In The Shadow Of The Baobab


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Scene Title In The Shadow Of The Baobab
Synopsis A dreamwalker's intrusion finds Huruma reunited with her family in more ways than she expected…
Date November 7, 2010

Nants ingonyama bagithi Baba

Bright sun casts down over an expanse of open grassy plains, but beneath the shadow of a tremendous baobab tree's knotty trunk and branches, the air is cool and dry. Sunlight filters in thin shafts between the branches where birds nest and wings flutter, allowing the old gray-muzzled lioness view of their small-bodied forms.

Sithi uhm ingonyama

Across the veldt, with blue mountains at her back, a panther stalks the grassy plains. Rocks and stickbare trees bristle up from the plains beneath those clear blue skies, a window to heaven's shining light. The lioness in the distance rises from where she lays to sit proudly, her gray-muzzled snout raised to sniff at the air.

Nants ingonyama bagithi baba

Only on drawing closer does the panther see that the old lioness is not alone. Old as she is, she still has her pride around her. A younger lion stalks out from behind the baobab, thick and dark mane tangled with dried leaves, vicious scars covering one side of his body, eyes coal black, right front paw little more than a solid piece of chipped and cracked stone with earthen paw.

Sithi uhhmm ingonyama

A cub tags along at his tail, tiny and soft, his paws and ears too big for his small, lean frame. His big, expressive eyes stare up over tall grass he can barely see over, popping up onto his hind legs like a marmoset if only to see the panther's approach.


From around the other side of the baobab, an enormous black-furred lion joins the entourage, bulky body lumbering through the tall grass, but despite his fearsome appearance and twisted braids of his mane, his eyes display an uncharacteristic kindness and familiarity to the panther.

Siyo Nqoba

As the panther draws closer, she sees wisps of smoke issuing from the old lioness' mouth, as her rock-pawed son moves to sit by her side, cub padding along to move and sit before his father, ears flicked forward attentively, as if this meeting were something important that he did not yet understand the gravity of.


"Huruma," the lioness purrs to the pander, her eyes focused squarely on the black feline's approach. "The shadows are casting long, girl…"

Ingonyama nengw' enamabala

"Casting long and dark…"

A lion and a leopard come to this open place.

Even in translation, it's not lost. Simple words, poignant as ever. It's a familiar place, the tree. One that she'll always remember enough so that it appears as a constant reminder when she rests herself. Sometimes it is in bloom, sometimes dropping the fistfuls of fruit, sometimes half-bare, when there is a particular season of discord in Huruma herself. A tree for all seasons, long, short, dry and wet. It has been green and content as of late, fruit swelling amongst the leaves.

The tall grass does so little to disguise the shimmering, dark hide of the panther, winding her way over the ground with only a faint purpose, until the wind pushes her onward to the Baobab, and to where the other cats lie in wait for her. Closing in, the black spots under the dark fur ripple once on feline muscles before becoming faint, leaving the coat almost as a pitch black. Only white whiskers and eyes break up her face, dust on her paws and underside being the only hint that she is- in relativeness- really there. Huruma stops at the edge of the clearing around the tree, shoulders tensing and tail sweeping at the air behind her legs. A step to the side, and another, the cat's senses parting off to make room for the very human mind. The panther meanders closer to the lions, now, head level and ears relaxing on the sides of her broad skull. Her eyes find the old lioness first, looking down towards the matted grass. A moment's gesture of deference, before she perches down onto her haunches, tail laid in her wake.

"Since when were they not?" While Huruma does admit revering the elder in her midst, that does not mean that she cannot be cheeky about it."

"Long enough that your son loses his own tail and chases smoke," is the old lioness' response, a chiding look offered towards Dajan's heavily scarred form, brows furrowed. "But I know you have been worried, and what kind of gram'ma would I be if I did not allow you some peace of mind before the coming of the storm."

Lifting her chin up, the lioness offers a look to the black lion — Tao Bah Nabueze — nodding once and instructing him to move aside. There, behind Tau, is a wiry young panther of lean frame, scars cutting up one side of her head and snout, cutting across one eye.

Even like this, Huruma knows who she is.

"Mama," is softly whispered by the panther, but it's the human behind her in his flannel shirt and loose cut jeans that seems wholly incongruent surrounded by the wild as he is. But long in the face, red in the nose and tired in the eyes, Joseph Sullivan is not a ghost, not a figment, he's really here.

"Your boy could not find her any easier than he could find Mister Cranston," Etana's old voice croons with amusement, "so gram'ma did one right by her girl, and found your missing cub."

At eye level, the sight of any other cat is jarring; when the other cat is essentially yourself, in lanky, scarred miniature, it is cause for both alarm, and for mixed jubilance. Huruma's jaw slackens out from its tightness, only to close again, tongue swallowing hard on the roof of her mouth and feet pushing back up, hindquarters tensing in preparation. For what, it's not clear, though her inky pupils are deadlocked on the young leopard, until they contract again to take in the entirety of Juwariya's presence, and the man, absurdly unfitting, standing at her flank.

Etana's voice in her now pinned- confused- ears, offers little in the way of explanation, other than confirming the presence of not only Huruma's daughter-

-and doing nothing to explain the presence of Huruma's singular mortal father figure. The large black leopard's initial reaction is a step backwards, tail fanning from side to side. Uncertainty, amidst a rapid swelling of the knot in her chest. When she breathes out again, the noise approaches a huff of air, white eyes searching almost fruitlessly between Joseph and the cat he stands behind for some sort of signal that probably will never come as she demands it. Because of this, Huruma's bristling caution can only be replaced with sadness, something forlorn, and a yearning that bubbles up when her steps carry her forward at a snail's pace.

It is not the reaction that Dajan got nearly a year ago, in the least. Perhaps it was his pragmatism and openness to forgiveness, that spared his twin sister of it.

"I believe…" Joseph's voice tightens as he offers a wary look to the too-large leonine form of Tau sitting on his haunches at his side, "there— " Joseph's pale stare levels back on Huruma. "I believe there's some explanation on my part due to you, an' I apologize if it seems a bit unexpected."

As Joseph speaks, Juwariya's slim form slinks forward towards Huruma's, ears pinned back, eyes wide and focused up towards her mother, wary. Dajan is more judgmental of the meeting, his muscles taut and tail still, eyes wide as he watches his mother approach her daughter.

He hasn't forgotten their reunion, and his tension and protectiveness of his sister is underpinned by a lingering distrust of his mother, even now.

"I was visited, some months ago, like a man in a Dickens novel." Joseph's hands tuck into the pockets of his jeans, workboots scuff the ground as he walks, not getting any closer to Huruma than Jurwaiya has. "Visited by a fella' I remembered by the name of Ernie. Ernie Crum… but time, she had been mighty unfortunate to old Ernie. I'd made some mistakes, and Ernie had paid the piper for'em."

Lifting up a hand to rub at the back of his neck, Joseph closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly. "He'd forgotten me, forgotten what I'd asked him t'do. I guess it might have been better that way, Arnold was a good enough name, and old as he was… it suited 'is new life." When Joseph looks back up to Huruma's feline eyes, there's a tightness in his chest. For as unfamiliar as her dreaming guise is, there is nothing unfamiliar about her heart.

"He told me that my brother— the brother I buried with my own two hands back three years ago— was alive. Was coming for people, was coming for a girl he knew was your little one…" Joseph looks askance to Juwariya, then back up to Huruma.

"A good man wouldn't let that happen. Carnival may be gone, the dream may be gone, but a good man's always doing what's right t'keep his conscience clear. Even if it wasn't Samuel, evei if it was just someone in name only doing deeds wrong by my brother's name… Whoever— whatever it was, it doesn't matter. I promised you once, that you'd always have a home with me."

Joseph looks askance to Etana, then over to Huruma again. "That offer extended to your kin. So I did the best I could, an' I took her, an' I hid her. There's an old monastery, upstate in New York, where I've set down roots again. She's been there, God an' I watching over her. Maybe a little help from some friends too…"

Joseph casts a crooked look to Etana, who merely raises one furred brow as if to imply who, me? "That problem, she says, has done and resolved itself however history saw fit. Which means, she don't need my protection anymore, and you don't need t'be kept in the dark no more."

"Mtoto wangu." Huruma whispers, in almost forcible gentleness, to the the young cat now virtually at her nose. Her own ears swivel forward, eyelids halving and whiskers falling calm. She tries her best to listen closely to what Joseph says, all the while drinking in her daughter's presence with that shaded, colorless stare, and only when she is close enough does Huruma lower her muzzle to gingerly touch on Juwariya's skull, sleek with black fur and marked only by those faded scars.

Now that she knows what it was like to have a family- this reunion is that much different. Caring for other's daughters as if they were her own, and now, her own blood, however inappropriately created, has come back to her in the most convoluted way. But even destiny works in strange ways, even preparing Huruma for this moment where she would finally meet Dajan's twin. Not to say that she has realized this.

A murmur of air comes from Huruma's jaw, eyes flicking over Juwariya's back, looking to Joseph. When he looks to Etana, Huruma's gaze follows back and forth, faintly betrayed- but mostly, and notably, relieved. "I thought it was your Samuel." The panther's words quiver out at the elder Sullivan, strung as tightly as the knot in her throat. "Few people ever keep their promises t'me, much less …go above an'beyond." And she was so cruel in her abandonment of- well- everyone here, almost. Needless to say, Huruma does not think she deserves any breaks she has been given, and she can't rightly find the words for this, or her gratitude, or the overwhelming feeling of a weight having lifted off.

Huruma knows that he can feel it there.

"God doesn't require you t'feel like you deserve his charity t'be delivered into it," is something a bit more ecclesial in nature than Huruma was once familiar with, but greater men than Joseph Sullivan have lost less and still found a religious calling.

Juwariya offers a wide-eyed look up to Huruma in the way smaller animals do in the face of a predator, silent and perhaps just shyly so, but Huruma can sense that there's something not entirely right about her. It isn't a damage, a defect, just a simplicity in the way that the mentally handicapped were once called "simple" people out of a sort of backhanded kindness.

Someone who could have easily been taken advantage of, had guardian angels not interceded.

"My Samuel is dead, Huruma. I heard he returned to the soil the day the Carnival died. I trust that, I have faith that my brother would not do this evil. Samuel paid for his sins, for what he'd done that day. I don't know what was wearing his face like a mask, what vengeful spirit was willing t'hurt your loved one… but it wasn't my brother. My brother's gone t'God's side an' I understan' that."

Etana's brows furrow, her leonine features taking on a thoughtful look as she leans forward. "Shadows draw long and dark, girl. Dangerous ones with claws and teeth, hiding in the tall grass, blood in their breath. Usutu's seen as much, thick-shelled tortoise that he is."

"A storm is coming," Dajan warns, his voice coupled with the sound of sliding stones and rumbling earth, "Usutu has seen something, something terrible. There is a darkness coming that is going to swallow us all, one made by our own hands. The signs were always there, we'd built them. Now," Dajan's large head slowly shakes, "now we can only look ahead and see the lightning and hear the thunder."

How much darker can it get than nuclear holocaust, or cities tearing themselves apart from the inside out? According to all of them, much, much worse. Huruma's imagination is vast, but when something this unfathomable comes up, it is very difficult to envision. Huruma's muzzle rests a moment against Juwariya's head, considering both the girl, in her state here, and the words of her family. Her pale eyes search the grass with a turn of her muscular neck, tail hovering in her periphery. She mutters.

"There was a sound of thunder…" Huruma's nose wrinkles, the skin of her face folding, lips pulling back as she looks out over the grass. The expression of distaste fades when she looks back to the cats, and the man amidst them. "None of us'ave been swallowed yet." Which means there is always a choice in the matter, always room for another day to fight. You aren't done until you are dead, isn't that right?

"Until he has seen naught but darkness, his sight remains theory." If he hasn't come crawling back to them saying he cannot see anything, Huruma is not convinced. She and her view of precognition is a rivalry, rather than an authority.

"Until such a time as you tell me otherwise, or it becomes unsafe, I'm goin' t'keep your little one with me. She'll be safe, unless you count tendin' sheep t'be a dangerous passtime. It's a quiet life, but it's one she seems t'like an' one that gives her happiness."

Sliding her muzzle up beneath Huruma's jaw, Juwariya's response is more tactile than verbal, a show of trust and affecting that Huruma may not admittedly deserve after how she tried to take her little girl out of the world. However, Juwariya is capable of compassion and forgiveness, even if it may not seem like it should be given.

"The Government is puttin' a lot of restrictions on our activities back home," Dajan explains with that rumbling voice, "the people a'not happy. Registration has gone o'er fine, but now th' elected government, tha' the Americans 'ave in their pocket, are talking about needin' t'make special districts o'th capital specially for t'Evolved."

It sounds familiar.

"There's fear tha' t'Americans brought over the H5N10 virus to t'country, an' now it is goin' to spread. Vaccine is scarce, things are tense. It is not bad yet, but with t'right spark, it coul'be." Looking to Tau, Dajan's coal black eyes consider his friend carefully, then gives a slow now.

"Despite all of this, Huruma, we wanted you t'know tha' the MLF is still armed, still organized." Tau's voice is deep, much as in life, a rumbling bass beat, but lacking the earthy clash of Dajan's. "If'n you ever need us, we owe you our blood. Madagascar owes you its blood, freedom. Remem'ba this."

If she knew that the United States was not going to strike back, Huruma would bare her teeth and demand that they simply take the country back. Perhaps it would work, perhaps it would be disaster. They would not be the first African Nation to do so. In fact-

"Tell th'Americans t'go home. The Liberation Front are th'heroes. The Americans are only there b'cause of Rasoul's dirty laundry- they helped you begin to rebuild, an'now- I have th'feeling that they will not have th'capacity soon t'remain on th'Island. Beat them at their own political game. You must." Huruma settles her stare on her son, jaw set tightly and whiskers flayed. "Madagascar is an independent nation. Make your people remember that, and then, you will have them at th'sea. Remember that America began in that same way. Weed them." Hence, beat them at their own game.

"I am not the one t'need th'Front, Madagascar is." Huruma finishes, eyes turning off to Tau, examining both of the heavy male lions from where she stands. "What I need is for all of you t'make that country safe." For all the favors America has done her, Huruma is still not technically one of them.

"Madagascar will find it's legs," Dajan agrees with a slow nod of his leonine head. "We have endured the Vanguard, it will be much less to endure America and persevere. But she owes you, our 'omeland does, remember tha' an don'forget tha' I will always be at your side if you ever need me… for the good you've done." To make up for the wrong goes unsaid.

Tau's agreement is a slow, tired nod of his large head before he turns, away from Huruma in stoic fashion before making his way across the grassy plains, around the old baobab tree and into its shadow. Etana watches Huruma, in the way she always had; a mixture of judgment and scrutiny juxtaposed against affection and concern.

"No matter what home you pick," Etana opines, "it always turns into a battlefield around you. Always the warrior, always the wanderer," the old lioness' brows furrow as she lays down, resting her chin on her paws. "A rootless tree," she implies with all the veiled implications that is so commonly infuriating about her.

Juwariya needs no such supplication, cares not if her mother is a wandered and a nomad with no roots to anchor her anywhere. The look the young girl gives, even in this oddly surreal dream state is one of impressed adoration and unconditional love. "You gon'way now, mama?"

"Or a tree whose roots keep getting burnt off…" Huruma amends, as cheekily as she can manage in her current state. Her eyes turn down to look at her daughter; she cannot help but wonder what the girl really looks like, how much she might be Dajan's twin. The panther's brow kneads as best it can, and Huruma puts her head down against Juwariya's. To make up for the wrong, though unsaid by her son, is felt as clear as a bell in her chest.

"Yes." She murmurs, deep voice tremulous. Eyes flicker up to Joseph, past the curve of a feline back. "But I promise that I will come to visit you soon." It is a very bittersweet moment; incidentally, Dajan's willingness to offer a chance at redemption has given Huruma the ability to know just how important this is. Not only her son, but the girls she watches over, and that little baby that she found over the summer. Kasha prepared her for this. Prepared her to be able to give similar love to her own daughter.

"I woul' like t'see you… th' real you," and her wide eyes and child-like innocence imply that without the back-biting tones of a bitter child that knows she was abandoned. Perhaps in some great show of mercy, Juwariya's simplicity has rendered her immune to the pain of loss, or it is simply the patience of the Dunsimi family at its heart.

"Come on, lass," Mister Sullivan beckons, offering out a hand towards Juwariya. "I can already feel the tide of emotion in here, and soon you will too," is offered up to Huruma, "the guest making this meeting possible is tiring." Lowering a hand down towards Juwariya's snuffling muzzle, Joseph draws her over into the shadow of the baobab tree again, though his eyes remain fixed on Huruma.

"She reminds me of you," is worrisome at first, "when you were younger than she is now. But a wild cat without her claws," he adds with a warm, gentle smile. "She'll be waiting for you, when you're ready. She's been patient this long," Joseph admits with a scrape of his fingers through the fur at the crown of her head, "she'll be patient yet more."

Etana lazily turns her attention from her granddaughter and up to Huruma. "When are you going to settle down and find yourself a husband?"


Huruma lifts her head to look at Joseph, now, at length, when he begins to slip away with Juwariya. Cats cannot shed tears, but it is clear from the prideful look that the leopard is giving him, chances are that it is the case wherever she is sleeping. She would watch them vanish, if it were not for her Grandmother. The seriousness of what has happened is heavy on Huruma as it is; Etana's words, fittingly, draw Huruma's gaze away from Joseph and to her with a look of bewilderment.

What? The tail behind her swashes at the air, and Huruma can virtually feel her jaw jutting and her teeth grinding just-so. The distraction gives the other empath an exit, to say the least. Maybe Etana expected the flustered response, maybe she did not. Knowing her, however, she had to have known it was coming. Tired or not, Etana is still as sassy as ever, and Huruma opens and closes her jaw twice before anything hisses out.

"Priorities." In other words, if she ever finds one at all.

Etana's laughter joins Dajan's, amusement shared by grandmother and grandson at Huruma's moment of fluster. Good-hearted laughter of familial love and amusement, curling with Huruma's growing sense that someone if becoming weary, that someone is losing focus on the disparate threads of this projected fantasy, this meeting of the minds.

That is how Huruma awakens, in the dark, slatted lights spilling through partly cracked folding blinds from a neon sign outside of the bedroom window, sheets clinging to sweaty flesh, cheeks damp from tears, laughter in her ears.

It's still night-time out, but if she closes her eyes again, if she pretends with all her imagination. Maybe she can feel like she's right back there again where she belongs.

In the shadow of the baobab tree.

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