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

Bidhaa Betrayed

Reading Time: 10 minutes

This is my attempt at the first “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 first:

I live on a plantation with a human woman named Ms. Bixen, a human man called Mahout, a matriarchal elephant named Mubwa, and a dog named Kuchota. Many other humans work in the rows and rows of coffee and tea fields, but elephants are not allowed to go there for fear of destroying the crops. 

Ms. Bixen is the matriarch of our little herd. Mahout feeds, walks, and takes care of Mubwa and me. He is our caretaker. Ms. Bixen said she rescued Mubwa from poachers that killed the rest of her herd. Mahout says Mubwa had to be chained to keep her from hurting herself. She still wears leg irons whenever she is taken outside her cage. He says I give Mubwa a sense of purpose. Otherwise, she might have died of despair. 

Mubwa is not my biological mother, but she has cared for me the best she can. I have no memories of my mother. I only remember being born from a crate. 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 says we are alike because we have both lost our herd. I understand her meaning, but I do not think we are alike. She has detailed memories of her herd. I have none. I belong to the Ms. Bixen herd.

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 everyday 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.

I have also learned much from a flatscreen that shows things 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 in the compound. And I do not watch the flatscreen anymore.

Mahout says that I am a designer species. When I asked him what designer meant, he said, “You are worth a lot of money.” When I asked him what worth a lot of money meant, he said, “It means that you are a status symbol,” but I didn’t know what that meant, either. When I asked him what a status symbol was, he said, “You are not meant to live on the outside, either in the world of elephants or the world of humans. Just be nice to Ms. Bixen’s guests and do what she asks, and you will lead a long, happy life.”

 I don’t see Ms. Bixen much except when she has guests over. On those occasions, I am made to say words in the human language, though her guests seem to talk at me, not with me. I say a few utterances and do some silly tricks. When they all laugh, I flap my ears and bounce from one front leg to another to pretend I am enjoying this trite demonstration because that is what I am supposed to do. My speech amuses most of her guests to no end, but it frightens a few greatly. 

One night, one of Ms. Bixon’s lady guests said, “You are so privileged to have a designer species, but aren’t they illegal now?” Ms. Bixen said, “No. It’s only illegal to let them breed with natural species. Technically, he shouldn’t be allowed with the matriarch.” Ms. Bixen leaned toward the woman and whispered, “I don’t think there is much danger of that, but let’s keep this between you, me, and the fence post.” I did not understand the meaning of the word illegal and struggled to fathom why the two women would share information with a fence post. Another guest said, “Let’s not talk about the elephant in the room.” And they all laughed tremendously. But at least they stopped asking me to do baby talk and went on to talk about the “Death Star,” saving what little remains of wild places and investing in something called the economy. I don’t have enough context to understand these lofty topics.

I spend most of my time playing with Kuchota. He is a simple creature that follows me around like a duckling follows its mother. He does not speak words I understand, but I can always read his intentions. 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 at my betrayal 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.” Kruger is a word I remember from before the time of the Bixens.

On most nights, Mubwa tells me the stories of her days as the matriarch of a large herd. She describes her life outside the compound of the plantation, of playing with the many young ones, and of great travels across savannah, jungle, mountains, lakes, and rivers. The herd traveled hundreds of miles in the backcountry for food, water, and mates. She tells me how she dug for water and how to take down trees for their fruits and leaves. She talks of exhausting wanderings with creatures I have only seen on the flatscreen, sometimes fighting off vicious, hungry animals. She chokes with sadness when she relives the tragic stories of her herd obliterated by men that made thunder with sticks. Despite her anguish, she says it is vital that someone carries the memory of her family. 

Mubwa insists that I remember the details of her travels though I do not know why she bothers. I have not been outside the compound since the day I arrived, nor do I wish to leave it. I remember the dark cages, the bad smells, and the loneliness of being isolated in a cell. I have heard the dark stories of Mubwa and seen the dangers of the lion on the flatscreen. I am more afraid than curious. I asked Mubwa if she traveled to Kruger Park in South Africa, but she did not know of such a place. It is the only place I am curious about because there might be other Tembo like myself. I might even find my mother.

I saw very little of Mr. Bixen in my eight years on the plantation. When he came to the plantation, Mr. Bixen and Ms. Bixen would shout loudly at one another, and then he would leave. After one of their yelling sessions, Ms. Bixen started calling herself Ms. Bixen instead of Mrs. Bixen. She said she would divorce soon and wanted to get into the habit.

I didn’t understand her meaning. When I asked Mahout what divorce soon meant, he said, “They don’t like each other anymore. They will pay lawyers a lot of money to argue against one another on their behalf. I don’t think we will see Mr. Bixen anymore.”

Ms. Bixen had many tears and spent long hours staring into space when Mr. Bixen died. For elephants, tearing is good health, but for humans, not good. Mahout told me to die meant he would never return, and Ms. Bixen was very sad. I did not feel much of anything when I learned he would never return. 

Mubwa had told me about grieving and dying when she talked about her herd. She told me about trunk touching the body to keep the memory of the lost soul. I saw Ms. Bixen look at a picture of Mr. Bixen. And then she smashed it on the floor. The glass splattered into a thousand pieces. She shouted at it just as if he were here and still alive. I think she was trying to destroy the memory of Mr. Bixen, not keep it.

Not long after Mr. Bixen died, a man in a suit stopped by the plantation. He said he was from “The Nature Development Company.” I remembered the salesman that sold me to the Bixens was from the same human herd called “The Nature Development Company.” The man in the suit 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 hear the conversation from a distance. I overheard the man say, “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.” 

“What about Bidhaa?” she asked. The man said, “We discontinued the Intelliphant Product Line because of intellectual property rights disputes. Bidhaa was the last of his kind. Probably best to let him self-terminate. Shame him. Put him in isolation for a few days, and the end of life gene will express.” 

I asked Mahout what this meant. He said, “Termination is the same as dying. Don’t you worry about it. Ms. Bixen will never agree to it.” but I saw the water come down his face before he looked away. 

Ms. Bixen had the same tears when the man in the suit from the “Nature Development Company” left the plantation. It made me very uncomfortable. I wanted to cry, too, but I didn’t know why. I asked her, “Why are you sad?” 

She said, “I don’t know how to explain, but things are happening beyond my control. That asshole husband of mine really screwed us over.” She stepped closer and rubbed my trunk like she was trying to remember a lost friend. She touched her cheek to mine and then ran off.

I did not like being touched like I was a body to grieve. I asked Mahout to explain why she did this. He 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 elephants 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 Bidhaa dead in three days. Sadness and despair are lethal to you in ways they are not to anyone or anything else. Humans will tell you things to hurt you. You must never give in to sadness or despair. Choose anger if those are your only two options. You must fight for your life. You cannot stay here anymore.”

I remember the words, but the advice made no sense. I nodded yes like I understood, but I did not. Where was I supposed to go? Why would I be sad? Why should I be angry? I didn’t feel sad or angry, just confused. 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. I told her what Mahout had said. She told me I must go to the wilderness south of here and made me repeat her stories about survival. The humans call the territory “Nyere National Park.”

Later that evening, more men from the company came with a trailer. They prodded me into the trailer. I tried to say cute things that made Ms. Bixen’s guests laugh, but I was zapped every time I said something. Ms. Bixen came into the trailer. She did not come close, and two men stood between us with shocking sticks. She shouted, “Because of you, I had to fire Mahout. You’ve ruined his career and made him a miserable man.” I lowered my head to reflect the shame. “Mr. Bixen worked himself to death because of you, working so hard to pay for your food, and all you do is play with that stupid dog.” Even in the darkness, I could see that she was fighting off the tears. She blubbered, “You are not an elephant and you aren’t a human. You don’t belong anywhere. You are worthless and don’t deserve to live.” Ms. Bixen ran from the trailer, and the men backed out, never taking their eyes off me. 

They shut the door behind them, leaving me in complete darkness. I felt the pain stab at my heart. A wave of sadness swept over me, and I crumbled to my four knees. Mahout said humans would say things to hurt me. I did not think Ms. Bixen would be one of those humans. She was my caretaker and the matriarch of our little herd for the last eight years. I am only nine years old. Mugwa had told me of her pain at losing her herd. I tried to imagine it before, but this was the first time I felt it cut through my heart like a bull elephant sitting on my chest. But I didn’t believe Ms. Bixen’s words. Her lies made me angry. I stood up, walked to the door, stood on my hind legs, and tried to push it open with all my weight. The door didn’t budge. I tried again and again for hours. Desperation is an odd mix of anger and despair. I went into a corner to lie down and cry. 

And then the door creaked open. I heard Mahout whisper, “Ssh. Be quiet. Follow me.” It took a minute for the surrender of hopelessness to fade enough to give me the strength to rise. Mahout whispered, “Hurry. Damn it. We don’t have all night.”

It was night time. He said, “Walk quietly.” In so much as an elephant can tiptoe, I followed him to a back gate of the compound. He let me out. He said, “This is the best I can do. I can’t take you because there is nowhere I could hide you and the roads aren’t safe. You will have to get yourself to Nyere. Follow the roads and travel at night. Stay off the roads in the daytime.” He pointed south in the direction of the park, the same as Mubwa had told me. “Get lost or you will get dead. Now go.” There was no goodbye. He closed the large gate, and I was standing outside the compound alone under the light of a half moon. It was the loneliest feeling I have ever had, running from a life that no longer existed. Mugwa said it was a two-day hike from here to the park if I kept up a brisk pace. I didn’t know what else to do. So I started walking. I crossed through the rows of coffee trees, grabbing at the branches and eating as I walked. I crossed a paved road onto a dirt road. In the distance, I heard Kuchota bark. I imagined the barking getting closer and louder. And then Kuchota was walking at my side, wagging his tail and panting. I never believed I could be so grateful for the companionship of this so-easy-to-please beast.