Written for the third week of Advent, representing animals.
She dreams of lush green grass underfoot and of soft rain falling on her broad, grey back. She dreams of chittering bats in the evening and shrill birdsong in the morning. And she dreams of other voices; low, soft rumbles echoing in her bones, loud trumpeting like thunder across an empty sky.
She opens her eyes and sees dull concrete and steel where trees should be. And in place of a family, she sees strangers. Humans.
They look at her and smile and marvel with wide eyes, or just glance in her general direction without expression, and none of them ever really see her.
She sighs. It’s just another day.
It’s been years since she’s ever seen another creature like her, but elephants have a very long memory. And she does remember what another elephant looks like, smells like, sounds like. She remembers mothers, aunts and cousins.
And then some people came and lured her away and put her on a big boat, and when the doors opened she was here.
She hasn’t been anywhere else since then.
She’s pretty sure the world is bigger beyond her few square meters of space, but she doesn’t know for sure how big. She doesn’t even know that outside the gates of the zoo, people around the world know her by name. They know her as the little lonely elephant who shouldn’t be alone.
The elephant doesn’t know the battle being fought in her name. Word of her plight flies around the globe, and names are added to a growing list of people who seek justice for her and convince the zoo that they have to let her go.
People don’t have nearly as long a memory or as big a brain as the average Asian elephant, but there is a young woman in a country far away who remembers her visit to the zoo as a little girl. She remembers a great grey beast with cracked feet and a placid, but sad look in its big eyes. Resignation, she realizes now. That elephant had a look of resignation.
She thinks about the elephant who hasn’t seen her family in years, and she thinks about herself.
She hasn’t been home to see her family in nine months, and she already misses them.
A glass window opens out into a foreign city that she wasn’t born in, and the woman remembers the elephant. She’s going to help set it free.
The birds land on the rocks in her enclosure and they tell her stories. The world is changing, they say. Things are going wrong. But there are some good places left.
I wish I could go, says the old elephant. I wish I had wings.
The birds chirp and chatter and rustle their wings, and soon they’re gone, and the elephant’s alone under a grey sky.
It takes a while, but at long last the word gets out. The elephant is leaving the zoo and going free. And the world goes crazy with triumph.
In her apartment far from home the woman sees the news and leans back on her chair, a soft smile on her lips as she imagines the elephant from her childhood finally on her way to where she belongs. She’s going free after thirty years.
That’s good, thinks the woman. That’s really good.
For the first time, the gate is opened for her. Not to let someone in, but to let her out. The elephant takes step after step after cautious step, into a big truck, and soon she’s rolling past cages and big enclosures, saying goodbye to the other animals, and she passes by reporters and crowds and wonders what all the fuss is about and where she’s going now.
She’s not sure, but she has a good feeling about it.
And then the truck stops, and lets her out, and the air feels different. She smells the sea for the first time in years. They put her on a boat and the boat crosses the sea and the elephant realizes she’s not ever going back to the zoo, never again.
She closes her eyes.
And when she opens them again, she sees lush green grass underfoot and feels the wind of a strange place rushing past her big ears, and though a crowd of people still surrounds her, she can’t see steel or concrete for miles and miles—just trees, real trees, and they look just the way they did when she was a little calf. This place is strange and different, but at least it’s not the zoo!
And far in the distance she hears it. Trumpeting, like thunder across an empty sky.
The elephant takes step after cautious step, and though her legs are hurting, they carry her far into the jungle, deep into a wider world than she ever knew before.
Inspired by the Free Mali campaign.