This story is by De’Andre S. Holmes and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Is it water from the seas that fill the Godly Nile River…”
Thunderstorms are unsettling for most animals in the African Kingdom, but none more than the lone elephant, Mwamba. During a sporadic thunderstorm, lightning strikes an Acacia tree near a parched watering hole, where his herd drinks, setting it ablaze. Before the family could realize the danger, the tree falls between the herd and its mother, Akua. The family, befuddled, trumpets frantically to anyone or thing to save their Matriarch. The thunderstorm continues to bellow and the fire around them intensifies. Akua makes the desperate decision to charge through the hollowed tree to reach her family. In that desperate act, she scorches her trunk and legs, but she is alive. Rain soon follows the thunderstorm and extinguishes the fire. The family — grateful to the deities that heard its calls — showers Akua with soft touches from its trunks.
Days later, the damage to Akua’s skin tissue causes an infection that slows her pace and makes walking more painful. The herd usually will only move as fast as their Matriarch but with the dry season upon them, finding water as quickly as possible is key to its survival. The herd, deeply sorrowed, treads ahead of their Matriarch. Mwamba will not leave his mother’s side, so he and Akua watch as their family disappears in the glare of the African sun.
The night cast a bright moon over the mother and son unit; it reveals the transcendent tether that bonds the two together. A slowly dying Willow Tree provides shelter for the night but when all seems to settle, the snickering laughs of hyenas surround them like a barrier of false joy. Mwamba jumps to his feet and prompts his mother to do the same, but she is too weak to get up in time. The hyenas jolt out of the bushes and growl ravenously at the sight of an easy meal.
Mwamba is large enough to hold the scouting troops off until his mother finds her footing, but she collapses. The earth-shattering tumble sends vibrations through the ground; these vibrations let the hyena clan know its dinner is ready. Akua trumpets in distress as Mwamba, again, tries to coax his mother to her feet. Soon, the hyenas return with the entire clan; there are too many for Mwamba to challenge alone. He stands and fights for as long as he can thrusting his trunk and premature tusks violently at the assailants.
Mwamba and his mother are cornered by the hyenas, but right before the hyenas could unleash a deadly strike, a fully-grown male elephant bursts through the bushes. He stands on his hind legs trumpeting louder than any elephant Mwamba ever heard, before slamming down to the ground creating shockwaves that disorientate the hyenas and send them scurrying away. Akua, bewildered and spent, fixes her vision onto the familiar smelling elephant.
The enormous elephant turns to look at the family behind him; Mwamba is staring in astonishment and Akua lying still on the ground— breathing heavily. He walks over to Akua and shares a tender embrace with his trunk. The same embrace Akua does when she greets distant family members. It’s not until Mwamba allows the male’s aromatic scent to penetrate his six-foot trunk, did he realize it smells similar to his mothers. After their tender embrace, the male elephant saunters in the direction of the hyenas as if determined to put an end to their plague on the land.
The next morning, Akua lay in the same spot lifeless. Mwamba stays next to her throughout the day until his old herd finds them. They heard the distress trumpets Akua made and sacrificed precious time and energy to save one of their own. Mwamba, unsettled, makes one last attempt to bring his mother back from the dead. The rest of the elephants gently caress Akua with their feet and trunks; her sisters, daughters, and cousins all pay respect to the old elephant. Mwamba, reluctantly, joins the herd on their search for greener pastures. His mother’s body lay still in the sway of the wind.
A few days pass without a single drop of water. The young and the old collapse one by one and the rest of the herd doubts the new Matriarch’s decision to go back for Mwamba. The tension rises as frustration from a lack of food and water continues to permeate throughout the family. But then, a faint smell; the sweet smell of freshwater breezes through the air. In a frenzy, the elephants traverse three miles at a brisk pace towards the everlasting sanctuary. With each step, they inhale the fragrant aroma of undying life. When they reach the watering hole, they are greeted by another elephant family whose smell they recognize. Each elephant holds each other while sharing in the joy of finally having their first drink and bath since the last week.
When the rains return, the foliage bloom, and the mighty Mara River washes away the stench of death. Mwamba is now of age and his time with the herd is coming to an end. During the next dry season, his family suddenly becomes aggressive towards him and chases him away. Each time he tries to return, the herd stands its ground and forces him away again. A sad reality that all male elephants face in order to prevent incest within the family. His aunt, despairingly, watches him as he treks into an unfamiliar world to start his forever life as a bachelor elephant.
Mwamba is making his way in the world for the first time in his life alone. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the dry season is ending and there is a thunderstorm brewing in the distant lands. As immense as Mwamba is, he sought shelter and comfort from the herd when nights like this hit the Serengeti.
As the storm looms, so did all of his memories of Akua. She would hum a melody that would put Mwamba in a trance. The tune combined with gentle strokes from her trunk is a spell mother elephants use to console their frightened offspring. Mwamba closes his eyes and imagines his mother humming the transcending harmony and with a spark of lightning, he could see her translucent body flash in front of him. He stands in shock at what he just saw.
Each occasional lightning strike illuminates the land and made it possible for him to get a glimpse at his mother’s iridescent frame. The thunder gains in ferocity as the storm closes in on him. He trumpets and chases his mother trying to get her attention. With each strike, she appears further and further away from him. He is so focused on getting his mother’s attention that he forgets about his fear of the storm. Then, a large streak of lightning hits the ground just 500 yards away from Mwamba and a downpour of rain drenches the land. The sound that follows the strike makes Mwamba trumpet in fear and he runs in the opposite direction. Another strike hits the ground, and then another, and then another. Another strike hits even closer this time and he veers back in the direction from which he came. A final strike illumes the land long enough for Mwamba to get a peek at a majestic Willow Tree emanating a charm. He makes haste towards the tree while preparing for the roaring thunder that trails the lightning without fail.
Mwamba makes it to the tree; its branches and leaves drape the ground making it softer than the dry grass around it. As the storm continues to ravage the land, Mwamba indulges on the succulent leaves, gorging himself to relieve stress. A lightning strike hits the ground close to Mwamba’s tree and he cowers further into it. Walking backward, he steps on something sharp that did not feel familiar. He turns to look at the object waiting for a lightning strike to light the ground. When it does, it reveals a glance at an elephant tusk. Suddenly, lightning bugs, thousands of them, revivifies the entire tree and that’s when he saw it: the elephant bones that lay in the same shape of his mother when she died. Mwamba stares at the bones for a moment and after realizing it’s Akua, he carefully embraces them with his trunk.
The next morning, Mwamba marvels at the tree’s magnificence. Akua’s soul became one with the once withering Willow Tree giving it new life and abundance. He looks around and sees other trees standing firm and healthy during the unrelenting dry season. Do all the elephants who perish souls inhabit these trees? With each drop of rain, Mwamba could feel the essences of the many departed elephants before him; the epic saga of life and death infused into each droplet. Life & Death.
“…or is it the release of sorrowful tears from elephants’ ancestors?”