A trickle of sweat picked its way down the side of Jacob Mweli’s face. The stifling air pressed in on the man as he shifted. A fly buzzed around his eyes and he waved it away, only for it to come back a few seconds later.
Jacob’s thoughts began to wander as he batted the fly away again. Looking down, his eyes landed on his prized possession, a worn Polaroid picture of his daughter when she was just a few months old. It was the only picture of her he had, and he carried it everywhere. Her mother smiled that big, beautiful smile of hers as she held their baby. He smiled back at her.
He looked up again. The rhino had edged closer to his blind. He studied the size of the beast, and felt the corner of his mouth curl up into another smile as he watched. He had loved animals since he was a young boy, as far back as he could remember.
He recalled a dream he had when he was a boy. He had dreamed that he was a game warden, with a uniform and his very own Jeep. He had driven all around his park, watching for poachers, and watching his animals from dawn until dusk. The morning after that dream, he proclaimed to his mother that he would be a warden when he grew up. Another trickle of sweat fell from his brow.
The rhino snuffled closer. It was an immense creature, yet to Jacob, there was something so helpless and innocent about its nature. Unaware of being watched, the rhino blinked as it grazed, its pendulum tail swishing against its haunches.
Jacob became lost in his thoughts again as he watched the rhino. He recalled that day of his youth when he had felt shame for the first time. After school, Jacob had come upon a few of his classmates gathered around something beside the road outside their village. The ringleader, a bully with a penchant for teasing Jacob, had found a very young baboon and had tied it to a rock. His friends hung back, watching silently as the bully threw stones and used a stick to poke the poor creature. He laughed, cruel and cold, as the helpless animal cringed and screeched in terror.
Filled with rage, Jacob had rushed the older boy and tackled him. He managed to land one or two punches before the older boys started to pummel him. He remembered the taste of his own blood, the glare of the sun, their laughter as they left him and the terrified animal alone together on the road.
His father had been the one to go looking for him, and as he was carried home, bloodied and bruised, he remembered that he had cried in shame. His father’s strong, deep voice flooded back to him. “Jacob, you have no reason to be ashamed. You should never be ashamed to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”
Jacob shifted again as his mind came back to the present. He thought of his sick baby girl, and his dead wife. His little girl needed medicine he had no money for. Money was money, the others had told him. Jacob lifted his rifle and slipped a round into the chamber. He propped the barrel on the edge of the window of the blind, firmed the wooden stock against the meat of his shoulder, and leaned his head over to sight down the barrel. And, once again, he felt a burning wash of shame as he gently, gently squeezed the trigger.