Reading Time: 10 minutes

 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.”

Chini snorted. 

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.”


Reading Time: 9 minutes

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

Baby Bidhaa

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is my second attempt at an “Origin Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The assignment after the “Origin Scene” is to create three “Turning Point” scenes. When I started the turning point scenes, the original origin scene seemed too late in the story, so I started about as early as you can start in a story.

Origin Scene. 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?

  1. What does the protagonist go into the scene believing?
  2. Why does the protagonist believe it?
  3. What is the protagonist’s goal in the scene?
  4. What does the protagonist expect?

Here goes again.

 I remember my first steps. I stumbled and fell to the ground before I managed to keep my feet under me. Water drops fell from the sky. I smelt a comforting smell that I was drawn to. I now recognize that smell as elephant, maybe even my mother. Could I identify the owner by its memory?

I heard shouting and a sharp prod in my hind quarters. I was pushed into a crate into which I barely fit, and it went dark like I was being unborn. I thrashed in my container, but I didn’t have the strength to break out of it. I did not have enough room to turn around.

The cage rattled and bounced. I thought I would fall over again many times. I didn’t have enough space to fall over. I smelt foul odors that burned my eyes and breathed dust so thick I coughed and coughed so hard I thought my lungs were coming out of my throat. When the rattling stopped, I heard the words of humans, “I have an Intelliphant here from Kruger.” I did not know then that the place I was sent to was Nairobi. I now know Kruger is a place farther than the greatest migrations of elephants. 

The top opened, and the brightness hurt my eyes. A man pushed a milk bottle toward my head. I instinctively pulled it into my mouth and drank until it was empty. It soothed my throat, and the empty feeling in my stomach disappeared. I wanted desperately to get close to the man with the bottle, but the cage lid closed when the milk was gone, and I was in darkness again.

The container opened once again. Two men with painful sticks led me from one crate to another. The ground was hard and cold in the cage. The light was dim. I found it difficult to sleep. Strange sounds frightened me, and acrid burning odors smelling like my urine permeated the air. I wanted to hide but could only curl up against the cage bars in one of the corners. My whole body felt nauseous. I thought I would go to sleep and never wake up.

I was in the cage alone for a long time. I despaired for the comfort of another. Men came to the cell. I heard one say, “Bidhaa?” Another answered, “Yes.” One of the men entered and walked over to me. He inspected my trunk, twisting it in ways I did not like, and spread my eyes open, unhappy with how bloodshot they had become, but I did not move from my prone position. He patted me on my head in a comforting way. I lifted my head and said, “Bidhaa.” The man laughed, repeated “Bidaa,” and stroked my trunk. I thought that was my name. It wasn’t until later that I learned that “Bidhaa” means product. Despite my wretchedness, I managed to sit up. 

The man pointed to himself and said, “Trainer,” but I did not respond. 

When the man left, I could feel my heart sink like a rock in a pond. But he came right back with a bright green ball. He rolled it around under his foot and then moved it from one foot to another. I watched, mesmerized by the toy. Trainer allowed me to touch the ball with my trunk and push it around, but when I stood up, he took it away. When I tried retrieving it from him, the man shouted, “No!” He pointed to himself and said, “Trainer.” He grasped my throat gently with his hand and said, “Say it. Trainer.” He waited and then said again, “Trainer.”

I shook my head from side to side anxiously, not understanding what he wanted me to do and desperately wanting to see that ball again. He squeezed my throat harder and moved his hand like he wanted me to swallow, saying, “Trainer.” Finally, I understood his meaning and uttered something like “Trainer.” He smiled and scratched me on the back of my head. Then he pointed to me and said, “Bidaa. Bidaa.” The name had stuck, and I repeated it back to him. The man dropped the ball to the ground and kicked it at me. I watched the ball bounce off the cage’s bars and bounce back. The man had to show me how to play. I chased after that ball for five or ten minutes before exhausting myself completely. I wanted to go over and cuddle up against the man, but each time he prodded me with a sharp stick and yelled, “No!”

I had no sense of time back then. I don’t know if I was in the cage for weeks, months, or even longer. But the lessons continued. I learned to speak in this way, trading language for toys. My favorite was the small pool where I would splash and play with an intertube. I learned “pool,” “ball,” “walk,” “eat,” “toy,” and many other words. I was never fed until Trainer was satisfied with my progress for the day.

I listened to the sounds of the workers who cleaned my cage and fed me. I did not know it then, but the workers spoke Swahili while Trainer taught me noun-verb English. I also learned words and watched images on a flatscreen which the humans turned on when they were not around to care for or teach me. It was a long time before I realized I was not a human, not understanding until later that the face in the reflection of the calm pool water was my own. 

Then they started bringing in items that were not toys, like couches, chairs, and flatscreens. If I started to play with them, I was zapped and prodded. I learned to wait for Trainer’s signal on whether I was allowed to investigate the new object. 

And then he started bringing in humans. If I approached the humans, I would be swatted. If they came to me and I backed away, I would be swatted. So I stood there without flexing so much as my trunk muscle. And still, I was swatted. I had to learn to read the minds of the humans in their gestures and facial expressions and show an appropriate response. If they smiled, I bobbed my head and flapped my ears like I was happy. If they looked angry, I would lower my head in deference. If they wanted me to be curious about something they wanted to show me, I would look interested trying to touch it with my trunk. I felt none of these things. If I was too clever or wordy, I was swatted. Mostly, they wanted me to utter simple words for their amusement. Only when they ignored me was I to become rigid as if happily anticipating their subsequent commands.

One day, Trainer said I was ready. I didn’t know what I was ready for. I was moved. When the truck stopped, I was chained with shackles about my ankles and led down a ramp into the outdoors. The light was blinding. I could not imagine a light so overwhelming. I had never seen the sun before. I was led into an enclosure and abandoned once again. I sniffed at the intoxicating mix of smells and listened to a symphony of sounds. I felt the soft dirt on the pads of my feet.

When my eyes finally adjusted to the intense light, I saw my first elephant, a massive creature in a neighboring pen. She smelt like but not quite the same as Mother. Seeing an elephant and remembering the reflection from the pool, I realized that I was a creature like these. The giant elephant approached and reached its trunk through the cage to touch and smell me. I was not trained in the expressions of elephants, but I recognized the gesture as one of curiosity. So returning the reach of its trunk with my I own, I said, “I am Bidhaa.” 

The massive creature dropped its trunk and backed away from the fence. I recognized its new emotion as distrust. I could not help myself. I so wanted the attention of this creature that was my likeness. So I ran toward her, and she bellowed out in anger. I froze and lowered my head. In words I didn’t recognize then, she said, “Why is it that you speak the language of the humans?” 

I did not know that I spoke the words of the humans. Over the days, I realized that just like humans, it is best to mimic the emotion of the other, even if that is not how you feel. I managed to strike up a cautious friendship with the beast. I learned that her name was “Kujuana.” Kujuana taught me my first words in elephant. She did not talk to me in the touch language I still had no knowledge of, but I did learn the elephant equivalent of the human handshake by trunk touching and sniffing.

Several humans came to visit. When they stood outside the gate of my enclosure, I overheard them. One human who said, “I am from the Nature Development Company,” wished to know whether the other humans wished to “buy” me. I did not know what the word meant, and it is precisely because I didn’t that I felt an uneasiness that was the same feeling I had when I ate disagreeable food. 

It was only a short time in the outdoor pen before I met Mr. and Mrs. Bixen. When I said, “I am Bidhaa,” a look of astonishment crossed Mrs. Bixen’s face that I wasn’t sure how to respond to. 

The salesman said, “Say hello to Mrs. Bixen.” 

I dutifully replied, “Hello, Mrs. Bixen.”

Mrs. Bixen looked more eager than ever. She said, “Oh, Dennis, we simply must have Bidhaa.”

Mr. Bixen replied, “Of course, Karen. He will make a wonderful pet and companion for you when I am away.”

I read Mr. Bixen’s emotion as one of tolerance rather than happiness. I did not know how to respond, so I remained frozen.

The salesman said, “Let’s return to my office to do the paperwork.”

Doing the paperwork meant the end of my brief stay with Kujuana. Even though Kujuana did not understand the language of the humans, she understood that I would be leaving. The gestures of hello and goodbye are the same in Elephant. We touched and sniffed one last time. The word for goodbye in elephant means, “I will remember you if we meet again.” It was the last time I saw Kujuana.

Picture by Craiyon

The Laws of Nature

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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?

  1. What does the protagonist go into the scene believing?
  2. Why does the protagonist believe it?
  3. What is the protagonist’s goal in the scene?
  4. What does the protagonist expect?

Here goes:

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.