a snowy March Saturday that they had booked us for a two-week safari to the Serengeti National Park to see the annual wildebeest migration. We tramped into the dining room behind him where Mom already had a fold-out brochure map splayed across the table. They began to describe the trip, interrupting each other and giggling like little kids. When we voiced concerns, like sleeping on the ground with snakes, and lions licking our toes, they pulled out another brochure showing a luxury lodge above the plains where we could sit on a veranda while eating lunch. Natives, they said, would keep snakes and other such away. The big plus to going in late July was seeing the wildebeests cross the rivers. And, said Mom, we’ll be close enough for a side trip to visit the Maasai.
Mike and I managed to show mild teenage interest.
However, that spring Mike’s environment quality teacher showed his class a film that got up close and personal with wildebeest. If lions didn’t get them as they ran by, crocodiles sliced them up when they crossed rivers. It did not look like a healthy lifestyle. I read a couple of on-line articles that pounded the safari companies for cheating employees and blocking customer complaints. Of course no one listened to us.
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We got to the place without losing passports, though Mike was sick during the six miles from the airport to the lodge. We settled in and looked at the view, which was impressive. Just about every day we’d be driven about in an open bus with our parents and the other old people staying at the lodge. We saw zoo animals without bars or glass to keep them from attacking us. Mike, who was too excited to be sick, pretended to shoot them, and I gritted my teeth when they turned toward the bus.
Early in our second week in Africa on a moonless night, Mike shook me awake. “Listen!” he said. There was a low sound, like someone was trying to blow his nose. Actually, a whole bunch of someones. We crept out to the veranda. On the plain below there was like a long blanket being shaken. The river was just in front of it and we heard splashes and bellowing. The blanket stalled and parted and came together humping and crashing into the river and beyond out of sight.
By dawn the wildebeests had gone. We never saw or heard them again.