Elephant topped the rise to see all the other animals gathered around the watering hole. It seemed like there was some kind of commotion at the water’s edge, but elephants have dreadful eyesight, so he could not quite make out what was going on. There certainly was a lot of noise – the wild dogs were yelping, the hyenas were giggling, the wildebeest were grunting, the buffaloes were snorting, the cheetahs were growling and every other animal was making whatever sound they made. Elephant had to trumpet at the top of his voice to make himself heard over this ruckus. ‘Hello, hello, hello. What’s all this? What’s all this?’ he said when they settled down.
The animals at the water’s edge drew back, allowing Elephant to see the Prickly Pear Boys, the savannah’s most notorious troop of baboons, lounging in the shallows.
‘What do you guys think you’re doing?’ said Elephant. ‘People have to drink here and you’re muddying up the water.’ Pink-Butt, the troop-leader, glanced at Elephant and gave a great yawn, briefly baring his massive teeth – a very rude gesture in the animal kingdom. Elephant blinked myopically at him. He couldn’t believe this. Who did these upstarts think they were?
‘They’ve been here all afternoon, Elephant,’ squeaked a voice from below. It was Perry the field mouse. Elephant let Perry climb on his trunk and held him up close so he could see him. ‘If someone tries to get close to the water they start throwing them with mud. No one has been able to get a drink all day.’
‘Please, Elephant, can’t you do something?’ This was Brenda the meerkat, all the kids in tow. ‘The kids are whining my ears off. They can’t go long in this heat without a drink.
‘What about the croc-squad?’ said Elephant. ‘Why haven’t they chased the Boys away?’
It was Perry who answered. ‘They’re…tied up.’
‘What do you mean “tied up”? All they ever do is lie around in the sun and catch a springbok every few weeks. What else do they have to do?’
‘No, I mean literally tied up. Look.’ Elephant had noticed the younger baboons jumping into the water off a raft in the middle of the watering hole. He squinted against the sunlight and now saw that it was, in fact, four crocodiles lashed together with vines. ‘We have no idea how they managed that,’ Perry answered before Elephant could even ask the question.
Elephant could not believe his eyes. The croc-squad was the meanest bunch of lizards this side of the Congo. How on earth did the Prickly Pear Boys get them tied up like that? One thing was certain: there would be big trouble when those four crocs got loose. He realised everyone was looking at him. He hated this. Just because he was the biggest that did not automatically mean it was his job to solve all their problems. He turned around and started back up the rise, Perry still on his trunk.
‘What’re you planning, big guy?’ asked the mouse.
‘Who says I’m planning anything?’
‘I says, cause I know you. Thick skin or not, you’re a big softie and won’t let the others go without a drink, so what’s the plan?’
Elephant stopped at the top of the hill and turned back to the watering hole. The baboons were camped out all around it. The other animals were staying just outside of flinging-distance – mud was unpleasant, but baboons flung other stuff too if provoked. Besides, Pink-Butt and his enforcers had some wicked teeth and no one wanted to risk their lives for a drink; net yet, anyway. But the sun was setting. The Pride would be about soon and the animals were getting anxious. ‘Where’s Otto?’
‘Right here, boss,’ a voice answered by his knee. ‘Thought you’d be looking for me. What’s the plan?’
Elephant waited for his heartbeat to return to normal. He wasn’t afraid of otters, but you never saw Otto until you almost stepped on him. Elephant did not like the idea of stepping on friends. ‘Hello, Otto. Think your boys can get the croc-squad loose?’
‘Sure thing, boss. We’ll chew those vines through in a jiff. The trick’s going to be getting past those stupid monkeys.’
‘We need some kind of distraction, get all of them on this side of the water. Any ideas?’
‘I’ll take care of that,’ squeaked Perry. He hopped off Elephant’s trunk and made a beeline for the herd of buffaloes standing at the water’s edge.
‘Okay, Otto. Get your boys ready on the other side. We’re taking back our watering hole.’
‘Yessir, boss. The usual signal?’
Elephant watched Otto slink off through the tall grass and disappear. He always wondered how the otter managed to do that. Must have some weasel in his ancestry.
After a few minutes he spotted Perry hopping back towards him. ‘Sorted,’ said the field mouse. ‘Just flap your ears when Otto’s ready. Brick and Brack will take care of the rest.’
‘Thanks, Perry. Now if only we could make sure Pink-Butt and the Boys don’t try to pull something like this again.’
‘Thought of that as well, big guy. Brenda’s kids are taking care of it as we speak. Look.’
Elephant peered at the watering hole and noticed the animals were slowly repositioning themselves. ‘Great idea, Perry. This is going to be good.’
A lone hadeda took to the sky on the other side, calling loudly three times and flew away. ‘There’s the signal,’ said Elephant and flapped his ears. ‘Let’s get closer to the action.’
When they reached the water’s edge the commotion was already starting. Brick and Brack were two huge buffalo bulls. They were also twins and notorious for never agreeing about anything. How Perry had got them to agree to do this was anyone’s guess. ‘Who you callin’ fat?’ rumbled Brick.
‘I din’t say you’re fat. I said you’re thick, you pig-headed moron,’ said Brack.
‘So now you callin’ me a pig? I dare ya to say that to my face, skunk-breath.’
‘At least my breath smells better than your butt!’
The nearby baboons were taking notice already – they loved a good brawl. Pink-Butt barked loudly and the others came round to his side of the watering hole. Some of the younger baboons were even taking bets on who was going to win this time. No one besides Elephant and Perry noticed the five sleek shapes slipping into the water on the far side and the crocodiles quietly submerging as they were freed.
Brick and Brack had locked horns a few times and now stepped back, pawing the ground, making ready to charge. The baboons were jumping up and down by now, loudly barking, egging the twins on. The buffaloes charged…and stopped dead centimetres apart. They slowly turned and faced the baboons.
Now, baboons have an innate sense for danger. It’s to be expected that you’d develop that sense if you spent every waking moment of each day ticking people off. When Brick and Brack did not collide with the spectacular crack of solid bone the apes were expecting, they started looking around them and noticed that the other animals had circled around behind them, right to the water’s edge. Their only option was to swim for it. They were halfway into the water when the croc-squad rose out of the water, menacing grins on their faces. As if that wasn’t enough, each one had an otter perched on his head, covered in algae. ‘I told them to do that, boss,’ said a voice by Elephant’s knee. He really had to talk to Otto of the dangers inherent in surprising an elephant, thought Elephant.
There was only one place for the baboons to go: the other buffaloes and wildebeest had formed a narrow corridor leading up the rise. The baboons looked at the crocodiles coming ever closer and looked at their leader. He swore loudly and started running the gauntlet, the rest of the troop in tow. The wildebeest and buffaloes swung their horns in the path of the baboons, tripping them up and knocking them over. Elephant was standing at the exit and gave each one a slap on the behind with his trunk as they passed him. The rest of the animals roared with laughter at the humiliation.
Just before he disappeared over the rise Pink-Butt turned around and threw Elephant a foul look. Elephant chuckled and saluted him with his trunk. The animals cheered and turned to the watering hole. For once Brick and Brack were not arguing, but they gloried in all the attention they were getting from the others, especially the admiration on the young meerkats’ faces. The croc-squad had retired into the reeds, but that day no one was afraid of being eaten.
‘Great job, gang,’ said Elephant as he, Perry and Otto watched everything return to normal around the watering hole.
Copyright © 2012 Herman Kok