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Harriet the Hippo

by Lesley Potgieter

This is an audio presentation of the adventures of Harriet the Hippo and her friends at the Swanzi watering hole. Click the play button on the player below to start the reading.

Harriet Hippo lived in a small clearing near the Swansi watering hole with her mom, dad and two older sisters, Beatrice and Hannah.

Before they left Harriet’s mom would say, “Now girls, don’t leave Harriet behind.” “Yes Mom!” they would mimic but as soon as they were out of their mother’s sight they would leave Harriet to walk on her own. Sometimes Hannah and Beatrice walked so quickly that Harriet would have to shout, “Wait! Wait for me!” When Harriet did this her sisters would sigh and say, “Well, hurry up then Harriet, we’re waiting. We’re counting to 3 and then we’re leaving.” When this happened Harriet would run as quickly as she could and sometimes she would fall and scrape her knee. It wasn’t that Harriet was slow, she was daydreaming about spending the day with her friends at the watering hole.

When they eventually reached the watering hole Hannah and Beatrice left Harriet to fend for herself. Harriet liked to wait at the edge of the watering hole and wait for her friends. She knew that Sarah was always the first to arrive and she would settle herself between Harriet’s ears and then they would slowly climb into the water. Sarah was Harriet’s best friend and always made sure that there were no ticks or fleas bothering her friend while they were together. It was Sarah who knew all of Harriet’s secrets about how Hannah and Beatrice never asked her to join them for breakfast or that they both thought that Harriet was spoilt because their mother made them wait for her. Harriet would only share these thoughts when her other friends were playing splash.

Each morning began the same way. Harriet would ask, “Ready Sarah?” and Sarah would answer, “Ready” and the two friends would enter the water. Celia the crocodile always arrived next and Harriet and Sarah loved to play hide-and-seek with Celia. Harriet would submerge herself deep under the water that only her ears and nose showed and she would hide among the bulrushes while Sarah would hide among the reeds. Sarah would warn Harriet when Celia was nearby by making the top reed sway and Harriet would lower herself quietly trying not to make any waves, which would give them away.

When Celia was close enough Harriet would raise herself up and shout, “Got you!” Sarah would squeak and flap her wings. Every time it happened Celia would lick her lips and say, “I knew you were there all along.” “Did not.” they would answer. “Did too.” Then all three friends would laugh together.

Sometimes Celia would arrive even earlier and lie in wait for Harriet and Sarah and when the two friends were near enough she would snap her jaws open and shout, “Surprise!” but this didn’t happen often as Celia would often almost snap all Sarah’s wings off and would spend the rest of the day apologising.

Edwina arrived with her grandmother and uncle and their arrival was always announced with a chorus of trumpets from their trunks. Harriet, Sarah and Celia were always sure to be polite by saying Good morning mam, sir.” Edwina’s grandmother was impressed and left saying, “Such manners a credit to their families.” Edwina’s uncle knew that she got up to mischief and as soon as her grandmother turned would wink and say, “Not too many shenanigans now.” Once they had left Edwina would fill her trunk with water and spray everyone.
Jeremy the giraffe was usually the last to arrive. He was the tallest by far and arrived last as he would stop and nibble at the leaves from the tallest trees on his way to the watering hole. It was difficult to squirt such a tall animal but Celia and Edwina had devised a plan for Edwina to fill her trunk with water and trumpet water over him as he bent to take a drink. “Very funny guys” Jeremy would say in his slow and deliberate voice. Yes indeed, every day was a wonderful adventure for Harriet and her friends.

As the day ended and night fell, Harriet and her friends would say goodbye and head their separate ways promising to meet again the following day. Harriet was always the last to leave as Hannah and Beatrice would take their time coming to fetch her. As Harriet headed home she would think about her day with her friends and somehow the journey home always seemed shorter.

Every day Harriet was amazed and surprised at how each of her friends were all so different. Celia with her scaly skin and preferred sitting on the bank in the sun. Edwina with her long trunk and how she used it for eating, bathing and playing, it was almost like a hand. Jeremy with his funny stance as he had to stoop to drink water. He looked like he would fall over at any moment, but he never did. Harriet counted herself as fortunate that she could just walk into the water and drink whenever she wanted to.

Time passed and the seasons changed. Spring turned to autumn and the leaves fell and autumn then turned to winter, winter turned to spring and then summer would return bringing with it the summer rains.

Harriet and her friends would still meet every morning at the watering hole but one year the summer rains didn’t arrive. Harriet was first to notice that the level of the water in the watering hole was dropping, slowly but surely. There were some other subtle changes as well. Celia felt that it was now too hot to spend all day on the river bank and spent a lot more time in the water. Edwina noticed that it took longer to drink and she had to stoop lower to fill her trunk. Jeremy commented that even the leaves, which were usually juicy, were dry and shrivelled. As for Sarah it took her longer to reach Harriet in the morning.

The friends noticed changes in their families too, especially Harriet and Edwina. Harriet’s mother and father who were usually so interested in her day were short tempered and hardly listened when she spoke. As for Edwina, her grandmother could not take the heat of the sun and it was now her job to help bring water to her and even her uncle, who had always been kind, became sullen. They had all noticed the adults whispering and looking to the sky watching the clouds pass quickly by and hoping the rain would fall.

Harriet took it upon herself to keep the spirit of her friends up by saying things like, “Any day now guys, any day. Soon it will be raining and the hole will be overflowing.” At first it worked and Harriet and her friends joked what they would do when the rain finally fell. Jeremy would have plenty of juicy leaves to eat, Edwina would have plenty of water to cool herself down and spray, Celia believed that it would be just the right temperature to bathe in the sun. The days passed and still no rain fell and what started out as hope turned to dreams. Harriet quietly spoke to Sarah about the happy moments they would share together.

Then came the day that saddened Harriet the most. Edwina announced that her mother had decided that it was time to leave in search of water. “You can’t, you can’t!” screamed Harriet. “I have to, I can’t stay on my own” replied Edwina as a tear rolled down her cheek and she slowly turned towards her herd. Harriet, Celia and Jeremy watched in sadness as the first of the friends left.

Next it was Jeremy who slowly left in search of water and leaves.

Even in Harriet’s own home Hannah and Beatrice had decided to leave with another group in search of water. Harriet’s parents decided to stay as she was too young for the journey so she had to stand and watch as her sisters left. Harriet’s mother said, “Look after one another girls.” “Yes mother” they replied solemnly.

Although Harriet had never been close to either Hannah or Beatrice, she felt a huge sadness at the prospect of not seeing them again. Just as they were preparing to leave Hannah leaned over and whispered to Harriet, “I’m sorry we told you not to dream.” With that she slowly turned towards Beatrice and the other hippos gathering nearby. Beatrice leaned over as she walked past her sister and whispered in her ear, “Keep dreaming Harriet. It’s a good thing.” A lonely tear gathered in Harriet’s eyes and she quickly wiped it away as she had promised herself that she would be strong not only for herself but for her mom and dad as well.

All she wanted to do was cry and she thought that maybe if she closed her eyes for long enough when she opened them all her friends would be around her and she would hear her sisters calling her to hurry up. Of course this didn’t happen and a slow sadness gathered in Harriet’s heart and she began to doubt whether she would see any of her friends again. As the weeks passed and there was still no sign of rain or her friends Harriet began contemplating making friends with Harry the hyena and Vernon the vulture but to be honest they scared her a little and coupled to that they weren’t very keen on playing in the water never mind having water fights.

Harriet had to spend a lot of time alone until Sarah arrived. The two of them would chat and remember all of the good times they had with their friends. They remembered one incident in particular when Harriet had sprayed Celia by mistake while she was bathing in the sun and she got such a fright that she snapped Sarah’s tail feathers off. Sarah had squeaked so loudly that Edwina had squirted water all over Jeremy instead which made him slip and fall. Oh what fun that had been thought Harriet as she found herself laughing out loud.

The few remaining animals that still gathered around the dwindling watering hole all complained about the heat and tried to come up with ways to find more water. The weeks turned into months and the little bit of water that there was also dried up until what was once water turned into mud and then hard clay. Harriet struggled to keep cool and spent many days lying in any shade she could find.

Then one night as Harriet dreamed of her friends she felt an odd feeling. She thought it was her father’s tail swishing flies away but it happened again, more quickly this time. She opened one eye and then the other as she realised what it was. “Rain! Glorious rain! Wake up Mommy, wake up!” Harriet yelled.

“What is it Harriet? Go back to sleep.”

“But look, it’s rain!”

“Don’t be silly.”

“I’m not, look.”

Slowly her mother turned and looked up. “You’re right, rain!” “Rain!” “Rain!”

Soon all the remaining animals were awake. Everyone was laughing, shouting, singing and dancing as the rain continued to fall through the night, gently at first and then harder.

The following morning the water had risen and for the first time that Harriet could remember she sank into the water up to her neck and it was wonderful.

In the days that followed the rain continued to fall and the water levels rose and the greenery started to reappear. Each morning Harriet went to the watering hole and waited for her friends to return.

Harriet had given up hope of seeing her friends again. Then one day as she was bathing she heard a familiar trumpeting sound and a herd of elephants stopped for a drink of water. Harriet held her breath, the very last elephant to stop was Edwina. Harriet clambered out and the friends shouted with joy. Edwina was bigger than Harriet had remembered.

Over the next few weeks Jeremy and his family returned but it was difficult to spot him until he spoke and then Edwina and Harriet knew that their old friend was back.

When Celia returned to the watering hole they were all so surprised at how long she had become and how sharp her teeth were.

The only animal that had not grown was Sarah.

It seemed that everything had returned to normal but Harriet still felt that a part of her was missing. She still had a secret wish that she only hared with Sarah. Harriet wished that her sisters would return to the watering hole. When and if they returned Harriet would know that all was well again. Months passed and then one day, quite unexpectedly, Harriet spotted Hannah and Beatrice walking towards the watering hole. She rushed to meet them but suddenly stopped as stared as she saw that there were two baby hippos calves with them.

The three sisters stood quietly in a moment of silence, not sure what to do. Then Beatrice said, “Hi Harriet, meet Harry.” Hannah then said, “And this is Bartholomew. Guys, this is your aunt Harriet.”

“Hello” they stammered shyly.

“Hello you two” said Harriet. “You want come have some fun?”

“Ooh, yes please” they answered. And with that Harriet led them to the water’s edge and started teaching them the games that she had always played with her friends. Slowly Celia, Edwina and Jeremy began sharing in the fun too and each of the friends revealed how all the memories they had shared as friends had kept them going and how they were determined to return to the watering hole.

Harriet had also changed but not that she had noticed. She was bigger and stronger and she was no longer afraid to dream because she knew that if you dreamed and believed that dreams come true, they can. Harriet’s dream had been a simple one: the return of her friends and family safely back to the watering hole.

How well did you listen?

About the Author

Lesley Carr was born with cerebral palsy. Despite her disability she overcame a number of challenges and obstacles and qualified as a primary school teacher. When the first of her two sons was born Lesley took a break from teaching and focussed on raising her family. Being a mom of young boys she realised that there were very few audio stories available for kids. Lesley then started writing stories and recording them in a studio. To date she has written 20 stories and recorded the first 10 of them.