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Excerpt from
The Greatest Lion
A Children's Book by Chilton Williamson, Jr.

Chapter 3

The Lion and The Lioness were no longer captives in the city zoo. But they were no closer to their faraway veldt below Mt. Kilimanjaro, and there was no way they could think of to get home again. The soldiers had given them just enough money to buy themselves supper at the nearest bazaar, but at first sight of The Lions all the merchants and their customers ran off as fast as they could manage. So The Lion and The Lioness enjoyed a fine meal for nothing, the best they'd enjoyed since their capture. Afterward, they fell asleep in a nearby grove of palm trees that glistened like a still fountain under a silver moon.

At dawn, The Lion was awakened by noises from beyond the palm grove. He put his ears back flat against his head the way lions do when angered, lowered himself on his belly, and crept silently to the edge of the trees to see what it was he'd heard. Beyond the trees a big truck with a cage loaded on it waited, surrounded by men carrying nets and a crowd of excited little boys. The Lion backed off into the palm grove and went to wake The Lioness, whom he found filing her nails with a sharp piece of rock. Together, The Lions slipped from the grove on the opposite side and into what Arabs call a wadi or ravine, where their escape would not be noticed.

The Lion switched his pompom angrily. "Lions do not run from little boys," he told The Lioness. "This is all a perfect disgrace. Someone must pay. The Lion will eat somebody!"

The Lioness stroked The Lion's mane with her paw. "There, there, dear," she said. "You can eat someone later, if we have time for it. But first, I think, we need to find our consulate and ask them to help us."

But when they inquired, they discovered that Tanzania had no consulate in this strange country. The Lions looked at one another, in dismay. Who would represent their interest and defend their rights as foreign citizens? The Lion knew that the British Lion, the symbol of British royalty, was a distant ancestor of his. But The Lioness did not see how that was going to be a help to them, since Tanzania was no longer a colony of Great Britain. Africa itself was not a country. It was a continent, containing many countries, which meant there was no such thing as an African consulate. Still, something had to be done. Mesopotamia was no place for a pair of lions from Kilimanjaro: full of loud noises, smoke and fire, with soldiers crowding everywhere in the streets and bazaars. The uproar made The Lion nervous and angry until he threatened to bite someone, but The Lioness warned him that, if he tried anything such thing, he'd be captured and put in a cage again.

For many days, The Lions prowled the streets, looking for food and someone who could help them return to Kilimanjaro. Though they had become a familiar sight in the city, people still kept out of their way except for the crowds of little boys, who followed them everywhere. But The Lion and The Lioness were growing very discouraged, and when a terrified travel agent told them there were no airplanes flying between the city airport and Nairobi anymore, they almost gave up hope.

"The Lion will eat that man!" The Lion growled through his whiskers, but The Lioness took his paw in hers and led him out of the office.

"What good would that do, dear?" she asked in a purring voice. "If The Lion will only be patient for a little while longer, I'm sure he'll get home to Kilimanjaro, somehow or other. Perhaps we could catch a boat from somewhere, if all else fails. Meanwhile, why don't we run out to the airport and see for ourselves about the planes?"

Ordinarily, it would not have taken long for two strong and healthy lions to run all the way from downtown, over the bridge across the river, and on to the airport. But these days there were the soldier men, holding up traffic to ask for people's identification papers, tanks rumbling across the bridges, and excited crowds shouting and waving signs from behind police lines. To avoid them, The Lions went the long way around, through the marshlands beside the river and across the desert, to reach the airport. Both of them were hot and thirsty when they arrived at the main terminal at last. The Lion's pompom switched angrily.

"The Lion sees only soldier planes here," he muttered, but The Lioness corrected him. "No," she said: "There's a cargo plane waiting on the runway, like the one they brought us from Nairobi in. Let's find a Coke machine first, and after that we'll look for the information desk."

The airport too was thronged with soldiers carrying dufflebags on their backs. The Lioness pressed through the crowd with The Lion pacing just behind her, whuffling and grunting and swinging his great head suspiciously from side to side. He was so distracted he never noticed the EMPTY light showing on the front of the Coke machine and lost seventy-five cents of the money the soldiers had given them. "Remember," The Lioness whispered in his ear, "they'll put you in a cage if you can't control yourself."

A soldier stood at the information desk in place of an airport official. He was a very nice young man with red hair and freckles, and he replied politely in answer to The Lioness's question that all passenger service into and out of the airport was suspended. But when the soldier saw how The Lioness's tail and whiskers drooped suddenly with disappointment, he added, "Is there anything I can do to help you, ma'am?"

The Lioness told him how she and The Lion were many thousands of miles from home, that they had almost no money, and that the desert was an unhealthy place for lions anyway, completely unlike their natural habitat and with no zebras around to chase. The redhaired soldier listened carefully. Then he asked, "How would you two like to go to America, instead?"

The Lion and The Lioness stared at one another in astonishment. Neither of them knew anything about America, except that it was the richest and most powerful nation on earth and also that it was very, very far away. The soldier explained that, while it was impossible for him to have The Lions flown to Africa, he could see that they were put on a plane to the United States, where they were certain to earn enough money in no time to buy two airline tickets to Nairobi. All that was necessary, the young man promised, was that from now on they must call themselves "refugees," because the American laws said so.

The Lion, who'd been looking around for someone to bite, had hardly been paying attention to him. But The Lioness was all ears. What did they have to do, she wanted to know, to become refugees?

"Oh," the red-headed soldier said cheerfully, "nothing at all, really. Uncle Sam accepts everybody as a refugee who wants to be, nowadays."

That was how The Lion and The Lioness came to travel to New York City, in the Empire State of New York, the United States of America.



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