Walking for Elephants

On Saturday I joined the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos on London, a march that took place in 136 major cities across the world. It’s too easy to be complacent and think that other people can bring about change. But sometimes we have to stand up for what we believe. I met the lovely Nicky Campbell and a petition was delivered to Downing Street. It is time to stop the ivory trade the use of rhino horn in medicine before there are no more of these creatures left. It’s cruel, it’s barbaric and it’s shame on humans.

 

Nicky 3 Nicky 2 Nicky 1

Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, London, October 3rd 2015, shown above TV presenter Nicky Campbell

This all ties into my other work for Paws n Claws where we publish books for children and give the profits to The Born Free Foundation. Sadly this year I did not run the Paws Animal Writing Competition for Children and am thinking now about if I will run it next year. The reason I set up Paws n Claws was because of my work with the wonderful Virginia McKenna OBE, now a friend and her charity. My accountant must wonder why all that work when personally I lose money, but it’s far more to me than that. The charity makes something, they gain from book sales, but it’s the fact that I ask children not only to get creative and write, but also to think about the wild animals and what they might be able to do to help. In this case most of that comes from raising awareness.

Check out these books for the young ones with ALL profits to Born Free:  Jet-Set

And that is why I also blog about that on here too. My first degrees were in Zoology and I have a Masters in Ecology, animals have always been a great love and a passion. The last time I marched was back when I was a teenager when I marched with IFAW to protest about the fur trade and the killing of baby seals. I also met some celebrities then too. Thank God wearing fur is no longer fashionable. It should be banned all together.

I think to understand the severity of some of these issues with what we’re doing to our world we need to stop closing our eyes if we are bring about change; whether that’s for people or animals. I know I am guilty of living in a bit of a bubble of my own making but sometimes we need to stand together.

At Paws n Claws I know my efforts are small, but I also know that lots of small efforts count to make a big one. So we must never underestimate what we are capable of doing. So I think for me it’s more about finding a way to use what I have and so if that’s writing, then that’s what I’ll do. I had a short story published in a collection called Lest We Forget about elephants. The book was by writer friend of mine and I did a lot of the editing (of course I offered my time for free) and the profits go to Save The Rhino.

Here’s that story now:

 

Lest We Forget

Debz Hobbs-Wyatt

 

It means ‘Place of Many Elephants’.

He tells me this as we stand, watching, wind snapping my jacket like a circus whip. The heat, even in the late afternoon, burns. I blame the wind for the wetness on my cheeks.

“I know,” I tell him. “Gonarezhou. I know this park well.” And now I think of you. I always think of you.

He turns to me then, the whites of his eyes stark against the blackness of his skin. He wears his baseball cap backwards, like some salute to the western world, chews gum with a loud click. Maybe he thinks he’s being cool. Maybe he thinks a woman wearing a jacket in this heat is not so cool. I pull the sleeve over my wrists to hide the marks.

Sweat slides like a snail has trailed along the edges of his thin face. He studies me when he thinks I don’t see. I am everything he is not, curvy, plump-faced, white-skinned, although now I’m sure it’s flushed pink; it will never be brown. Wisps of hair protrude from beneath a straw hat like the one my mother once owned, hair fine, blonde, flat – like hers. I only have photographs to prove that. Me little more than a babe in her arms; a toddler at her feet. Always that; just as she is always twenty-six. I press my finger against her watch, as if feeling for a pulse that’s long gone.

“We lived here nearly eight years,” I say and he follows my stare out across the basin where the river winds like a silver necklace, shimmering. Silent.

The breeze whispers. I imagine it carries the voices of angels. Is that crazy?

My mother used to sing, I don’t remember her. How can I? My father said she sang before we came here; she sang when she was pregnant with me. And she was singing on the day she died. I don’t know if it’s true; I don’t know if anything he said was true. I just want it to be. It’s not the same.

And one time he said she didn’t want to come here; to this place. She did it for him. For love. Love changes people Michael says.  My lovely Michael. I should’ve let him come today.  He didn’t say anything, didn’t try to stop me – even though I could see it in his face. He did this for me. Just as my mother came here for my father. When she died the family reclaimed her. She was mine and then she wasn’t. They buried her in a place called Sussex. It sounded so foreign; so romantic to me as a child. Buried in England.

That was her wish.

As this is his. But does he deserve it?

I close my eyes, listen, breathe in the heat, the scent of something I can’t place. I used to think I belonged here. Used to imagine I could smell Africa on the breeze in England. Mad isn’t it? I always knew I’d come back; I just didn’t imagine like this. I don’t know if I should thank him or weep. And now as I stand here, African soil dusting my boots, I realise that some places get right into your bones; they’re still there even when you’re not. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, sometimes it’s impossible to forget.

My therapist told me memories are like photographs. They capture only the good parts – the romantic ideal of something lost, waiting to be recaptured. But the truth is what you see behind the eyes.

“Look closer,” she’d tell me, “and you will see.”

“Yeah,” I’d say looking past her, towards the window. What did she know?

Sometimes I wonder if my mother knew what would happen, if that’s why she didn’t want to come here. Can people know?

Did he – my father? That last time I saw him in that place – did he know?

But if he’d told me would it have changed anything? Would I have been able to forgive him, even then?

They say some people have a sense of an ending, like a watch stopped at a time in the future. Maybe my mother knew I wasn’t the only thing that grew inside her on these plains. But could she have known she’d be dead before I was two?

“Yeah,” I mumble. “We lived close to the park, to the Gonarezhou. Many years ago.” I add, “But you already know that, don’t you?”

He doesn’t look at me; doesn’t even turn his head. All he says is, “Yes.”

I wonder why we stayed so long after she died. Why I never really knew what job my father did.

But then I think about her. Maita. His mother. This man at my side. She was the reason. His skin is lighter than hers. Well it would be, wouldn’t it?

His hands move to the pockets of his khaki pants and he waits as if he expects me to say something else. To elaborate. Maybe he thinks I can tell him about his father; our father. Maybe he thinks I’m like him. But I’m not. I never was. I never will be.

But standing here now, it’s like nothing has changed.

The wildness is the same. This land, this place I remember for its beauty and its anger. Maita said that beauty and ugliness are part of the same thing. Respect the wildness she said. Make everything you do count she said. Live every day she said. I never realised how much of what she said I still remember; how wise she was. But now it’s too late to tell her.

She died last year. A short illness he told me.

“Sorry,” I told him.

“She had a good life,” he said. “That’s what counts.”

We don’t say anything now. I listen to him as he chews. Watch him take his hands from his pockets and wind his fingers together. He wears a gold watch. People will think the tourists tip him well. But I know better.

I look out across the basin with its scars, its yellowness, its barrenness.

Below me is where it happened. Next to the twisted branches of a giant baobab tree. Down there, far below. Yeah. That. Is. Where. It. Happened.

A scar cut deep into the landscape, yet only I see it.

Or maybe not. Maybe she told him.

But he doesn’t speak. Doesn’t ask. All he does is chew, lips parted into an almost smile – it’s like he wants to say something but he can’t.

It was thirty years ago. He knows what I plan to do. But what if I can’t?

I run my finger along the strap of my backpack, shift under its pull as the images play out like cells in a home movie, like the rolls of cine film my father used to take, memories coiled like snakes in plastic casing. We found a stack of them in his garage when we cleared the house. Images flashed onto a wall; the tick tick of a projector, dust dancing in the path of the beam. Some in black and white, some in colour. Smiles, waves, voices rising from the dust, from a different time; when everything was perfect.

And then later – when we only pretended it was.

Why did he never tell us he had lost his job? Why did we stay after she died? Maita could have come to England – couldn’t she? But of course I know the answer to that.

Wave for the camera Kim! My mother’s voice. Preserved only in the transience of those first few images captured in eight millimetre. A voice I will never know.

Or perhaps I will always know.

I lift my hand, shield my eyes as I look down. Imagine you standing at the water’s edge, as I had seen you do so many times. I called you Nomusa – the Zulu word for Grace. It was Maita’s idea.

“Why Zulu?” I asked. “Not Shona?”

That was when she told me her father was Zulu. And when she told me to the Zulu the elephant was holy; sacred. But men had fought wars over the elephant. “The English,” she said.

“Like my father?” I said.

“It was many years ago,” she said. “Things have changed.”

But they hadn’t – had they?

Later she told me her mother was Shona.

Was that allowed? Was that forbidden too? I never asked.

The land looks empty, scoured, dry but it is not, life is everywhere. A bird crests a distant mountain.  It brings one good memory of my father. There must be others.  It was his sixtieth birthday. The beginning of his illness. We were in mid Wales, the land of red kites. He held my hand; smiled a lot. Said if he was granted a single wish it would be to fly. To be free like the birds that circled above us. But he was free. Wasn’t he? I never understood it then. Or that he could love Maita and just forget my mother. Or perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps some things are just too hard to say.

He stands, my guide, legs splayed wide, eyes forward. Binoculars slapping against his chest. He is tall like he was.

That day my father said: “Don’t go too far.”

“No Dad.”

My father said, “Not today, you hear me.”

“Yes Dad.”

My father said, “Stay close to Maita.”

“Sure Dad.”

Maita was the nanny before she was supposed to be my new mother. I could never call her that. Maita wasn’t my mother. She could never be my mother. She was only eighteen. He always liked them so much younger – like my mother. We looked so … different. I look at him, this man. It doesn’t seem possible. And until a few months ago it wasn’t. The past nothing but a dusty roll of film in a garage, where we found the letters. Maita’s letters. Ones he never answered.

 

Elephants lived in groups, matriarchal communities. Perhaps it was Maita that first told me that. “The mothers are the strong ones,” she said. Then she looked right at me and added, “I think I would have liked your mother very much.”

“Yes,” I told her. “Yes.”

He coughs, perhaps he means for me to say something; to dispel the silence that squats between us. I look at him, shoulders stooped; like him. His name is Gatsha. It means tree.

We named you Nomusa the first time we saw you. We were walking, close to the water, I cannot say for certain where. Maita said there were many legends about the elephants. She said the Zulu word for elephant means ‘Unstoppable One.”

But they did stop you – didn’t they.

We saw you many times. And Maita was with me the day we saw the Elephants’ Grave, perhaps I was six. There were bones; bones the poachers had left behind. Even at six I was old enough to understand something of loss.

We watched the way you felt them, rolling the bones over in your trunk. Remembering. I know you were remembering and Maita she was tugging on my sleeve, telling me, “We need to get home. Father home soon.”

But still we watched. I had to see.

“I don’t remember her,” I told Maita, “I don’t remember my mother’s face.”

“No,” she said.

“And she is buried so far away.”

She knew what I meant, her fingers danced softly on my arm as we watched you; and the others, turning over the bones.

Later she prayed with me, a Zulu prayer. Baba wethu osezulwini is the only part I remember. And she told me I don’t need to remember her face, I don’t need her grave or her bones because she is in me.

“You are in her, she is in you.” That’s what she said. “You are in her, she is in you.”

She is in me. I am in her.

And so is my father.

Sometimes I wish he wasn’t.

I look at Gatsha. He has the same stance, same gangliness. I want to hate him but how can I? He catches me watching him; I look away.

The sun slips lower but still its heat claws at my skin. It’s easy to forget how fast the night comes in this place. Gatsha fumbles with his binoculars. Then I see him look at the gold watch.

That day I told my father of course I’d stay close to the house. Of course. Like he said. Like he always said, only that day there was something more urgent in his tone.

But I had to see. I had to see my elephants. I had to see you. And now I wonder if the seven-year-old me knew; sensed the ending the way my mother did. Maybe the way he did too. Did you?

And here, now, you are everywhere; in this place with its heat and its thunder. With its air heavy with a promise of rain, soon, not yet, a few days – like a tease. It’s like you’re still here. And you should be. You. Should. Be. Here. Nomusa.

This is the place where time stopped.

You are everything he never was; and now never will be.

That was the day I came to hate him. Really hate him.

He told me he loved the elephants. But that day; that was the day I stared his lies in the face and spat. So that was his job now? That’s what all the trips were for?

It was the day I first felt the sting of his slap.

I wanted to run; not to look, not to see what they did. It was only as I turned I’d seen him there, amongst them. Them – those people.  He was there. He was one of them.

I saw him.

He saw me.

And Maita … she saw what he really was. He had lied to her too. She left in the middle of the night. Just a note that said ‘Sorry.’ And underneath it she had scribbled the words of the Lord’s Prayer. She might have wanted to forget but she must have already been pregnant.

He never told me.

For all these years he never told me. And had it not been for the letters perhaps I would never have known.

Or perhaps I always did.

I lift the sleeve of my cotton jacket and glance at my mother’s watch; it reads 1.20. It always reads 1.20. It seems only right I wear it today. My father weighs heavy. My back aches. There are no bones. Just ash. And yet his weight presses my boots hard into the brown soil, forces me to change from one leg to the other like it’s some kind of tribal dance. Maybe like the Shona did in these very lands once. This Place of Many Elephants. And as I think that I think of the small carved elephant that sits in the pocket of my backpack. Ivory. I found it amongst his things. It belongs here. He doesn’t.

I should pray for what he did; for what they all did.

For what they still do. For every elephant they have done this to.

But him – my father – he doesn’t deserve a prayer.

Whatever that piece of paper says. That’s all it is … paper with its fancy names from a place far from here. That’s all he is now – paper. It was a wish made so long ago I doubt he even remembered. Except, deep down, I know he did.

I close my eyes, will my body to loosen, feel the sun as it folds its energy into my skin. It was much later I understood what I had seen that day at the Elephants’ Grave. There are many scars on this landscape.

I used to imagine my bones, here, in this basin and I’d think about you, finding them, caressing them; remembering me. I think of it now. I’m sorry Nomusa.

But my father doesn’t deserve this – any of this.

He never remembered that day. Does that count as some kind of twisted irony?

“Forgive me,” I say. I say it now and let the wind take it, carry it, roll with the angels’ voices as I tilt my head. “Forgive me.”

I led him to you. I told him where you drank each morning.

But I didn’t know. I swear to God I didn’t know.

I don’t know if Gatsha understands – if he even cares but I know he turns to look at me.

My father – he remembered only what he wanted to. Sometimes he talked about my mother but mostly he talked about Maita, as if I was her, it was the only time he told me he loved me. He said it like we were still here, in this place, and one time he told me how I had saved him from his grief. But I knew he meant Maita and I should tell Gatsha that; I should tell him later, with Michael, back at camp. He says he wants to invite him to England.  I will. I will tell him how he still loved her.

My father didn’t remember me. Except for that last time I saw him. He held my hand, his skin almost blue against mine and he said, “I just want to be free, Kim.”

“Like my elephant,” I said. “Like Nomusa.”

But I knew he didn’t understand. I knew he didn’t remember what he did.

“I love you Maita,” he said cupping his finger over my hands. And he was gone again. Just like that.

They call dementia the long goodbye but I think I said it that day; that day long ago when I saw him with them.

How can I forgive him?

But then I look at Gatsha.

We don’t speak.

As I look out, imagine I see you there, as I had so many times, majestic, timeless. I wish he had filmed you. But I remember your face. How could I forget it?

You are the grey shadow that has stalked me through all these years, a child in a place she didn’t really belong. Here or when I was back in Sussex and passed from one nanny to another, a teenager who told the world how she loved her daddy when she hated him. No one knew why we came back, oh they thought it was about a woman but they never said her name. She was black, they knew that. They didn’t know what really happened.

Love and hate, wound so closely together it’s hard to see where one ends and the other begins. That’s what Michael said. “You can’t hate him Kim – he’s your dad.”

But I did.

I hated him for staying here after my mother died, and then I hated him for taking me back to England. But how could I tell anyone that? Except for Michael. And a therapist who stared at me over half-moon glasses and nodded like one of those toy dogs people have at the back of cars.

Michael is the one who finally saved me.

I told him how I used to look for you, with Maita. How she showed me how to look for your footprints, huge beautiful footprints. They couldn’t be anything else, could they? My elephant. You.

I wish it was Michael standing here, not this stranger. But he isn’t a stranger – is he? Not really. He is in him, he is in me. We are in each other.

I wonder how different things might have been if my mother had lived. Would my father have needed to do those things – would you still be here? Would he have met those people? Partied with the poachers? What for? A few lousy Rand?

Those people. That’s how I described them to Michael. Those people. I wanted to call them animals. It’s an insult to animals. An insult.

They tainted this landscape. My father tainted it. The way he tainted so many things. Why should I grant him his last wish?

Did he grant YOU a last wish?

Now Gatsha looks at me, a question in his face and I think for a second I must’ve been mumbling. It’s what I do. It’s what he did.

At the end.

I am not like him.

I will never be like him.

And later I know this man who shares the same genes will ask me about him; how can he not?  But what can I tell him?

I see the bird circle far above us and hang there as if in mockery, we know what your father did …

Gatsha looks at me and now I long for Michael’s hand in mine.

“You want to do it?” he says. “Before sun sets.”

“Soon,” I say. “Just a bit longer.”

He nods. I don’t know if he knows but he must see the tears. Probably thinks crazy English woman. But I am not just any crazy English woman, am I.

I move closer; look at the edge of my boot, hanging over the lip and I see him watch me, like he thinks I’m standing too close to the edge. What does he think I’ll do? Jump?

Once I might’ve. That was before Michael.

It was my father who said we all need saving. In one of his lucid moments. I didn’t know what he meant – perhaps I do now. Is that what happened to him? Did Maita save him? Is that why Gatsha’s here now? To save me?

I shift so the strap of my backpack tips; slides along my arm and I do another dance to move it down, lower it gently to the floor. He watches, says nothing. Even when I pull at the zip and tease out the large metal urn with both hands.

I should have left it at the airport. Dumped him at Herare. I smile when I imagine him in lost property. I see myself telling Mr Cuvier at Cuvier, Fynn and Wright how it was lost in transit. Or better – blown up believed a terrorist bomb. What could they do?

But I didn’t – did I? And now the time has come and I don’t know if I can do this. I set the bag at my feet, the bronze sheen of the urn catches in the late afternoon glare. It sits there like the egg guarded by an Emperor Penguin.

I see Gatsha look at my feet and I wonder if he has any idea how hard this is for me. I wonder what Maita told him. His lips part so I can see the white gum moulded to his teeth. “You do it here?” he says.

“Yeah.”

I expect some lecture – it’s a national park, do you have permission? But he doesn’t say anything. He looks at the basin below. An animal calls, perhaps a wild dog.

“You need me to leave you alone?” he says. “Or you rather I help you?”

All I say is, “I don’t know.”

But we both know.

So we just stand there – together and we wait. He clicks his gum. Our father’s ashes burn at my feet.

Finally I turn to him. “Did she tell you about him?”

“Yes.”

I nod.

“He was good man.”

That’s when I turn my head. Perhaps she never told him about that day.

He must see the question in my eyes, must read my thoughts. “She forgave him,” he says.

She forgave him?

Now the words burn.

“You see many elephants?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“We’ve been here three days, in the park, but we’ve not seen any.”

He presses his eyes into a tight line as he looks at me. “Yes,” he says. “But they cautious beasts … yes.”

“They’re still poached,” I say. He must know why I say this but there’s no anger in his face. All he says is, “Yes. Terrible terrible thing.”

That’s when I remember and bend down, slowly unzipping the other pocket in my backpack, it gets stuck at first, I jerk it across and he watches. As I do my father’s urn falls on its side. He makes as if he plans to right it. I tell him, “No.” Then I remove the small ivory carving of the elephant and hold it in my hand. The urn sits on its side. I step over it.

“It belongs here,” I say. “Not on some stupid mantelpiece.”

He nods. I don’t know if he gets it or not. I don’t know how good his English is.

I hold onto it, roll it in my hand as I saw you do with the bones and remember. I remember you. My elephant. I remember you. I will always remember.

I hear him say something; I can’t make out the words.

Yours is the face that has haunted everything. The reason we left, the reason Maita left. The reason I dropped out of university and ended up in therapy. And why I wear a jacket in the heat of the day.

But some scars are easier to see.

They hacked off your face.

That was the breakthrough moment and I can still see myself sat in that doctor’s office; it was winter and the bare branch of some tree I can’t name was gently tap tap tapping on the window like a watch that started ticking again; one that had stopped many years before. And there I was rocking; telling her how they did it; how I saw them, cutting away. Over and over I said it.

They hacked off your face.

They hacked off your face.

They. Hacked. Off. Your. Face.

And why?

Because you had what they wanted?

Because someone somewhere would buy it?

They cut away at it, cut it away until all that was left was dripping red flesh.

And the doctor, she just nodded over the top of her note book. How did it make you feel Kim? How DID she think it made me feel?

I know this time the tears come with fitful breaths. I know he is looking at me.  I know he is praying.

“It’s her prayer, isn’t it,” I say. “Say it for me.”

I bend and I sit the carving on the earth and now I rake at the dryness with my manicured fingers, already chipped, and I scratch a hole.

I hear him whisper the words but what he does next I don’t expect. He crouches. And now his hands work with mine turning over the soil, making the hole bigger and then finally, together, we place the elephant there, covering it until it’s gone. Buried – like the past? But it’s not buried– is it?  How can it be? And now this ivory is back in the earth where it belongs; like elephant bones.

For a moment our hands touch. He is in us.

And for all those years I didn’t know.

Finally we stand, his hand holding mine, pulling me back up and together we rake earth over it with our boots, stamping it down as if we’re dancing and for a moment we smile, he throws his head back the way my father used to. I do the same. We are the same, we are connected. That’s when I turn to look at him. “I’m sorry for what he did,” I say.

 

There were seven of them. Seven elephants at the watering hole that day. Six adults and one calf. I tried to count the gunshots. I saw you fall but my scream was lost in the rattle inside my head and the sounds of my body dry heaving as I fell to my knees. Maita’s scream was what told me she had followed; she wasn’t far behind. She saw it too.

I remember the blood.

I remember how they hacked off your face.

I remember what they did to you; to the others, but it was you I watched. You. My Grace. My elephant. Not so graceful then.

Look what they did.

They made another Elephants’ Grave. Only all I can see now is soil and the baobab tree. I want to be down there but I know the bones will be long gone.

They left the baby to die.

And now I’m crying and him – my half-brother, he’s chanting louder and louder. It’s the Zulu prayer. Not Shona. Zulu. The Lord’s Prayer. Maita’s prayer.

Baba wethu osezulwini, malingcweliswe igama lakho; mawufike umbuso wakho … Our Father Who Art in Heaven …

He lifts the urn, takes it in both hands and he holds it up. I should be angry. I should tell him how my father doesn’t deserve this. Our father doesn’t deserve this. But now all I can think about is what he said: she forgave him. Maita forgave him.

But did he ever forgive himself?

That’s when I hear something, a low soft rumble. Perhaps the rain will come, perhaps Michael will get to see the way the lightning rips the sky apart here, how it bleeds, deep cuts like jagged flesh. I used to watch the blood drip onto the porcelain tiles. I used to think it made me closer to you. That it could make it all go away.

Now all that’s left are silver lines where the cuts used to be.

I watch Gatsha as he steps closer to me holding the urn. He has removed the lid and means for me to take it.

“I can’t,” I whisper. “I can’t.”

But I know it’s what I have to do. My father might not remember what he did but I do and now I need to do this, for me, for him. For you.

He looks at me. Perhaps he reads my mind; conjures some Zulu magic.

“To forgive is not the same as forgetting,” he says. “You can forgive him.”

His wisdom does not go with the backward baseball cap and the gum. It comes from her, Maita. And now I see my father in his face. Just as I saw him when he threw his head back to laugh.

“Thank you,” I say.

His expression says he doesn’t understand.  So I tell him, “For helping me remember him like that.”

He nods but I have no idea if he really understands.

As soon as he hands me the urn, presses it against me, he removes his hat, bends his head and looks down into the basin.

The urn sits heavy in my arms as I move my body, as if I am weaving, snaking in a Zulu tribal dance so the ash is whipped away like a cloud, like the grey cloud that has haunted me for all these years. And how can there be so much of him?

Out it tumbles.

Dust to dust.

Ashes to ashes.

I hear the sounds again. I look down to where it happened. Imagine splashes of rain on my arm but it can’t be – it’s too early for the rains, isn’t it? It isn’t thunder I hear. It’s a soft trumpeting.

It comes from down below us, mixes the angels’ voices and Gatsha’s words:  “Forgive us our sins …”

I move closer to the edge, tip the urn so now the rest of it falls into the wind.

He grins, waves his arms and I see the glint of my father’s watch. “Look!” he says. “Look!”

Far below us is a single elephant, or so I think at first, but then I see the calf. Only it’s the big one I watch. It lifts its head, raising its trunk into the wind. Is that you Nomusa? Is that you?  But when I blink you’re gone. You’re both gone. But I know you were there. And I know he saw you too. I know it. There are many illusions, many things like the mirage in the African haze, but this was real. This was real.

Now the rest of my father falls into the breeze and we watch the ash cloud drift across the basin, it looks like a swarm of bees – so much of it. We watch until it’s gone and the sun has slipped further along the horizon. We watch until the bird, perhaps an eagle, is nothing more than a tiny speck melting into the reds and the oranges.

And that’s when Gatsha looks at me. “Come,” he says.

 

As we leave, the empty urn sits in his arms, he hugs it to his body. I think of what he never knew, as least my mother held me. And now I think we have to make everything count. Maita was right.

My backpack feels lighter; so much lighter.

At the top of the path close to camp I know Michael will be waiting and now I wish Maita was there too. Maybe she is. I wish it hadn’t ended the way it did all those years ago, but maybe what we did here today puts things right.

But I know some things can never be put right.

I hear Gatsha’s wise words lift into the wind, swirl with the angels’ voices. To forgive is not the same as forgetting …You can forgive him.

As we forgive those who trespass against us …

 

I stand and look back along the dusty track where two sets of footprints mark our passage, one as transient as a moment captured in eight millimetre, or a black and white photograph. But for a second I imagine if I look back I will see another set of prints, the large beautiful footprints of my African elephant and I say your name one last time. “Nomusa.” Grace. She chose a good name.

And I know.

I know that by forgiving him I have set him free; released him from his guilt.

But I will never forget.

 

© Debz Hobb-Wyatt, reproduced in full from The Plight of the Rhino by Springbok Publications 2013, buy here: AMAZON

Elephant

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