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Seeking Lions

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“What was your summer break adventure?” I stare these chalked letters down, wishing the blackboard was a window to the outdoors instead of proof that this caged-hell known as public education had begun. Again. An endless cycle of shriveled up facts thanklessly chewed and regurgitated by equally shriveled professors.
The shriveled professor of this particular English class had left the room for a moment, leaving the students to discuss the supposedly relevant question. Like she actually believed we were responsible. Like we actually cared what each other did over break. Like most of us even had a life outside the classroom. A shrill laugh from one of the Hyenas near the back of the room interrupts my mental eye-roll, grating against my ability to remain civil and further proving my lack of belief in other’s commitment to accountability. I slowly swivel in my chair and send a glare towards their spotted backs but they are too consumed with their toothy grins, sniggering at their own stupidity.
The Sheep crouched in the chair beside the group of Hyenas catches my glower, only to drop my gaze immediately, nervously fidgeting with her woolly curls. Pathetic. She knows that, if she gets too close, those hyenas would eat her alive. We all know it. And yet, still that Sheep will continue to pursue what she thinks she needs. She doesn't realize that popularity tastes of ash once you've had a slice. So I continue to stare at her, trying in some way to convey my metal message to put her dreams of becoming a Hyena in her back-pocket. She obviously doesn't get it. Uncomfortable with my stare, she decides to escape to the safety of the girls’ bathroom and starts walking away towards the class room door, throwing a last, longing look at the Hyena clique. It makes me irritated. “Sheep,” I spit at her as she hurries past my seat. She surprises me by taking time to pause and, with an equally irritated voice, say, “For the last time Markham I am not a freaking sheep! And they aren't hyenas! I’m so sick of you and your safari games!”
“Shallow is to Sheep, as cunning is to Cat,” I respond, “You can’t run away from who you are.” But she is already walking away, strides clipped with anger. As the Sheep disappears into the hallway, in bounds a Labrador. Just what I need. More upbeat grins and eager-to-please demeanors. I sink further into chair, praying for inner strength.
Instead, I get the Lab planted right in front of me, a small smile already on his face. I don’t return it. I don’t want to risk yelling at him too. So we sit, looking without blinking at each other for a long moment of silence. I break first, impatient to be left alone to my glass-half-empty world. “What do you want?”
His grin widens, “Just wanted find out what the infamous lone wolf does on her summer break.”
I can’t stop the snort that escapes. There was no chance I would attempt to explain to him what I pursued over the summer. That I am searching for Lions. Taking the community on Animal by Animal, desperately looking for that special creature of honor, dignity and power. A king among kings who commands the room with a single glance. Not that of false authority like the Hyenas, but of those born for greatness.
Unabashed by the scoff, the Lab laughs. “Oh come on. Out of everyone in this class, you’re probably the only one who did something even slightly resembling an adventure. You’re original. Not afraid to make a mark on society.”
“We have corrupted originality,” I automatically retort before I can rethink responding at all, “And therefore it has ceased to exist. We simply recycle fading ideas. Everyone is willing to applaud for a new bow on an old vision because they are too tired to remember what true creativity is and too tired to find their own solutions.”
He smirks. I don’t know if I want to slap myself for talking so much or punch him for getting me to talk. Maybe both. “See what I mean? You just can’t help but be interesting.” I cross my arms in protest but he ignores the defiant action, “Seriously though, what did you do for break? It’s required discussion.”
I pause, puzzling over the fact that someone was actually committed enough to discuss a boring question without the teacher present. I decide to test his current agreeableness, “I looked for Lions.”
I meet his eyes, challenging him to say something to acknowledge my eccentricity. I don’t tell him that I had met a Lioness three years ago, the cause for my obsession. Mrs. Pommel, my old English teacher. That all her students, from Armadillo to Zebra, stayed attentive and respectful. Of course, this obedience was partially out of fear, as Pommel could be petrifying in her anger, but it was also out of love for her compassion and fierce loyalty. That the day I heard Pommel had become victim to an unexpected house fire was the first time I had ever allowed myself to cry in public. That it was also the day I decided I would find another Lion, proof that perhaps there is hope for this race.
The Lab doesn't receive that explanation. He simply gets the aftermath.
But his grin doesn't falter. The geniality in his puppy-dog eyes doesn't fade. “I bet locating any lions is tough, considering we live in Oregon. Did you find any though?”
I swallow my wonder. And for a second the Lab in front of me appears to have a golden mane, the canine features becoming more feline-like, the body shifting into that of a lithe predator.
I blink. The Lab has returned but I am sure I saw it. A Lion. Perhaps I have been looking in all the wrong places. Perhaps I haven’t truly opened my eyes at all.
“So?” The Lab’s prompting question breaks my train of thought, “Did you find any?”
I ignore the question with a flash of a smile and instead ask him my own, “Do you know the trick to finding Lions? It’s just like locating and naming all other Animals. It’s merely a matter of perspective.”



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