Saturday, December 3, 2011

Killing an elephant

She dreamed that she killed an elephant.

She had stalked it through the thick rainforest for what must have been weeks or months. She felt as if she was soaked to the bone by now. Every night she was eaten alive by gnats and mosquitos. Her skin was ripped by thorny vines. She was exhausted but slept restlessly, afraid that she would miss the elephant crashing through the trees, deep in the valley below. It had been some time now since she’d last crossed a loggers’ road or seen the smoke of village fires rising over the canopy. This was good. The elephant would avoid such places. She was getting closer.

And when she did find it, she didn’t hesitate. She didn’t even hear the gun shot. She just saw the elephant fall. The elephant is dead, she thought. I killed an elephant.
“Why did you do it?”, the elephant asked.
“I don’t know.”, she said. “I just stalked you through the jungle for so long, I guess I had to.”
“Yeah, it must have been years.”
“I thought I did well, though. I gave you a run for your money.”
“Yeah, you did.”
“Still. I am tired.”
She slumped on the ground, next to the elephant's trunk. She felt emptied out now. And really tired.
“Mind if I tell you a story?”
“What? No, go right ahead. I just…”
She rested her back against the giant warm head of the elephant.

Before there was anything else, there was a raven. He flew everywhere, to the east, to the south, to the west, to the north. But wherever he went, he couldn’t find anything. Now, you know ravens are smart animals. But because they are smart, they get bored easily. So, the raven tore out one of his feathers and put it down on the ocean. Now I have somewhere to go to, he thought. It was all a game to him. He would fly away from his feather and see how long it would take him to find it again. Every time he came back he would put another feather down. Luckily for the raven the world is endless, so as the island grew, his game did not become any easier.

The elephant’s story continued for a long time. The rainforest closed up around them. The elephant lying on its side on the musty leaves and the woman resting her back against his skull. The story was so long that that in the meantime, she met somebody. They fell in love and married. She worked and went on holidays. She fought sometimes with her husband, made up and had two children. Every day for years, she would wave at them from the gates of the schoolyard.

Now, because the boy who had hidden the fire in a calabash was lonely, he found a coconut with which he caught a catfish in the stream. Every night the catfish would turn into a girl and lie with the boy and every morning she would return to the coconut. They had many sons and daughters. But because some of them where born during the night and some during the day, some where people and some where catfish. They still give catfish names today, even though it’s a long time since the boy lived here and fought many battles and became a great chief.

And then, one day, the elephant was done. She was redecorating a wall at the time, singing along with the radio. The story stopped so suddenly that she dropped the roller and knocked over a can of paint. She crouched down on the ground and cried and cried. When her husband came in, he just held her for a long time.

She dug a deep hole in the back yard and that night she buried the elephant, while everybody else was asleep. There wasn’t that much left of him. Just some pieces of thick grey skin and worn down ivory pebbles. When she was done, she put a lawn chair over where the hole had been and sat watching the stars up in the sky. The moon made a great slow arc over the horizon and the wind was moving through the rainforest so softly and silently that, finally, she fell asleep.

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