Ex - the story of Daniel in the lions den
Daniel awoke at 3.52am with a shocked inhalation of air to find M’s nose touching his own.
“We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo, how about you, you, you, you can come too, too, too, we’re going to the zooooooooooo” sang M bouncing Daniel up and down on his bed with each word.
“I thought we should take a break from all of this infanticide malarky and share a little quality time, manno o manno. Waddya say, waddya say?”
Daniel wondered why his father didn’t just pull the cushion out from behind his head and place it over his face. A delicate murder. But that was not what M needed. It seemed that he wanted to abrogate the act of his sons death, to own it but not to perform it.
“I’ve got us some toffee apples” shrieked M like an excited school boy. “We love a toffee apple don’t we?” With some effort, he peeled two sweat soaked toffee apples from the kevlar lined pockets of his police combat issue trousers and chomped them up with manic gusto. All the while his eyes convulsed in ashen sockets.
Wiping toffee shrapnel from his voluptuous chops, M settled down, causing his son, who now occupied only a fraction of the bed, to draw his knees up to his chin.
“Ants” said M, gesturing towards the speck, skittering along Daniel’s skirting board. “Did you know that ants live in little communities much like our own. They have their own political system and economy and they communicate using a very complex and ancient language which incorporates extreme violence. They live in houses which never have any more than two bedrooms and they decorate them using materials which they steal from other small creatures such as grasshoppers and diminished antelope. Although they have developed a form of medicine it is almost always fatal. Their court system is perplexing but from what we can understand they employ a draconian morality, dealing with the perpetrators of the slightest crime with cruel, swift and deadly justice. So all in all, this makes ants, probably the most fascinating and sophisticated little creatures on the planet. Do you know what I think of ants Daniel.”
“I fucking” M stood up and stamped down with all of his force on the ant and the skirting board “fucking” stamp “fucking “ stamp, splintering skirting board, “fucking” smashed remnants destroyed under M’s piston like boot “fucking hate them. Now get your things on - we’re going to have lots of lovely fun whether you like it or not.”
In the interior section of the newly refurbished enclosure in Regents Park Zoo, Jumbe the 300kg giant Kruger lion sat on a rock above his pride, shook his imperious black mane, opened his immense jaws and displayed all of his 30 teeth, his serrated canine fangs for holding, puncturing and biting, his carnassial blades for shearing through flesh, his premolars, which worked like a pair of scissors, for cutting through dense physiological materials and his normal incisors that helped to scrape tissue from bones.
“It’s the colour of it that puts me off” he said pushing the ragged lower half of a pig aside with his immense, blood encrusted paw. “I really fancy a nice bowl of vichyssoise, followed by some grilled aubergine and polenta in a light garlic sauce, perhaps with a nice glass of Barbaresco Riserva from Marchesi di Gresy or a really good Monferrato Rosso for just that hint of vanilla and lemongrass.”
“I’ve been urging you to go for counseling for years now and you can’t put it off any longer” said Malkia the eldest female. “You have to eat meat because you’re a fucking lion, I don’t want to hear one more polemic discourse about how I need to move with the times or about managing your cholesterol, its what we were designed to do. I told you that last year when you went on the Cambridge diet and I’m telling you it again now. Eat the pig and stop trying to impress us with your knowledge of Italian wines - does anyone here look impressed - Kibibi are you impressed?”
Kibibi stopped licking her bottom for a moment, looked confused by the question and resumed her task with gusto.
“No, exactly.” Replied Malkia.
“What do you think Imara?” Asked Jumbe. “It will be your turn to make decisions for us all next week.”
Imara, the junior member of the pride’s male coalition had been chasing his tail for the past 10 minutes, stopped, sniffed at a pile of fresh dung and fell asleep.
“He doesn’t want to be our leader for a week, Jumbe, neither did Kibibi last week or Kibwana the week before. You cannot run this pride like an anarcho sydiclost commune. You have to dominate us with power and violence.” Said Malkia.
“Well it just doesn’t feel very democratic, thats all.” Replied Jumbe.
“You are an utter head fuck Jumbe - where does all this even come from?”
“Thats a rather pejorative response wouldn’t you say Malkia? Try to find your inner chi.” replied Jumbe. “Now, have any of you seen my newly abridged copy of Tess of the D’urbervilles, Hardy was obviously trying to make a point about the disparity in life between the rich and the poor and he does so very well. I just know I’m going to struggle to get through again it without bringing on the waterworks.”
The zoo was definitively closed.
“The zoo’s closed dad” said Daniel pulling his father’s leather clad hand gently back in the direction of anything else that was not a zoo.
“Stop being so negative Daniel” replied M, tapping on the ticket kiosk.
“It’s not even 5 o’clock in the morning dad, it doesn’t open until until 10. Its raining and my pajama’s are getting a bit wet. Couldn’t we....”
“Listen to that” said M. There was a long period of silence. A Siberian Ibex coughed, there was what sounded like a ‘shhhhhhh’ and then more silence.
“You see, the animals are not closed - no, the animals are open and looking forwards to meeting with Daniel and his dad and you know how I know that Danny boy?” M asked rhetorically. “Cos I fucking well asked them and they told me. So all we have to do is find a way of getting into the zoo so we can get this show on the road. It might have to be a bit of a naughty way but that’s ok because dad’s a police and police are allowed to be as naughty as they like - god said so.”
They circled the zoo until M located the staff entrance which had been secreted down a side street. The force applied when M rammed his arse against the door was 6.30 x 10^3kg - the same as that required to push a 61.78 kN bull elephant wearing ice skates and stranded in the middle of a frozen pond over the to shore (neglecting friction). The door did not so much open as capitulate out of extreme consternation.
They walked past the staff lockers and equipment store until M found the manager’s office and the key store. The majority of the keys were in a locked display case but this was not what M was searching for. The key to the lion enclosure was on a keyring with a Colchester United key fob, hanging from a nail just under a signed photograph of David Attenborough. The rationale behind this was that no-one on the planet would ever try to break into the lion enclosure on account of the fact that it contained fucking lions. M trousered it and led Daniel out of the office and into the zoo proper whilst whistling the theme tune to Spartacus.
By the time they had reached the lion enclosure Daniel had arrived at the far side of trepidation and was headed for a crash landing between consternation and foreboding. M was pacing up and down, apparently oblivious to his son’s existence. This afforded Daniel the unwanted opportunity to remind himself, from various adjacent information points that lions are not known for their gentle good nature and compassionate dispositions. An enormous male had entered the central observation arena and appeared to be sniffing and snarling around the perimeter.
“The lion’s attack is short and powerful; they attempt to catch the victim with a fast rush and final leap.”
“Ooh” said Jumbe “a little boy. I wonder whether you might know the answer to question that has been absolutely plaguing me over the last two weeks. I know that you conjugate “amar” in Spanish in the present tense as nosotros amamos but if I am using the Preterito pluscuamperfecto....”
“The prey usually is killed by strangulation, which can cause cerebral ischemia or asphyxia (which results in hypoxemic, or "general", hypoxia).”
The lion was staring directly at Daniel and growling angrily. Daniel, backed away from the enclosure slowly being careful not to trip but was fixated by the lion’s wicked stare. M was sitting on a bench rocking back and forwards with his giant watermelon head in his be-gloved hands.
“Would it be nosotros habiamos amado” asked Jumbe “or nosotros amabamos” or is that the preterito imperfecto? Oh I get so very frustrated..”
“The prey also may be killed by the lion enclosing the animal's mouth and nostrils in its jaws (which would also result in asphyxia).”
The lion reared up and threw its full weight at the perspex divide. The entire side of the enclosure shook with the impact. Daniel caught his heel on a drain cover and tumbled over backwards causing one of his slippers to fall off.
“Perhaps its “nosotros hubimos amado” or is that the preterito anterior?” Pondered Jumbe. “How does anyone ever remember, I would simply hate to be ordering a cocktail in one of those really chi-chi salons which have become so very popular on the Gran Via in Madrid - near the Jardines de Sabatini - you must know, it and find that I couldn’t...”
“Smaller prey, though, may simply be killed by a swipe of a lion's paw.”
M rose, wiped what would have been tears had it been any other face, from his cheeks and taking Daniel by the hand, he lead him to the entrance to the enclosure.
“Of course for ambience there is nothing to beat that little tapas bar just off the Calle de la Montera,“ said Jumbe. They serve the most perfect Tortillas de Camarones but the Ceviche - well, its out of this world, it’s as if...”
“All the lion's teeth are equipped with very sensitive nerves (inside the teeth) that allow the lion, during a bite, to find where the veins and the arteries of its prey are, by feeling the blood flowing inside the veins and the arteries of its prey.”
The lion was roaring in an excited, blood curdling manner. Daniel had never defied his father before, one did not defy M, it would have been an exercise in futility, but as his father slipped the key into the lock to the enclosure, Daniel tried to pull his hand in any direction other than that involving lion and lion related environs.
“Also, these nerves help the lion know when its prey is killed, because then the blood stops flowing (and also because its prey stops breathing).”
Within seconds the door had closed with Daniel very definitely on the wrong side.
“Oh” said Jumbe. “I wouldn’t come in here if I were you, I think there might be some lions, frightful beasts. I bought some Acqua di Selva cologne by Visconti di Modrone last week which lends one a youthful burst of top-note freshness and one of them actually drank it - all of it and then sicked it up with a fur ball . Its this kind of decadence which led to the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire. Ohh are you wearing pajama’s by Max and Maude, let me see, I love their intricate stitching and bold combination of silks and man made cottons in primary colours...”
The lion appeared to be bounding towards Daniel with jaw gaping ardor and murderous malice aforethought. Daniel tried to run but he only had one slipper and his feet would not move. When the lion was so close that Daniel could smell his fetid breath, a switch flicked on in the extrasolar region of his brain and his legs began running independently from the rest of his body. They took him into the lion’s interior habitat area which appeared to offer a better option than, for example, waiting around to be torn into tiny shreds and devoured whilst still alive. His legs had not really thought through the issue of whether an enclosure containing 4 ravenous lions was likely to offer a small boy in pajama’s a hospitable reception but that’s legs for you - the bastards.
Lion's jaws are short (for example, by comparison to wolf's jaws). They are also not capable of moving side-to-side, like the jaw of a herbivore. This helps the lion to give a steady and more effective bite, as the jaw follows a strictly vertical, scissor-like motion.
“I think you’ll find that wasn’t very wise” said Jumbe as Daniel entered his sleeping quarters. He sat down, neatly curled his tail around his feet and counted to 3 before Daniel’s legs thrashing like eggbeaters blurred past him, furiously pursued by Kibibi, Malkia, Imara and Kibwana.
Daniel knew he was about to die with a clarity he had not experienced when hurtling down a raging river in a sinking dingy or hanging by his fingertips from a multi story car park. Death had suddenly acquired a level of inevitability and immediacy that was almost but not quite poignant. Its bitter taste filled Daniel’s mouth but he would not swallow. He sprinted in several directions at once, feeling the arduous breath of the demon caress his naked heels.
Lions are not particularly known for their stamina—for instance, a lioness' heart makes up only 0.57 percent of her body weight (a male's is about 0.45 percent of his body weight), whereas a hyena's heart is close to 1 percent of its body weight.Thus, they only run fast in short bursts and need to be close to their prey before starting the attack.
Finding himself in the furthest corner of the enclosure, twenty metre high perspex fencing on one side and a sheer wall of stone on the other, Daniel turned to face the beasts who had formed a heavy breathing carnivorous semi circle around him. The lions looked at each other. None of them had ever eaten live meat and the level of their excitement was tangible. Malkia chirruped in sensual anticipation and Imara and Kibwana jockeyed against each other for position but it was Kibibi who was first to attack.
The inability of the jaw to move side-to-side is common to all cats. Lions, like all cats, do not chew their food, but swallow it in chunks. Generally speaking, the lion combines a set of big, thick and sharp teeth with an impressive bite force of 1000 pounds (1 pound=0.453 kg).
In the wild, it is difficult to be certain who would emerge the victor, should a hippopotamus meet a lioness in conflict. Like Kruschev and Kennedy it was the vagaries of the outcome and the prospect of both sides suffering a terrible defeat that forestalled the conflict but it was only, ever, deferred. The taste of impossible conflict always lingered.
Just as he was about to deal Daniel a first terrible blow, Kibibi sensed, more than saw, a fully grown male hippopotamus dressed in a full metropolitan policeman’s uniform with sick down the front, smash through the ranks of her pride and plough into her side with finality. Her head flew into the rock face beside Daniel and her skull was cleaved in two. Her eyes still open, her steaming brains plopped onto Daniel’s remaining slipper. “Fuck this” said M, leading Daniel by the hand and slapping aside Imara’s half hearted attempt to strike out at him, striding out of the enclosure locking the door behind him.
Daniel sat with M in the car as they had sat before, as they would never sit again.
“If this is supposed to be character building” said Daniel, "consider my character built.”
M remained silent, his head resting on the steering wheel, his face masked with lion blood.
“Do you love me dad?" asked Daniel.
M looked at his son, his surviving son. “Love died with god and table manners on the day you were born. All there is left is a dull ache that never goes away. It’s in here” he smacked his head on the steering wheel over and over again. “It will never, ever leave me alone, you will never leave alone until I make it happen with my own hands. I see that now. “
The entire staff and all 14 customers of Starbucks in Regents Park had crammed themselves into the women’s toilet. The manager opened the door a microscopic speck with shuddering fingers, sweat drizzling into his eyes and mouth as he did so and applied his fluttering eyelid to the crack. A melliferous roar threw him backwards into the melee behind him and he wrenched the door closed again, emitting a tiny whimper in the process.
“Now then” said Jumbe who had settled himself down on a settee near the window with Saturday’s Guardian and a copy of his favourite magazine, caravan and caravanettes monthly. “I could have a venti grande chai latté, but the iced vanilla mocha expresso macchiato is really tempting me. There again, the flavoured mocha supreme with chocolate drizzle.......”