The dirty soles of my feet crunched the hard dirt as I trekked through the wilderness. I stared into the light green water of what I had known to call Glacier. There were many Indians here. But they wouldn’t notice me. I snuck into the tall grass and trudged through the path that lead me towards my destiny.
I shuffled out into a clearing covered in wildflowers. “Kwanla,” I whispered. As soon as the words left my left my lips, she appeared out of a bush. We spent the rest of the day giggling and playing. I taught her new tricks, too. “Shake!” I insisted, and she obeyed, resting her paw in my delicate hand. “Good girl”, I said, handing her a piece of meat and stroking her head.
Suddenly, an Indian call filled my ears. I stood up, regarding the field, finding nothing. Suddenly, my father appeared, a feather plastered to his forehead. Kwanla shrunk into the bushes.
“Nala, you’ve been gone 12 hours! Where have you been?” he insisted.
“Nowhere,” I whispered.
He picked me up, swinging me onto his back. “Well, we better get you back to camp. We have to go hunting tonight.”
I gulped down my fear and prayed that Kwanla would get away. Far away.
Papa released me onto the hard ground at the camp, bending down and giving my forehead a kiss. “See you later.”
He rode away, grabbing an arrow.
I went inside and tried not to have a panic attack, like I did every time he went out hunting for her. He had never gotten her before. Why would he get her this time? But I had a feeling in my gut, a feeling that this time everything might not be okay. The feeling that I had had before Mama had died. I grabbed the bow that I had gotten a few months ago when I turned 9 and trudged into the darkness.
Each step I took was a scary one, each one providing less light. I was scared, but despite my nerves, I ran, not wanting to get caught. As I ran, my fingers brushed against something. I noticed an image in the desolate forest. I stopped and cautiously felt the thing- the petals of an Indian paintbrush. Memories flooded back; my mother braiding my hair, tucking an Indian paintbrush into my hair and behind my right ear, kissing my forehead. I came back to reality when an arrow zipped past. They thought I was an animal. The thought filled my head as I ducked and rolled into the bushes next to me, a move that my father had taught me. I crawled until my knees could take no more of the sticks and leaves covering the ground.
Eventually, I stood up and tried to ignore the fact that my legs burned. I desperately beheld my settings, searching for Kwanla. I saw a murky silhouette in the shadows. I rushed towards it, knowing it was Kwanla.
“Kwanla, come on girl. Let’s get you out of here.” I said, louder than I should have. But the voice that replied was much, much louder.
“NALA? Go back home!” Papa yelled.
“No,” I quietly responded.
“What was that?”
“I said no!” I yelled, tears starting to run down my pale pink cheeks.
“Nala!” he yelled accusingly.
“Don’t hurt her!” I screamed, falling onto my knees.
“Who?” he asked, more confused than mad now.
“The bear,” Papa said, “is a threat to the village. It must go.” He had said this 4 months ago too, when he had started looking for her. Yet she was not a threat, not a menace. We were not in peril just because roamed around us.
“No.” I repeated. And bolted. And then I made the mistake of looking back. My father’s face was filled with sorrow and misery. I swallowed and scanned my surroundings for Kwanla, the figure that had taken my mother’s place when she died. Her dying would be like Mama dying all over again. As the sun burst over the green grass, and the light spread, I realized that I had been running for hours. I found a small clear creek and sipped, not knowing how thirsty I was until water filled my mouth.
And then she appeared and they appeared, all at once. I abruptly stood up, looking for my father, but he was nowhere to be found. Kwanla, petrified, came behind me. I stroked her head, looking from her to the hunters. They didn’t move. Maybe they wouldn’t kill her after all. I hugged her tighter. And then they slowly moved, their arrows finding their bows. Kwanla hesitated before she slunk out of my arms and walked away from me- and towards the hunters. I almost ran toward her, but stopped. Kwanla wasn’t dumb. What was she doing? The thought hit me as hard as a rock- she was protecting me.
And then they shot.
I closed my eyes, not opening them until I heard a yell for help. A HUMAN yell for help. And I felt her nuzzle me.
“She’s okay”, was my first thought.
“Then who’s calling for help?” was my second.
I snapped open my eyes as reality kicked in: my father lie on the ground, an arrow in his leg. He was still okay, still breathing and blinking. When the medicine man came, he pronounced the leg broken. Since then, my father has gotten better. He can now easily walk. I have questioned him many times about why he would do this, sacrifice himself for her, for a bear. He has said every time,” Love is a friendship, a promise. And that day, I saw in your eyes the effect that love for that bear had on you, and it wasn’t something that you should regret. Her happiness meant more than yours did to you.”
And I realized that that was true, that you should never, ever regret love.
© Sadie Buggle, Lesher Middle School, Fort Collins, CO