Originally published in The Globe and Mail, Monday, Jan. 14 2013
Our trip to Tanzania’s Serengeti was magical, mystical and almost spiritual. But our washroom breaks were always full of excitement. Going into the long grass was fraught with danger, as we would often disturb some unseen animal The fear of encountering prides of lions in the grass was constant.
In a couple of spots, a crude tin shanty was set up for privacy – and on two occasions, a warthog and a buffalo decided to play security guard. The warthog had nasty horns, but was a smaller animal, and I could get volunteers to distract it as I made a dash to the washroom. But the buffalo was another problem altogether.
Early one morning, our guide informed us that there was a lone buffalo in the field between us and the shanty and extremely inadvisable to visit the facilities. But a girl has to do what she has to do. The rest of the group – including my family, retreated to the safety of the bus and watched with baited breath.
The buffalo, more dangerous by itself than in a herd, was a magnificent creature, big, strong and with an impressive set of horns. He saw me and snorted warningly. I did not dare look at him directly; nor could I run, for fear of provoking a charge. I walked with apparent calm, hoping he could not hear the loud drumbeat of my heart and the heavy breathing.
“Careful! Oh my God! Careful!” came the unhelpful calls from my husband and children in the truck until I reached the shanty.
But how was I going to get back to the truck?
By now, the buffalo was thoroughly displeased at this disregard of his authority. He tossed his head, snorted loudly and pounded the ground with his hoof.
The shouts from the truck changed to: “Don’t come out! Stay there!”
Hmm, not only unhelpful, but extremely unrealistic. I would rather face the wrath of the bull than be trapped in that revolting shanty.
I opened the door a notch and peeped out. The buffalo was now directing his attention to the truck. I calculated that if I walked ever so slowly, he may not notice me until I was about about four metres from the vehicle. I could then perhaps outrun him. Or so I hoped.
I gently eased out of the shanty and kept my eyes on the ground, lest a stone or twig reveal my presence. Unfortunately, the buffalo saw the unexpected movement and changed direction to face me.
I kept walking at an unhurried pace. The shouts from the truck were disconcerting:
“He is going to charge! Run! Run!”
I took a sidelong look at the buffalo. He seemed to be having a moment of indecision but I was too far from the truck to outrun him. In a strangely detached way, my brain acknowledged that I had never been this afraid. I kept walking, picking up the pace slightly. Nine metres. Six metres. The buffalo was gathering himself to charge. Four metres! I bolted and the buffalo charged. I still shudder to think of it. But no stone tripped me, no horns gored my back. I ran for my life and helping hands grabbed me from the bottom step of the truck and pulled me to safety.
I looked back. The buffalo had aborted his charge. He was less angry but still watchful. He probably thought we were the stupidest animals he had ever encountered. He was probably right.
When she’s not travelling, Prabha Madhavan lives in Brampton. She first wrote this piece some time ago and got it polished up in Brian Henry’s "Welcome to Creative Writing” course. She wants readers to know that The Globe and Mail chose the title of this story, not her.
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