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Authors: Lynne Kelly

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BOOK: Chained
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“I didn’t run away.” I take my time joining the men at the trap and think about what to say next.

“I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I decided to come here before breakfast to see if we’d caught an elephant yet.” I point to the trap. “This one must have fallen in after I left last night. I was just picking some mangoes for its breakfast.” I drop the branch into the pit.

Sharad leans over the trap to peek at Nandita. She pulls fruit from the branch and shovels them whole into her mouth. She holds one mango in her trunk and hurls it at the face peering at her from above. The fruit smacks Sharad right in the forehead.

Sharad curses and rubs the red mark on his head, then backs up a few steps. Too bad for him Nandita didn’t hit the top of his head. That mound of piled-up hair would protect him from anything.

He cranes his neck to watch Nandita from farther away as he wipes mango juice from his face. “Well, it’s a strong one. Not bad. About two years old. Still young enough to train but big enough to give rides.” He pauses. “What’s that tree doing in there?”

I do not look at him as I answer. “I was wondering the same thing. I guess it fell.”

“Fell?” He looks around. “From where?”

Yes, from where? I look around while I think of an answer. “It did get stormy last night. Maybe the wind blew it in.”

“That was quite a wind then.” Sharad scratches his head. “Well, Timir will be pleased, finally,” he says. “Now, get in the truck.” He turns to the workmen. “Let’s go get the bigger truck and the chains.”

“I can stay here with the elephant,” I offer. “To stand guard.” Even with all the dangers the forest holds, I feel safer here than with Timir. And I don’t want to leave Nandita alone again.

The men laugh. “With the elephant?” says Sharad. “Why? So you can run away again? The elephant isn’t going anywhere. Now get in the truck!”

“But I didn’t run away, and we should find a way to give her some water. She’s been stuck in there since…”

“Well, go on,” says Sharad. “She’s been stuck in there since when?”

“Since who knows how long? We don’t know when she fell in there.”

“Probably just this morning. She’ll get water soon enough. Now get in the truck. The sooner we get out of this jungle the sooner we can get the elephant out of there.”

I plod to the truck behind the workmen. With one last look at the trap, I climb into the back.

The men chat with one another on the way to the circus grounds, but I am silent. I cannot stop thinking about Nandita, all alone in the trap again.
Is she safe? Is she scared?

The truck jerks to a stop. Sharad leaps out of the driver’s seat and bolts through the gate toward Timir’s office. I follow the other workers and overhear Sharad boasting to Timir in the doorway.

“Great news! I have an elephant for you—and I caught the boy, too, before he could run away any farther.”

“What? Run away?” I hurry to the office door. “But I told you I wasn’t—”

“What happened to your head?” asks Timir. The lump on Sharad’s forehead has turned purple.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” explains Sharad. “That elephant has quite a temper, but I’ll break it of that soon enough.”

“Of course. Excellent work. But you”—he looks past Sharad and glares at me—“have earned a fine of one thousand rupees. You know the rules. You are forbidden to leave the grounds without permission. Is that clear?”

“A thousand rupees! But that will take me—”

“An extra three months of work should do it. Now, go get my elephant.”

 

11

A foolish man believes he can trick an elephant.

—From
Care of Jungle Elephants
by Tin San Bo

I stomp to the elephant truck and crawl into the back.
Three extra months! I was just protecting the elephant!
What will my family think when I don’t come back in a year? They won’t know what’s happened to me. My eyes fill with angry tears when I think about how many days I’ll have to work here before I go home.

A bed of straw covers the floor of the truck. Blocks of wood of all different sizes are stacked next to me, and a pile of ropes and chains sit coiled in one corner. The sides of the truck have high wooden walls like thick fences.

The workmen climb into the cab, and the engine coughs and rattles when Sharad starts it up. The truck lurches and I tumble backward.

When we reach the trap, Sharad gets out of the truck and pounds on the side. “Time to get to work!”

The two workmen hop into the back to collect the supplies. I carry the ropes and chains while the men haul the wooden blocks to the trap.

“Climb in, now. We’ll toss the blocks down to you,” says Sharad. He hands one of the workmen a rope and tosses the other end into the pit.

“Climb in? With the elephant?” I don’t know how to free an elephant from a trap, but I didn’t expect that getting into the trap myself would be part of the plan.

“Of course with the elephant, you idiot. You’re the smallest one here. Put the steps in place so the elephant can climb out.”

I hope this turns out better than my ramp. My hands burn as I clutch the rope and scale down the slippery wall of the trap. Nandita groans and moves away.

“Now, move back—stand next to the elephant,” a workman calls when I reach the bottom.

Nandita looked so small when she stood next to the adult elephants. Now that we’re together in the trap she seems much larger. The top of her head is as high as my shoulders. She pushes her forehead against my side, and I brace my hand on the side of the trap so she won’t knock me over. For the first time, I notice reddish-brown hair that stands up straight on her head and back. With one finger I reach out to touch her head, ready to pull my hand back if it feels like I’m petting a cactus. The bristles of hair are rough, but they do not hurt like cactus needles. What I notice most is that she doesn’t look like she’s smiling anymore.

The largest block of wood comes into view as the workmen shove it to the edge of the trap. The pile of leaves crackles when it crashes onto the trap’s floor. Nandita cries out and backs away from the block of wood.

“Go on,” Sharad calls down. “Push it in place to make the first step.”

I kneel and push the heavy wood step to the dirt wall. One by one the men drop blocks of wood down to me. Each block for the staircase is smaller than the last, but I have to carry each new step to the top of the stack, then descend the stairs to collect the next one. When I’m close to the top of the trap, the workmen can hand me the wooden blocks instead of dropping them down to me. My arms shake as I stack the last step.

At last I have a staircase fit for an elephant. I crawl from the top step onto the ground and catch my breath.

I look down into the trap at Nandita. “How will we get the elephant to walk on the staircase?” I ask. “Will she understand she has to climb the steps?”

“She’ll understand perfectly once we start pulling,” says Sharad. “Here.” He hands me the chains.

“What do I do with these?”

“Do I have to explain everything? Get back down there and wrap one chain around the elephant’s neck and another around its leg, then connect them with the other chain.”

And then what?
Nandita is young, but I do not think we’re strong enough to pull her anywhere she doesn’t want to go. I descend the steps and pat Nandita on the head.

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out of here soon.” I wrap the chain around her neck and click the latch closed around one of the links. I do the same with the leg chain. When I’m done Sharad hands me a long chain to connect to the chain around her neck.

I climb out of the trap again and notice Sharad looping the other end of the long chain around the bumper of the truck. He orders a workman into the driver’s seat.

“Are you sure this will work?” I ask.

“Of course it will work!” Sharad says. “We’ll drive the truck to pull her, and she’ll climb out.”

“But do you think the bumper…”

“Now drive!” he yells. The wheels spin and fling mud into the air. The noise of the struggling engine drowns out Nandita’s protests as the chain pulls her body. The engine quiets, and the driver leans his head out the window.

“It’s not working!” he calls.

Sharad steps behind the truck. “Try it again,” he shouts, then turns toward the trap.

“Sharad,” I say, “you’re right behind…” My warning is lost in the noise of the spinning wheels and the roaring engine. With a
thunk
the bumper breaks free and the truck charges forward. The bumper smacks into Sharad. He lands facedown in the mud.

I run to check on Nandita. “Are you all right?” I ask her. She trumpets and grumbles at me.

“Well, I’m not all right, in case you were wondering!” yells Sharad. “Get over here and help me up!”

I walk to him and hold out my hand. He grabs it and rolls his round body toward me, then groans as he heaves himself up from the ground. Leaves cling to the mud that covers his face and body. It is hard not to laugh—he looks like a giant angry bird.

He storms to the truck and kicks it, then inspects the damage where it struck a tree. Glass from a shattered headlight dots the crumpled front bumper. He uncoils the chain and tosses the bumper into the back, then opens the truck’s cab. As he walks back to the trap, the sunlight reflects off the shiny object he clutches in his hand.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“It’s an elephant hook.”

Now that Sharad stands closer, I see the instrument more clearly. The large metal hook curves to a sharp point at the end. I look to Sharad, the question I’m afraid to ask stuck in my throat.
What is it for?

“Get back down there with the elephant while we pull on the chain. If she doesn’t want to move, a good whack with this will convince her.”

I pretend I don’t see him holding the hook out to me and hurry down the block staircase. Nandita leans against the wall of the trap.

“Come on—we have to get you out of here!”

Nandita shuffles forward. “That’s it, keep going,” I encourage her. She bumps into the bottom step. The chain pulls and I push. Nandita lifts her foot and places it on the wooden block. Step by step, with me pushing behind her, she climbs the staircase.

Once Nandita is out, she pushes past Sharad and starts to run into the woods.

“Get back here!” Sharad yanks on the chain and the workmen grab Nandita. She cries out like she did when she fell into the trap. Sharad lets most of the chain drag along the ground so he can hold Nandita close.

“Get the tailgate!” Sharad orders me. I run to the truck and drop the tailgate to the ground to make a ramp.

Nandita sways as she walks to the river. She places her trunk into the water and fills it like a huge straw, then pours the water into her mouth.

Sharad jerks the chain. “Come on!” he grumbles.

The ramp creaks when Nandita steps onto it. She stumbles into the truck, and I crawl in behind her. Both of us jump when Sharad slams the tailgate shut.

“Don’t worry,” I say as I pet her head. “Someday I will set you free. I’ll be your family until then. I know it won’t be the same, but I’ll take good care of you. I won’t leave here without you, I promise.”

And I mean it, too, but I don’t feel any better. I feel like a mosquito promising to take back its bite.

 

12

The elephant calf depends on its mother’s care for three to five years.

—From
Care of Jungle Elephants
by Tin San Bo

At the circus grounds, Sharad pulls up to the side of the property fence that has a metal gate. The truck fits through this gate easily because it’s much wider than the wooden ones behind the cook shed and near the arena. I sit up in the truck bed to peek through the cab’s window. A chain loops through the gate’s handle and around the fence post next to it. Sharad opens a padlock to release the chain, then pushes the gate open. After climbing back into the cab he drives through the gate and stops next to the arena. One workman jumps out of the truck and waves his hands to guide Sharad through the arena gate, while the other runs back to close the metal gate.

The chain around Nandita’s neck drags on the bed of straw as she paces the length of the truck. Sharad parks inside the arena and comes around to the back of the truck.

He releases the tailgate, then holds out his hand. “Give me the chain. Help me get her out of there, then report to the office for your instructions.”

I hand the end of the chain to Sharad. It rattles against the tailgate as Sharad runs to a thick wooden pole in the ground and latches the chain to it. The workmen approach the truck and Nandita cowers in a corner. She leans away from the men who pull the chain. I stand behind her as I did in the trap.

“Come on, you didn’t want in here and now you don’t want out.” I try to push her out of the truck, and pray that Sharad won’t find a reason to use the hook.

The truck rocks and creaks as Nandita finally moves forward then down the ramp. I follow her out. She backs away from Sharad as he approaches. He slams the tailgate shut and Nandita darts across the arena. She runs as far as the chain reaches, then falls to the ground when the chain jerks her back. The workmen laugh.

Nandita stands up, pulls and struggles against the chain, then runs the other way until the chain stops her again. She calls out with a trumpet blast and wraps her trunk around the chain and pulls. I want to run to her and help, but I only stand and watch her wrestle to break free. The chain does not break. It digs into her neck as she fights and fights. Still the chain does not break. Finally she gives up and lies down in the dirt. The chain lies on the ground next to her.

Come on, you can do it.

I wish she’d stand up, or at least sit up and fight the chain again. Anything to show she hasn’t given up so soon.

But Nandita stays on the ground, and I turn to report to Timir’s office.

Timir is sitting in his desk chair with his back to me, so he doesn’t see me in the doorway. It looks like he’s staring at the case of knives mounted on the wall. The knives have matching ivory handles like his cane, but the blades are all different. Some have long, thin blades that end with a sharp point, and one wide blade has an edge like a row of tiger teeth. Another blade is curved with a smooth edge.

BOOK: Chained
6.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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