Full Circle

Allison Hay © Sunrise and safari animals Illustration: Shutterstock

It was meant to be the family holiday of their dreams, but now Sean was gone – yet was his spirit still with them?

Stepping out of the airport, Danni wiped a bead of moisture from her brow. She’d forgotten how hot it could be in South Africa. Even though she’d only been once before, the memory was still ingrained on her mind as clearly as stars on a frosty night. Not that they’d be expecting frost in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – at least she hoped not.

“Mum. Where’s the animals?” Jack stood by her side clutching his backpack in one hand, his suitcase in the other. He attempted to hide a yawn, though his denim blue eyes stared around curiously. He was so like his dad. Pain seared her heart at thoughts of Sean. He’d died just over a year ago, and she still missed him. How dare he be taken from her so young? He’d only been thirty-seven.

Her lips tightened. They’d been saving up over the past few years for this trip, only now it was just her and Jack. She’d have cancelled as the idea of travelling without Sean had seemed wrong. But she remembered the words he’d said just before he died,

Life is an adventure, so treat it as such. Take Jack. Do what we planned to do.

With Jack still keen to go, and Sean’s words ringing in her head, she’d relented.

Now here, she smiled as she gazed at her son and ruffled his head affectionately. “We might see some at our lodge.”

“Cool… Oi,” Jack pulled back and Danni grinned. At nine he was growing up fast and was beginning to dislike any outward signs of affection. She missed the little boy that used to cuddle into her arms in the evening, all sleepy-eyed and smelling of baby powder. Jack still let himself be cuddled but only occasionally now. Maybe he felt he had to be the man of the house since Sean had gone?

“Hello daar,” a voice to their left called and Danni looked round to see a friendly looking man with the most beautiful smile holding out a sign with their surname on. “You for Marloth Park?”

Danni nodded and the man stepped forward to take their cases. There were various accommodation places one could stay either in the Kruger National Park itself or nearby. With the Rest Camps being more popular with South African families, and the high-end private lodges too expensive, they’d booked one of the more affordable lodges close-by.

Thato, as he told them he was called, happily chatted the entire journey, asking odd questions about where they were from and how long they were staying for.

“Bath, which is in the West of England, and I wanted to show my son, Jack, this amazing country and wildlife. I was here before…” Her voice faltered as she remembered her trip with Sean. Tears sprang unbidden into her eyes. He’d been looking forward to proudly showing Jack the sights, sounds and smells that weaved nature together. It would have meant so much.

“We’re going on Safari,” Jack added pulling out his well-thumbed and treasured Animals found in South Africa book from his backpack which she and Sean had given him before he’d died.

“Ahh, wonderful,” said Thato. “You say you’ve been before?”

“Yes, once, ten years ago,” Danni said, feeling memories tug at her heartstrings like a violin playing the most beautiful solo. “That’s why I wanted to show Jack. There’s nothing like experience to make a moment special.”

“Kief,” Thato said nodding his head in understanding.

Seeing Jack look confused Danni explained. “Kief means great.”

“Kief,” Jack repeated, grinning. “Cool.”

“That too,” Danni said.

Thato laughed. “It does, yes. You’re right. It’s kief you know some of our language.”

“I remember lots of things,” Danni said. She’d been telling Jack all about the various adventures she and his dad had experienced first time round.

It had been their honeymoon. They both loved animals and the idea of seeing big cats and other exotic creatures up close seemed like a dream come true. They’d first met at the practice where she was a vet and Sean was applying for a vet nurse position. He hadn’t got the job but she did gain a husband, though they’d dated for nearly a year before Sean had proposed.

After a small wedding, they’d enjoyed a fabulous honeymoon in South Africa where stars had sparkled in velvet dark nights and the air had smelled of excitement. The highlight had been the three-day safari which had left them both feeling rather humble and full of awe. And that’s what they’d wanted Jack to experience as well. To see elephants, rhinos, wildebeest, hyenas and giraffes in their natural habitat. The giraffes had touched Danni’s heart most of all, towering over them, their coats looking soft in their umber shades. They were the tallest mammals in the world, some growing up to a height of 5.5 metres, their guide had said, adding that they were very peaceful animals, and rarely fought.

“Reckon we humans could take a leaf out of their book,” Sean had said, and Danni had agreed.

It had been perfect. Even more so because that’s where she’d fallen pregnant with Jack.

Once their son was born, both she and Sean agreed that one day they’d return. After all, maybe it would change his life like it had changed theirs?

Having waved goodbye to Thato, they settled into their new home for the next fourteen days. It wasn’t luxurious, but then again it hadn’t been the first time round either.

“We’ve got an early get up tomorrow,” Danni told Jack cheerfully.

“How early?” Jack asked suspiciously, Danni knowing that he wasn’t the easiest person to wake in the morning.


“What? Really?” Jack’s eyes were out on stalks.

“Hey, when the sun rises is one of the best times to see the animals as that’s when they’re the most active.”

“But… that early?”

His shoulders slumped before he turned to gaze admiringly out of the window at the animals wandering freely around their property. Zebras, ostriches, even mongoose, though Jack had to ask Danni what they were, even though he’d been reading up on the animals in his book ever since he knew they were going. Danni still recalled his face lighting up with unbridled enthusiasm at the thought of getting so close to the wildlife.

“Will we see lions?” He turned his head to look at Danni hopefully.

“Probably. But remember, please listen carefully to the guide and do what he says, OK? These animals are wild, and just because we’re getting close doesn’t mean they’re tame or that they’re happy to be stroked.”

She added the last bit, recalling that when Jack had been younger, he’d desperately wanted to own a lion or a tiger and had been bitterly disappointed at being told no. Danni and Sean had sweetened their answer by promising him a cat, and Jack had chosen a tabby as it was the closest looking one to a wild creature.

Gently waking him the next morning, Danni felt excitement tug at her belly. This was what they’d waited ten years for, her and Sean. OK, it was only her and Jack now but maybe Sean was watching them both from up above? She felt herself tear up before quickly blinking them away.

She’d been up before the alarm and had gazed soulfully out of the window. Thinking about it, humans were no different from animals really, losing ones they loved and cared for; the circle of life being nature’s way of taking and giving back to the earth.

Jack sleepily rubbed his eyes. “It can’t be morning already,” he murmured. “It’s still dark.”

That’s the point. We want to be up and out when the sun rises. I’m sure you’ll get some great camera shots. Come on sleepyhead.

Jack loved photography as much as Sean had and had eagerly soaked up any tips Sean could pass on. He was good too, having a natural eye.

Pulling on layered clothing as it was quite chilly before the sun rose, Jack seemed to pick up on Danni’s eagerness as they got into the open sided jeep with their guide, Lethabo, who’d also thoughtfully provided them with a blanket.

“Have you got binoculars as well as cameras?” he asked, giving them both warm smiles.

“We have, thanks,” Danni said, smiling back. Something else she remembered from when she and Sean had visited – everyone was friendly and always looked so happy.

Jack had his camera round his neck ready and swiftly glanced round, not wanting to miss a moment of his African adventure.

As they drove, it was as though the animals awoke from their slumber to start their day afresh. And the colours as the sun began to rise were spectacular.

Danni clapped one hand to her face, the other clutching Jack’s hand.


“I know, Mum! Let me photograph it.”

Although she took a few photos, Danni then put her camera down so she could just bask in the glory of the sky and caught her breath as the sun slowly peeped over the horizon as they drove towards it. How lucky were they to be on this planet, experiencing such wonder? It was as if the sun was an iris of fire rose, a golden glow, set against a backdrop of blue tinted colour.

And with the sun came the animals, as if two by two towards an ark.

Lethabo pointed them out as he expertly drove along the road that seemed to stretch for miles ahead like a long grey ribbon flanked by a chorus of greens and earthy browns.

To begin with, there were only odd sightings – a pride of lions sleepily waking to face a new day, or a few elephants walking single file across the landscape. But soon they saw other animals, including a pair of hippos taking a morning bath in one of the nearby pools of water.

Jack then grabbed her sleeve. “Mum,” he said, almost whispering. “It’s Ned.”

Danni swallowed at her son’s use of his favourite cuddly toy – a giraffe which she and Sean had bought on their first visit.

Giraffes had always been Danni’s favourite animal, with their necks rising majestically from their elegant long-limbed bodies, their gait reminding her of a ballet dancer as they moved gracefully along their path.

Lethabo pulled over and stopped.

“So, you can take better photographs,” he said helpfully.

“Thank you,” Danni breathed, recalling that on her safari with Sean, they too had stopped to photograph a giraffe, who’d gazed at them with its soft eyes, it’s speckled coat gleaming shades of cream and brown, its ears waggling ever so slightly.

Their guide back then had told them that no two giraffes had the same spots, and were all unique. They also had long memories and massive tongues!

She smiled, as she recounted the story to Jack, who giggled.

“That’s how they can forage on trees other animals cannot reach,” Lethabo said. “They also live for about twenty-five years and they don’t need much sleep – somewhere between 10 minutes and two hours.”

Jack gaped. “Ten minutes?”

Lethabo nodded. “Yes. Good, huh? Means they don’t miss out on life, as they’re too busy living and not spending too much time sleeping.”

Jack looked thoughtful.

Is that why you’re always waking me early, Mum, so I don’t miss out on anything?

Danni felt her mouth twitch. “Something like that, sweetheart. But it’s also so you can get to school on time.”

“Learning is also very important,” Lethabo agreed. “It’s how we survive the jungle in life.”

“Kief,” said Jack.

Lethabo looked impressed. “See? Your studying’s already paying off, as you’re learning our language.”

Jack wiggled his shoulders self-consciously, but Danni could tell he was proud. And rightly so.

“He’s coming closer,” said Lethabo.

Danni almost held her breath as the giraffe walked towards them in his relaxed elegant way. She quickly glanced at Jack, seeing that he looked equally spellbound.

As her gaze met that of the giraffe, and she stared into his – or her – dark velvet eyes, she felt her heart nearly miss a beat as it felt as though she were almost looking into the giraffe’s soul. Silly to believe it could it be the same animal, the one that had got closer to them when she’d been with Sean. Back then, it had almost been as though the giraffe was passing on some secret message, a code if you like, that only she’d interpreted at the time, as she’d known she was pregnant even though she’d not taken a test yet. Call it feminine intuition. Their guide had told them the giraffe was expecting, and it was as if a secret bond had taken place, one soon-to-be mother communicating with another. She’d told no one, not even Sean, but it had felt like a good omen.

As it turned out, the giraffe had been right as those next few years had been filled with so much love and joy. Sleepless nights too, of course – which the giraffe wouldn’t have worried about if they only needed a maximum of two hours sleep!

Trying to rock Jack back to sleep when she’d barely had that amount of sleep herself had been hard. She’d remembered the giraffe and wondered how they coped. But then again, she was in a warm house, with a roof over her head, and didn’t have to worry about predators or the laws of the jungle – that didn’t start until Jack started school!

Staring into the giraffe’s eyes now, it was almost as though a spark of recognition appeared, which was crazy. Hearing Jack gasp as he took snap after snap on his camera, she glanced at him. When she looked back, she saw another giraffe had joined the first.

“Her son,” said Lethabo.

“How do you know?” Danni asked.

“I am your guide,” Lethabo said simply. “Unfortunately, she lost her mate a few years ago.”

Danni felt a pull on her heart…

So she and the giraffe did have something in common. Although there was no way she could know for certain, she wanted to believe it was the same animal that had gazed into her and Sean’s eyes ten years ago. She knew she wasn’t pregnant again, but perhaps the giraffe was saying well done on producing Jack. Or maybe it was another sort of message? One that said to believe in a happier future and have faith in what life may bring because it’s a blessing – just like having a child.

As if knowing the message had been sent, the two giraffes walked off towards a nearby tree.

The rest of the time flew past and sitting in their lodge later, both Jack and Danni looked through the photos they’d taken.

“You’ve got some great shots,” she complimented. “You’re as good a photographer as your dad.”

Jack coloured slightly at the compliment, before lifting hesitant eyes to hers. “I’ve decided I want to be a wildlife photographer when I’m older. I like taking pictures, and taking ones of animals is just so… kief.” He grinned.

“Then you must follow your dream,” Danni said, hugging him close. “As long as you’ve a passion for what you do, then you’ll succeed.”

“Thanks, Mum.”

Yes. Maybe the giraffe had been passing on a special message when she’d locked eyes with it, telling her that life was an adventure, so treat it as such. The same words that Sean had said just before he died. If her son could plan ahead for the future with enthusiasm, then so could she.

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.