“Chuma…” Lizzie’s voice caught in her throat.
She scanned the low-lying valley behind and the border of the forested bush before them, searching for a safe place to hide. A guinea fowl fluttered into a nearby shrub, flapping its wings in alarm.
Transfixed by the vagrant animal, the children didn’t move. Lizzie pulled on their arms and started running toward the trees.
“Hurry, we’ve got to run.”
With its young beside her, the mother continued to dart toward them. Lizzie’s heart beat like the pounding rhythm of a village drum as she forced them to keep moving. Esther tripped on a rock and stumbled to the ground, so compelling Lizzie to pick up the screaming child. Blood oozed from her knee, but there was no time to examine the wound.
The elephants drew closer. Lizzie grabbed Chuma’s hand and, balancing Esther in her arms, turned north along the riverbank.
It seemed a lifetime before they managed to cross the shallow valley and make their way up the hill. Lizzie stopped beside a gnarled fig tree and looked back. The male had given up its chase and now thundered off in the opposite direction, allowing the mother and her young to escape in peace.
Chuma struggled to catch his breath. “If I had my bow and poi¬soned arrows, I’d go after that elephant.”
Lizzie set Esther on the ground beside her. “You can’t kill such a mighty beast with a poisoned arrow.”
“I would take one of Tata’s hippo spears,” Esther announced, as she sat to examine her scraped knee.
Chuma fiddled with the plaited grass bracelets on his arm and frowned. “Father would no sooner let you carry one of his barbed war spears than he would suck the seeds of a baobab fruit.”
“Stop arguing.” Lizzie retied the ribbons of her straw hat beneath her chin. “There’s nothing to worry about anymore. Let’s go home and see if you have a new brother or sister.”
The suggestion worked, for Chuma started walking toward the vil¬lage beside Esther, who quickly forgot about her injury as she followed her brother down the beaten path.
“Ndawala, ndawala, kwiwe-e, kwiwe-eyè. I threw a spear, threw a spear, in the east, in the east… .” Chuma sang, pulling back a thick reed behind his head like a spear. “You still haven’t told us the rest of the story. Why doesn’t the zebra have horns?”
“Yes, do tell us,” Esther pleaded.
Lizzie flicked an ant off her arm. “Let’s see, where was I?”
“You had just told us that all the zebra had remained behind,” Chuma informed her.
Esther stopped and dug her toes into the dirt. “But why?”
Lizzie took the young girl’s hand. “Because they were too busy grazing, so when the zebra finally reached the place where the horns were being chosen, they found that the others had taken them all. And much to the zebra’s surprise, the only things left were a mane, long ears, stripes, and a big mouth.”
Esther giggled and pushed out her lower lip.
“The royal eland laughed at the zebra. ‘See what has happened because of your love of grazing,’ he said. ‘We have finished the horns, even the little ones have horns, but you…’ One of the graceful reedbuck held his own horns high and laughed as well. ‘Look at you—only a bit of color, ears, and drooping lips were all you could take.’ And their friends condemned them, telling the zebra that they were gluttons, and that their eating had deprived them of their horns.”
Chuma walked beside Lizzie, shaking his head. “The poor zebra.”
“The zebra were indeed sad because they had no horns,” Lizzie said. “And to this day, the zebra is considered a glutton, for it seems that he, above all other animals, spends all his time eating.”
Esther clapped her hands together. “Tell us another story, Lizzie.”
Lizzie’s heart warmed at the child’s enthusiasm. “First, you must tell me how the zebra really got its stripes.”
Chuma kicked a pebble across the path with his big toe. “It was Creator God, the God who formed the heavens and the earth with His own hands and who chose the pattern and size for each one of His creatures.”
“And who made you?”
“The same Creator God who made everything from the smallest flea, to our beautiful cattle, to the mighty banks of the great Zambezi.”
Lizzie smiled at the answer, but knew all too well that few people in the young boy’s tribe, save Chuma and his family, had accepted the truth of the Creator God as described in the Holy Scriptures.
“You’re exactly right, Chuma—”
Lizzie stopped abruptly, turning from the children to the source of the deep, male voice, startled when she saw the man’s fair complexion, mirroring the color of her own skin. It was the one thing that had always separated her from the tribe. The man stood six feet ahead of them, where the path merged with another that led to the river, a rifle poised in his hand.
Between them was a black mamba.
Her gaze dropped to the hissing sound, and she watched the olive-colored snake out of the corner of her eye. It was at the edge of the path, poised to strike.
Her muscles tensed as she squeezed Esther’s hand and took a step backward. She wasn’t sure who she should fear the most—the snake or the stranger with a gun pointed in her direction.
Watch for a change to win a copy of An Ocean Away along with a giveaway from the heart of Africa later this week!