is my attempt at the third “Turning Point Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The objective is to write three scenes to see the escalating arc of the story with instructions to fully flush out the scenes, providing story-specific info. “Specifics play forward. Generalities do not.” The scenes should reinforce the protagonist’s worldview, referred to as the “misbelief,” while simultaneously escalating the conflict with something they desire.
Here goes the third:
We used the smells of fresh water, animals, and elephants as our guide. Chini said the air held my smell, the smell of a Tembo. But there was also the smell of people, lots of them, so we moved under the cover of night. The scent of water led us to a watering hole, which we approached cautiously. Not because we were worried about lions but because the watering hole had bright lights surrounding it, and the smell of humans was strong.
I said, “I hear the mumblings of people.”
Chini said, “Me too. Look up there.”
I looked. I could see the outline of human shapes on an elevated balcony in the tree line. Large shadows danced in the crowns of the trees behind them. I heard a voice much louder than the others ring out, saying, “Looks like we are in for a treat tonight, ladies and gentlemen. Observe two Tembo approaching from the North.”
I told Chini, “They’ve already spotted us.”
She paused, “Should we retreat?”
“I don’t think they have bad intentions. They are watchers, not hunters. They think you are a Tembo, too.”
I said, “Think of it as a compliment.”
She snorted again.
The night air was crisp, and a mist hung over the water. In the fog, we saw shadowy images of warthogs, wildebeests, and gazelles drinking and grazing from hay feeders and bins without concern as we approached the watering hole. They were about half the size of those in Kyerere. They seemed relaxed enough, and there was no smell of a big cat. We hadn’t drunk for two days, so we risked it. We had our fill of water and hay before retreating into the darkness of the bush, not wishing to draw any more attention to ourselves than necessary.
I heard the loud voice say, “What a treat for our visitors. Never a dull moment here at Kruger with the Nature Development Company.”
I told Chini, “We have to go. Nature Development Company is here.”
We ducked under the cover of the bush, And when we were safely away, I told Chini, “The man says we are at Kruger!”
Chini let out a massive sigh of relief. She said, “Finally. Let’s see if we can find your herd. I smell Tembo that way.”
In the morning, we approached another watering hole. The scene was even more chaotic than the night before. I saw a creature with a long pointy horn where its trunk should be. Chini told me it was called a rhinoceros and was not a trunk but a horn, more like a tusk than a snout. We saw miniaturized water buffalo, wildebeest, impala, and zebra. Drones flew overhead like a drunken flock of birds heading in every direction but never seeming to collide. Guardian drones stocked the hay feeders. In the distance, we could see an elevated platform with hundreds of humans watching over the watering hole. On the far side of the platform, moving jeeps lifted clouds of dust that drifted on the breeze before falling back to the ground.
We saw a dozen or more Tembo playing at the water’s edge. The apparent serenity of the playing and bathing Tembo bolstered our confidence. Seeing the objective of the journey before us, nothing short of a pride of lions could have stopped me from interacting.
As we approached, I noticed the brand on the side of the Tembo, the same as the markings on my side, “Property of Nature.” Disturbingly, I saw the same markings on all the animals. I surmised that humans from the “Nature Development Company” were also after them and that this was a safe place to hide from them.
I spoke English to the closest Tembo when we reached the water’s edge. I said, “Hello there.” A few Tembo looked over but immediately returned to bathing and spraying. So I said again, “Hello there. Can we join you?” I looked at Chini and cocked my head because I couldn’t explain their indifference.
Chini said, “Maybe they don’t understand English.” She turned to the herd and said, in ordinary Elephant, “Hello there. We have come a long way to meet you. Do you mind if we join you?”
All the Tembo stopped what they were doing. The closest to us approached us as if this occurred every day. He said, “Good day to you. I am Maonyesho Matutu.” He looked Chini over and said, “Oh my, you are a rather large one. I have only seen large ones like you in cages. I didn’t think you were allowed on display.”
Chini said, “I have a funny feeling about this.”
I ignored her. I had the same funny feeling when I met her family in Kyerera. Besides, I was too exuberant to think about it. For a moment, I was no longer alone in the world. Despite Chini pulling at my tail like she did when I ran into the river without looking for signs of crocodiles, I ran over to Maonyesho Matutu and nearly purred. “My name is Bidhaa, and this is Chini. We’ve traveled two thousand miles to meet you.”
The others surrounded me, trunk touching and introducing themselves. “I am Maonyesho Mawili,” said one. “I am Maonyesho Tisa,” said another. “I am Maonyesho Kumi,” said a third. They were all named Maonyesho.
“Your tribe is called Maonyesho?” I asked. They looked back and forth at one another like they were waiting for someone to offer an answer. I wanted them to call me Maonyesho Bidhaa, but I knew it was too soon to ask.
Still standing off to the side, Chini asked, “Who is the matriarch?”
Maonyeso Kumi asked, “What is a matriarch?”
Chini responded, “You know. The leader of your group.”
“Mahout is the leader of our group.”
“Mahout?” I cried out. “He is here.”
“Yes,” they replied. “He is right there.”
A guardian drone hovered to one side of Chini, then the other. When Chini took a couple of errant swats at it, the Maonyesos all gasped. The group lowered their heads, dropped their ears, and knelt on their front knees. I did the same.
Chini chastised me, “What’s wrong with you? Get up?”
I stood back up, but my head still sank at embarrassing myself in front of her. I tried to offer a credible rationalization. “Mahout trained me before I met you. Maybe this is his drone.”
Chini let out a high-pitched guffaw, all but calling me an idiot. She said, “They remind me of you when we first met. Deferential. Naive. Trusting.”
I reasoned it out. If that is how I was, and that is how the Maonyeso are, then that is how the Tembo should be. I said, “I am the same as they are.”
Chini bellowed at me. “Look at them. You have not come two thousand miles to defer to a man drone.” Then she growled at the Maonyesos. “Get up.”
They followed her order as if the man drone had given it.
Chini asked, “Matutu, who is your mother?”
Matutu looked at her blankly as if trying to determine what answer would make her happy.
Chini snorted, “Who gave birth to you? Who brought you into this world?”
Matutu said, “Look over there.” Matutu pointed to a truck that was releasing young gazelles from crates. “I was born from a box. Just like those gazelles. We all were.”
I remembered coming from the box and the truck. I remember the smells of gas and choking on dust. I convinced myself that my memory of having moments before the box was the false memory of someone desperately wanting to belong and have roots. I even convinced myself that the Tembo smell of my mother that I remembered so vividly just days ago was my own.
I was excited. It got the better of me. I moved away from Chini and practically danced into the middle of the herd. I conveyed the closeness I felt by announcing our shared heritage. “That is how I was born. From a box.”
Chini was livid. “Are you telling me we trekked two thousand miles to find a box?” She turned and headed away. I started chasing her, but she shouted, “Don’t.” She retreated to the sparse shade of a baobab tree.
I was mad at her too, but I had many questions to ask of the Manonyeshos, so I let her go and sulk by herself, thinking she would come around. Before I was able to ask them a single question, Mahout returned. Mahout shouted an instruction, “Formation.” The Maonyeshos lined up one behind another, grabbing the tail of the one in front of them.
Mahout flew over to me and said in English, “You have a problem finding the line today?”
I said, “No problem.”
Mahout said, “Who said that?” Mahout flew over and around me but didn’t get its answer.
I took a position at the end of the line behind Maonyesho Ishirini Na Moja, a curiously long name. And so Mahout paraded the train toward the eager humans. The train stopped in front of the platform and performed. I was back on the veranda at Ms. Bixen’s all over again, doing stupid tricks and parroting human emotions. I heard a human say, “Wasn’t that amazing? They are so intelligent. Only an intelligent animal could keep a formation.”
The performance ended at a newly stocked hay bin. The Mahout said in a monotone voice, “Great performance! You made your audience very happy. Enjoy a well-earned treat.” The metallic human drone was much different from the Mahout I knew.
I looked back at the watering hole to check up on Chini. I was hoping she hadn’t watched that. I rumbled to her, “Come get something to eat.”
She rumbled back, “Trouble. Run.” I saw a caravan of jeeps stopping near the Baobab tree. I shouted to the Maonyesho, “Quick. We have to go back and help Chini. She is in grave danger.”
Maonyesho Tano said, “No. I’m hungry, and I want to eat now.”
I looked back in Chini’s direction. The men in the jeeps surrounded her in a big circle. In a panicky voice, I said, “Please, we have to help her. Now. Come on. Let’s go.”
Maonyesho Tano said, “If you go over there, you will probably get shot yourself. Don’t worry. It’s probably just the vet. The vet takes care of us too. Or they move one of us to another place. One watering hole is as good as the next.” The others rumbled their assent.
I was angry at their indifference and perplexed by their lack of loyalty to their own herd. I didn’t know what a vet was but didn’t have time to wait for an explanation—the time for words had run out. I hustled to Chini as fast as my four legs would carry me.
Chini wobbled and struggled with her balance like she had eaten too many fermented berries. Her legs nearly fell out from under her. She lowered herself to keep her legs beneath her, but her head was oddly twisted. I ran past the men and put myself between them and Chini. Chini lay down on the ground and said, “Tired. Head hurts. Spinning.”
When they continued to approach Chini, I mock-charged a cluster of the men to drive them back. They retreated for a moment before again advancing on Chini. I yelled in English, “Stop! Leave Chini alone.”
I heard a man say into a small box, “It’s the talking one.” And then a voice in the small box said, “Take it down too.” I heard the thunder from their sticks and sharp pains in my sides and back. My vision grew foggy, and my head spun. I took the drunken walk and laid down next to Chini. That was my last memory of Kruger.
When I came to, it was dark. The ground was hard. I felt the walls that I pressed against. I recognized the hardness and coldness of metal. I realized I was in a container. I felt around in the dark with my trunk. There was enough room to stand up and about two body lengths from one end to the other. I did not feel or smell water or food, or another elephant. I grumbled to make sure, but only the darkness answered.
The Nature Development Company had me. Mahout would not be coming to save me. A wave of despair passed through my entire body. My eyes crackled. My head pounded. But I remembered the words of Mahout about how I could “get dead” in three days if I chose despair. The wave of nausea passed. I rumbled as deeply as possible, “Chini, are you there?” No response. I tried again, “Is anyone out there?”
I heard the resounding rumble answer back through my feet on the cold floor. It said, “You are not alone.”
I rumbled back, “I traveled far with one I cared for named Chini to find my past. I never found my home. If I die in here, hold the remembrance of Bidhaa.”
It rumbled back, “It is done.”
I took great solace in the acknowledgment. I laid back down on the icy floor, wondering if I would ever see the light again and what I would do with a second chance if I escaped. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the world where Bidhaa could hold his own thoughts and not have to run. I told myself it could only happen in my dreams.
I didn’t know how much time had passed. Maybe a day. Maybe two. My throat was painfully dry, and my stomach railed at its emptiness. The place stunk from my urine and excrement.
The metallic creaking of the container doors opening startled me. The bright light hurt my eyes. I saw the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway. She looked like an angel. I thought I might be dead.
But the woman said, “Bidhaa. My name is Moja. I know you can speak. Can I talk with you?”
I repeated, “Moja?”
I stood up. I read the surprise on Moja’s face as she stepped back. She said, “You are in much better health than I expected.”
I thought about charging the door, but I felt weak. I said, “Thirsty. Hungry.”
She said, “I will get you food and water if you let me. I am here to help you. Can we be friends?”
Her face showed hopefulness. There was something I liked about Moja. She asked for permission instead of giving me orders. But I remembered what Chini said about me always being too trusting. I said, “Why trust?”
She said, “I know you’ve been through a lot and don’t know me. But I can answer many of your questions about who you are. In a way, Bidhaa, I am your mother.”
“Mother?” I approached her, and she didn’t back away. I could see her face trying to hide the fear. I sniffed at her and said, “You smell like a flower. My mother did not smell like you.”
“It is a long story. I will try to explain to you later, but first we have to get you out of here. Do you want to come with me?”
“Where is Chini?”
“Chini? Is she the one that was with you at Kruger?”
“Yes. Where is Chini?”
Moja looked uncomfortable. She took a deep breath and answered, “I don’t know, but I promise you, we will do everything we can to find her. But we need to get you away from here right now. I have men with me that can take you to a safe place where we can give you food and water and have a vet examine you.”
I remembered what Maonyesho Tano said and repeated, “A vet takes care of us.”
“One watering hole is as good as the next.”
Moja shook her head, “I assure you, we will take you to a much better watering hole.”
I said, “Trust for now.”
Moja smiled, “I can’t ask for anything more.”