He killed thirteen people, they told us. Would walk to a house at night, knock on the door. And whoever opened it, he would kill.
Well then, quite a story it was, especially for a Saturday morning in the shallows of a still, olive green river looking at his placid eyes. And he had a bell around his neck! Stories of horror seem hard to believe at this moment. I want to scratch his ears. And I do. I also wade into the water and lend a hand to his mahout in scrubbing him down- his tough, dark skin and massive body feel like a kind of living ship, a mysterious craft bound for the center of the earth rather than just the hide of a mere creature that can be tamed, be kept by the likes of us.
The rest of the afternoon flowed by in a mix of elephants (some so dangerous in mast, they are kept chained to a hillside) and black-faced langurs waiting to eat off the scraps of elephant meals, and then a tiny orphaned elephant that wrapped her trunk around your finger and pulled. My heart almost stopped when she did that the first time- right from the bristly hair on her head to her oval toenails, she was a miracle of longing and heartbreak. Sigh.
Walking back to our cottage, a familiar sight- the goats. And a herd of spotted deer off in the distance, looking up at us critically. One has fine, large antlers and a proud stance. He looks like he doesn’t approve. They stand under the golden droplet flowers of an acacia tree, tense and alert. Framed with a backdrop of a looming, dark gray mountain, they are unaware of the beauty they give to human eyes.
When I go away from the city, this is exactly what I want to see. Places where the mountain almost overwhelms you, and you can see each spot on a deer, and can recognize the faces of the goats and that of their ancient, gap-toothed herder- these are the places I want.