Her left leg was cramping.

Naomi shifted slightly, dry leaves rustling as she tried to relieve some of the pressure. She was starting to get restless. She picked at the dirt under her nails. She double-checked the position of her camera. It was still focused on the clump of trees in front of her as it had been the whole night. Her eyes began to wander. She looked up towards the sky, her eyes trying to follow the sound of a crow cawing. It was still dark, early morning rays trying to break through the thick tree cover. There was a slight mist in the air and dew drops clung to the leaves, making everything damp.

Suddenly, there was a flash of orange. Naomi whipped her head back to the camera and looked into the lens, her finger hovering around the clicker. She held in her breath and waited. Another flash of orange. Leaves rustled. Then, emerging from the thick shrubbery came the full might of a tiger. It had a distinctive star shaped mark on its nose. Naomi recognized the tiger immediately. She smiled. Finally. Nala. She was majestic: orange stripes clashing against the green of the forest. Naomi immediately started clicking, the silencer on her lens masking the sound of the photograph being taken. Nala padded along; her footsteps silent on the forest floor. Her gait was slow and her paws thudded heavily on the ground. But as soon as she came, she disappeared behind a thick grove of trees.

Naomi let her shoulders slump and exhaled. This is what she had come all the way to Pench to do. Pench National Park was in Madhya Pradesh and one of the most beautiful forests she had ever seen. It was famous for being the forest on which Rudyard Kipling based the Jungle Book . It was a paradise for wildlife photographers like her. But the main reason that she had taken a rusty train to the middle of nowhere, was Nala, one of the most reputed tigers of Pench. Incredibly fierce and known for battling a crocodile, now, the ‘Crocodile Killer’ was pregnant. This was said to be her last time birthing cubs. There was no way that Naomi was going to miss that. So, here she was, lying on the forest floor with rocks and twigs poking her, hoping to take a picture of the legendary tigress giving birth for the last time. Naomi sighed. She got up and brushed the dirt from her clothes.

She started walking towards the jeep that had brought her here. This had become a routine. Enter the forest at night and leave at dawn before the tourist jeeps enter and scare the animals away. Naomi came to a sudden stop. Sitting on the ground, around 3 feet away from her, was a tiny little bird, brown in colour and quite ordinary looking. Naomi went as close as she dared and focused the camera lens. She squatted, trying to get a good angle. She inched forward, trying to capture the special streak of yellow under the wing of the ordinary brown bird. But right as she was going to take the picture someone burst into a fit of laughter and the bird flew away. Groaning in frustration, she looked for the source of that very loud person. There, behind her parked jeep, was a large group of people, talking loudly and taking selfies. Naomi marched up to them and stood in front of their jeep with her hands on her hips.

She flapped her arms around to get their attention, ready to give them a piece of her mind.

“Excuse me? Hello?”

No one paid any attention to her.

She tapped one of the men on the shoulder. He turned around and lifted an eyebrow in question. Naomi stopped short. He was wearing a ‘Protect the Forest’ badge, same as the one that was currently pinned to her bag. Naomi hoped that she had masked the surprise on her face. She put a finger on her lip and gestured to the others still talking loudly.

The man nodded in understanding. “Guys. Guys. Shhhhhh!”

Everyone fell silent and stared at Naomi. She cleared her throat, suddenly at a loss for words. The man from earlier caught her eye. Naomi decided that he was the safest to look at.

“I just wanted to remind you that this is a forest so if you could just be a little quiet please?”

He nodded and opened his mouth to speak but she turned around and walked away before he could say anything. She tried to not notice how good-looking he was. She could feel redness creeping up her neck and started to feel very hot.

Suddenly there was an ear-shattering roar. Naomi took off. Running at full speed in the direction of the roar, she prayed she hadn’t missed it.  She gasped as each roar became louder and more painful. And then she saw her. There… Between the bushes… A flash of orange. She slowed down and tiptoed towards Nala. Naomi was panting. As quietly as possible, she set up the camera. She knew that she couldn’t get too close. Naomi fixed the long-distance lens. Then she took a step back to make sure that everything was in order and bumped into something hard.

“Owww!”

She looked the man up and down. He was the same person from the jeep.

“I was going to apologise for being loud before you suddenly took off.”

“Oh. That’s okay. I don’t usually yell at people like tha…” Naomi was interrupted by another roar. She turned her attention back to the camera.

“Is it finally happening?” The man whispered. She nodded.

They stood transfixed as they watched Nala panting furiously. Then, with a loud roar she crouched and they watched as one by one she delivered four little cubs onto the forest floor.

The man gasped. Naomi grinned wide. She couldn’t take her eyes off Nala. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. All she wanted to do was savour the moment. It was quiet now. She took a deep breath before looking at the picture that she had captured. It was taken right after the cubs had come out.

After one last look and one last click, she picked up her camera and started tip-toeing back to her jeep. The man followed her. Then she looked at the camera and the pictures she had clicked. Nala had curled herself around her new-borns protectively and was licking them clean.

“Woah. That’s beautiful.” The man whispered, peering over her shoulder, then looking at Naomi with amazement.

Naomi smiled, eyes sparkling in the warm glow of the sunlight.

“Thank you. My name’s Naomi by the way.”

“Jay.”

He smiled warmly.

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Forest Lore is a short story written during the My Alchemy workshop by participant Sakshi Lala. If you want to know more about the writing workshop, send us a mail on alchemy@abacusyellow.com
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