Without warning, Al pecked me on the head – hard. “You only get one wallowday every moon, and you have used that up,” scolded Al. “Have you forgotten what Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone?” he demanded.
“What can I do?” I asked. “You hear them. They won’t listen to me.”
Al did not reply.
And then, as if speaking only to me, I heard Dumbledore’s words in my mind. “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
I stood up. I tried and tried to make myself heard, but the angry mob drowned out my voice.
“Read to them,” said Al. “You must read to them so they can fathom the great gifts of the humans.”
I had brought with me 2001 A Space Odyssey. I started reading. “The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended . . .”
The uproar continued, but an antelope standing next to me started listening. And then two of Al’s friends flew on to my head so they could hear. Quiet slowly spread through our gathering. I kept reading.
“. . . Here on the Equator, in the continent that would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight. . .”
All ears and eyes turned toward me now. “. . . In this barren and desiccated land, only the small or the swift or the fierce could flourish, or even hope to survive.”
Not even a cricket chirped.
After what felt like an eternity, the lions called for a voice vote. Would there be war?
“All those in favor, ROAR!” said the lion.
The spell was broken. A tremendous roaring-buzzing-shrieking-hissing swallowed up the stillness of the moment. War with the humans seemed unavoidable and imminent. I had never felt so afraid in all my life.
All in an instant, Al jumped up in the air and flapped his wings wildly. He squawked and he hissed like never before. Al and his oxpecker relatives may be small, but they have an important job in our community and they take their job seriously. Known in Swahili as Askari Wa Kifaru (The Rhino’s Guard), they sound the alarm when they sense danger. Al was sounding the alarm now in a big way. When Al hisses, even big animals listen.
He told them that they would not win a war with the humans and that there was sure to be another answer in the books. He said that I (Hippo) would find it. They grumbled and whined, but, impossible as it may sound, they finally agreed! This called to mind my mother’s stories about the sacred baobab tree. It is said that the spirit of the tree guides those gathered under her branches in wise decision-making.
We were given exactly one moon to present a plan. I could not believe what Al was getting me into. I opened my mouth to protest, but before anything could come out, Al pecked me. I closed it.
“Now what?” I asked Al as we started for home.
“We’ll think of something,” said Al.