By Rachel Roberts
It was hot in the car. The air-conditioning had chosen the hottest day of the year to break down. We couldn’t even open the windows - the signs at the entrance on the lion enclosure had been very clear: car windows must be kept shut and doors locked at all times.
I wished Rosie hadn’t chosen Camilla as her companion for the birthday trip to the safari park. Camilla was a spoilt, irritating child. She had already lost all her spending money, Which I had replaced, and chosen the most expensive thing on the lunchtime menu. Then she had dropped strawberry ice cream all over the car seat. I could smell it in the heat.
“This is stupid”, Camilla was complaining. “I can’t even see any lions. Where are they?”
“You don’t need to come next time!” I said sweetly.
“It’s not stupid!” Rosie soundede close to tears. “You didn’t say it was stupid when you were watching the dolphins”.
“That’s because dolphins are my favourite animals, idiot!”
“Oh”, I said brightly. “I think I can see a lion”.
“Where, Mummy?” Rosie was immediately full of excitement.
“Over there under that tree. I can see their heads moving”.
“I can’t see anything”, said Camilla. “They’re too far away”.
“Well, why don’t you step out of the car and see if you can tempt them close?” I said quietly.
The truth was, the lion enclosure was a disappointment. The website had shown pictures of lions walking just a few metres from visitors’ cars, but the enclosure was enormous and, on this hot August day, the big cats were sleeping in the shade under the trees.
“Never mind”. I tried to cheer the girls up. “We can go and feed the giraffes after this”.
“Yeeees!” cried Rosie.
“Don’t like giraffes”, said Camilla.
I winked at Rosie and drove on. The air in the car was really suffocating. Suddenly I fealt a pleasant breeze on the back of my neck. To my horror I saw Camilla winding down the car windows.
“No!” I shouted. “The windows and doors must not be opened under any circumstances. That’s what the sign said and that’s what we’ll do. Now close it immediately”.
Camilla’s lip trembled. She’d probably tell her mother I’d been horrible to her.
It really was desperately hot. Even the windscreen was steaming up. I leaned forward and rubbed the glass with a handkerchief. The steam wasn’t on the inside; it was on the outside and seemed to be coming from under the bonnet.
“Goodness me, I think we’ve got a problem with the car”.
“Oh, will the lions eat us?” Camilla was suddenly happy again.
“They might eat you”, I thought to myself. Aloud I loughed, “Of course not!”
Actually, I was worried. Steam was now pouring out from under the bonnet and I could smell burnt rubber.
“Look, Mummy. The lions are coming!”
Rose was right. The lions had chosen that very moment to stretch their legs. Four large females were walking slowly in our direction. One of them yawned, revealing enormous teeth.
I tried to keep my voice calm. “Right! I’m going to blow the car horn, and the rangers will come and help us, OK?”
“Can I do it?” Camilla undid her seatbelt, jumped into the front seat and pushed the horn with all her strenght. A flock of birds flew into the air. The lions stood to attention.
“No, let me!” I pushed Camilla back roughly. To my horror I saw that the steam had turned to black smoke and that orange flames were visible. I sounded the horn again and again. The lions hesitated and then advanced.
“What are we going to do, Mummy?” Rosie sounded as scared as I felt.
“We can’t get out of the car, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES”, said Camilla joyfully.
Rosie was sitting in the back behind me. Camilla was in the front on the side of the lions. If we did leave the car, I reasoned, the lions might eat her first and give Rosie and me time to run away.
The heat was unbearable. Smoke was filling the car, making us cough. I could no longer see the lions. I gave one long blast on the horn again and yelled, “Get out, get out!”
I felt shocked and exhausted as we sat in the back of the ranger’s car. The birthday treat had been a complete disaster. The rangers had arrived in less than a minute, but not before I’d given Camilla a good kick to get her out of the burning vehicle. The car had exploded in a ball of flame seconds later, but her parents would probably sue me anyway. I had my arms around both girls and I gave them a little squeeze. Camilla looked up at me with shining eyes. “That was brilliant. Can we come back next year?”
[SpeakUp, agosto 2014]
Argomenti: a summer day out, fiction, rachel roberts
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