The three kids met Milo at 4am, it wasn’t the first time that they had been up that early. Their parents had been cool with them going because they knew that it was for the competition. Dr. Gail vouched for them and their parents also knew Milo, they also wanted the kids to get the picture.
“Time to go,” Milo said. “We have to get there before the sun is too bright.”
They followed Milo, all four of them were on their bikes, Ételle, Om and Aditya had helmets, reflectors and flashlights. Milo had a small light on his bike. Ételle noticed that his bike was one of the old black ones that her grandad had.
Given that it was a Sunday, people were not up yet, in Mount Hope people slept in on Sundays but no later than 7am. There was always a lot to do on Sundays, Church or temple for some, cleaning the yard and the house and of course the obligatory Sunday lunch. We might be home in time for lunch, Mom’s making grilled fish with chips. I hope we make it back in time.
“What time do you think we will be back, Milo?” Aditya asked, as if he was reading her thoughts.
“I hope before lunch, Mom is making grilled fish and chips!” Ételle said.
“So is my mom!” Aditya said.
“We’re having chicken curry,” Om said.
“Yum!” Ételle said.
“You will all be home on time for lunch,” Milo said. “No more talking now. The animals have good hearing.”
They had left the village and were riding along a rural road surrounded by sugarcane fields and vegetable plots, in the first rays of the sun and the moonlight Ételle could see the Silverback Mountain.
Milo led them to Aunty Rani and Yantee’s vegetable patch. He stopped and got off his bike, he touched the ground.
“The boar has been here. Aditya give me your torch,” he said.
Aditya gave him his torch. Milo shone it over the patch.
“Wow,” the three of them said together.
“He’s eaten most of their pumpkin!” Ételle said.
“And their carrots,” Om added and pointed to the dug-up ground.
“The whole place looks as if it’s been turned upside down by a bulldozer.” Aditya picked up what was left of a pumpkin. Something had taken a huge bite from it. “That boar has big teeth.” He showed it to the rest of them.
“I told the aunties they should’ve put up a fence around their patch,” Milo said. “He was here about 10 minutes ago.”
“How do you know?” Om asked.
Milo squatted and shone the torch on a paw print, he pointed to a crushed grass leaf in the print.
“I can tell by the dew on the grass that he walked on.” Milo stood up. “Let’s go we have to be quick. Leave your bikes here. No one will be coming around this time of the morning so it’s safe. We need to say upwind of him.”
Milo pulled out a small pouch and pressed it, a fine spray of powder came out.
“What is that?” Ételle asked.
“The powder tells me which direction the wind is blowing.”
“We have to stay upwind, right?” Om asked.
“That’s right,” Milo said. “And we have to very quiet. If he smells us or hears us he is gone.”
They left their bikes on a footpath and followed Milo into the bush. Ételle was glad that Milo was using the torch, it was dark in the woods, as the sun was just peaking over the horizon.
“I think Milo can find his way in the dark,” she whispered to Aditya who was in front of her, with Om at the back.
“Yeah,” Aditya replied.
“Don’t talk,” Milo said.
“Sorry,” Aditya and Ételle answered at the same time.
In the light of the torch Ételle could see that they were surrounded by guava trees, thick guava trees. The path was getting narrower and narrower as they walked, it was soon very tight, Ételle felt as if she was walking between tight walls, the branches and twigs did not scrape her. They had been expertly cut. Ételle thought it must have been Milo who had cut it. Soon they were going downhill and Ételle felt disoriented. I thought I knew these mountains.
They came to a clearing at the bottom of the hill, it was clearer now and the sun was rising. Milo stopped at a stream that crossed the clearing and kneeled. He signaled for them to come join him. Ételle peered over his shoulder, he put his finger to his lips. The three of them nodded. There were two paw prints. Milo stood up and crossed the stream. When they had all crossed he signalled to Ételle to get her camera out, which she did. He beckoned her over, and pointed to a spot right behind him. She nodded. Milo let them up the hill. The sun was rising now and there was more light, she could see better. They climbed up the hill which was mostly covered with shrubs, they soon came to a path, in the light Ételle saw lots of paw prints. Milo led them across the path onto a rocky ledge. From the ledge, Ételle could see that the ledge went around the corner of the hill into deeper forest. The ledge itself was a little bit away from the corner the path made as it went around the hill, from where they were they could see the whole of Turtle Bay and the vegetable farms below. Milo pulled out his small pouch and pressed it, the powder was blown away from them. He gave them a thumb up sign. Ételle guessed he was making sure they were upwind. He had Ételle come up the edge of the ledge the four of them laid on their stomachs. Using hand signals Milo signalled for Ételle to get read with her camera and pointed to where the boar would pass and where she would get her shot.
They waited, nobody talked, Ételle had never been around people and not talked for so long. Milo seemed okay with it all, she could tell her friends were fidgety, she felt fidgety too. Then she smelled something strong, something animal like. Milo pointed to the path, they watched as a dozen deer walked past. Ételle lifted her camera but Milo shook his head and indicated for her to wait.
The sun was slowly rising, and was above the horizon, then Ételle smelled something strong, stronger than the deer. Milo tapped her on the shoulder, he pointed two fingers to his eyes and then pointed them to the path. Ételle say him, it was the boar and he was magnificent. He had a big hump and she could see his tusks, she felt as if he walked without a care, Ételle lifted her camera, and waited, as the boar made his way around the corner, something distracted it and it turned around to look at the edge. Ételle took her shot, the boar walked a bit towards them which allowed Ételle to get a couple more shots. The boar then turned around and walked around the corner.
“You got it?” Milo asked, standing up.
“We can talk now?” Aditya asked.
“Of course,” Milo said. “Let’s see the picture.”
Ételle showed her friends the picture.
“It’s perfect,” Aditya said.
“We can email it today,” Om said. “That way we have a chance of getting into this week’s competition.”
“And we make it home in time for lunch!”
“I hope you guys win,” Milo said.
“If we win it will be because of you Milo,” Ételle said. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, thanks man.” Om bumped fists with him.
“There was no way we would have found this spot,” Aditya added.
“Come you guys can get home for breakfast and do your Sunday chores.”
The three of them groaned at the thought of the chores that awaited them, but they were happy that they got the picture.
“It’s Tuesday and we haven’t heard anything from the BBC other than the fact that they’ve received our email,” Ételle said and logged off her email account. “Thank you for letting me use your Mac Dr. Gail.”
“Don’t look so gloomy.” Dr. Gail tapped her on her shoulder. “It’s morning here in Mauritius, the folks in BBC are in London, they most probably just got up.”
“Do you think they looked at it?” Om asked. “They must get hundreds of submissions.”
“Most probably millions,” Aditya said. “From countries with lots of animals, like Scotland or Kenya.”
“You kids are worrying too much, I have to go collect some butterflies for the insect collection and I need a hand, what do you say?”
“Okay, Dr. Gail, sounds good!” Aditya said and looked at his friends who were all smiling.
The three kids spent the morning and most of the afternoon with Dr. Gail. As soon as they got back, Ételle turned on Dr. Gail’s laptop and checked her email. Her friends crowded around her.
“Dr. Gail! Dr. Gail!” They shouted together.
Dr. Gail rushed over.
“Dear Ételle, Om and Aditya of the Mount Hope Explorers Club in Mount Hope, Mauritius. We are happy to inform you that your picture has been selected for wildlife picture of the week. Congratulations,” Dr. Gail read out aloud. “Click on the link, Ételle.”
Ételle clicked on the link which took them to the BBC website and their picture.
“Wow,” all four of them said together.
“Well done kids,” Dr. Gail said.
“We must tell Milo,” Ételle said.
“Yeah,” Om said. “We couldn’t have done this without him.”
“Let’s go get him,” Aditya said.
“That’s okay children, I’ll call him, I’ll ask him to come over,” Dr. Gail said. “Ételle forward me the email, I’m going to send it to one of my journalist friends at Sunshine Mauritius FM, get you guys on their webpage and on the radio.”
“We put Mount Hope on the map,” Ételle said. “Right Dr. Gail?”
“You kids sure did! I couldn’t be prouder of you all,” Dr. Gail said. “Com’on give me a hug!”
The three of them rushed over and gave her a hug.
“I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since our picture got selected.” Ételle said to Om and Aditya who were helping her clean in the Mount Hope Museum’s insect collection.
“And we were famous!” Aditya said.
“Because of the radio interview?” Om asked.
“Yeah,” Aditya said. “That was pretty cool, right? Hearing ourselves on the radio.”
“That was really cool!” Ételle said and bumped fists with her friends. As she was about to go back to dusting a spider exhibit, she looked outside and saw Milo.
“Milo’s outside,” she said to her friends.
They looked out of the window and Milo signalled for them to meet him at the back.
They left their chores and went to Dr. Gail’s office, and met Milo at the entrance.
“Hi kids,” he said. “Hello Dr. Gail.”
“Hi Milo,” they all said together.
“Milo,” Dr. Gail said. “The radio journalists wanted to talk to you last week.”
“Yeah,” Ételle said. “They wanted to talk to our expert tracker.”
“I don’t listen to the radio,” Milo answered in his matter of fact voice. “I have bad news.”
“Okay,” Dr. Gail said. “What’s going on?”
Ételle had a feeling about what Milo was going to say.
“The forest rangers shot the boar this morning,” he said.
Ételle put her hand to her mouth.
“Why?” Aditya asked.
“He was just a boar,” Om said.
“Because of the damage, he was causing?” Ételle said.
“Exactly,” Milo said. “I’m sorry guys.”
“Sorry kids,” Dr. Gail said and patted them on their shoulders.
“He was causing too much damage,” Milo said.
They nodded. Ételle didn’t know what else to say.
“I’ll see you guys around,” Milo said and left.
“Kids come over here, I have something for you, I wasn’t planning on giving it to you until this afternoon. But now is a good time,” Dr. Gail said and led them to her desk.
She pulled out a big shopping bag from her desk drawer and from inside the bag she gave them each a frame.
“It’s our picture!” Ételle said admiring her handiwork and the frame. “Thank you, Dr. Gail.”
“This is awesome!” Aditya said.
“I’m going to put in my room,” Om said.
“You guys did good,” Dr. Gail said.
Ételle looked at the picture. I hope you’re in a place full of vegetable patches and no hunters.