I sit in the tall grass. It licks around my face, and I almost brush it away. But I can’t, not now. The sun is beating down on my neck. I yearn to move underneath the nearby tree, but I dare not. Any second now. I stick my tongue out, hoping some relief will come from the heat.
Finally, they come. All in a herd, stomping down on the reeds hard, as if they had ever done wrong. I wait still, until I see it: a baby, barely steady on its feet, behind the rest of them. I look at my family. There they lie, staring at them all, wondering which one seems the best. I finally move. Just one ear, but my family understands. We stand as one and rush out of the tall grass.
They weren’t expecting us. Not our strength or our numbers. We are still outnumbered five to one. We surround them, forcing them to compact into a ball. I see their delicious hides closing the baby in, protecting it from harm. But we can’t just kill them all. I only want the baby. So I open up the circle, and we push them out. Then the race begins.
We are running for our supper, yet they are running for their lives. Paw and hoof alike pound the ground in hopes that it will prevail. Now I care not about the silly grass that bothered me so a few mere seconds ago. I push it down, crunching it, so that no silly animal may ever eat it again.
It bothers me that the world works this way, in circles. The gazelles eat the beautiful, healthy grass. They are the bad guys. But then, when we hunt them down, they turn good and we are suddenly evil. And when we die, the vultures come down from the sky and peck at our remains, and suddenly we are the poor, pathetic prey and the vultures are bad. Why is consuming considered bad? I have never held a grudge against the vulture who pecked up my mother, leaving me the head of the clan. The grass never strikes back at the gazelles. We just give in, again and again, to the circle of terror that keeps us all alive.
They have separated out now, the strong in the front, the weak closer to us. I spot the baby somewhere in the middle. I claw down a sickly beast, then continue running. If we find it again, we will enjoy it. If not, the vultures can have it. Now all I care about is that juicy baby, crying for the mother I have just killed. Somehow it continues to run. Now it understands: this is not a game.
If I didn’t have to kill to eat, would I still kill? A hard question. Sometimes I enjoy the chase and feed. But if I didn’t have to kill, I would probably never kill again: I don’t want to be part of this circle. I don’t want to give in to the set idea of what’s right.
I look at the baby. It looks as appetizing as before, yet somehow I have lost my appetite. Suddenly I think: What if it is all a game? What would happen if, just once, I let my supper go? What would happen then? I wouldn’t be giving in, yet if I could not find that mother gazelle, my family might go hungry for days. I think for a moment or two. But my decision has already been made for me. I flick my ear yet again. My sons and my daughters understand yet again, but they complain. They howl up at the sky in hunger. But I am different; a changed animal. I will never again kill the young and healthy. I now know: it is wrong.
We stop chasing the gazelles. They stop too, wondering why. Normally I would just pounce on the baby, being mere feet from me. But I don’t. I hold my head high. My mouth is watering, but I don’t even look at the baby. It takes a step towards me. My self-control wavers as it rubs its small head on my furry mane. I don’t look down. I close my eyes. When I open them, the beasts are gone. I see their tails disappearing over a hill nearby.
We go back. I might not go by the rules, but I do have to eat. We settle down to a nice meal of gazelle. She was still alive when we got back. My sons tore in with valor, making her cry out with pain. Her blood stained the floor as we gorged. I guess some things can never change.