Leopards are solitary creatures. They meet only for the purpose of mating, unless other special circumstances prevail, which they did, there having been a three-month long drought that had left the grasslands dry and the earth crusty.

One day, at dusk, three leopards were at the same watering-hole, hoping to lap up a little of the brackish water before beginning their stakeout of the impala population grazing nearby. They spotted each other, and there was instant chaos.

Amidst the clouds of dust they kicked up, one could make out fangs, claws, exposed throats, and a cacophony of snarls, grunts, rasps and yelps. They fought and fought, and grew bloody and dirty and tattered, as their once beautiful rosette coats tore and ripped. Finally, exhausted and half-dead, they limped away from the scene in different directions.

The first leopard settled atop a mahogany tree and seethed. It seethed with fury, rasping and coughing, imagining to itself all of the chances it had missed to hurt the other two leopards. It seethed with indignation at the fact that they had entered what it believed was its own territory; it fantasized to itself how badly it would maul them as soon as it had recovered its strength. And all the while, it continued to bleed; its wounds were open to the dust and the grime and soon attracted flies and worms. It developed an infection and it took no less than a week before it could walk again.

The second leopard, meanwhile, crawled onto a low-hanging acacia branch and sulked. It yelped and mewed and howled till a few other old friends and relatives, holding territories nearby, felt pity and came over to see what had happened. One picked up its front paw to inspect it for broken bones, but caused our leopard so much anguish that it dropped it directly. Another leopard nuzzled it under the arm, only to elicit a snarl and yelp, “Stop tickling!” Feeling helpless, they all sat with the hurting leopard all night long and sulked too. The second leopard did not develop any fever or infections but took four days to make a full recovery.

The third leopard crept behind a log of wood and silently inspected its wounds. Without a sound, it sniffed its limbs and discovered that all its bones were intact. It used its sandpapery tongue to first lick itself all over. Its skin once again shone in the moonlight. Then it proceeded to lick itself gently, wound by wound, cleaning them of the grime and the sand, ensuring they were clean and warm. Feeling soothed and calmed, it fell asleep. It was fine by dawn.

Thus ends our tale of the three leopards — the seether, the sulk, and the one that licked its own wounds.