Excerpt - The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story

 


  • The speaker in the following excerpt is Shahay, the Leopard’s Daughter. She relates the story of how she came to have her takhalus, her nickname. It is also the story of Lema, the orphaned snow leopard cub raised to independence by her father Mehmoud with Shahay’s help. Shahay’s sister is Farikhta.
  • Lemahouse, the nominal publisher of The Leopard’s Daughter: A Pukhtun Story gets its name from the leopard cub. Below is Lemahouse’s logo,  an illustration of Lema hand-drawn by a 12 year old Vancouver girl. 

 

 © Lemahouse

Chapter 13 Lema

 

"The story of my takhalus, my nickname, began when I was a child. Baba brought a kitten back from his hunt in the Chitral. I thought: 'He shows it to me, not to my brothers and sister. It's my gift.' I skipped after baba through the vegetable garden, under apricot and apple trees to the back of the enclosure surrounding our home. Naturally it was my role, not my siblings, to help him prepare the pen against corner walls. My eyes wouldnt leave the animal. It was a spotted peeshu. I'd never seen a kitten so large, nor one with spots. Baba corrected me. 'You're mistakenhe said. It isn't a peeshu. It's a baby prraang, a leopard cub.'

'Yes. A prraang' I said. I pretended I knew. But how could I really know? I'd never seen one. Its eyes were different from a cat's. I would ask Farikhta. She'd know.

"When baba left, I remained behind, peering at my pet. Baba warned me: Don't leave the pen door open.' But I thought, I could go in and close the door. After all, it was mine. Father brought it for me. I could play with it.

"I crawled in, closing the door behind. The prraang looked soft. I wanted to stroke

it. I looked into its eyes and smiled, so it would see I was a friend. I crept closer and closer on hands and knees, silently and slowly, so as not to frighten it. It seemed to me that it smiled back. Its mouth was wide and its little teeth showed. A low rattle came from its belly. I thought it must be chuckling, speaking to me. So I spoke back. 'I'm Shahay. You're my pet.'

"I was so close I could touch it. Slowly, carefully, I reached. Its eyes fixed on me and grew even bigger. I didn't know then that it saw a crawler-animal, showing teeth from an open, noisy mouth, an unknown animal with large, greedy eyes. In the voice her mother taught, the baby prraang made a different sound – a desperate squeal.

"Spotted fur flashed at my forearm tearing it with its razor claws, puncturing my finger with its needle teeth. The prraang retreated to its corner glaring at me, snarling a high pitched whine.

"I trembled, mouth open. Blood soaked my sleeve from ripped skin. My finger dripped a red pool from the punctures. I held the wounds. My eyes were full. I wiped them on my sleeves so my brothers and sister wouldn't see. No sobs came from my mouth. I scolded the prraang. 'I meant only to touch you. Why did you hurt me?' I left silently, securing the gate. I thought 'Baba will see blood, not tears.'

"Baba cleaned and bound the wounds. He was wise. He didn't mew sympathy. Sympathy makes children soft and cowardly. He washed the blood streaked across my face where my bloody sleeve wiped the tears. He explained.

'You say you crawled in to play. Why do you think the prraang hurt you?'

'Is it a cruel prraang?'

'Did it speak to you before it attacked?'

'It made a noise. Was that its voice?'

'Yes, a voice saying Beware! I dont know if you're friend or foe. I'm a warrior. Come no closer or I'll strike.'

'Warriors are strong and brave.'

'Always. The warrior strikes hard and endures with courage.'

 

"After that I stood back. She was savage, wild. I envied baba who went into the pen. The prraang didn't attack him. One thing was different. I saw it.

'Why do you wear the spotted skin?'

'It's her mother's skin' baba said.

"That must have been it. The cub didnt fight baba because her mother's skin covered him. He named the cub Lema. Lema rubbed against him. He was her friend but she hated me.

"I stood watching. I held my tears. But baba saw my lip trembling. I turned to walk away when he called. 'Come little one. I need your help with Lema. She needs milk and doesn't know how to lap it from a bowl. Crawl in to show how a mother drinks ewesmilk from the bowl. You'll wear mother's skin. Show no fear.'

"I gulped. He was father. I couldn't disobey. My arm's red scars were still sore. My brothers and sisters came to watch. Ayub taunted. 'You're afraid aren't you?' I was angry with him. 'No, I'm not. Watch me.'

"Father helped tie the skin around my arms, over my back, and across the back of my legs. My arm wouldn't bend against its stiffness. Beneath it, I was hot. It stank of old blood. I blinked, held my breath and crawled slowly, cloaked in the skin.

Lema cocked her head and looked at me closely, but didn't speak. I peeked, then went to the bowl and began lapping noisily. She came to my side and sat looking from milk to noisy tongue, to milk, to tongue. Lema's nose touched the tip of my milky tongue, sniffing. Her rough tongue wiped across the end of noisy-tongue's nose, tickling it. I wanted to giggle but didn't. Now she pressed into my side, lapping milk as I did. We drank together, licking our lips. As I crept out I looked back. She stared after me.

"Each day after teaching her to drink milk, she brushed against me as I entered, greeting me, purring soft rattles. I imitated her sounds. Soon, as I went to leave, Lema would leap on her mother's back – my back – and put her teeth into the neck's skin, roughhousing. I rolled over into a ball and she bounded, bounced and rolled with me, chewing at the leopard skin cloak, pawing gently. 

"As Lema grew and her excitement was too great, she bared her teeth and unsheathed her claws. I hissed and growled in return, answering her quickness and threats with my own. She was my playmate…

David Raeburn Finn

David Raeburn Finn read a BA (Hons) in Philosophy and Psychology at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Subsequently he read a PhD supported by a Canada Council Post Doctoral Fellowship at the University of London, UK. At one point he imagined he might pursue medicine. Though he completed the task of castrating a lab rat in a neurophysiology course, the experience taught him of his aversion to cutting, a fatal flaw for a physician. He has taught, operated small private businesses in construction and importing, and worked with a Vancouver hedge fund management firm.

At age seventy-one he co-published his children's book, Poopballs Over The Shanty And Other Bedtime Stories' (Caledon Bedtime Press Ltd, 2013) illustrated by Rae Mate.These five bedtime stories reflect his earliest memories as a child in Ontario. Each story takes 10 to 12 minutes to read aloud. The title story, Poopballs Over the Shanty, recalls the earliest outdoor game he played with his brother."Yes, we tossed frozen horse poop over an old broken shanty," he says. "We didn't have rubber balls or tennis balls. Some of the horse poop was a tad fresher, so unfrozen. We found a use for that, too."

David Finn's Recognitions

  • "David Raeburn Finn is a Canadian philosopher and student of Islam. He currently writes on Pashtun anthropology, gender and Islam, American foreign policy, and politics, as well as fiction for children and adults."

  • "David Raeburn Finn of Nanoose Bay was born in Sudbury District, Ontario on May 17, 1942. Raised in Caledon and Etobicoke, Ontario, he received his BA (1964) and MA (1965) from Queens University; and completed his Canada Council Doctoral Fellowship at University of London, UK (Ph.D, 1967)."