The day we die a soft breeze will wipe out our footprints in the sand. When the wind dies down, who will tell the timelessness that once we walked this way in the dawn of time?
– From a Traditional Song of the San People1
I feel his presence. I sense how he moves. I follow his footsteps. My brothers beside me. I tread softly across the scorching sand. The sun’s heat burns within me. I find him among the acacia. A strong kudu bull guarding his herd. My muscles tense. My time has almost come. My anticipation grows as I creep closer. I am a predator.
My legs twitch like the Cheetah’s tail. Ready at any moment to lunge me into the chase. My mind is focused. I see only my target. I feel his heart beat in my chest. He is wary. He senses me also.
He bolts. My brothers divide the herd. I focus only on my prey. The signal is given and I begin the chase at last. My quarry is faster. He quickly gains the lead. But now blood rushes through my limbs giving them strength. My lungs extract precious oxygen from the dry desert air. They burn, but they will not fail me. Sweat drips down my face, washing away the heat of the sun.
The bull tries to outrun me, but I have a cheetah’s heart. The bull tries to confuse me. His tracks disappear as he flees into heavy brush. But I carry the desert’s wisdom in my mind.
The sun rises high in the sky. My prey tires. He is alone in a land of predators. This proud beast has been torn from his clan and is left fleeing for his life through the unending wilderness. If he stops, he will die. If he stumbles, he will die. If he gives in to fatigue or thirst, he will die. Yet hours have passed among the unforgiving sands and he still lives.
My limbs ache with fatigue. I begin to question my resolve. My prey is driven by fear of death, I by desire for life. The rise and fall of my chest, the rhythm of my feet as they beat the ground beneath me, they are the drumbeat of life – the cadence of a predator.
The bull experiences a different tempo. His hooves frantically pushing against the ground, his heaving gasps for air – his is the beat of survival. Each breath drains his energy and brings him a moment closer to death. But each labored breath with which I answer brings him a moment closer to life.
The sun begins to drop in the sky. I have one goal – to keep running. My body longs for water, food and rest. Every step requires effort. These final moments will decide the winner. My prey has proven his fortitude. He has brought us both to the brink of collapse. Soon the desert will choose the victor.
She is fickle, the desert, and harbors no preference for predator or prey. Only the strongest win favor. And everyday us mortals must once again prove ourselves worthy to reach the night.
The mighty bull collapses. His proud eyes meet mine. His expression is sad and wise. I feel his spirit deep within me. Yesterday he was the survivor. Yesterday his strength and experience was enough. Today I am the victor. Today he returns to the desert sands. But though he gives me life today, tomorrow is unwritten. Only one defeat separates the living from the dead. Only a few moments determine a victor.
I thrust my poisoned spear into his heart. His death is quick. I kneel beside him to honor his valor and ensure the desert receives him with honor. Today I will live. Today I will see the night. May I honor my prey’s sacrifice and face tomorrow with courage. For who can predict their own fortunes in the desert?
1Fourie, C. (Ed.). (1994). Living Legends of a Dying Culture: Bushmen Myths, Legends and Fables. Ekogilde.
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