Van Heerling has written a book unlike any other I have read. Malaika - even the sound of this Swahili word meaning angel is exotic. When I first saw the name, it evoked warm feelings of love and I had to read to see what the actual story was about.
I bought it thinking Malaika would be a nice change of pace from reading longer books - a story I could enjoy while dwelling in a foreign land. I didn't plan to actually review it, yet here I am.
Malaika is told in the first person narrative and, once again, I felt I had taken a trip to a faraway land. The mere tone suggested that I would be spending a fair amount of my time alone; it suited me just fine since I'm one who relishes precious moments of solitude.
The story took place in the Serengeti in Africa and introduced me to a man who had taken a sabbatical from life, shall I say. It provides little background information and, in this case, I didn't need to know more.
At the heart of the story is a friendship - an unusual friendship - a friendship between a lioness and a man. Was that a shiver I just saw running up your spine? Did you shake your head at the wonder of such a thing? Did you frown upon such a friendship existing? Most people would - and most people do.
I visit parks different times during the summer and the warnings are very clear: do not feed the wildlife. It makes sense; of course, it does! If I feed a bear and he comes to you in search of food, you might think he intends to attack you. The bear could get killed because I chose to break the rules; as such, I limit myself to taking photos.
It's a common fact that every living creature has it's place in society. I also realize there are consequences for my actions either because I did wrong or because people cannot grasp the actions I have taken.
Such was the case with Malaika and the man: a lioness and a man formed a friendship which neither animal nor human could understand - a relationship which was also feared - yet, strangely enough, I was fascinated and wanted to pet the lioness myself. I sensed her gentle nature; I knew she would cause no harm. In fact, somewhere along the journey, I became the man.
I felt my relationship with the lioness grow stronger. I enjoyed having her as my primary source of companionship. I fed her, I walked with her and she napped on the floor beside my bed. I walked her to the edge of the meadow to return to her family every night but, over time, things began to change. Just as the people who lived in the village began to judge my relationship with Malaika, her family began to turn away from her.
We two became one, for a time, but I saw the devastating effects. I wished her family would accept her so she could regain her pride once again; accepting my charity had brought her to a very humbling low. I feared for her life and hoped something would change soon.
I'm going to step out of the story before I spoil it for you; admittedly, I became absorbed once again. However, this story of an unacceptable friendship occurs all the time. We all fall victim to it, in one way or another, at one time or another.
A spouse, for example, may not want you to spend any time with members of the opposite gender. Perhaps you don't want your son to hang out with a neighbor's kid who smokes and drinks. Your daughter is going out with a guy you can barely tolerate being around. Your sister has flown to another part of the country with a man she just met. Your brother can't handle life and his best friend becomes the bottle of alcohol sitting on his nightstand.
Relationships are complicated at the best of times. Having people approve of those relationships is, often, half the battle. Granted, you don't want your loved ones being abused or drinking themselves into oblivion. You don't want them rushing off to all parts of the world on a whim. It's completely understandable.
However, there is somewhere you and I need to draw a line. Unless we know a person's life is in danger, we need to step back and allow others to make decisions for themselves, even when they are bound to make mistakes; it's the only way they will learn and grow. We cannot control their lives, nor can we dictate who their friends will be. We can't be judge, jury and executioner. Sometimes we need to still our tongues and listen, to make an exception to the rule.
I speak from experience. One of the greatest friends I've ever had is a person others would not accept. It didn't change our friendship - but it did force us to hide it. I can honestly say, to this day, that he was my Malaika.
If you would like to read this wonderful, timeless story, I would invite you to read more about it by visiting its page on Amazon.
If you would like to read the interview I had with the author, Van Heerling, click here.