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Elephant Sadness

by Marilyn Grandi

Published in The West Wind Review, June 1998

The apartment was really too small for both of them. The elephant was a little uneasy and was walking up and down making a terrible noise and occupying all the space, obligating her to remain on the balcony.
       So she decided to go out for a walk hoping not to find him when she returned. She only walked a few yards before she heard him come down the stairs and run toward her. It sounded like a stampede of buffalos.
       "All right," she said "but you walk behind me and on your tiptoes, you hear?"
       It was useless, after about a block he was on her shoulders again. It was very uncomfortable when he did this. It forced her to slump and drag her feet. She couldn't see where she was going, or wave hello to the neighbors. Couldn't even think of taking a bus. Besides the problem of getting on, the real trouble started when the bus driver had to decide what fare to charge them. The only advantage was that out of pity, he usually let them travel for free.
       "Why don't you go back to wherever it is you live? Wouldn't you like to be in the jungle eating tender trees instead of being stuck with me in this defoliated city?" she said.
       But the elephant insisted he didn't know how he got there and therefore he didn't know how to go back, and besides he didn't know anybody else who could give him room and board. They would stare at each other supplicant and ruefully for a few seconds and sigh.
       "Let's go down to the river, you need a bath," she suggested with resignation. When they got to La Florida they thanked the truck driver for the lift and the good man promised he would come back for them as soon as he finished unloading. The elephant gave himself a good splash, and refreshed, he gratefully bathed her with his trunk.
       They went back downtown for a stroll down Cordoba street, the wide promenade where noisy vehicles are not allowed, and they had a couple of ice creams. The kids hung themselves from the elephant's tail and offered him crackers. The mammoth's descendant busied himself devouring little leaves at the Plaza 25 de Mayo and she took the time to sit on a bench and rest her back.
       A little boy walked by selling flowers. They bought some jasmines from him.
       "Is he yours?" he asked looking at the elephant.
       "No. Elephants don't have owners," she answered smelling the jasmines.
       "And the ones in the circus?" the boy insisted.
       "Those are slaves, they have no choice," she reflected philosophically.
       "And where did this one come from?" the boy went on frowning, pensively sitting by her.
       Seeing the little florist's interest, she sat up a bit to answer.
       "He says he comes from Africa, but I'm not sure. He says he doesn't know how he got here. The only thing he remembers is that one day he started to feel very sad, very sad, and he fell behind the herd; he slowly fell asleep and started dreaming. A little while later when he opened his eyes, he was climbing the stairs to my apartment."
       "But how did he get here?" the boy asked.
       "He doesn't know, I already told you. He says he dreamed he walked to the beach and went in the water. He swam and swam until he got to the port, near the River Freight Station, and there he heard a voice calling and followed it to my house."
       "And where is Africa?" he inquired "Is it past the island in front of the city?"
       "Yes," she answered pedagogically, "crossing the Atlantic, very very far away, past Entre R¡os and past Uruguay."
       "And elephants can swim?" the boy went on with infinite curiosity.
       "Yes, I think so. But I doubt they can swim such distances. This one did it in a dream, that's why he was able to get here. Besides, he had to have entered the Rio de la Plata and gone up the Paran , and he doesn't remember any of that."
       "What are you going to do with him?" he asked looking at the elephant who had eaten several branches and was getting ready to swallow a few more.
       "I don't know," she told him with her worried face. "He asks himself what he's going to do with me."
       "Why don't you take him to the zoo?"
       "I already did, but they tell me that elephants that come swimming from Africa in a dream don't belong in a zoo."
       "Where do they belong then?"
       "They have no idea."
       The boy stood up with his flowers and hung himself from the elephant's tail. He climbed to his back and slid down using the trunk as a sliding board. He gave him an apple he was carrying in his pocket and they engaged in a conversation.
       She stretched and felt the pain in her back start to yield as she slowly relaxed, watching the sky. She thought it was an aurora borealis, but it was the photochromic lenses in her eyeglasses again reflecting the light in strange ways. With this kaleisdoscopical vision she started counting the leaves on the branch which hung from the tree above, between her and the sky.
       When she looked down again she saw the boy with the flowers and the elephant turning the corner toward the river. She stood up quickly and started running after them. At the corner she saw them going down the starboard side of Monumento a la Bandera, our huge marble ship that seems always straining to return to the sea. They rounded the polished stone bow and turned toward the port.
       "Wait," she shouted "where are you going?" But they couldn't hear. When she got to the River Freight Station by the water, she saw the boy handing a man the basket with flowers. The man scratched his head, a little worried, and nodded.
       She got to the elephant just when the boy was climbing his trunk and sitting himself behind his ears like an expert rider.
       "What are you doing?" she asked "Where are you going?"
       "We're going to Africa" they answered at the same time.
       "But you told me you couldn't go back because you came in a dream."
       "It's true, but he helped me remember," the elephant said raising his trunk, touching the boy's head softly.
       The boy looked at her for a few seconds, sighed, and climbed down by her.
       "Wait a sec, I'll be right back," he said caressing his trunk. He grabbed her hand and took her a little farther back to avoid being heard by the elephant.
       "We became friends and I realized you never asked him why he started to feel sad; and he didn't dare speak because he was scared. Now that he told me about it, his hopes are back and he started to remember how he got here. Don't say anything to discourage him, he's a very sensitive animal so I'm going to go with him," the little florist said.
       "But you can't just leave. What about your family?"
       "I don't have anyone. I live with some relatives who don't even know if I'm there or not. My dad always talked to me about Africa and all the animals there: tigers, lions, monkeys, elephants. I want to see them myself." He paused to check on the pachyderm and went on, "He's worried about you staying here alone. He didn't want to say goodbye. We were going to send you a postcard when we arrived. If you want, you can come with us. In my opinion you better go back to your apartment and try to be a little happier. He says you never laugh, and that is how he found you. He says they can hear the whimpering from the other side of the sea. And if you weren't always so worried you wouldn't be calling sad elephants with your moaning."
       He turned to leave but he came back to give her a goodbye kiss. He climbed back on the elephant, they dived into the water and swam toward the south.
       The man who was left with the flowers threw some oars to them, a couple of lifesavers and a few sausages in a bun. She stood there watching them and started laughing loudly. A dove landed softly on her shoulder.
       "Do you have a bread crumb?" it asked.


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