The Tragic Sex Lives of Hippos

My day goes like this: I rise at dawn and breathe the pond’s misty air. I swim to shore and spend the morning chewing shoots of grass in the company of birds and elands.

Then as the sun ascends, I retreat to this aquatic sanctuary. So begins an afternoon of intimacy with my harem.

There are twelve of us in the water. I’m the eldest, and my skin is criss-crossed with scars I’ve weathered in defence of a territory staked decades ago.

The women here belong to me. But when I speak of my harem, I don’t refer to them — I talk of my fish.

When the season comes, I do mount the ladies. The youth mustn’t imagine they can court my females and not have their snouts gored. But in truth I don’t care for them. I love only Gloria.

In the first hours of the afternoon I digest. This is when the foreplay happens.

Gloria and her sisters nibble every part of my body. How can I express the feeling of so many lovers’ mouths pressed to my skin? It’s exhilarating. And if a young male deigns to disturb this amorous dance, I won’t hesitate to gnaw his tail till it’s the size of a breadfruit.

This, however, is just the start. I hardly have the courage to say where things go from here. But I must proclaim our love. There’s no sense hiding in so-called decency. I owe Gloria that much.

When my digestion has run its course, I intone a low rumble. Gloria moves behind me for the event, which I’m sure you’ve guessed at.

Yes. I defecate and she eats it.

Before you rush to judge, let me remind you I’m a vegetarian. My waste is nothing but grass well-chewed.

Still, I know what you’re thinking. How could she debase herself in a public setting? But you know as well as I, the thrill is in the transgression.

I should tell you about Gloria, for she and her sisters all do the same work: caressing my skin, nibbling my gums, ears and anus. Playing their tiny roles in this aquatic orgy.

But Gloria did more. Gloria was special.

She popped from an egg six months ago. Once she joined the harem everything changed. While I’d long been accustomed to the afternoon’s erotic ritual, I’d never known a fish to provide such mental stimulation.

Imagine! An aquatic lover with a mind sharp as a trout’s tooth. It drove me wild.

“You like that, naughty boy?” she would say. “Mmm, you love it when I eat the ticks off your skin, don’t you? Oh, you’re so bad.

I don’t know why she talked like this, or why no others dared. Inhibitions enslave us all.

Whatever the reason, her words held a power like nothing I’ve felt in this sun-drenched riparian life. As she opened her mouth I was reborn. My true life began when those thrilling sounds poured from her like boiling liquid.

Perhaps that’s what I loved most about Gloria. Not her words. Not the ideas she put in my mind, titillating as they were. But her ease. The way it seemed to spill out.

Her verbal freedom set me free. The water was no longer full of hypocrites feigning propriety. Or at least I wasn’t among them.

I was no longer scared to vaunt my prized pastime. The highlight of the day was listening to Gloria’s bawdy speech as she chewed my droppings. I’ll announce it to anyone. Think of me what you will.

We’d just started our daily romp when the humans floated up in their tree. Gloria and Winona nibbled the tender gums at the base of my tusks. I was in ecstasy.

None of us favoured the humans. But we could do nothing about it. They were buzzing mosquitoes, ever ready to dodge our blows. I’d grown used to ignoring them, and never imagined Gloria would be rash enough to taste their meat.

It must’ve been instinctual. There’s no way she’d choose to leave me with no solace but her sisters. Not my Gloria. No, the humans hung their meat before my nose, and she probably mistook it for a morsel of detritus issuing from my tremendous maw.

But she should’ve known better. I told you, I’m a vegetarian.

From there it happened in a flash. As I witnessed the hook pierce Gloria’s delicate lips, something within me shattered like an old acacia in a blaze of lightning.

I realized how much I cared for her. Her lewd taunts and sensuous moans as my waste entered her mouth — they drove me mad. But to sacrifice myself for a member of my harem, for a fish? I’d never so much as asked how her day went.

That was the order of things. I was the hippo, they were the fish. Their function was to wait on me, to stimulate my organs and fill my afternoons with bliss. Their stake in this arrangement had never crossed my mind. Yet Gloria’s scream shook me from this selfish torpor.

Still, I knew I couldn’t be the one to help her. The humans would kill me in revenge, for they are perfectly spiteful. And if I was gone, the river would be without good management.

But if not me, who? I realized, as the humans fled in their log, gliding with queerly shaped branches, there was no one else. Not one of her sisters could intervene. They were small, and knew just the ways of orgies.

Anger welled inside me. She’s the one who got into this mess. And now she’s ruined my afternoon. What a thoughtless fish. Now who’s going to whisper filth in my ears while nibbling parasites from my skin? How shall I abide the dullness of the midday sun without her?

I saw then how close we’d grown.

Heartbreak and fury clobbered me in tandem. But there was no use to my anguish. It was a fait accompli — Gloria would perish in the hollowed wood of a fool beast who tossed fresh meat under water for others to consume. I turned away.

Yet as I did my heart broke open wider, as if I too were caught on the humans’ hook. Again the lightning struck my core, and the double pain of loss and cowardice fried me till I swear the water boiled. Was I really turning my back on sweet Gloria?

I saw what a wretch I was, what a monster. I did nothing but eat, sleep, and shit in the mouths of my lovers. My existence was meaningless. I would continue as a two-tonne lout and I would die as if I’d never been.

I spun and lunged at the humans. Flying from the water like an eland fleeing the cheetah, I opened my great muzzle and swallowed the man who’d stolen Gloria.

I thought the human might be gristly so I bit hard. I found myself with half a man lodged on the ends of my teeth and a throat full of blood.

With a flick of the neck I cast his head and shoulders to the branches of a scraggy baobab where vultures shrieked. I turned to the floating tree and smashed it to bits. One good jab did the job.

It was a rush I’d never felt, saving Gloria. Not even when she moaned obscenities did I feel so roused and full of purpose. Transgression had a new meaning, and I glimpsed the potential of a hippo’s life. There’s so much more than having your shit eaten.

When I saw her swim free, dazed but unharmed, my throat bunched. We gazed in each other’s eyes, salty tears spooling in the fresh water.

Her voice shook. “Won’t they come for you?”

“It won’t be long,” I sniffled.

Coyly she cocked a fin. “One last time?”

I studied her glimmering black orbs. “That would be lovely.”

She smiled. In her lips I spied a depth of love that crushed me like an ostrich egg in a stampede.

Knowing time was scant, she swam behind me to whisper sordid nothings. Minutes later a harpoon sliced me in two.

I float aimlessly as the pain seizes my flesh, but I’m happy. I see Gloria didn’t have to do those things. She offered them for my sake. I’ve not just saved a life, but repaid a kindness.

Such thoughts dissipate with my insides. They’re whispers in a dream, and I grow cold. Yet as the blood spills around me and the humans chatter at the river’s edge, I see what it is to love. And, faint though they are, I hear Gloria’s sultry cries resounding in these dung-filled waters.

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