Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 66: A Midnight Meeting With Princess Mellivora

Rolling down hills tonight are we?” The voice said, as it unstuck its claws from the Pangolin’s scales. “Aren’t you afraid someone will see you? Won’t you be terribly embarrassed?”

Manny was indeed terribly embarrassed, but he couldn’t go red. He was a sort of light yellowy-beige colour. Sometimes he wished he was bright purple, but it would make for poor camouflage. Still, he felt bright purple suited him. He once found a bright purple plastic container that a fertogafer left behind. He cherished it, and when no one was looking he would sing songs to it.

Um… hi Princess Mellivora”, said the Pangolin. From the other creature’s deep, sniffly, irritating voice, and un-naturally long claws he already knew who he was speaking to, but he had to look up at the big, brutish Honey Badger to confirm it. No one knew why he was called ‘Princess Mellivora’, but knew that the badger had chosen his name for himself. The animals of the Kalahari doubted that Princess Mellivora knew what the word ‘Princess’ meant, but no one dared to bring up the subject.

Princess Mellivora was a honey badger, and true to his reputation, he rarely stopped for anything. If he couldn’t eat it, or collect it, it generally wasn’t worth his time and he’d abandon it for something else. He always travelled with his minions- a pair of Pale Chanting Goshwaks named Min and Ion. They pursued any prey that Princess Mellivora missed, so that nothing ever got away. Princess Mellivora approached everything and feared nothing. He probably knew the Kalahari with its many trails and its inhabitants better than anyone else. He certainly knew how to get the lost Pangolin home. He was incredibly smart.

He didn’t allow fertogafers to see this side of him, but not only was he was pretty handy with a swiss army knife, but he understood the inner workings of a laptop computer and could start his own fires when he was cold. Being nomadic, he had few possessions, but those he had, he carried with him in a small yellow backback with the words ‘Build-a-Bear’ on it. He had stolen it from a juvenile fertogafer. It was always strapped to the back of one of his minion goshawks, causing it to fly most awkwardly, not unlike a spooked Black Korhaan. Princess Mellivora was the only animal in the Kalahari who had his own iPod- obviously raided from a fortogafer tent. Tent zippers were no mystery either. And when no one was looking, he’d sometimes creep into the reception area at Nossob and mess with the bookings on the computer, just for the fun of it. Double booked chalets made his day, as did cancelling the shop’s weekly pie orders.

The Honey Badger knew Manny and his family quite well. In exchange for information about secret Cape Fox den locations, he left the small pangolin family alone and promised not to eat them.

The Honey Badger didn’t admit it, but pangolin really was the one thing he just couldn’t bear to eat. Something about a pangolin’s long tongue just didn’t sit well in the badger’s tummy, or in his mind. This was most confounding considering he loved to eat truck tires, braai tongs and toilet paper. And he had a fondness for sticking bird feathers onto porcupine quills and dipping them into the mud puddles on the road. He called it ‘Princess Melliovra’s specialty feather fondue’. He wasn’t creative and he had very poor taste.

Well, you’re a long way from home” noted the big, scary honey badger. “Yeah… lions… don’t ask” replied Manny.

The pangolin wasn’t particularly afraid of the honey badger, but he certainly felt uneasy in its presence. He couldn’t bear to think of Cape Foxes.

Um… would you be able to point me in the right direction?” Manny asked nervously.

Sure… but you’re going to have to do a little something in return”. Princess Mellivora signalled his minions. The goshawk with the little yellow backpack approached Manny, with a nasty but broken, and extremely tired glaze over its eyes. ‘Those poor birds aren’t even nocturnal…’ Manny thought to himself.

The goshawk shrugged off the little yellow backpack and dropped it in front of the Pangolin. “Open it” ordered Princess Mellivora.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 65: “Darn this highly evolved feeding apparatus”

“Um…so I think I’ll be going now”, announced the pangolin to his lion companions, as soon as it was sure that the sun was well and truly set. This can take a long time in the Kalahari, with the whole sky melting into an excruciating mixture of colours, before finally getting dark. Manny didn’t understand this at all and tonight it was particularly drawn out making it all the more inconvenient.

He slowly edged away from the cats, wondering whether he was supposed to thank them or not. He decided against it.

Snout to the ground, Manny began to walk in roughly the direction he had been rolled from.Every few steps, he’d slurp up an ant or two. He was over his earlier bout of motion sickness and was ready to eat again. In fact, he was hungrier than he’d ever been, and ants just weren’t hitting the spot. Then he saw it. It looked like an ant, but was considerably larger and looked rather crunchy. “Perfect!” he thought. Finding this Armoured Ground Cricket was a blessing. He wouldn’t need to eat again until Wednesday at the earliest. Why had no one else thought of this? Why was it always ‘termite… termite… ant… termite… termite… termite… ant…?’ The pangolin boldly walked up to its new prey item, apologized profusely to it, and opened its mouth to get a good grip. That’s when he learned why pangolins didn’t eat ground crickets. They just couldn’t. “Darn my highly evolved and specialized feeding apparatus” he murmured to himself and to the grateful armoured cricket.

The pangolin reached the edge of the riverbed. He looked down, but saw very little. He was blind enough without it being dark as well, but he could feel he was on the edge of a large slope. Then he got an idea.

He cautiously looked around him. As far as he could tell, no one was close. His excitement mounted. An ant crawled across his foot, but instead of eating it, Manny used his long claws to dig a shallow hole, into which he flicked the little ant. He quickly buried it in the hole. The pangolin didn’t want anyone to see what he was about to do. It would be terribly, terribly embarrassing.

Eying the bottom of the hill with glee, Manny tucked his feet and tail into his body and rolled himself into a little ball. There was a boring way to descend a sand dune, but there was also a fun way, and with a little push, the pangolin was soon rolling down the hill in a tight ball.

“Wheeee! Wheeeee! Wheeeee!” cried Manny as he rolled faster and faster. Now he really felt like a stocker ball. As he rolled, he thought he could hear some muffled giggling. It sounded familiar and it was getting louder. The pangolin has just enough time to think to itself, “Oh dear, this is not what I need tonight”…

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 64: The Most Awkward Silence

(This is Part 4/4. Really should be read after the other parts and not before…)

Do tell me you haven’t kicked that poor Pangolin all the way here?” quizzed Larry when he saw the girls approaching. Embarrassed, they stopped immediately.

Larry gazed at the ball like someone who had ordered a plate of pancakes, and had been given pancakes… bright blue pancakes. You know you could eat them, but you aren’t going to.

“So… can it be eaten?” Lois asked tentatively. “Would you eat bright blue pancakes?” Larry asked Lois. Lois didn’t understand the nature of the question and didn’t know what a pancake was. “Um… so… no, then? But you know what it is?” Lois asked.

It’s a Pangolin! Young one, by the looks of it. Very rare in these parts” said Larry. “How does it eat?” asked Lois, examining the ball for any holes. “It won’t need any skin cream, will it? Leona inquired hopefully.

“No no, it doesn’t always look like this. It’s wrapped itself into a ball. There’s a standard-issue mammal in there somewhere”. “Oooh” Lois was intrigued, “can you…open it?”

Why bother?” said Larry. “The little chap can stay like that for days. Waste of time if you ask me. Besides, there aren’t many of those around, it’s best if we leave it so it can have children one day”. Ew, children. I think not!”, Manny thought to himself from deep within the ball. For just a brief moment he considered uncurling himself and smacking the lion on the nose, but thought better of it.

Larry lowered his voice. “Fertogafers eat these, given the chance”. The three girls gasped in horror. From what the girls had seen, fertogafers only ate things that came wrapped in little plastic packages. Larry had their attention. “Oh yeah, they do all sorts of ridiculous things to them as well. Eat them, wear them, use them as medicine. Personally, I can’t see how this would work better than Med-Lemon.” This sent a wave of panic over the tightly rolled ball. Its mother hadn’t told it this, despite the fact it was an only child and its mother most definitely had the time. So this must be why ‘YOU MUSN’T BE SEEN!’

Feeling that it was in a safe space, the ball decided it was time to break its silence. “Excuse me, so does this mean you’re not going to eat me?” it asked the lion. Only it sounded much like, ‘Skeewwmeeee, Sofudis meee Voo-naa-gna-eeeee?’, as the ball’s words were impossibly muffled by its scales. “You can give up the ball act”, Larry assured. A tiny, pointed mouth emerged from the ball and spoke. “You really won’t eat me?” “Promise” said the lion, holding up a paw. He didn’t know why he did this, and lowered before anyone noticed. “Don’t flatter yourself, you don’t even look that tasty.”

Slowly the pangolin unravelled itself, revealing its funny form. Lois couldn’t help but giggle at the weird creature. Larry shot her a nasty look and she quickly composed herself. Lisa suddenly sprang to her feet. “The whale will FALL if I don’t collect 37 cucumbers by 4 o’clock!” and with that, she bolted across the dunes and out of sight. The other lions weren’t going to see her again until three days later, and when they did, she would be inexplicably covered in blue and red polka-dots.

You’re free to go”, Larry said to the little Pangolin. “You know your way home from here?” The Pangolin had a good look around, or at least it pretended to. In reality, it was quite blind and couldn’t see beyond the grains of sand by its feet. It looked the large lion square in the eye (or what it thought was the lion’s eye- it was however the lion’s third claw on its left foot), and spoke with confidence. “Yeah, sure”, it said, trying to sound relaxed and cool. The truth was, it could easily spend the next 5 years trying to find its burrow, but it wasn’t going to. It wanted its mummy.

Er… do you mind if I stay here until nightfall?… I musn’t been seen” it added quickly, remembering fertogafers aren’t nocturnal. The lions agreed. The pangolin looked at his new companions. They looked at him. What do you say to a Pangoin? Time passed. A lot of time passed. “I think its staring at our toes”, exclaimed Lois. More time passed. The lions were stumped and so began the longest and most awkward silence ever not heard in Kgalagadi . Even the barking geckos joined in. By doing nothing.

It was very awkward.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 63: Suffering Seasickness in the Riverbed

It might be best to read Chapter 61 and Chapter 62 before this. Or not.

We’ll have to roll it to Larry”, decided Lois. “Are you kidding? What if someone sees us with it?” Leona was very worried.

The ball’s name was Manny and it did not appreciate being called ‘it’.

The ball listened intently to the scheming girls as it was being rolled along the riverbed, dribbled between two of the lions (Leona, too embarrassed to be seen with her sisters, was following 30 paces behind). The ball knew it had made a terrible mistake.

Like the lions, the ball was well aware of fertogafers, but had never seen one for itself. In fact, its mother had drilled into it, the golden rule of their exclusive species: “YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!” This rule had been passed on for countless generations. It was uttered at every possible opportunity, even when it didn’t seen necessary- “Manny, can you please pass the termintes? And remember, YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!” “Yes, you may go outside and tease some Red Romans, but YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!”

There were, obviously, some exceptions to this rule. It’s permissible to be seen (especially by fertogefers) if their likely response will be, “Yip, that there’s an armadillo, ya see ‘em squashed all the time out on the I-95”. But it was a rule that if anything that sees you is going to enjoy seeing you, appreciate how special and unique you are and take a genuine interest in you, YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN! (Author’s note: Yes, I am bitter.)

To fight off the nausea induced by the relentless rolling, the ball pondered the series of events which had led it here. Rolling was not its preferred method of travel and it wasn’t accustomed to it. Tucked safely within, it possessed four legs, although it rarely used its front ones. Walking around on all fours was so terribly primitive.

It had arrived at that fateful bush by following an ant. At any point along the journey, it could have used it freakishly long tongue to reach out and gobble up the ant. In fact, the ant was expecting this. With each tiny step, the ant recalled the happiest memories in its short life, like the time it learned that millipedes made brilliant ‘bendy’ buses. But the ball had bigger plans for the ant. The ball hypothesized that if this ant was left to live, it would lead to more ants. To its dismay, the ant led it not to more ants, but to this particular bush by the roadside, where it was promptly eaten by an exceptionally fat Ground Agama. ‘Fantastic’ thought the ball to itself. AND YOU MUSTN’T BE SEEN!

So there it found itself, far from home in mid-afternoon under a bush with no travel snacks. Despite being quite blind, it knew there were lions about. The lionesses wouldn’t care to be reminded that they shamelessly neglected their hygiene in favour of their looks. The ball also felt the rumble of the approaching dust cloud long before the girls did. The rest is history.

By this time, the ball was sufficiently hot and dizzy and wanted very much to be tucked away in its burrow.

As they rolled the ball along, the girls continued to speculate. “I think it’s just a tortoise. Yes, I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s a tortoise”, said Lois. From 30 paces behind, Leona shouted, “What about a mongoose? It may be a mongoose with a terrible skin condition. I have a lovely cream that should help…”. But then Leona remembered that she didn’t like the ball, whatever it was, and was certainly not going to share her cream with it. She hoped the other girls hadn’t heard her offer, so there wouldn’t be a need to formally retract it. “What will happen to the garden ornaments if the whales can’t read?” Lisa asked Lois, with grave concern in her voice.

Do tell me you haven’t kicked that poor Pangolin all the way here?” quizzed Larry when he saw the girls approaching. Embarrassed, they stopped in their tracks.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 62: No Escape

(Only makes sense if read after Chapter 61. Actually, it doesn’t make sense at all. Nevermind.)

…She gingerly pawed at it with her ginger paw, and much to everyone’s surprise, it rolled out from under the bush and settled neatly at their feet…

What is that?” cried Leona as she jumped back, clearly disgusted. Lois pawed at it again. ‘Don’t touch it!’ snarled Leona. “Maybe it’s a plant, or a pinecone”, offered Lois. On closer inspection, the tan-coloured ball was indeed covered in hard, sharp plates. “I think it’s a whale”, whispered Lisa as she gazed off into the distance. Lisa was the prettiest of three, so the other two needed her, but she didn’t excel when engaged in conversation. On this occasion, her comments were ignored.

“Wait, I think I’ve seen these before”. Lois was remembering something. “Nossob campsite. Don’t the fertogafers kick these at each other? I think they’re called ‘stocker balls’”. How crude!” exclaimed Leona. She wanted nothing to do with it. All the while, she knew what a ‘stocker ball’ was, and this was not one. It wasn’t bouncy, nor was it ‘fun’ enough.

Oh no, here comes another…” Before Leona finished, all three girls could see that down the riverbed, a tell tale cloud of dust was approaching. They never could understand why these fertogafers always travelled within a dust cloud. Maybe they were very light and the dust carried them? Lois had to act quickly. She hurriedly kicked the ball so it rolled back under the bush from whence it came. “Very odd!” exclaimed Leona, again. She certainly didn’t want to be photographed with that. The girls tried their best to smile for the cameras, but they worried someone might see what they were concealing. Some of these photographers had terribly powerful zoom lenses, which kept the ladies on top of their grooming. Between them, they never had a hair out of place.

They posed nervously. Seconds past like hours. Their eyes nervously darted between the bush and the fertogafers. When the fertogafers finally left, the girls let out a collective sigh. The thing had thankfully stayed under the bush.

“We need to take it back to Larry, he’ll know what it is” said Lois. “What?! Just leave it here! This is all very irrelevant and we shouldn’t be discussing it. When did we start bringing home everything we see”, hissed Leona. “Are we going to bring back that exceptionally fat Ground Agama too?” she added, nodding in the direction of an exceptionally fat Ground Agama, who took a nervous gulp before running away. “What if it’s food and he found out we just left it? If we bring it back, we don’t have to hunt this afternoon. Think about that”. Lois had an excellent point. “If there are whales at the party, would it be inappropriate to serve butternut soup?” asked Lisa thoughtfully.

Lois tried the grip the ball, but to no avail. The hard scales just slid away from her teeth and the ball fell to the ground with an unpleasant thud. It didn’t bounce. When she tried again, one of the ball’s sharp scales cut painfully into Lois’s mouth, causing her to ‘meow’ like a kitten, which in turn caused much her embarrassment, which caused her to forget all about the pain in her mouth.

Meaningless and Maladroit Manis Memoirs Chapter 61: A Very Silly Rustle

Do you think they’re nearly finished?” Lois whispered to Leona, who was also trying her hardest to look her most beautiful for the mob of flashing cameras. Leona was a true professional and ignored Lois completely. She turned her head gracefully away from Lois, giving the paparazzi a new angle. Lois, Leona and Lisa were bonafide celebrities. In fact, they were the reason why a migrating primate species called a ‘fertogafer’ came to this part of Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

Fertogafers took countless pictures of the three girls. They simply couldn’t get enough of them. Their images adorned bedroom walls and living room mantels far beyond the park boundaries and all over the world, and the girls knew it. They knew it because more and more fertogafers kept coming, sent north to this remote corner of the world by others who had come before them. They all came with the hope of photographing these three very beautiful girls. The girls didn’t like to make it challenging, preferring to spend their days inconspicuously basking by the heavily used roadside. They liked to make sure the background was just right for the ultimate photo, and were known to move objects like rocks and fill Ground Squirrel holes with flowers to ensure the perfect backdrop- one that would enhance their features. Lois, Leona and Lisa absolutely thrived on their celebrity status and the fertogafers were more than happy to fawn over them. In nature, this is called a mutual relationship.

It’s fair to say that the ladies greatly enjoyed their day job. It wasn’t hard being a fabulous celebrity. But their admirers rarely understood that the girls had other responsibilities. Fertogafers too easily forgot that this was ‘the wild‘. Beneath the fame and the sparkly white teeth they loved to show off (‘oops, is that a big, wide Y–A–W–N coming on?’), they had a responsibility to provide for Larry.

Being a great bodyguard, a prolific polygamist and reasonably good father didn’t make Larry any less lazy. Hunting and providing was a woman’s work. He intensely valued his ‘me time’, which he devoted to sun-bathing, keeping his long mane extra ‘swishy’ and maintaining beautifully manicured claws. As long as something tasty and dead came home with the girls, he didn’t mind what they spent the rest of their day doing.

The last vehicle carrying fertogafers disappeared in a cloud of dust. ‘Hunt?’, inquired Lisa. ‘Yes, let’s’, replied Leona. As they turned to walk home, they heard a rustle from the bush that they had strategically chosen to pose beside because of its ‘authentic-looking’ thorns. Never one to not investigate, Lois was the first to poke her muzzle in. There was indeed something under the bush! She gingerly pawed at it with her ginger paw, and much to everyone’s surprise, it rolled out from the bush and settled neatly at their feet.