My tryst with that brave cheetah that graced the roof of my jeep in Masai Mara two months ago has earned me some kind of undeserved fame in certain circles.
In more than a few dinner parties since my return from Kenya, I have been introduced as “that girl who was bold enough to eyeball a cheetah and chill in its company instead of ducking into the jeep like the rest of them….”
While my ‘sang-froid’ is being spoken of in exalted terms, I shift from one foot to another and wonder if the intensity of that moment has failed to penetrate me. Since this kind of a conversation has taken place more than once in my presence, I have decided to take credit for both my bravado and good fortune in being within caressing distance of the cheetah.
Indeed it was a welcome although unanticipated event of my life, but I am fearless by nature and as such did not feel that I had made any significant contribution towards the overall drama of the moment. Which is the reason when a friend, who had witnessed my cheetah incident in Kenya, introduced me to eminent journalist and author Fareed Zakaria as the girl who was daring enough to be in close proximity with a cheetah in the Mara, I felt little embarrassed. Here was the much seen, much heard and much quoted Mr. Zakaria who the Esquire magazine called “the most influential foreign policy advisor of his generation” and here was I, an intrepid tourist who was on the receiving end of a nonchalant cheetah’s time, presence and benevolence.
Perhaps out of politeness, Mr. Zakaria asked to be shown my photograph with the animal, which the husband hastened to produce from his phone with the same enthusiasm and pride that he would have showed off a picture of say Malala Yousafzai taking a shot in her head, had he witnessed the incident first hand with his camera. Mr. Zakaria marvels at the probability of something like this taking place etc before moving on to oblige me with a picture with him.
This encounter with the feral animal has penetrated into my subconscious to such an extent that I have even started to dream about cheetahs. Take for example, last night when I slept with my children on a mattress on the floor of their room, which is undergoing renovation. Having disposed off their old furniture only yesterday morning I decided to sleep with them to prove to them that sleeping on a mattress for a few days never killed anybody.
It was towards daybreak when I had a vivid dream in which I am napping in the green grass of Masai Mara for some crazy reason while the rest of my friends are perched comfortably on top of their jeeps. I am in deep sleep when a cheetah lands from nowhere and decides it wants to tousle my hair with its paws. Cheetah then proceeds not only to mess-up my blow dried hair but also starts to lick my arm. Even in my dream, I remember clearly the cheetah did not possess bad breath just as well as I remember feeling scared to death. My friends, instead of rescuing me, are taking my pictures because lately our lives are all about photo-ops.
I ask the husband to save me because the cheetah’s nails are scratching my arm and my back as he continues to give me a shiatsu massage, but the man assures me of the animal’s honourable intentions.
Next the cheetah is licking my face fondly and I am not sure what to make of it. Is it sampling its next meal or caressing it? I know my end is near when it plasters one big kiss on my lips. I am feeling gross and also terribly afraid when all of a sudden the cheetah retreats. I am too afraid to move but I slowly open my eyes, as if waking up from anesthesia, and what do I find but our nine-month-old ShihTzu pup Tiffany coming back towards me to have a go at my face. The dog has decided that since her masters have downgraded themselves to her level, she is free to romp around on their bed.
I am paralyzed with relief because the adrenalin in my blood is taking time to settle but through it all, I am laughing at the ridiculousness of my dream! Then I reach for my face and feel my still wet cheeks, yes they will need a lot of scrubbing today for I have been kissed by a cheetah that was a dog.