The Encounter

The following story was my submission for the 1994 Yukon Young Authors’ Conference. There, I got to work with acclaimed Canadian playwright Guillermo Verdeccia, who first sparked my interest in dramatic writing. Happily, 21 years later, this important conference is still going strong. The 35th annual version is being held from April 23-24 at F.H. Collins. Some events are open to the public. Check out for more information.

This story is based on real events recorded on May 8, 1993. The sun began to set a brilliant red on the night of May 7, 1993. Tomorrow was the day. Both the boy and his dad knew it.

There was a certain level of excitement in the air and it was enhanced by the regular evening noises of hyena, jackal, bat eared fox, and elephant. But tonight a new noise entered the evening African symphony, and tonight that noise captured the boy’s heart. The boy knew it, tomorrow could be the day…the day when they could possibly spot “Beast”.

The day of May 8 got off to an early start. The boy’s dad was up much earlier than the boy, eagerly looking at the Wildebeest and Impala frolicking carelessly in the background. The boy remained in his sleeping bag, thinking and conserving his energy for the long foot trek ahead. Eventually, at 6:30 a.m. the boy decided to get up.

The morning was superb. The African symphony of the night before had again started this morning. Unlike the previous evening when the symphony had played deep, powerful and forbidding music, the tone today was that of a careless free-for-all, and the occasional owl sleepily hooting in the morning sun. It was a warm day in the Okavango Delta, which made the boy feel uncomfortable about the long, hot trek ahead, but at the moment he decided to enjoy the warm climate.

The breakfast consisted of tea and some hard cracker/toast-like things called Rusks. Then they were off. Led by a guide named John, the boy and his dad set off on a hike that would eventually prove to be five hours long. The march dragged on and for the first hour the boy had doubts that anything would happen. Then the boy realized it’s amazing how quickly you can change your mind… the growling began.

Impala ran, absorbed with something behind the bush rather than with the humans walking towards them. Their guide, John, made sure he had his small hatchet ready in case “Beast” was hungry. By now the boy was confused. Should he be excited or scared half to death? The three seekers advanced carefully until they reached a vast opening.

“Look,” said the boy’s father and the boy took no hesitation in looking as his dad had requested. Could it be? Could it be? The boy’s mind raced. Yes? Yes? Yes! The boy let out a quiet whoop of joy after all three people thought they had confirmed that this was indeed “Beast”. They advanced, led by John, then the boy and his dad.

Suddenly the animal caught wind of them but not before they could see that it was not “Beast” but a common impala. Now the sun was high in the sky. The perfect golden coin blazed through the African landscape like an eye through a clear glass window. The same African sun that gave the boy comfort and relaxation now seemed to be taunting the boy about this defeat. At the moment the boy hated the sun with passion. The three quickly headed for the trees where they would enjoy shade under the umbrella-like branches of the baobab tree. Once inside the trees, they soon heard noises again and the three people settled on a big boulder to watch and listen. The boy began to watch intensely, for any moment “Beast” could appear.

A single beast track lay to the right of the boy. The paw marks were slightly blurred yet delicately positioned, indicating “Beast” was moving quickly but carefully, as if it did not want to make any extra noise.

The three people shuffled here and there, trying to get a look at what they knew was behind the bushes. John, the guide, looked tense. The boy noticed this and also noticed the slightly dull hatchet John was carrying. This would serve as the only means of defense in case of an attack and it sent a shudder down the boy’s spine.

Then it happened! The boy had seen beast. It was nothing more than a tawny flame that flickered and died in just a split second as “Beast” burst through a small opening in the underbrush, but the boy had seen it. Then it was over.

The trek back to camp was a hard one but the boy was in good spirits, he had the right to be so. Then, five hours and two blister later, the boy returned to camp — happy, sunburnt, and exhausted.

That boy was myself and this is my account of the first time I had ever seen a lion in the wild , on May 8, 1993 in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. 

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