This is my attempt at the second “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 second:
When the sky rumbled, it felt like it was talking to me through my feet, not in the language of elephant, but in a mysterious language I didn’t understand. The sky had been a constant companion for many days, and I was despondent when it stopped speaking because I knew it would take the water with it. Mubwa had told me the dry season is a dangerous time for elephants.
Food was still available, and I felt safe deep in the thickets of the park, too deep for lions and men to hunt. But Juu, the matriarch of my adopted herd, said we must make it to the river before the worst of the heat set in or die of thirst and starvation. Juu told many stories of her journies and time at the river, of the enormous congregations of animals and dear friends lost to the hunters and lions. She shared the remembrance of her fallen comrades. She feared being so close to so many humans. She said most just watched and followed. But some were lethally dangerous, and she could not tell the difference between them until it was too late.
She told us of a cold-blooded killer called a crocodile that lurked in the shallows of the river. She has seen a crocodile the length of two elephants but said a crocodile is not strong enough to take down a full-grown elephant. She warned the mothers to take every precaution because they would take a calf. If a crocodile tried, Juu told us to act quickly by stomping on the crocodile before it could take the calf to deeper water. She said the herd would lose the calf if the crocodile succeeded in moving the calf from the shore. I thought it unnecessary for her to frighten the young ones this way, but she told me fear would keep them alive, not delusion.
I’m bigger than a calf but only about half the size of the older cows and a third the size of a bull. Juu looked me over from head to toe, wary of my small size, then said, “You, I don’t know about. Not bull. Not calf. Maybe a big crocodile could take you.” She said, “Why don’t you grow?”
“If it were up to me, I would. It’s not my choice.”
Juu wasn’t satisfied with my answer. She kept staring at me. She said, “You are more like one of those domesticated elephants that let humans ride on their shoulders. And act like one too. Too damn trusting.” Juu examined the scars on my flank and only said, “Damn peculiar.”
A mosquito had bit me grazing in the deep forest, something I scarcely even noticed then. But the itch grew worse, and I scratched myself against trees so hard I bled. When it stopped hurting, I had the most peculiar scar. Humans never taught me to read, but I saw the spot in the reflections of the still waters. It looked like human writing. The words expressed even more clearly after the wounds healed. I didn’t like it any more than Juu did.
She repeated, “Damn peculiar. Everything about you is damn peculiar, and I don’t like peculiar. Why don’t you return to your herd?”
I said, “The matriarch of my herd tried to kill me, but I escaped. I may have another herd in Kruger, but I do not know where Kruger is.”
“Hmph,” snorted Juu. “An elephant of three herds?”
I didn’t say anything, but she was right. I ran from the herd of my past. I wasn’t getting a welcome feeling in the herd of my present. And Kruger was nothing more than the hopeful fantasy of a herd planted in my imagination by Mahout’s off-the-cuff comment about Tembo.
Juu continued her ruminations. “You left the herd that tried to kill you. If you endanger any of the herd, I will do the same. The only reason you are here is because Chini vouched for you. But she holds the least rank.”
Chini was the lowest-ranking and smallest cow in the herd. She was still larger than me. The lowest rank is a difficult life. When Juu became angry or irritated, she took it out on her immediate subordinates. They took their frustrations out on their direct subordinates, who took it out on their subordinates in a chain of displaced dissatisfaction. Only Chini had no one to deflect down to until I came along. She had vouched for me because she finally had someone to hold rank over. Still, I was grateful to her for accepting me. I had no aspirations to rank, and she took great comfort knowing she would not return to the lowest rank.
We became good friends. We looked out for each other on the long march to the river. Being of the lowest rank, we would be the last, even after the calves, to receive water when the herd stopped to dig for it in the sandy ravines. While waiting, Chini sniffed water nearby, and I remembered what Mubwa had told me about digging. Chini and I took turns digging and drinking while watching out for the others so they wouldn’t discover us. I capped it the way Mubwa told me to do so we could drink again in the morning. We even made a pretense of disappointment when our turn came at Juu’s by then dry watering hole.
It took us a week of thirty-mile days to reach the river, but I immediately understood why we undertook the tiresome trek. I had never seen such an incredibly vast body of water, long and twisting like a rock python. After the long dry march, the water would be a welcome relief. The plants around the river were as lush as the forest in the rainy season. I could smell on the breeze the scents of many animals that I did not recognize.
As soon as we reached the river’s edge, I plunged into the water and played like I was in the pond with Kuchota. Chini shouted, “Wait,” but she was too late. I wondered why all the others hesitated on the river’s edge. Juu looked up and down the shore and then at me. After a few minutes, she said, “No crocodiles.” She nodded, and the others took the plunge. I realized she had used me as crocodile bait and felt two sizes smaller than I was. Chini told me in touch-elephant, “You better be wiser if you want to live.”
I had only seen a boat on the flatscreen before but instantly knew what it was. As the vessel approached, people stood on its deck, taking pictures of us as we sprayed and snorkeled about in the water. I looked towards them, flapping my ears and bobbing my head like I used to do on the veranda. I heard them say the exact words spoken by Ms. Bixen’s guests. “Isn’t he adorable? He looks so happy.” Chini tried to pull me back by the tail, but I knew what I was doing. If there was one thing I had learned, it was how to entertain humans. After all, I was a status symbol.
I saw other boats headed our way on the river. Juu ordered us out of the water and led us into the safety of the undergrowth like we were evading hunters. When she felt safe, we stopped. I wondered what the panic was for. Juu bellowed and charged, driving her thick forehead deep into my shoulder. She didn’t use her tusks to gore me, but my shoulder winced in pain under the heavy blow. She charged again, and I retreated, hiding behind the protection of a rock. She bellowed loud enough for all to hear, “Don’t ever draw the attention of the humans to the herd. They cannot be trusted. I said if you ever endangered the herd, I would kill you. I will keep my word.” And then all her subordinates took their turn berating me, including Chini.
Chini came to me later at night when we laid down to sleep. In touch-elephant, she said, “I had to pretend to speak out against you.”
I responded, “I know. But I know humans better than Juu does.”
Chini said, “It doesn’t matter. Don’t cross Juu, or you won’t live to regret it.”
I did not sleep that night. Sharp pains shot through my shoulder where Juu had struck me, and I was still furious that Juu had not allowed me to help the herd by making things good with the humans. I was angry that I had to let the rebuke slide. I knew Chini was right about the danger I had put myself in, but Juu was wrong about the risk with those humans. Their faces showed appreciation. I finally dismissed it as one of those unfair things Mahout had cautioned me about.
In the morning, we walked to an open field. As we grazed on the brush, more humans showed up to watch us from their jeeps. One jeep came too close, and one of Juu’s seconds chased it off. But humans weren’t so far away that I could not hear their words.
I overheard a woman say, “Honey, aren’t those words printed on the side of that small elephant? What does it say?”
Honey responded, “My dear, I think it is a brand. It says, Property of Nature. It must be a GMO.”
When the man said ‘Property of Nature,’ I froze. He had my complete attention even when Chini accidentally bumped into me from behind.
My Dear said, “I thought all the wildlife out here was wild. We paid top dollar for this damn safari. If we wanted to see designers, we could have gone to Kruger. Is this some kind of a joke? Honey, can we get our money back?”
Honey said, “Ask the guide.”
The guide said, “Madame, I assure you this is the only pristine wilderness left in Africa. Our tour company guarantees nothing but the best experience of authentic Africa. Tanzanian law forbids designers. About six months ago, a woman reported her Tembo missing. I think this must be it. I will report it when we get back to the camp.”
These people knew about Kruger. I ran toward the jeep. The driver raced the engine and backed up, but the noise didn’t frighten me. I stopped before the jeep and asked, “Where is Kruger?”
Honey and My Dear’s equipment dropped to their sides, and their mouths dropped to the ground. I recognized the look of astonishment but didn’t have time to pander to it. So I asked again, “Where is Kruger?”
“I’ll be damned,” said Honey. He pointed to the south and said, “If you are talking about Kruger National Park, it is about two thousand miles that way in South Africa.”
Guide said, “Hand me my walkie-talkie. I think the Nature Development Company will want to know about this.”
When I heard the words Nature Development Company, terror filled my gut. I stood there drooping like I was sad and playing to an audience. I didn’t know what else to do.
My Dear was tugging at Honey’s shoulder, saying, “Are you getting this on your camera? We’ve got to post this on social media.”
Juu trumpeted, making the sound to head for the thickets to escape danger. Her roar snapped me back into the moment, and I fled from the jeep. It didn’t occur to me that I was the danger until we were well out of sight of the humans.
Juu puffed herself up and flared. I heard some of the calves whimper. Juu spoke accusingly, “How is it that you speak the language of the humans?” She rumbled out the words so loudly that I’m sure they would be heard by every elephant in the park, “The herd is in grave danger because of you.”
Juu was ready to charge. I knew that she would not lower her tusks this time when she rammed into me. I ran into some thick thickets. I heard Juu crashing through them behind me. It’s the one time in my life I was glad to be small.
Fear carried me for miles through the bush along the banks of the river until it was near dark. I collapsed under the small trees behind some rocks. I was neither hungry nor thirsty but exhausted from the strain. Dark rose up over the river basin. I slept a false sleep, neither awake nor dreaming. A lone elephant in the wilderness doesn’t have much of a chance. In my visions, I saw Juu goring and ripping my side open with her tusks, the Nature Development Company pushing me into the pitch black of a metal container to wither away, lions dragging me to the ground and sinking their teeth into my neck, and crocodiles pulling me underwater for my last breath.
When I woke, despair settled over me. I failed in the world of humans. I failed in the world of elephants. I could think of no world in which I could succeed. I lay motionless behind the rocks all day. I felt my eyes dry and my head pound with a fever.
In the evening, I heard something crashing toward me in the bushes. I struggled to lift my head to greet my end. Then I heard a voice call out, “Bidhaa, it’s me.”
Chini emerged from the scrub into the opening. I was never so glad to see a friendly face. Strength filled my legs. I ran to her, and we exchanged intimate greetings with our noses in touch elephant. My headache disappeared, and my eyes glistened with her comfort.
When we parted, I asked, “How did you find me?”
“It wasn’t easy. You must have run ten miles last night.”
“Why did you come?”
“Once you slipped away, Juu came back and wanted to hunt you down. But her seconds said it was wrong to kill. She was angry but said the humans or the lions would get you anyway. That’s when I decided I had to find you.”
“You took a terrible risk. You have to go back.”
“I don’t want to go back. I was miserable there until you showed up.”
“It’s not safe with me. I will get us both killed.”
“I came here for you, you stupid idiot. Maybe I will kill you if you try to send me back.”
Even with her threat of murder, I had never felt so attracted to another being. We touched trunks again but said nothing. Nothing needed to be said. But such moments are fleeting under the demands of survival. We separated, and I said, “We have to go to Kruger, no matter how far it is. There is nothing for us here.”
Chini said, “I will follow you where ever you lead.”
And so we set out under the evening sky, a herd of two on a great migration to find a distant place called Kruger two thousand miles to the south.
Featured Image by Craiyon