Author’s Notes: This is my attempt to capture the “ah-ha” scene as prescribed by “Story Genius for the (tentatively titled) “Laws of Nature.” The writing is not expected to be flawless or even complete at this point. What the scene should accomplish is:
- Will the protagonist achieve the external goal? (To find someone to pay for his product licensing fees so he will not (literally) expire.)
- What will change for the protagonist? What will he have realized?
- What will happen externally in this scene that forces the protagonist to confront his misbelief? (Misbelief: Bidhaa believes he will be more than a consumer product if he finds his mother and the herd she belongs to).
The scene starts just after Bidhaa has been captured by the NDC.
When I came to, it was dark, and I barely had enough room to move. I knew I was in another container tomb, right back where I started. I hadn’t found my mother, and I hadn’t found her family. I had yet to find a buyer to renew my product license. It wouldn’t matter if I surrendered to despair or not. If the premature disposition gene didn’t finish me off, the end-of-life gene would. I was out of time.
I had walked two thousand miles to find the Tembo. I found the Tembo. Although I am physically most like the Tembo, I discovered I was not a Tembo. Even the Tembo were no longer Tembo, a species initially eco-genetically designed to live wild on the Velte lands of a once wild Kruger but nothing more than domesticated exhibits in expansive zoos. The Tembo had the same rootless existence as I did, moved from park to park and herd to herd at the whims of their NDC owners. But they did not question it.
I questioned it. My feral existence had taught me to question it. I had as much right to carve out an existence as any. Domestication was another container to escape from. I found no place in the docile world of the Tembo.
I had walked two thousand miles to find my mother. Mubwa told me I might have a birth mother in Kruger, and Mahout thought the South African government might renew the license fee if I could join a herd. Everything they told me was nothing more than fanciful thinking.
Somebody had dumped me in a world that had no place for me. When I started my quest, I thought I might find that place if I found my mother. When I met the Tembo, they did not know who their mother was, let alone who my mother might be. My search for my mother had failed. My quest to find someone who had to care for me because they brought me into this world was lost.
Born to process human language, I was a productized Tembo designed to amuse and entertain humans without a niche in wild nature. Speaking in the human language did not make me a human. I was an article manufactured for consumer consumption but no longer suitable for regulated markets. Indifferent humans. Humans bored of my novelty. The humans that feared me, I feared the most. I threatened them in ways I only barely understood. They declared that I didn’t have a soul but never looked past their own prejudices (or gazed deep into my eyes) to find out if something was inside. They feared and hated me. They left me to deliquesce in the trash bin of unwanted and outdated things. I had no place in the world of humans.
But the world outside the bin is more extensive than humans and their domesticated Tembo. So, I made the only choice I could make in the depths of my icy steel casket. I would die with anger and not despair. I finally understood Mubwa’s need to tell me her stories.
I rumbled as deeply as possible, “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, “Bidhaa is not a product. Bidhaa has a soul. I traveled far with Chini, one I cared for, to find my past in hopes of making a future. 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.
The world inside the container was only a tiny space where I couldn’t fully stand up. I stood in a crouch and backed up as hard as possible with my rump into the back wall of the container. The reverberations rumbled my intent louder than my rumbling words ever could. Then I charged forward and lowered my head into the locked steel door.
When I woke, I was lying on my side. My head pounded. It took a while for me to focus. I sniffed for Chini but did not smell her.
A voice said, “He suffered a mild concussion but I think he will be okay.”
A woman’s voice said, “Bidhaa? Can you hear me?”
I raised my head and rolled onto my stomach. I could feel the sun warming my back. I was not in the container but in an open-air pen. I thought about charging the gate, but I still felt woozy.
She continued, “Bidhaa. My name is Moja. I know you can speak. Can I talk with you?”
I repeated, “Moja?”
I stood up, struggling to maintain my balance, but my head cleared. I read the surprise on Moja’s face, but she showed no fear. She put her hand on my trunk and inspected each eye. She said, “Neither of the viral genes have expressed. You are in much better condition than I expected.”
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.”
“You? Mother? You are a human. How could you be my mother?” I remember those first few minutes of my life when I smelled Tembo before I was stuffed into a crate for transport. It was my turn to inspect her. I sniffed at Moja and said, “You smell like a flower. My mother did not smell like you.“
Moja grinned. She said, “I did not mean that I gave birth to you. A female Tembo birthed you into this world. That is probably who you remember. I meant that I am your mother in a sense because I created the genes that made your language speaking and processing possible.”
I asked her, “Why did you bring me into a world that has no place for me and leave me by myself?”
She looked taken aback by this question and hesitated before answering. She said, “I did not choose to bring you into this world. The NDC stole my genes, brought you into this world without my permission, and sold you for a profit. I have been fighting the NDC in the courts ever since. But that does not make it any less my responsibility to help you. I have been trying to track you down for the past two years, but you are a surprisingly hard person to find.”
I liked that she called me a person. I was done being a thing for human entertainment. I flapped my ears in approval. I said, “Bidhaa is a person. Bidhaa has a soul.”
She nodded and said, “Yes.”
She said it with conviction and without hesitation. I felt stronger just because she said that one word. I wondered if she was really the one. I said, “A mother always takes care of her children.”
Moja said, “A good mother does her best given the circumstances. My time left on Earth is very limited.”
I asked, “Are you dying?”
Moja chuckled. “Not any time soon, I hope. But I am going to start a journey to another planet. How would you like to live on a spaceship with other Tembo? You would have a whole island and a herd to roam about with. You would have no owner and no expiration date. You would have no one to answer to but yourself. There is another like you that will be on the ship. You would have a peer, another talking Tembo, with the same abilities as you. If you are willing, I could take you with me.”
I did not know what a spaceship was. I wished Mahout were there to explain it to me. It sounded like the home that I dreamed of. It sounded like everything that I wanted.
She said, “You could even have children and raise a family.”
I said, “I would not bring children into this world.”
“The world on the spaceship would be different. You might change your mind about that.”
It sounded beautiful, but I would only go to a spaceship with Chini. I said, “Where is Chini? I would not go without her.”
“Chini? Is she the one that was with you at Kruger?”
“Yes. She is my herd. Where is she?”
Moja looked uncomfortable. She took a deep breath and answered, “She is in a zoo being taken care of. A vet has certified that she is in good health.”
I remembered what Maonyesho Tano said and repeated, “A vet takes care of us.”
Something else, Manonyesho Tano said. I repeated his words, wondering if she was at a good place, “One watering hole is as good as the next.”
Moja shook her head, “Some watering holes are better than others. I assure you, Chini is at a good watering hole and will be well taken care of, and I will take you to a much better one.”
“I will not go to the spaceship without her.”
Moja did not look me in the eye. Finally, she said, “Chini is too big for the ship. A spaceship has minimal resources and a delicate ecological balance. It wouldn’t work.”
I would have to sacrifice a friend for a dream. A product is a label for disposability and neglect; a companion is not. I did not like being treated like a product. I would not abandon Chini like one, like I had been so many times. I said, “Chini is not disposable just because you offer me an upgrade.”
Moja looked embarrassed. She said, “I am sorry. I did not mean it that way. But I still cannot take Chini on board the spaceship. The species manifest is very explicit. I would not be able to make an exception for her. Forces are at play, and things are happening beyond my control.”
Those words sent a shudder down my spine. I said, “That is what Ms. Bixen told me before she tried to terminate me.”
Ms. Bixen had called me her precious baby and said come to Mama, fawning over me in front of her guests and clients when it was convenient for her to do so. But Ms. Bixen had surrendered me for termination when I became a burden. She pretended like she was my mother. I asked, “Moja, are you a pretend mother?”
Again, Moja had the look of embarrassment. She said, “I try not to be, but I don’t have much time. I will try to help you the best I can in our short time. As it is, I had to threaten to quit the Humanity project so they would give me the time to come here. I wish it could be longer, and there was more that I could do.”
“Then Bidhaa’s license will expire?”
Moja smiled and said, “Oh no. I purchased your license, and the vet gave you the NDC antidote. You are in no immediate danger. You are set for two more years.”
Two years is an eternity. You could hike two thousand miles in two years. Two years is the blink of an eye. I would be fighting for my life again before I knew it. I asked, “If Bidhaa does not go to the spaceship, Bidhaa’s license will expire in two years?”
She hesitated again and said, “I have some friends in high places and with a lot of afros. If you stay here, I will set up an endowment to pay for the antidote for the rest of your life. I can do that much. All you have to do is show up for the shot every two years.”
“Still in a container.”
“Yes, but everyone lives in a container of some kind or another. Part of growing up is to redefine what those boundaries are. And you are very grown up. They may find a way to excise the virus gene from your DNA someday.”
“I want to see Chini.”
“Of course. I think I can arrange it. We must find a place for you and Chini to live.”
I rumbled with satisfaction. Moja was not what I expected when I started my quest, but I found what I came for. I said, “Thank you, mother.”
Author’s Notes: Let’s see how I did. What do you think?
- Did Bidhaa achieve his external goal?
- Did something change for Bidhaa? What was his insight?
- What happened externally in this scene that forced Bidhaa to confront his misbelief?
Featured image by Craiyon.