Lisbet steps out of the lodge and moves into the murky pre-dawn morning, breathing mouthfuls of dust floating in the air. She turns to her sister, Greta, following behind, who appears to be encompassed in a filmy rust-colored shroud. The land is doused in red as the ubiquitous dirt makes it seem as if one were viewing the entire countryside through a bloodshot lens. Greta, attempts a forced smile, a reluctant participant in this adventure abroad. Lisbet felt her life had led her to this one moment. This one place which she had dreamed about yet never thought was for her. Safari!
Lisbet and Greta were about to go trekking through the West African bush with their lackadaisical guide whose name they couldn’t quite pronounce. But no matter, elephants were the reason they were here. Lisbet had studied them from her cozy New England home all her life. She knew of their matriarchal social structure, intelligence, complex emotional lives…she could go on for hours about them.
Next to her, Greta shivered in the chill of the rosy dawn. Lisbet was too happy and too excited to feel any external discomforts, heated from inside by her roiling emotions. The guide whose name the sisters had already forgotten, suddenly emerged from the haze and stood before them. Without so much as a smile of greeting, he uttered perfunctorily,
“We go. Stay behind me.”
With that, their lone protector stomped mechanically away through the vegetation with a large rifle slung carelessly across one shoulder. It looked to Lisbet as if it could slip off at any moment.
“Um excuse me Mister ah…um…sir, why do you need to carry a rifle?” Lisbet hoped it was just for show but the guide claimed that it was for “rogue elephants.” Lone males could be dangerous. Lisbet had doubts that a ton of enraged elephant could be stopped with such a weapon. At least not right away.
As the morning shifted from a watery pink dawn to a bright crimson day, the air thickened and heated. Greta shifted from feeling like a frosted carcass to a steaming piece of carrion. Why she agreed to come on this trip she would never know. Lisbet seemed so certain and excited. Greta was always being pulled into the nexus of her sister’s confident assertions, as if she had no will of her own. What were they doing here in a place they didn’t belong with one lone man and a gun, marching through the bush liked they owned the place? Greta felt it was pure madness. This was the very last time she listened to Lisbet and her crazy ideas.
Mid-day approached and the tiny group encountered monkeys, gazelles, a tiny deer and an antelope with huge curving horns. But the elephants were the grand finale, the primary thing Lisbet had come all this way to see.
Suddenly the guard stopped in his tracks and beckoned them to crouch down. As they sat silent on their heels near the ground they could feel a rumble moving through the soles of their feet, and they could hear the crackling and popping of breaking branches. A small group of elephants was just out of sight, in a depression screened by a copse of trees. Lisbet realized she was here at last, in the elephant’s home. About to see the magnificent beasts with no fence between them. Lisbet’s excitement grew intense. She could almost see them.
The three humans crept on all fours to the edge of the depression, and suddenly as if from nowhere, several dusky gray forms appeared before them. They seemed so much larger than they had in the zoo! They were stomping and swishing their tails.
“Come, come.” Whispered the guard, “Get closer, take good picture.”
Contemplating her next shot and how it would look on her Facebook page, Lisbet felt unexpectedly vulnerable with just a few spindly trees between herself and the large tusks.
As she cautiously moved closer, she felt the animals glance nervously in her direction. She hesitated. Perhaps this was close enough?
“Keep going!” the guide urged her on. She slowly crept forward a few more feet. A large male on the edge of the group swept his over-sized head in her direction, his trunk upraised, sniffing her out. He snorted and flapped his ears, seeming to grow even more immense, the red dust mixing with his iron grey body, giving him an ominous ruddy glow in the hazy light.
Something primal deep inside her told her she was in trouble. Suddenly and much too late she realized that she was not welcome here. That this was not the sweet gentle tribe of creatures she had imagined. These were forbidding beasts who would defend their territory at all costs. She was a tiny primate in the midst of a very large savannah. She really knew nothing about them after all. All the books and documentaries could not begin to adequately convey the raw power of these creatures.
Her brain processed all this information one second before the bull charged. With an ear-splitting trumpet of alarm, he lunged for her, head low. She didn’t even have the breath to scream.
A minute later, Lisbet and Greta were cowering desperately behind some thin and useless trees, eyes squeezed shut, wondering if this was the end. Lisbet contemplated the irony of being killed by the very thing she had loved so long. After a few beats, she slowly willed her eyes to open. She saw a large elephant ass retreating jauntily back toward his family.
The guide was throwing sticks at him which just bounced impotently off the thick hide. The bull didn’t even glance in that direction; what was that little mosquito of a man to him?
Her breath finally coming back to her body, she slowly stood to watch the elephant sway his leisurely way back through the bush.
The guard glanced her way and chuckled, amused at the women’s display of abject terror. “Mock charge.” He said by way of explanation. “Just to scare.”
“It worked.” Lisbet thought ruefully.
“Come, come” the guard pointed with his chin toward the herd, “You get good picture.”
“No, I think I’ve seen enough for today.” She answered back, her heart still pounding wildly. “I don’t think this is an experience I will ever forget. I think I’m ready to go back to the Lodge now.” To herself she added, …and back to my familiar and predictable life. Her friends would be so impressed when she told this story of near death on the savannah. She couldn’t wait to get back home.
Maybe I will arrange a dinner with some authentic African cuisine… no, that wouldn’t do. The fufu and goat meat really wasn’t very palatable. Maybe a breakfast, yes that would be great, a breakfast with Millet and cream. She would get napkins with elephants on them, and her story of near death would be the highlight of the breakfast. Her friends would be amazed at her bravery. Blissful and content, Lisbet hurried back toward the Lodge with Greta trailing fearfully behind while ahead, a delicious European luncheon awaited them.
The guide whose name was Kwebena Afuon Addai smiled to himself as he shifted the unloaded rifle to his back. It was just for show, but he felt very official carrying it. It lent an air of uncertainty to the mission, and it unsettled the tourists. It was why they came here, to his home, and then left it just as quickly. He smiled to himself and sent a silent blessing to the big bull elephant. He would be getting a good tip tonight.
Bio: Hollie is an Adviser with the Emerging Scholars program here at Aims. She has always enjoyed writing and has written several professional pieces but hopes one day to publish creative works as well. She wrote this piece for a creative writing class she took a few semesters ago. This piece was inspired by a trip to Ghana West Africa and a real elephant encounter. She enjoys reading and writing about other cultures and two of her favorite writers are Zora Neale Hurston and Louise Erdrich