This is my attempt at an “Origin Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The objective is to establish the protagonist’s worldview before the story begins. The “Origin Scene” motivates the protagonist’s thinking: why does the protagonist have the belief or worldview they will have in the story?
- What does the protagonist go into the scene believing?
- Why does the protagonist believe it?
- What is the protagonist’s goal in the scene?
- What does the protagonist expect?
I live on a plantation in the highlands of Eastern Tanzania, not far from the Mangara Airstrip, with a human woman named Ms. Bixen, a matriarchal elephant named Mubwa, and a dog named Kuchota. Mubwa is not my biological mother, but she has cared for me the best she can for my first eight years of life. I have no memories of my mother. Mubwa calls me an orphan, which she says is a name for one that does not have a mother though it does not seem that way. She has always been a mother to me.
Mubwa calls me Tugwa, taking on her family sound. She says it means first daughter. She says we are alike because we have both lost our herd. I understand her meaning, but I do not think we are alike. She lost her herd, but I am at home with mine.
My days are full and happy. I spend the mornings playing with Kuchota. His tiny legs quiver in anticipation of the sticks and balls I throw for him. When I tire of the game, we swim in the pond, and I spray water into Kuchota’s unexpecting face. He never learns. His angry barking delights me to no end.
When Kuchota languishes in the hot afternoon, Mahout feeds and grooms me. He tells me of other places and elephants he has known from a distant place called Jaipur in India. He said the Indian elephants are different from the African elephants here. I told him that Mubwa says I am different from her herd and asked Mahout if I was an Indian elephant. He laughed and said, “No, you are a Tembo. A small elephant. The only Tembo I know of live in a park called Kruger in South Africa.”
On most nights, Mubwa teaches me the stories of her days as the matriarch of a large herd. She tells me of her life outside the compound of the plantation, of playing with the many young ones, and of great travels. She chokes with sadness as she relives her tales but pushes forward because she wishes to pass on the memories of her legacy to me. The herd traveled hundreds of miles in the backcountry for food, water, and mates. Mubwa insists that I remember the map of her travels though I do not know why. I have never been outside the compound, nor do I wish to leave it. I am more afraid than curious. I asked her if she traveled to Kruger Park in South Africa, but she did not know of such a place.
Mubwa has taught me the three languages of the elephant: touch, talk, and rumble. She tells me the language of touch is a form of writing for intimacy and secrets. I like the way it feels when we trunk touch. The language of talk is for normal stuff, like when Mubwa tells me it is time for lessons, the hay is here, or tells me to come to fetch a banana. Occasionally, we hear the rumbling of distant herds from outside the compound. Mubwa calls back, but the others do not come to us. Mubwa says it is damn peculiar that I can speak the language of the humans. She has never met another elephant that can do so.
I have learned the human language from Ms. Bixen, the lady of the plantation, and Mahout, the trainer. I cannot speak fast, the way people talk to one another. The words do not form in my mind nor fall off my tongue so quickly, but I hear their words and understand some of their meanings. On the nights when Ms. Bixen has guests, I am made to say words in the human language, though her guests seem to have little interest in talking to me.
I have also learned much from something called a flatscreen that shows things from outside the compound. I watched the humans and learned how to turn the flatscreen on and off. I would watch it when the humans went to the outside. The flatscreen once showed me a creature called a lion. I learned that a herd of lions is called a pride. The pride of lions attacked an elephant much larger than myself and made that elephant disappear forever. Mubwa said that I was safe from lions while I lived in the compound. It is why I do not wish to leave it. And I do not watch the flatscreen anymore.
Mubwa wears leg irons and is not permitted to approach the ranchhouse as I am. I have asked Mahout why it must be so. The Mahout says it is for her own good. I am allowed onto the veranda of the ranchhouse, usually to amuse Ms. Bixen’s guests. My speech amuses most of her guests to no end, but it frightens a few greatly. One of her lady guests asked, “You are so privileged to have a designer, but aren’t they illegal now?” Ms. Bixen said, “I acquired Tugwa before the law changed so I think he is still legal, but let’s keep this between you, me, and the fence post.” I did not understand the meaning of the words designer and illegal and struggled to fathom why the two women would share information with a fence post.
A man in a suit stopped by one day. He said he was from “The Nature Development Company.” I did not know this word company but inferred it was some kind of human-like herd. The man looked at me and touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable, tugging at my ear flaps and twisting my trunk roughly.
Ms. Bixen asked me to leave the veranda so she could talk to the man privately, but I could overhear the conversation in the distance. The man said, “The livestock is in good condition, and I will give you better than a fair price for it and the plantation.” Ms. Bixen did not answer, and after some hesitation, the man said, “The alternative is a lawsuit. You will lose the livestock for sure and maybe even the plantation. Let’s do this the easy way. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us.”
I asked Mahout what this meant. He said, “They are talking about Mubwa, you, and the other animals, though I think they are mostly interested in you, Tugwa.” I asked him why, and he shrugged. I asked him what sell meant. He said, “Don’t you worry about it,” but I saw the water come down his face before he looked away. For elephants, tearing is good health, but for humans, not good.
Ms. Bixen had many tears when Mr. Bixen died. Mahout told me to die meant he would never return, and Ms. Bixen was very sad. She had the same tears in her eyes when the man in the suit from the “Nature Development Company” left the plantation.
I asked her, “Why is there so much sadness here when I am so happy?”
She said, “I don’t know how to explain to you, but things are happening beyond my control.” She stepped closer to me and rubbed my trunk like she was trying to talk in the touch language of elephants. She softly said, “You are different. You are neither an elephant nor a person. In the times ahead, a lot of unfair things are going to happen. Listen very carefully to what I tell you now. You must remember this above all things. People and elephant’s feel sadness when they know they can’t change something unfair. Anger is what they feel when they think they can change something unjust. You have something built into your body called an end-of-life switch. You were built differently. Sadness can eat away at a person for a lifetime, but despair will kill Tugwa dead in three days. Sadness and despair are lethal to you in ways they are not to anyone or anything else. You must never give into sadness or despair. You must fight for your life even if have to become angry.”
I remember the words, but the advice made no sense. I nodded yes like I understood, but I did not. Why would I be sad? Why should I be angry? I didn’t feel sad or angry. Why would I have to fight for my life? Everything is so peaceful here. I know it had something to do with that man. I did not like him. I did not like the feeling of not knowing. Mubwa told me the feeling of not knowing is called angst. It didn’t feel like home when I had this feeling. I hoped the bad man that brought angst would never come back.