I don’t know if it was the nipple pinch or the sudden quiet, but I froze. Bad! Bad Nurse! Having sex in the dirt with a grieving veterinarian a terrible idea. I hopped off his lap, just in time for most of the village to come out of the hut. A couple more minutes and they might have seen their Golden Boy riding an American whore by the communal fire pit.
An auntie showed me to a floor mat under mosquito netting, and I passed out right away. I dreamed about dark holes and roosters spurting blood and came really hard. I woke up gasping and embarrassed, hoping I hadn’t been making noise. If I had been, the only thing that heard it was the spider in the corner that was the width and weight of a Big Mac.
I got a lot of soft blessings and caresses as we left. After thinking these people might machete murder me for telling it like it was the night before, it was really sweet. Of course they made a big fuss over Daw, stuffing leaf-wrapped rice packages in every pocket and the men handing him wads of feather-shaped leaves.
We waved and set back on the trail, the day already half gone. Daw hadn’t looked me in the eye yet. I tried not to care whether he was embarrassed or angry. After all, he had jumped me out of nowhere. It wasn’t my fault I kinda liked it, then saved him from shame in front of all his aunties.
“What are the leaves?” I asked, mostly to break the silence.
“Kratom. Same family as coffee plants. Helps you stay alert. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover before we get to the animal, you want some?”
“Sure.” His hands weren’t totally steady and he was pale under his dark gold skin. Oh Daw gots a hangover, huh? Well maybe you’ll hike at a human pace today, Jerkwad.
Nope. He was still a machine. Fuck.
We rolled into a very different village at dusk. Even though his hill town had been poor it felt…homey. This place felt like a junkyard brothel. There was garbage everywhere and discarded humans too. Men watched us pass from doorways, murmuring to each other. Starving dogs picked at carcasses in the road. The hair on my neck prickled. I don’t use this term often, but this place was Hood.
There was no way in hell I was going to let Daw leave me alone here. I picked up my pace to walk next to him. He looked uneasy too.
“Are we staying here tonight?”
“Depends. How do you feel about getting your throat cut?”
“Then let’s get the animal and go.”
As the tears ran down my cheeks I tried to remember the last time I had cried. It wasn’t at Aunt Mary’s funeral (something all The Crows had commented on in their crackling, passive aggressive way). Oh yeah, it was when I first saw Saving Private Ryan. It was a sleepover in Missy Hernandez’s basement. IDK why a bunch of 14-year old girls chose that one. Maybe we thought it was sophisticated of us to watch a WWII movie. I lost my shit after the first half hour of carnage, sobbing and struggling to breathe. I wasn’t invited to Missy’s again…and her table would chant “Save Private Pussy! Save Private Pussy!” when I walked into the lunchroom for weeks. Bitches.
Looking at the elephant I couldn’t stop the wetness on my cheeks. Long red rips ran down the thick skin of his legs. There were circles of raw skin under the shackle on his back leg. It smelled infected and attracted flies. He was emaciated, humps of spine visible under the blistered skin of his back. One of his eyes was nearly swollen shut. This was one miserable bastard.
Daw was talking in rapid Thai to a Gollum. I guess it was actually a man who was so weather-beaten and twisted he could have been a piece of petrified wood. He had a large machete at his waist and red stubs instead of teeth.
I carefully walked up to the elephant and laid a hand on it’s side. It flinched. There were long, dark hairs here and there on the thick hide and it was so warm.
The conversation got louder. I didn’t understand a word but I know a shakedown when I see one. The Gollum had his hand on his machete and Daw was shaking his head. He wanted money for the elephant. I knew the deal had been releasing this work animal to us now that he wasn’t good for logging. Otherwise they’d kill him if they were being kind or let him starve to death if they weren’t. There wasn’t supposed to be a payment, and I doubted Daw had been dumb enough to carry a bunch of cash on the trek.
There was a pair of bolt cutters leaning against the fence. Seemed like one of us needed an insurance policy in this situation. I wandered over behind the elephant and grabbed the handle. The Gollum was stepping to Daw, nasty red mouth inches from his face, yelling. I didn’t want to attack him with bolt cutters. I am a peaceful woman. And they’re too small to cut a good chunk off at once. What if…
Clever escapes are a lot easier in the movies. The bolt cutter barely nicked the surface of the elephant’s chain on the first cut. I had to set it sideways and sit on it to generate enough pressure to cut the steel. I mean, I fell over multiple times in the process, but that chain got cut.
And good timing too. The Gollum and Daw were now shoving each other and a group of shady characters were wandering over in the dusk. They weren’t going to side with elephant.
Now fucking what? What’s Pachyderm for “You’re free! Run away!”?
“Hey!” I yelled, “Hey buddy!” I jingled the broken chain as hard as I could. He turned to the sound of the chain, probably expecting pain.
I read once that the elephant cortex has as many neurons as a human brain. In the 70’s an elephant named Bandula would unlock her shackles, then go around freeing other elephants in the zoo. She always made the first one she freed act as lookout for the zookeepers.
This guy was no dummy either. He saw the broken chain in my hand and took off. Daw and Gollum rolled on the ground, the enormous feet almost trampling them. They both looked stunned.
“Let’s go!” I yelled at Daw. Guess he was a bit smarter than the inbred hillbilly, because he got off the ground and ran before the Gollum understood what was happening. It’s a Great Escape, asshole!
The elephant was hauling straight out of town. We ignored the screams and barks and tried to stay close, choking on the dust he kicked up. He let out an earsplitting trumpet as the road entered the jungle. The sound almost knocked me over. I hadn’t ever heard anything so happy.
It was so loud it covered the sound of the moped. I barely saw it out of the corner of my eye before a dark black pain whipped from the back of my skull over my eyes.