This is part of my U of T Creative Writing program. I wrote this story in 2013 and it has undergone a lot of work, but still needs to go through more. I hope you enjoy.
Through flickering eyes I watch them rip and tear. I focus, calm myself, blink deliberately. A pride of lions are ruthlessly gnawing into my stomach, furiously eating my flesh. I am their dinner. Soon I will fall asleep, never to wake again.
Death is welcomed, maybe it’s like a nice long sleep. Sounds wonderful, really.
My family and my herd abandoned me, because I was born with a handicap. It became too dangerous for them to protect me. They had to save themselves, I understand.
The unusual part about this is that I feel no pain. I’m aware what is happening to me, I can hear the sounds of my innards being devoured, satiating this hungry group of carnivores.
Talle warned me that this might happen, but what was I to do? I didn’t ask for this cursed foot, it made me slow, challenged me to keep up, but of course, I couldn’t. She frightened me with horrific stories of my fate to motivate my survival instinct. She’d use it to scare me into living, to fight on, to never surrender, no matter how hard it was for me to move, or to keep up.
I have been wandering alone for almost a week. Mamma told me to go away, that I was no longer wanted. She hoped I would survive, but she sensed my impending death.
Talle was my friend, we are the same age, the only real difference between us is that she is healthy, and I am disabled. Immobile, to a degree. Yes, I was different, so I had to leave. Abandoned in this incompatible world. Can you imagine? I miss Talle. Before the herd departed she said goodbye. I could see in her posture that she was sad, but she told me that we would see each other again one day. Neither of us believed it.
“You have to go,” I told her. The herd had already made significant tracks, still I could see them far off in the distance, as dusk grew closer.
“I know.” Her eyes averted mine. “I hope to see you again one day.”
I flashed a friendly, yet mischievous smirk, then became solemn. “We both know that’s impossible.”
“Perhaps we can both hope, “ she said. “And if we hope enough, it will come true.”
She was looking at me now, through my eyes, into me; into a part of me that defied my feeble body, encouraging it to fight on. She was giving me energy, filling me with a force that would defy nature and transform me into what I needed to be: strong, healthy, and able. I could see in that moment her worry, but mostly, I could see her despondency. “I have to go now,” she whimpered. “It will take me some time to catch up with all of them. “Goodbye.” We locked trunks as we often did, and butted heads. I held her for as long as I could until she pulled away.
“Goodbye,” I replied. And with that she turned her back to me and walked away. Before she was gone from view, and with the dark descending, I muttered, breathlessly, “My dear friend. I hold you close, like a tattoo, on my heart, forever.” I stood there for a long time watching her grow smaller in the distance, until it was completely dark.
My new life began that day. Its duration a mystery, perhaps a week, maybe less.
For a long time, even in happier more worriless days, I feared this would be my fate. I questioned how I would be able to feed myself, unprotected, without a loving family to comfort and support me. Always I put these fears aside, it was too much to think about, and it seemed so distant a thought at the time to believe it would ever stand fruition.
Now I see that I failed to keep my own family safe. Because of this failure it’s now all over for me. I can hear my bones cracking, breaking, being torn from their sockets so that a lioness can have a better go at the meat inside of me.
Yet here I am, blinking steadily still. I think I’m in shock. No, I know I am. I am meat. It’s too surreal.
Did I mention that I was on my own? What did I do the entire time until now? After Talle left and I could see her no longer I stood there motionless for a long time in the dark. I tried to make as little noise as possible, in the event there was a predator near. It was a lonely, fearful evening but I didn’t cry. I had no self-pity. I didn’t think of it, to be honest. I thought of my young life and of my mother and my siblings, my friends and family, of good times and of bad ones. I thought about the future, about the day ahead of me, where I would go, at times I was excited at the fantasy of what I would see. Perhaps this won’t be as miserable as it seems.
As the sun rose the morning after my abandonment and the land became visible I hobbled along in the dawn for water. It was bare where I was. Hardly a tree in sight, but the grass was somewhat damp as there was a low fog that moistened the ground I stood on. From above I was nothing but a spec in vast lands, insignificant. Or so I imagined.
There was no choice. They had none. They had to leave me. But still I felt awful remorse, for what I could have been, how I could have made a difference and been someone to anyone, but that wasn’t the case for me.
From the time I expelled from my mother on that rainy of all days, my outcome was sealed. My mother and the herd valiantly tried to stir me to my feet but it was clear, even when I succeeded, that I wasn’t right. My front foot, the right one, was mangled, curved inward so that my foot touched the ground at an angle, not flat. I suppose that they thought of leaving me soaking wet then and there, but my mother, in her glory of hope felt I needed time.
And I was able to walk, I got by, make no mistake about that. But I couldn’t keep up, and often on long journeys, Talle, and a guardian lagged behind to keep me company until I could reach the herd again. Usually, by the time I arrived, they were off again. They stopped only briefly, and by then, when I had finally reunited with my mother and family, I was tired. So similar to every time before, a chaperone would stay behind with me again, and again, I would follow slowly, patiently, eagerly.
In the beginning, when I was younger it wasn’t as bad as this. I was more able, but then I grew more, and the foot became more twisted, and heavier, and I stooped over, compensating with the rest of my weight in an attempt to appear more normal. It was awkward to look at me.
Eventually I found water; it was refreshing and I looked out at the vast safari before me. There were zebra here, a few antelope there, and me. Little old me. I had no plan, no where to go, no one to be with; no one was looking for me, and no one needed me.
Slowly and deliberately I made my way through the park. To look at me, it may be painful. But I am not in pain, maybe some discomfort, but it’s so simple for me now. You get used to things like this with time. Unlike others, I have to thoughtfully put one foot in front of the other to ensure I don’t trip over myself, and I move slower, of course, that’s why I’m here, alone.
Despite my optimism I know how this is going to end, even here on my first day. There’s no mistaking what my future holds. I am afraid, yes. With each sudden, unexpected sound I startle. However, I feel no self-pity. This was simply my time; I had this moment and now gloriously someone else gets a go.
During my walk my thoughts are plenty, and they are complex. At times, as I move, I think of simple survival mechanisms, such as drinking and eating. Other times I think about Talle, about my aunts, about those good and bad times I mentioned earlier. My mind often turns to my mother. I could only imagine the pain she must feel now. It is no easy thing to abandon one’s child. Would she think of me now, or would it be too unbearable for her to envision what had become of me already?
The day I was born she allowed hope to guide her. She kept me close and we stayed idle those first few weeks, until it became vital to move further through and past the park to new territory. At first she was patient, but as her worry grew so did her impatience. She wanted so much for me to be better, to be normal that at times she reacted in anger towards me. At times I felt like a disappointment but as soon as she hissed and cursed she’d come to and hold me close again, apologize and tell me that none of it was my fault. She was just scared, that’s all, she said.
When I looked at mamma I never saw one ounce of happiness. Her eyes were pained with fraught. This was not what she had hoped for me, but hope she continued with, through every step I took. In the beginning, I was prone to short bursts of energy that propelled me forward with shocking speed, but with each passing month and year I was unable to perform the same feats.
One night, two days before I was left, a pride of lionesses descended on our camp and came for me. It was late at night. They taunted at us, tried to break us apart to get at me, and at one point, Lilly, a member of the herd who was a few years my senior was fighting a pride of lions who had jumped on her hide, nearly mauling her to death. She would have been left for dead if a strong, stubborn faction of the herd hadn’t intervened. They formed a circle around me, exposing their trunks to the pride, kicking, swinging, violently thrashing about as one lioness after another baited, jumped, sunk her teeth into the hard flesh of my family members. The family fought back ferociously, my mother especially, fending off sustained injuries to protect me.
It was a long, arduous evening that traumatized the other younger elephants. At one time, I thought I would be sacrificed to save everyone. I was afraid of it to be honest. It ran through my mind that they would turn against me, figured it was too much of an inconvenience and push me from the circle to the pride — offering me up for slaughter. And when the pride finally sunk their fangs and claws into me, satiated by their capture my family would run, relieved it was over. They were free, they would exclaim.
Predictably we were in this situation because of me. The herd had stopped through our journey in the middle of the night to provide my aching feet a break after hours of what seemed to be an unending trek.
The next morning, with little sleep, and finally rid of the pride, one fatality among them, they had a meeting to discuss what to do with me. The matriarch was certain that this would happen again, as it had happened several times before. The survival of the herd was too important to take for granted, and I was compromising their endurance.
Talle was with me as I stood for a long time watching as my mother lowered her head. The matriarch was stern, speaking to my mother discerningly.
“It’ll be okay,” said Talle. “They’re not going to leave you.”
“It’s an option, I know.” I replied nervously.
“It couldn’t possibly be. They need you. I need you.”
“They don’t need me for anything. Talle, we know that it’s only a matter of time.”
She scoffed, replying half-heartedly, “Don’t be silly.” She knew I was right. She simply wouldn’t let on that I was.
An hour later the decision had been made, sealed by the matriarch’s approval. I was to be left, to my own devices to protect the herd. Mamma’s voice had been vetoed, my future had been decided.
They stood for a long time after the decision had been made alone, separated, considering the weight of their decision. Mamma averted her eyes, and did not speak to me right away and when she did, when she told me the news, she was unkind. I suppose she needed to protect herself and the hurt she felt, but the malice in her voice was piercing. There was no kindness in it at all. By dusk the next day, after some more discussion where my mother once again pleaded my case, they had gone, left me, alone, here in the wild.
After that evening, and during my first day as an independent I heard much empty noise. A whistle of a blade of grass, the solar flare of a sun ray. You would think by now I’d find some shade, but to tell you the truth I don’t need it. Rightfully I am famished. It hasn’t been long enough for me to miss Talle terribly, I keep expecting to see her bouncing up behind me, trunk waving and roaring merrily as she so often does. If I close my eyes now I can see it vividly, it is real, and wonderful and magical all at once.
And I’m able, frolicking effortlessly with my family and Talle, having nothing but carefree fun without a worry or concern in the world. I trumpet, Talle trumpets, we tangle, immersed in each other’s embraces, laughing for what seems like forever.
But it’s fantasy. And I continue through this foreign, but present haunt. I wonder if reality is ever truly a panacea for anything. It seems to me that it’s always a cold reminder that nothing is fair, and in the end, we’re alone.
The days passed like this, without event. And with each waking morning I grew weaker. It was challenging to find water. At night I would lay or stand on the grass and look up at the stars. I tried on evenings to find a rock, or a tree patch, or a copse, dregs even, to find refuge. I was so tired but then again too afraid to sleep. I would look up at the sky and let daydreams overtake me. They comforted and nourished me, soothed me into feeling a sense of safety. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to find the energy to keep on like this. Besides, where exactly was I going? I hadn’t come across a single herd since my forced pilgrimage began, but then again, nor had I confronted any predators. I am young enough, but still an elephant. I stand out. I can be seen.
The sky is a wonder I thought. Magnificent and mysterious, imperious and welcoming, yet cold and distant. Will I become one with the stars one day? I hope if I do I sparkle bright for my mother and guide her forward without guilt. She tried so hard to keep me safe. The last curse I’d want for her is to feel remorse at thinking of me now.
In spite of everything these past few days I always felt love, and it’s that love that is sustaining me now. I guess it sounds ridiculous to admit this, but I imagine my family are all around me now, blanketing me with that love.
I woke at sunrise but was too weak to move any further. I lay on the ground a long time and as my breath became more laboured I dreamt that I saw my mother hovering over me, her trunk gently soothing my head, caressing my body and whispering me to eternal sleep. She told me she loved me and that she would always love me and that no one in the world ever made her more proud than I made her. It was nice to hear. The day went by, me in the hot sun, ever so slowly creeping towards the eventual conclusion, nestled in my mother’s love.
It’s dark now. I can smell my sweet blood as it fills the dry air, not a drop of rain has fallen in months; rain like on the day of my birth would be welcome now. That’s what I was doing late this afternoon when the lions found me; I was trying to find water from the cracked, bone dry terrain. I am so thirsty.
I’m calm though. I hope to fall asleep soon. My thoughts are turning to few, only that I wish I could see my family again, the sun, maybe the Earth. One more day, please.
My family tried hard to protect me. For ten years they had saved me from poachers, predators and other dangers. Of course I tried to keep up, tried hard not to be a nuisance, but there were newborns to worry about, and I was becoming tiresome, a liability I suppose.
It made me melancholy all over again to think that I was disappointing them. This moment was imminent, carved out for me upon my birth. They knew it, I knew it, but we all tried to pretend that it wasn’t true. Until we could pretend no longer.
To keep that survival instinct burning, Talle told me stories about other disabled elephants, and what happened when they became prey. Funnily enough, now her tall tales seem prophetic. My story isn’t unique, so Talle explained. She said that sometimes the elephant was awake while being eaten, but she assured me that it wasn’t as gruesome as it sounded, almost infused with serenity. At the time she knew only to make such a thing up, to scare me so that I tried more valiantly to get better. An impossible task. The impervious matriarch of my herd would indifferently ask my mother, “When will she be cured?” And now, here I am.
I am thinking about my mother again. How cruel our last conversation was. She was mad, screaming at me to go away, to find my own way. She was doing what she had to do to protect everyone else. Foolishly I wish that she had told me that she loved me one last time, but she didn’t. I know that she did love me, that she does love me. She did what she had to.
The lions found me here passively searching with my trunk for water, but I already told you that. They could sense my fear. I first saw the lioness, she stumbled upon me, it was not a planned attack. She was beside herself, what luck this must have been for her. I valiantly tried to get up as she sniffed me, to run as fast as I could, but by then there were more of them, and before I knew it they were clawing at my back, biting my legs, pillaging my stomach and I remained, on my side, weak as the day I was born.
The sounds were terrible; they surprised me, I had nothing to relate this moment to. I just kept hoping that they would leave, show mercy, take pity on my disposition. No wonder we create fantasies, reality is too painful.
As they devoured me I saw my mother again. She was guiding me so that I could soon guide her. We gazed at one another for a long time. My last breath came. With it I closed my eyes. So rich was this life of mine, so cruel was its ending.