The first part of the story was created by Lauren St John for the competition with the ending written by winner Supna Kerai
When Shumba awoke to find himself alone in the dark, his first thought was that his family had gone out hunting and had somehow forgotten him. He sat up and sniffed the air anxiously. It was then he realized that something was very wrong.
Morning in Africa usually meant the pink glow of dawn over the savannah and the joyous chorus of birds. It meant his mum washing him behind the ears with her rough tongue and the thrill of seeing antelope race across the plains.
Now there was only a peculiar clanking and roaring and the stink of what he’d later learn was a mix of engine oil, urine and salt water. He tried to walk but his nose collided painfully with cold steel.
At two months old, his legs were only little, yet his prison was so small he could barely take two steps in any direction. He peered through the bars. His vision was blurry but he could make out the shapes of what appeared to be other kidnapped animals.
All of a sudden a human hand appeared. It fiddled with the lock and the cage door swung open. A person with a long, tawny mane like his dad, but who appeared to be a female like his lioness older sister, knelt down in front of him. He wondered what lioness humans were called. Humannesses maybe.
“Poor little lion cub,” said the humanness.
“You don’t know what’s happening to you, do you? You don’t know that you’ll never know freedom again. You’re not aware that for the rest of your life, whether that’s one year or thirty, you’ll never see your mum and dad again, or watch the sun come up over the African bush, or just lie on a rock and glory in your own magnificence. You haven’t a clue that when you get off this ship, you’ll spend the rest of your days trapped in a cage, probably eating supermarket chicken and having tourists throw things at you or pop flashbulbs in your face. And what’s worse, none of the other animals here” – she waved a hand in the direction of some gorillas – “know that either. I’d like that not to be true, but it is. Sometimes I wish…”
A tear rolled down her cheek. “Oh, what’s the use of wishing.” She closed the door again.
“Right, one bowl of cat food coming up.”
Shumba couldn’t bring himself to eat it. He was used to fresh meat and couldn’t bring himself to think of the smelly brown lumps as food. Besides, the ground kept rolling under his paws and making him feel quite sick.
For the next few weeks, things went from bad to worse. No fresh meat ever came his way and the humanness told Shumba he had to learn to eat the smelly brown lumps or starve.
He couldn’t stretch his legs, couldn’t play, couldn’t get warm by snuggling up with his brothers and sisters, close to his mum’s soft belly. Instead he was forced to listen to the heartbreaking cries of the other wretched prisoners: two miserable gorillas, crestfallen parrots, shivering meerkats and some monkeys huddled together.
Shumba knew he should be brave, like his dad, but sometimes when he woke in the night, terrified and lonely, he couldn’t help but cry silently.
As they journeyed north across the ocean it grew colder and colder. The humanness brought him a blanket but it didn’t really help. Shumba’s golden hide craved the sunshine.
Day after tedious day they rolled and bounced through the ocean, until one afternoon there was an almighty crash. Shumba fell flat on his face. When he managed to haul himself upright he heard the parrots squawking and saw the gorillas, whose crate had toppled over, pounding their chests.
The humanness and some humans called sailors were rushing up in a state of agitation.
“We’re sinking!” cried one.
“We’re going down like the Titanic.”
But after a while everything settled down, and it turned out the ship wasn’t plummeting to the bottom of the ocean after all, but had merely become lodged on a sandbank. Shumba found this out because the humanness came to explain it to him.
“Even if we were sinking, we’d probably survive because we’re only a short swim from the Old Harry Rocks near Bournemouth,” she told him as she refilled his water bowl. She pointed east.
“Look, you can probably see them. We’re almost home. We’re almost in England.”
The animals were kept on the top deck of the cargo ship, and Shumba, who’d spent the last hour gazing in fascination at the view - a wall of pale rocks topped with the kind of green grass that only came to Africa at the height of the summer rains - stared at the sight with renewed interest. A small strip of choppy blue water was the only thing separating the ship and the cliffs and fields.
A new feeling came over him. A feeling of courage and boldness. It was as if his father was lending him strength from afar.
At that very moment, disaster struck. The earlier collision had knocked the gorillas’ crate on its side. Unbeknownst to the humaness, the crate had broken. One of the gorillas had just climbed out and was advancing on her with a ferocious expression. She leapt for safety and the sailors joined her. With the gorilla pursuing them, they ran screaming for their lives.
Little Shumba watched wide-eyed. Several minutes went by before he realized that the cage door was open. The humans were nowhere to be seen. They’d fled below deck. The gorilla was thumping his chest in delight.
Shumba considered his options. The railing of the ship was only feet away and he could jump it with a single bound. The Old Harry Rocks beckoned. A thrill of fear and excitement came over him.
Freedom was his if he chose to take it…
Continuation by Supna Kerai
Shumba leapt out of the cage and darted towards the railings. He grabbed the life ring, bite the rope off and jumped into the water. He kicked his hind legs and used his paws like oars to propel himself through the water.
After a while he had finally made it to dry land. He had made it to Bournemouth. He ran as fast as he could so that the sailors would not find him. He ran so fast, the fastest he had ever run in his whole life.
Poor Shumba was hungry and tired. It was getting dark and he was afraid of what he might find in the strange place of Bournemouth. He so wished he was back with his pride, roaming about freely along the plains of Africa. His Mum was an excellent hunter and hoped he could be as good a hunter as her.
Fortunately there was a shelter nearby and fresh leftovers from a strange concrete structure were thrown into a big square container. He gently pushed back the lid, gently placed his paw inside and to his delight there was his favourite food within reach.
‘Meat, my much loved food ready to eat’ he declared.
With his belly full he was sure that he was going to sleep well tonight as he had had a very busy day!
He found some cardboard boxes and curled up to sleep. The light in Bournemouth was a strange yellow glow. It reminded him of the sunset in Africa.
‘I will return there one day’ he thought to himself as he settled down to sleep.
The next morning he awoke to the sound of birds singing and cars driving around. Both sounds he was used to as in Africa humanessess paid a lot of money to visit his pride feeding or asleep on the plains.
Shumba never could understand why they wanted to see his pride with the cars zooming around them they always found it hard to eat or sleep in peace!
From being curled up all night his legs were aching. The cardboard box didn’t compare at all with his memories of being snuggled up with his siblings next to their Mum. He got up and stretched out his body and began walking down the alley and onto a pavement.
Shumba began to make his way along the street and into the central gardens. There was a huge balloon with strings attached to a glass capsule. He had seen similar balloons fly over the plains of Africa but the hot air balloons he was used to seeing made a roaring sound with flames shooting upwards.
Humans and humanessess began to scream and run away. Shumba was a friendly lion cub and was very confused by this behaviour. One brave human picked him up. Shumba gave him a great big lick across his cheek.
“Yuck” shouted the human.
He looked friendly and Shumba knew he could trust him.
The human took Shumba back to his house. A little bit later, the human went into another room and produced a bowl of cat food for Shumba.
“Lunch time” he exclaimed with excitement.
Shumba stared at the bowl in front of him “yuck, not again I hate cat food” said Shumba but he knew he had to eat something.
The human had eaten a bread like meal and said “right we need a plan to get you back home”.
Shumba looked at a screen with moving pictures whilst the human pressed and clicked at different letters in front of another screen.
“I’ve got it, the perfect way to get you home!” said the human.
Shumba jumped with joy straight onto his paws and leapt into the humans lap and gave him another big slobbery lick!
The human said to Shumba “I have seen an article online which states there is a ship carrying cargo to Africa tonight. We could load you onto the ship” he explained.
Shumba let out a purr of joy. He really wanted to get home.
Shumba was loaded into the boot of the human’s car and they travelled along the M3 motorway to get to Southampton port yard. There were many big metal boxes ready to loaded on the ship.
“I wonder which one is for me?” wondered Shumba.
The human carried Shumba in his arms to meet another human who was dressed in white with blue stripes on his shoulders.
“Hello little one” said the man in white to Shumba.
“I’m going to be steering the ship and taking you home”.
Shumba was grateful to the humans for organising this and looked forward to seeing his pride again very soon.
Shumba began to realise that he would miss the human who looked after him and made him realise that not all humans are like the ones on the ship that brought him to lovely Bournemouth.
The captain (the man in white) took Shumba to his cabin and put a blanket on the floor for him to snuggle up on.
Many sunrises and sunsets later the ship docked into port in Africa. The captain took Shumba off the boat and put him into the arms of a ranger. The ranger took Shumba into his truck and drove him to the wide open plains that were so dry, just the way he liked it.
Shumba smelt the grass and saw a figure in the distance roaring and leaping towards him. He recognised the tawny mane and started running towards him.
“Dad, Dad I’m home” he cried out.
The whole of his pride came and took him home.
“You’re never allowed to leave my sight again!” said Shumba’s Mum angrily as she gave him a lovely lick.
“Don’t worry Mum, I’ve seen wonderful sights but the sight and feeling of being with my pride is the best feeling ever!” replied Shumba.
With that the whole pride began to walk towards the old rock.
“Home sweet home” thought Shumba.