Friday 24 February 2023

MOTHERS by Zuzanne Belec,spring water,


For two days we’d been on the run.  My daughter was barely breathing and her once sturdy legs were now faltering. Her bullet wound had dried quickly under the African sun – it was caked over with dust, but the flies still persisted. I’d been dragging and pushing her along since we witnessed it two days ago. That savagery. I had to get her away from it all, but she could hardly move now. I too needed a rest; everything had become so hazy – my sight, my mind, and my instincts. On the way to the river, I’d tried to get her to eat, but she just lay down on the ground heaving, each exhalation lifting red dust high into the skies. But we had no choice; we had to move on. When we finally reached the river though, she wouldn’t take any water. She just lay there, and I couldn’t get her up again. Her puffs of dust had become mere wisps of sand softly sweeping the ground. You must eat something! So I stretched up to pick the best fruit from a marula tree for her. And that’s when it shook me – a shuffle in the bush just behind me. I stumbled sideways and … then … then that horror from two days before … it all came back …


… our herd was drinking down by the waterhole. My calf and I were warming in the sun behind a lone baobab swollen thick with water. The last drops of morning dew glittered on the brown grass around us; it was just perfect for a morning nap. We were just about to fall asleep when dozens of shots ripped through the air around us. The humans! They rose up from everywhere – from behind the scrub, from ditches, even from the waterhole itself – firing rounds in all directions. Small babes perforated. Massive males fell instantly to ground, like teardrops hitting the sand. Blood splattered against our baobab, and blood drizzled onto the waterhole like soft rain. As we fled, my calf stumbled, but I pushed her along. We got away just in time as a truck with more humans sped past, towards the waterhole. The truck pulled up at the nine bodies of my family – some still alive, I could hear. I could hear, and I could do nothing! More shots were fired, single shots. Then the chainsaws began to screech.

I edged my calf on. A stream of bright red trickled down her back leg. They must have hit her too. But we had to run, we had to go on. I tucked my trunk under her and pushed, then pulled. For two days we struggled along like this. Only when we reached the river this morning did we stop to rest. And that’s when I heard that sound behind me.


Fear ripped through my whole body as I turned around. I thought it was the elephant killers again, I really did. But it was just a human tribeswoman. Alone, picking mopane worms from a tree. Then … I couldn’t help it … I saw that blood again, splattering against the baobab. And I saw bright red.


When I stepped back, the vegetation around me regained its colour. The oxpeckers fell silent and the doves began to coo softly. When the cicada shrill took to the air again I saw her. The woman was lying on the ground – awkward and still. I walked circles around her. She didn’t move. I went away. I came back. But she still just lay there. You shouldn’t have come this far out. You shouldn’t have! Then something stirred. Yes! You’re alive, you’re alive! But it was only the brown leaves beside her that lifted in the breeze, to settle again next to her cold, staring eyes. And I knew the woman would never move again.


Something gurgled faintly in the distance. And a strange, yet familiar smell made its way up my trunk. I followed the sound, towards something in the grass just ahead. It was a baby! A human baby. The woman too had a little one. It must have slipped from her blanket pouch when she ran from me. It was wrapped in a blue blanket and it wriggled like a moth emerging from a cocoon on an acacia tree. Then it began to whimper – just like my calf whimpers! I raised the blanket gently with my trunk, and it stopped whimpering. It was a girl, I knew. She smelled just like my little one! And it too had a few tufts of hair on top. It gargled, saliva bubbling – like my calf does when she’s frolicking about. And then the little blue bundle stopped wriggling and smiled. Smiled at me, in that nauseating air. I lowered the blanket back over the little human and walked away. I came back, then walked away again. The tribespeople will hear your cries. They’ll come for you, you’ll be fine. I took a deep breath and went to gather up my calf, to try make it towards the mound above the river. As far from the humans as possible.


But now, the humans are gathering below. The tribal chants are getting louder, they carry rocks too. And lines of dust draw close on the sandy road nearby. Shots have been fired into the air, their echoes ring across the valley. The ranger is on his way here now too. With his gun. To get the killer elephant. Let my calf live, at least. Take her, please. Here, wrapped in the blue blanket. Take her, take good care of her.





About the author 

The author is a translator and self-published author of a well-received debut collection of short stories. She grew up in South Africa and has two grown daughters. Currently, she lives with her husband in the heart of Europe. Find out more on 


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