Strength and Power
Kano sat on the stone bench viewing the lion habitat. It was positioned a short distance from the wall of the overpass that served as a footbridge crossing from one side of the enclosure to the other. This provided an overlook for visitors to observe the preserve’s leonine population as well as a path to the other habitats. Kano’s thick black curls got caught by the wind and moved about his head. He watched the large male of the pride toss his mane as he stood upon one of the boulders within the paddock. As the beast stretched, Kano watched the sinews ripple and pull beneath the large cat’s hide.
It must be wonderful to have that kind of strength at your command. Kano pulled his phone from his pocket and snapped a few pictures.
Several groups of people passed in front of Kano blocking his view. He moved to stand next to the short wall that served as a protective barrier to the overpass. Of all the creatures within the preserve, lions were Kano’s favorite. He would watch them for hours. He took a sketchpad and pencils from his backpack and flipped through his drawings. The spiral notebook held likenesses of many of the animals within the preserve, but the majority of the portrayals were of the lions and of those, most were of the large male.
Kano leaned the pad on the top of the short wall and flipped to a clean sheet of paper. As he began his sketch, the male turned to face him.
“It is you again.” The voice came in a velvety baritone inside Kano’s mind.
Kano looked around to find the source of the voice. There were people around him, but many were walking toward other habitats. Those who stood nearby were involved in conversations with others in their party. Convinced it was his imagination, Kano returned his attention to his drawing.
“What is it you scratch on that paper?” the deep voice murmured.
Kano snapped his head to the left and right, looking for the speaker. There was no one standing near enough to have spoken so softly. He shifted his focus back to the lions. The large male faced him and held his gaze.
“I must be losing it,” Kano whispered.
“Not really,” the voice came again. Kano turned his head, again. “Do not bother looking around. I’m standing right in front of you.”
“Now I know I’m losing it.” Kano ran his hand through the thick, dark curls that dusted the tops of his shoulders. A gentle chuckle entered his mind.
“Your mind is strong, young human. That is the reason you hear me.”
Kano stared at the lion. When a fly buzzed at his lips, he snapped his mouth shut. “Is that really you? Someone’s playing a joke on me, right?” He swiveled his head from left to right, trying to find the speaker or at the least, a hidden camera.
“No cameras,” the voice said, “and calm yourself. I assure you, you have complete control of your faculties.”
Kano gripped the wall before his knees gave way. “What is going on here? Lions don’t talk. How could an animal be speaking to me?”
“You are correct, young male. I cannot talk, but I am speaking with you.” The lion shook out his considerable mane. His action caught the attention of several young cubs. They moved in his direction. There must have been a signal that Kano didn’t catch, because they halted their progress mid-stride and turned in a different direction.
“How are you doing this? Is this real?” Kano rubbed the back of his neck. All that was happening was overwhelming, to say the least.
“It is real, young male. And I am doing no more than what is natural for this world.”
“Natural for this world?” Kano screeched. “How can lions speaking in your mind be natural for this world?” Several of the people standing near Kano stopped their conversations and stared at him.
“Calm yourself, you are drawing unwanted attention.”
Kano swiped his hand over his face, drew in a deep breath and let it out in a slow, deliberate fashion—the only thing he could think of to calm himself. As those around him resumed their conversations, Kano asked, “How can you say what is happening to me is natural?”
“Of course it is. From the beginning, man was able to communicate with all of nature, but it was the unfortunate incident of one man that brought things to a halt—at least for him, anyway.” The large cat stretched and lowered himself into a sitting position.
“What do you mean, for him?”
“It is an age-old story. The short version of it is this. The man disobeyed and lost his ability to understand all things around him. The rest of us remain the same, for the most part.” He executed a wide-mouth yawn placing his large, very sharp teeth and fangs on display.
The sight of them reminded Kano that he was interacting with a dangerous beast.
“It is a memory that awaits recollection.” The lion nodded his head as if for emphasis.
“So, this is something that everyone has inside of them?” Kano ran his hands through his curls, again. “Can you tell me why I’m remembering how to do this now?”
“No. I cannot.”
“What do I call you? Do you have a name?”
“Your tongue is not equipped for my name. If it is whispered, this is what you would hear.”
Within Kano’s mind a sound that was a mix of purr and growl erupted. A blend of uneasiness and apprehension saturated every cell of his being. Kano gripped the wall of the bridge that separated him from the big cats as if to remind himself of its protection. Deep within, Kano doubted it was much of a safeguard. “Are there words that describe what I just heard?” Respect for the beast’s abilities crept into his voice.
“Your language would pronounce it Strength and Power Beneath the Sun. This is how it is pronounced.” He climbed to his feet and leapt to a stone platform not far from the boulder. He walked to its edge. The sound that emanated from the large cat’s throat would have been labeled as a roar, but what Kano heard was thunder wrapped within an earthquake.
A hush came over the entire preserve. Even the human visitors stopped in their tracks and ended their conversations—as if all life within the hearing of that utterance paused.
“That is the correct pronunciation.”
Kano looked to the grip he held on the top of the short wall he stood before. Four white dots appeared across the tops of his hands indicating the position of the bones beneath his skin. When he could release his hold, Kano backed himself to the bench and thudded to his seat. After a time, his fear was replaced with awe.
“It is polite when one being introduces himself to you that you respond with one of your own.”
“My name is Kano. My father is Japanese and it means—“
“I know what it means. It is not dissimilar to mine. It speaks of masculine power.”
Kano was suitably impressed the lion would understand the meaning of his name. Strength and Power spoke of many things as Kano sat transfixed listening and absorbing what the large male had to say.
The younger lions approached the great male again. This time instead of being sent away they butted their heads against his neck and head. “It is time that I bring our visit to an end. My sons require my attention.”
“They are your sons?” Kano asked. “Do you have other children?”
“I have many. The oldest have left the preserve and I must instruct these before it is time for my departure.”
“You’re leaving? Where are you going? How long before you go?” Kano had more questions, but before he got an answer to a single one a growl that was no more than a whisper entered his mind.
“So many questions, young one. I must walk with my sons. We will visit another day.” The lion turned and walked from the platform with the younger males without looking back.
Kano returned his sketchpad to his backpack. He sat staring at the vacant platform for some time. As the sun began its retreat to the west, Kano decided it was time to leave the preserve.
I was really talking with a lion—at least I think I was. It could have been just my imagination. Kano shook his head. No, I don’t think so. That was too real and there’s no way I could have dreamed that up.
On his way to the preserve’s exit, Kano walked past the primate enclosure. He heard the usual chittering and screeches. He ignored much of it until he realized the sounds were voices in his mind.
“Strength and Power spoke to him,” an older chimpanzee said to another.
“I do not believe you,” said the other, plucking an insect from the first speaker’s coat and crushing it between her teeth. “He never speaks to anyone. He just lays on that grand platform of his and watches the humans go by.”
“I tell you he spoke to that one.”
“He did. I heard it too,” said another hanging upside down from a tire that had been strung up to a branch in a tree. “And that is not all. That human heard him.”
The chittering and screeches intensified to that remark. The inhabitants of the enclosure repeated what they heard the others say. All around Kano came recitations of ‘the human heard him’ flooding his mind.
“I heard him, okay?” Kano stopped and faced them. “And now I’m hearing you.” His remark silenced every animal in the habitat. “This is too much!” He barged through the exit weighed down by these new developments.
* * * *
Kano removed his shoes and walked through the doorway of his home. A picture of his recently deceased father set on top of the closed piano. The ache of his loss was the only thing that could break through the confusion he felt about the goings-on at the animal preserve.
“Kano, where have you been?” his mother said. “I’ve asked you three times.”
“I’m sorry, Mom. What did you say?” He turned to face her. His mother’s rich skin, the tight spirals of raven curls, long, slender body, and intense glare reminded Kano of the way his father had always described her. She was his chocolate lightning bolt, full of energy and intention. Another level of ache layered upon his heart.
“I asked you where you’d been. You were supposed to be home an hour ago.”
“I’m sorry. I had a hard day at school and was missing Dad so I stopped by the preserve on my way home. I guess I sort of lost track of time.”
Her eyes brightened with unshed tears. “Your father loved that place, he loved sharing it with you.”
“Isn’t that where the two of you met?” His mother nodded. “Why don’t you ever go there anymore?”
She shrugged her shoulders and turned away. “Dinner is getting cold. Let’s eat.”
Filled serving dishes set on the table along with plates and bowls for Kano and his mother. The empty place where his father usually shared their meals was conspicuous in its vacancy.
To rid himself of the ache, Kano launched into a litany of what his day at school had been like, what his teachers were requiring, and the funny antics of his friends during lunch period. His mother listened with apparent interest, although her gaze would make the occasional drift to his father’s empty chair.
He changed the subject of his conversation to recapture her attention. “An interesting thing happened at the preserve today,” he said.
His mother responded with an inattentive, “Um-hmm.” She gazed at her plate as she shifted the food from one spot to another—relocating it more than eating.
“You know how I’ve always liked observing and sketching the lions.” He took a forkful of rice and vegetables into his mouth, then chewed and swallowed before he continued. “I especially like watching the large male there. Well, today I could have sworn he was watching me.” Kano measured his mother’s response before he went on with his story.
“He started making noises, you know, sounds in his throat that, I am positive, were directed at me.” Now he had her full attention. The progress of his mother’s fork stopped midway to her mouth.
“Yes,” she said. A single word, but in it she gave clear indication that he should continue.
“I know this probably sounds crazy, but I swear I understood every word he said.”
His mother’s eyes widened a bit and a lone tear rolled down her face.
“I know it sounds crazy, Mom, but it really happened. I’m not making this up!”
His mother dropped her head into her hands and wept. “No, no, no,” came muffled through her hands.
Kano rushed to her side. “Mom, I’m sorry. I won’t talk about it anymore. Please don’t cry,” he pleaded.
“Your father warned me this would happen. He tried to prepare me.” She drew in a ragged breath, but the tears continued. “I thought we had more time.”
Kano remained at her side offering what comfort he could.
“You’ve always been so normal.” She dissolved into a sobbing mound upon the table. Nothing Kano tried or promised had any effect on his mother. There was no quieting her.
Kano resigned to allowing his mother to cry herself out. Meanwhile he cleared the table of the leavings of their meal and washed the dishes. When he finished, Kano went to his bedroom and studied his drawings of the animals in the preserve. He tore them from his sketchpad and separated them into two piles. The stack of lion drawings was the largest.
As he sorted through the pictures of the big cats, Kano pulled out the ones of the large male. The sketch he liked most was one in which Strength and Power appeared to be looking directly at him. This one Kano pinned to his bedroom wall.
* * * *
The next morning, dressed for school, Kano expected to greet his mother at the breakfast table, but she was not there. After a quick search he found her asleep on her bed lost in a knotted tangle of sheets and blankets. From the distressed expression she wore Kano assumed she’d had a fitful night with little rest. Without disturbing her, he returned to the kitchen and settled for a bowl of breakfast cereal with sliced fruit.
Hearing the lion’s words troubled me too, but to send Mom into a fit of tears? He scooped a spoonful into his mouth. What does she mean Dad warned her this would happen? What does she think happened? He took a gulp of his juice. What? Does she think I’ve lost my mind? Hearing animals talk is weird, but I’m not nuts. He placed his empty bowl in the sink and left for school.
Throughout every class Kano was distracted by thoughts of his mother’s worries over his state of mind. Trying to focus was almost impossible. When he’d finally get his mind away from these troubles or his father’s warning to her, Strength and Power’s words would float in on the tail of her fears.
Toward the end of his last class, Kano’s pen ran out of ink. He fished around the pocket of his backpack to find another. He pulled it from the deep pouch along with a folded slip of paper. As he smoothed it out on his desk, words from his mother’s hand said, “If you’re planning to go to the preserve after school, give me a call.”
The final bell of the day rang and Kano found himself jogging from campus in the direction of the preserve. As he approached the entrance he remembered his mother’s request. He whipped out his phone and speed dialed.
“Hi, Mom,” Kano said when he heard her voice. “You wanted me to call?”
“Kano, where are you?”
“I’m heading into the preserve.”
“Please son, don’t go in there.”
“It’s okay. I promise I won’t stay long.”
“It’s not okay. You need to come home right now.”
“Mom, I’m fine. It won’t happen again,” he explained. “On the way to school I stopped to pet Mrs. Wilson’s dog and nothing happened. I even spoke to Mr. Evy’s cat and all I heard was ‘meow’. I was probably just really tired yesterday and imagined the whole thing. I’ll see you in a little while.” He heard a sigh so heavy he rubbed his ear as if her warm breath had bathed it.
“I love you son.”
“I love you, too.” Kano ended the call and shoved the phone into his pocket. I’m okay, it was only my imagination. He shrugged off her concern and walked through the entrance of the animal preserve. His usual path through the park was to begin at the bridge that overlooked the lion habitat. Today he felt drawn to the lower level and walked to the wall that served as a boundary for the wide moat that surrounded the lion enclosure.
Kano stopped at the wall and directed his gaze up toward the platform where Strength and Power lay overlooking the park. The great cat met his gaze and held it. Kano glanced at his feet and wondered when he’d climbed to the top of the wall. Under some strange compulsion, he slid from his seat atop the barrier and into the icy waters of the moat.
He broke the surface, plunging to the depths of liquid so cold his muscles hurt and his bones ached. A pain so unbearable Kano pulled at the water with arms and legs, determined to reach the bank before his breath ran out. After what felt like forever, he reached the shore and crawled onto dry ground. Kano shook the water from his hair, but that simple motion led his body into a fitful shake from the terrible cold.
Kano raised his gaze to meet that of Strength and Power. The powerful beast lowered his head in a regal nod that beckoned Kano all the more. He forgot about being wet, the cold no longer bothered him. He trod across the grasses to the base of the man-made rise. There he climbed the rocks until he reached the platform where Strength and Power stood. The great cat made room for Kano to lie down and warm himself in the late afternoon sun.
“Mmmm,” Kano moaned, taking joy in the heated stone. The sound that met his ears was hoarse and rumbly. I’m probably catching a cold thanks to that icy swim. Enjoying the warm rays of the sun, Kano caught a glimpse of movement. It darted in and out at the edge of his vision. He turned. A tuft of raven curls at the end of a golden tail flicked up and down. Kano followed the line of it, concerned that it might lead to the presence of a less than calm adolescent cat. The body it attached to belonged to him.
Engulfed in emotion, Kano twisted and turned to see every inch of his leonine form. Strength and Power leaned his great maned head against Kano’s, and rubbed. This was something he had watched the lions do in greeting one another. It meant that he was now accepted as one of the pride. Strength and Power brought his muzzle to Kano’s ear and uttered a growly purr. This is what Kano heard in his mind, “to rule well, you must tell the world your name.” Then the great beast walked from the platform.
Kano rose to his feet, gripped the stone platform with his mighty claws, and let loose with a powerful roar. The entire preserve arrested in silence.
He lowered himself to lie in a pose of regal posture and settled in to watch the humans as they passed by the lonely stone bench.