It was just another hot, arid day in the elephant graveyard as the matriarch of the Kenyan clan emerged from the skull she shared with her mate. She deeply inhaled the morning air and observed the scenery around her, although she could see it was just typical graveyard landscaping; large, dust-covered elephant bones, spontaneously exploding geysers, and, who could forget, the lack of food.
She sighed; she'd been living in the graveyards as far back as she could remember, and knew living here was a challenge if not a peril. She grew up here as a pup along with a few very dear friends of hers, and it was a miracle at how they survived through all the famine, trifling amounts of water, unsuitable living conditions, and not to mention the occasional disease here or there. Her mother and grandmother had even lived and dealt with the same trials in the graveyards when they were pups.
And speaking of pups, the matriarch's thoughts were interrupted by a tingling sensation in her tummy. She smiled down at the slight bulge in her belly.
"You just can't wait to get out of there, can you?" She asked her stomach. She had been pregnant for a few weeks now, and was just starting to show. It hadn't come unexpected since the matriach was to give birth to the next one, and it was very welcomed. Plus, she was looking forward to becoming a mother.
But at the same time, she was a bit worried; the graveyards weren't exactly a great place to raise pups. What with very little food, water, and livable shelter of course it'd be difficult to raise one, or even keep it alive. But she knew with her mate beside her every step of the way, the pup would grow up to be healthy and strong. She happily sighed at the thought of her mate.
Speaking of which, he was just starting to wake up himself. He looked beside him, expecting to see her sleeping body against his. But when he saw she wasn't he immediately rose to his feet. He quickly looked around the skull until he sighed in relief when he saw her at the entrance. He walked over to her, a small smile on his face, and gave her a nuzzle. The female turned her head around and smiled at him, then let a sigh escape her nostrils. Upon hearing her, his expression turned into slight worry.
"Safia, you ok?" He asked.
"I'm fine. I wish you'd stop worrying Bakari." She replied.
"It can't be helped." Bakari replied while laughing with a light, nervous tone. He saw Safia smile at him while cocking an eyebrow at him as well.
"I'm just excited is all." He told her. Safia nuzzled her mate a bit more before turning her gaze back to their so-called "home" again. Safia was a strong matriarch, maybe one of the best, yet she still had her rare, doubtful moments. And this minute she was wondering to herself, could she really raise a pup here? She loved her pup the second she felt it kicking in her belly, and would do anything to protect it. She put a paw on her stomach as she thought about all this. After a few more minutes of thinking, she looked back at Bakari.
"Did you want a boy or a girl?" She asked him. He seemed to be in a daze himself but at her voice he snapped out of it.
"What?" He asked her.
"Did you want a boy or a girl?" Safia repeated. Bakari pretended to think for a moment.
"I wanted it healthy." He replied with a smile.
"You want a boy; I can see it in your eyes." She said while smiling herself. Bakari touched his head to hers.
"I want whatever you'll give us." He told her.
"Did you think of any names?" She asked him.
"Well, if it is a boy, and I'm not saying it will be, I was thinking 'Jabari'."
"Bravery; a good quality for an alpha male." She stated.
"What about you?" He asked her.
"If it's a girl, I'd like to name her after my mother. But I did come up with a first name."
"Well what do you want for a first name then?" Bakari asked her with a slight laugh. Safia smiled as she replied,
Just then, the happy couple happened to see three other hyenas walking by…
"Watch your step now. Tell me if you get tired." The oldest male said to the female beside him, who smirked.
"Rashid I'm pregnant, not ailing."
"You shouldn't even be pregnant! I'm almost a teenager; everyone's gonna think it's mine!" The younger of the males, who was walking behind them, stated in an annoyed tone.
"Now I know why you guys named me Maumbu; 'cause you were supposed to have another pup. Otherwise why would you name me 'brother'?!" he finished.
"Your father and I like kids, so we're having another one." His mother plainly stated. Then she suddenly cringed when she felt something kick her.
"Neema?" She turned to see her mate looking at her very worried.
"Really, I'm fine." Neema insisted. Neema was another pregnant female of the clan. The pregnancy was similar to that of her matriarch, only Neema had been pregnant for months now and her abdomen was well swollen out. She would always smile when she felt something moving around in her stomach, but sometimes she thought she could feel two pups kicking her.
"Hey, either of you guys notice that runt in Raziya's place?" Maumbu asked them.
"Maumbu!" Both his parents scolded him.
"What? I'm just sayin' it's hard ta believe the shrimp's almost a year old."
"You were no bigger when you were his age." His mother told him.
"And anyway, you shouldn't be calling anyone names like that." Rashid said sternly.
"Besides Raziya's still going through some hard times right now." Neema said.
"She's not the first female to raise a pup without a mate." Maumbu thought, knowing it'd be best to keep that comment to himself.
The three hyenas silently walked past her den, almost failing to notice the little gray ball curled up on one side of the entrance…
Raziya quietly walked up to the sleeping little pup on one side of her den. She smiled when she saw his body moving up and down, his little lungs filling with air. Despite his small stature, his mother could see he had grown quite a bit since the day of his birth. And she recalled that day quite clearly.
The first thing she noticed when he was born was his size; he was so…little. But even now he fit in her arms just right whenever she was lying down and would lay him in between her forearms to keep him warm while they slept.
She nearly shuddered at the thought that her pup was almost not born here; although Raziya and her parents were African, Raziya's pup was conceived quite far from Africa. It was a long story and she knew she'd have to reveal the truth to her pup one day; about his father, about why the clan would treat him so differently from her, about everything.
But she just smiled again and gazed lovingly at her soon-to-be one year-old son.
"It may take awhile for us to get used to this, but I promise, I'll make up for what I did, for you. …My Banzai."
A few months later…
All had gone well during Neema and Safia's pregnancies; nothing more than some morning sickness or strong cravings for strange foods (if there was food to go around) but that was normal. And day by day their bellies kept getting bigger and bigger, to the point where they nearly had some difficulty walking. But their mates were there to help them, as was Maumbu (to an extent).
Raziya rested in her den with Banzai one morning, while she watched a group of hyenas conversing some feet away. Banzai was pawing at a bug flying around them, swatting at it in the air. Raziya batted the fly away and held Banzai close as she rested her head on her paws. Banzai mimicked his mother's actions and laid his head on his paws as well. Raziya smiled; this was going to be just another lazy afternoon well spent with her son.
All was going well until suddenly, one hyena came running towards the group as fast as its four legs could carry it. After a few seconds of talking, the group looked surprised. Raziya raised her head up to see what the commotion was all about. The lone hyena pointed in the direction of the elephant skull that belonged to Maumbu, Neema, and Rashid, then quickly ran in that direction. The others were after him like a shot.
It hit her like a mound of boulders; Neema was in labor!
Knowing she would need as much help birthing the pup as possible, Raziya quickly go to her feet, gently picked Banzai up in her mouth and went in the direction of the skull.
Neema was crying out in pain from the birthing contractions. The females surrounding her tried to keep her calm as she heaved for breath. Her tongue became dry from all the panting, and she was starting to become dizzy. She had never had this much pain or lightheadedness when she was in labor with Maumbu, so why was this time so different?
"…Something's wrong." She realized.
Outside the skull…
Raziya arrived and placed Banzai on the ground beside her. He stared up at his mother with confused eyes as she looked around for any signs of a birthing taking place.
"They're in there!" Came a young male's voice. Raziya looked over to see Maumbu and Rashid not far away. Maumbu was sitting up near his father, who was pacing back in forth as he stared at the ground and murmured to himself. At one point Raziya heard him say,
"She never took this long with you."
Raziya picked Banzai up again and walked over to the two males. She placed her son on the ground before speaking to them.
"How long has she been?" She asked. Rashid brought his gaze from the ground and looked to her behind him. He turned around and sat up so he was facing her.
"She started this morning." He answered. Raziya could see he was extremely worried; his fur was a mess, his eyes had bags underneath them, and he started shaking when he stopped pacing. Suddenly everyone cringed when a pain-filled cry emerged from a nearby skull. Raziya looked at the entrance, then down at her son.
"Stay here Banzai." She told him, then ran into the skull. Banzai was about to follow her until Maumbu put a paw in front of him.
"Whoa there shrimpo. First rule of being a pup; always listen to your mom." Then he leaned down to the young male.
"And trust me, you do NOT, wanna see a female in labor." He then shuddered. Rashid started to scrape at the dirt with his claws very nervously. He could feel his heart pounding as his breathing became shallow and rapid.
He prayed in his mind that everything would be ok.
In the skull…
Raziya ran in to see a group of females all circled around Neema, who was on her side. She could see the female's tongue hanging out of her mouth, her eyes were dilated, and she would yell out in pain every once in awhile from the contractions. Raziya managed to get past the other females and over to her.
"Neema, listen to me; you have to stay calm. I've been in labor before; I know it hurts, but you have to remain composed. For the pup." She told her. She knew birthing was painful but this female seemed to be hurting more than usual. After a moment, Raziya saw Neema look up at her with pleading eyes. She understood, and moved to Neema's lower half.
"I need a couple more females over here." She said. Two females from the crowd immediately ran over to both her sides. Raziya looked down at Neema.
"Neema, on the next contraction, I need you to push, alright?" She said to her. Neema cried out in pain but nodded. The aching was excruciating and she gritted her teeth in agony. But she knew she had to do what Raziya told her…for her pup. Neema suddenly felt another painful contraction and cried out once more, but at the same time, made an effort to push the pup out.
"That's it; good girl." She heard Raziya say. Neema took a couple more heaves for breath again, then roared in pain as she pushed with all the strength she had. And then, the pain was gone. She looked back at Raziya and could see a smile on her face. Raziya looked up at her.
"You did it." She said. Neema sighed in relief and began heaving for breath once more, but a smile was clearly visible on her face. Raziya wanted to help Neema a little more and decided to pick up the pup that had come out and bring it over to her so it could begin nursing.
But when she looked down, she was first filled with surprise…then sorrow.
Rashid looked up when he saw most of the females emerge from the skull. He was relieved the birthing had ended, but then saw all their heads were hung low. Filled with worry, he ran over to them. Maumbu stayed behind with Banzai, both wondering what was going on. He looked at Raziya, who was in the front. She looked at him sadly, then closed her eyes as she shook her head. Now more worried than ever, he darted into the skull. Raziya walked over to Maumbu and Banzai, and waited along with them.
Rashid ran into the skull to see Neema lying on her stomach and holding something in her arms. She seemed to be crying. He walked over to her very cautiously. Neema turned her head at the sound of his footsteps and upon seeing him her expression only grew worse. He looked at the sleeping pup in her arms, then up at her. Now along with his worriment, he was a bit puzzled; the pup looked perfectly healthy to him. Then he saw Neema glance over to the other side of their skull. Rashid looked in that same direction, and immediately knew why his mate was crying.
He laid down beside Neema and looked at her softly.
"You didn't do anything wrong. I'm proud of you." He told her.
Knowing that something was not right at all, Maumbu looked at Raziya with unusually sad and worried eyes.
"What's wrong with my mom?" He asked her. Raziya felt that was something his parents should tell him. Then she suddenly looked down when she felt something brush against her. She saw Banzai with his forepaws on her leg, standing up and looking up at her with a questioning look. She didn't know what to tell them. Then, Neema's voice wafted out from the skull.
"Maumbu! Come in here and meet your brother." The older male's eyes widened and he quickly ran into the skull. Raziya looked down at her son, the same expression still presented on his face. She stood up and turned around.
"Let's go home Banzai." she said. The two hyenas walked back to their den, Banzai following Raziya the whole way.
In the skull…
Maumbu walked in to see his mother lying on the ground and his father looking at her, and whatever was in her arms, very proudly. He took a deep breath and went over to them.
"A brother huh? So I'm guessing it was a boy?" He said. Both his parents looked at him, before Neema showed Maumbu a small hyena pup cradled in her arms. It had two cuts on each ear and its tongue was hanging out of its mouth. The pup slowly opened its eyes and looked up at his brother. …At least, it was supposed to be. Its eyes were looking out in two different directions, and upon seeing Maumbu, the young pup let out a crazy, high-pitched laugh.
Upon seeing his brother, Maumbu's eyes widened.
"That's a hyena pup?!" He nearly shrieked, backing away a few steps.
"Well, I'll admit you didn't look like this when you were born. But being different is what makes us special." Neema said.
"Is that what he is? 'Special'?" Maumbu asked, still weirded-out. His parents glanced at each other.
"Yes." They answered.
"But that doesn't make him any less wonderful." Neema said as she lovingly looked back down at her newborn son. He smiled up at her very sweetly.
"We'll give 'im a name to suit him though." Rashid added.
"How 'bout Edward? It's ironic 'cause it sounds like some smart guy's name." Maumbu sarcastically recommended. He didn't really think his parents were actually going to name him Edward… until they said,
There was a pause.