High on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, late on a bitterly cold day, two elephants were following a barely discernible track that wound between tumbled black rocks. The giant heather plants and the strange, cabbage-headed groundsel trees were crisp with a frosting of ice. The wind, moaning through crevices in the rocky ridges, carried the threat of snow to come.
The smaller of the two, a young tuskless female known as Temba Kidogo, was struggling to keep up with the huge old elephant she was shadowing. She had never been so cold in her life but Tembo M’zee strode on, his trunk swinging to left and right as he sought out ancient scents and memories. His sudden snort and long sigh told Kidogo that the old one had found the object of his search. Ahead, just visible in the fading light, a huge skeleton lay at the foot of a rock wall. Rank grass grew between the arching ribs, and the massive bones of the legs were green and grey with a coating of moss and lichens although the tusks of the dead one were clean and white.
The rising wind sang an eerie tune through the cavities in the hollow skull and Kidogo shivered, not just with the cold. She had seen many skeletons of dead elephants on the plains to the north but the ivories had been hacked out of the skulls of those. The presence of the tusks here made their find even more frightening, though she could not have explained why.
She hung back, turning her rear to the wind as Tembo M’zee, ignoring her completely, knelt by the bones as if asking for some kind of forgiveness, running the tip of his trunk slowly and reverently along each massive tusk.
Whispers of snow were on the wind now, forming white ridges along the mossy bones and dusting the backs of the two living animals. Moving carefully so as not to be noticed by the still kneeling M’zee, Kidogo sidled towards a huge boulder that might offer some shelter. She pulled her ears in tight against her body and tucked the end of her trunk into her mouth to stop it from freezing. She watched as M’zee, now almost completely white with snow, got to his feet, wrapped his trunk tenderly around one of the dead elephant’s tusks and, with a slight twist and jerk, withdrew it from the skull. He turned his head and signalled to Kidogo to come and take the tusk from him. Shaking with both cold and fear, she left the shelter of the rock, stepped forward and wrapped her trunk around the tusk as M’zee released it from his grip. Having no tusks herself, and having never before touched one that was not part of a living, breathing elephant, she was surprised by how heavy it was. She laid it gently on the ground, found a place to hold it so the weight was more evenly balanced and lifted the tusk again.
M’zee pulled the other one from the skull, stepped back and rested it upright against a rock before tearing up a few giant heather plants to lay gently across the snow-covered ribcage of the skeleton. Then, without a word to the shivering Kidogo, he picked up the second tusk and moved away uphill. The youngster followed, wondering why they were going on up the mountainside rather than heading back down to the shelter of the forest. She knew it was not for her to ask – she was just a Shadow. The tip of her trunk, now exposed to the bitter wind as she struggled to maintain a grip on the cold, heavy tusk, was going numb. Half-blinded by the stinging snowflakes and unable to see the hazards of the path beneath the snow, she stumbled and fell on her knees, almost dropping her burden. When she recovered and looked up, she had lost sight of M’zee’s back and tail and as she rounded a bend a surge of panic hit her. The valley ahead was just a wasteland of snow and rocks. Where was M’zee?
‘Here, Kidogo.’ His voice answered her unspoken question. ‘In here.’
She turned her head to the right. The old elephant was standing in a cave in the rocks, sheltered from the driving snow.
‘Come,’ he said.
And she backed in beside him, her ears, trunk and feet numb with the cold. What am I doing here? Kidogo wondered silently.
Only a few moons before she had been standing, well fed and comfortable, at the entrance of the Tsavo Camp looking out into the bush as she waited for her friend, Tembo Rafiki, to return.
Dusk was falling as Temba Kidogo had stood under the baobab tree at the entrance to the elephant rehabilitation camp in Kenya’s Tsavo Park. Behind her she could hear the murmur of human talk and the occasional muted trumping of young tembos who, like her, had been brought to the camp from the elephant orphanage on the outskirts of Nairobi. None of those in the camp were yet confident enough to leave for an independent life in the bush.
She knew that at sometime she would have to leave, but there was no pressure from the human keepers for this to happen before she was ready and she also knew that, even when she did leave, she would be welcomed back at any time. She had heard the humans talk of one temba who had left but had come back years later with her new baby, just to show it to the people who had looked after and loved her for so long.
She moved nearer to the grey trunk of the baobab. Tembo-trees, as the elephants called them, had always represented a kind of security to her. Perhaps it was just their huge bulk and greyness that reminded Kidogo of her dead mother. She rubbed her side against the smooth bark, knowing that she was not yet ready to leave the camp and the caring humans who had looked after her for so long. Even though she had seen some seventeen years pass she was still smaller than all the other elephants of her age and she had no tusks. This lack of ivories was of ever-present concern to her. Other elephants who were even younger than her had tusks. Why didn’t she have any? For the tenth time that day she felt her cheeks with the tip of her trunk hoping to detect the hard, round bump that might herald the emergence of an ivory bud. Left cheek first, then the right. As usual – nothing! Only the soft wrinkles of her skin and the bristly hairs around her mouth. She snorted her disappointment.
This was not the first evening she had lingered under the baobab tree until long after it had got dark. It had been several moons since her life-long friend, Tembo Rafiki, had walked out of the camp – and not come back.
As daylight faded she could see the glow from the humans’ fire lighting up the underside of the flat-topped acacia trees and she could smell the comforting scent of wood smoke drifting past her. That scent had always been a part of her life and, since she had come to this camp, so too were the various and intriguing scents of the food that the humans ate.
A night-bird called with a wavering voice that was answered by another further away, and she knew that Rafiki was not coming back that day. She turned and walked across the hard-packed soil to where the other youngsters were settling themselves to doze and sleep as the equatorial moon, lying on its back, moved steadily across the speckled blackness above their heads. She looked up and wondered, not for the first time, why the sparks in the sky that the humans called stars didn’t twist about and die like the ones that flew up from their fires. But such questions were unimportant – Rafiki had not come back.
She hadn’t slept much when a dawn-dove in the nearest tree started its wake-the-world calling. ‘De daadaa, de daadaa,’ it cooed. She flicked her trunk in irritation, picked up a dry stick and tossed it in the direction of the tree but the bird carried on calling, ‘De daadaa, de daadaa.’
Kidogo left the other dozing youngsters and walked to the round water tank, where she drank deeply, squirting many trunkfuls of cool water into the back of her mouth. She stamped in the sloshy mud around the tank but mud was no fun on one’s own so she drifted towards the camp entrance, just in case Rafiki might be coming back with the dawn. She waited there by the tembo-tree for a while then daringly went a little way outside to meet him. There was no more of a reason why he should come back today than on the other hundred or so days she had waited there for him but she knew he would be coming back someday. He wouldn’t just leave her there – he was her friend!
She walked further and the bushland around her didn’t seem as hostile as she had always feared. A little further and the camp was out of sight – but still no sign of Rafiki. He wouldn’t have just walked away forever. He was her friend! He must be waiting for her to come to him – perhaps he was playing one of his old games and hiding from her. She looked back towards the camp, saw the smoke from the cooking fire rising above the trees but still walked on, trunk raised, testing each breeze for the scent of her friend, half convinced that it was all one of his games and feeling comfortable and safe now that she was so sure he was near.
Treading delicately along a dirt path through the trees, she entered a clearing and disturbed a family of warthogs rooting around in the dry grass. She stood still and watched as they dashed away, the two fully grown ones followed by their piglets, all with their tails sticking straight up in the air. Yellow and gold antelopes flickered between the distant trees and, from much further away, she could hear the neighing and nickering of a herd of zebras. She walked on, looking from side to side and scenting for her hidden friend, only partially aware that, although it was light, the sun had not appeared over the horizon as usual and that the dark-grey bank of clouds to the east was rising higher and higher and coming nearer. Such things were unimportant now that she was so close to where Rafiki must be hiding. Any moment now he would rush out at her, ears wide and trunk up in a mock charge, calling out false challenges before grinning and twisting his trunk around hers in a gesture of everlasting friendship.
Kidogo was not prepared for what did happen next. Walking quietly round a patch of dense bush she almost stumbled over a family of lions tearing at the body of a zebra they had killed in the night. She glimpsed a patch of white skin striped with black before the lions raised their heads and roared at her to keep away.
In panic, she half-turned and crashed into the bush, forcing her way through hooked thorns that tore at her skin. As she ran she called to Rafiki to save her but he did not call back and in that instant she knew he was not nearby and that she was alone – terribly, terribly alone.
When she had fought her way out of the thorn thicket and run a sufficient distance to dare to look behind her, she realised she had not been chased at all and felt foolish for having behaved so stupidly. Lions with a fresh kill would surely not chase an elephant! Even so, she turned to face the way she had come and watched the bush for any crouching tawny-brown figures as she recovered her breath.
It was then that the storm broke. Storms had often passed over the camp at Tsavo, and the humans usually retreated to shelter in the entrances of their tents and huts to watch the flashes of lightning. Even the thunder did not seem to bother them and their unconcern was shared by the elephants who always enjoyed the cool rain falling on their backs and dripping on them from the trees.
But now, alone and still fearing the lions, Kidogo panicked again. Each flash of lightning and crash of thunder sent her running in a different direction, ears wide and trunk high, squealing for help from her absent friend.
‘Rafiki – RAFIKI – RAFIKI,’ she called, only to be drowned out by an even louder clap of thunder and the slashing and roaring of the rain. How far she ran or in what direction she did not know, but when the rain stopped as suddenly as it had started she knew she was lost.
As the clouds passed on westwards, the sun came out in an eye-hurting glare of light and all around her wisps of vapour rose from the sodden ground. Thousands of winged ants poured out of holes at the base of a tall column of hard earth to her right and spiralled into the sky while birds of many colours, sizes and shapes flew in from all directions for their feast. Some pecked at the emerging mass while others fluttered up and snatched their meals from the air.
Kidogo looked about her helplessly, and seeing even the birds as some kind of threat she wailed, ‘Rafikiiiii…’ But, even as she called she knew, deep down inside, that he was probably far away and that she was on her own. The storm-puddles, which only a few moons before would have been irresistible places for stamping and splashing in, seemed to hold a secret menace and every bush seemed to conceal a lion bigger than herself.
The sun was at its full height before Kidogo’s fears calmed but even then the slightest unexplained sound brought on a thumping in her chest. Never having been so far out into the bush in her life, she had little idea of how to find her way back to the camp. Whichever way she looked she couldn’t see the familiar outline of the hill behind the camp. She tried following her own scent but it had been washed away by the storm. She tried testing the wind for wood smoke from the humans’ fires but there was no trace of that – just the warm, damp, after-rain earth smell she normally loved. She circled around, hoping to find her own tracks but the storm had washed them away too.
Terrified of having to spend a night alone in the bush, she set off in a direction she hoped would bring her back to the safety of the camp. After a while, she changed her mind and took another direction, then another. At one point she scented a waterhole, the scent subtly different from the steaming, rain-moist soil all about her. Her friend Rafiki loved waterholes – if he was anywhere nearby, that would be where she would find him. Trunk out, she moved upwind to find the pool.
Zebras and gazelles were drinking at the water’s edge. They looked up briefly then ignored her – elephants were no threat to them. No Rafiki! She moved slowly around the pool, under the flat-topped thorn trees, until she found a thicket of dense thorny scrub and backed into that, its tangled mass making it almost impossible for lions, imaginary or real, to creep up on her from behind. She stood watching the pool and waiting. It would be some time before it got dark. She dared not think what she would do then if Rafiki did not come. But somehow, some sense deep within her told her that he was near.
The grass around her feet was long and green. She suddenly felt hungry, curled her trunk around a tuft and pulled it up by the roots. Something in the grass wriggled, and she tossed it away and snorted.
An answering snort came from across the shallow pool in front of her. Kidogo froze, then slowly raised her trunk to the air-scenting position and looked across the muddy water. She could neither see nor smell any other creature, yet she was sure that the sound she had heard was made by another elephant like herself. Kidogo called softly, speaking in the babytalk used by elephants who had grown up being cared for by humans. She knew none of the Tembotalk used by wild elephants.
A voice from across the pool answered, also in babytalk. ‘Who there?’ it asked and she was almost sure it was Rafiki’s voice.
She replied, ‘Me am Temba Kidogo. Who you?’
The answer was a shrill trump of delight and Rafiki broke out of the bush on the far side of the pool and splashed towards her through the shallow water, causing the zebras and the gazelles to whirl away into the scrub.
Kidogo squealed and ran forward to greet him. They met in mid-pool, bumping into each other and falling backwards onto their haunches in the water. Waves spread outwards and a pair of plovers ran back from the shoreline, complaining loudly. Still sitting, the young elephants entwined trunks in greeting, both speaking at once.
‘Me scared – am glad – meet now,’ Kidogo said, as Rafiki asked, ‘You lone?’
‘Me lone,’ Kidogo confirmed, then realising that she was not checking for danger, drew back and looked around quickly.
Rafiki reassured her, using Tembotalk. ‘There is no danger. I have been here several days and this is a safe place.’
Although the words were unfamiliar to her, Kidogo read the message in the sounds and the trunk and ear movements and understood. She relaxed, took a trunkful of brown water and squirted it at Rafiki who swung his trunk sideways, spraying mud and water all down Kidogo’s side. He squirted more water at her and the two rolled and splashed together as they had done as babies at the orphanage in far-off Nairobi so many years before.
Eventually, covered from head to tail in slurpy mud, the two waded out and stood side by side under the trees where the warm breeze dried the mud on their skins into a hard sun- and insect-resisting casing.
Rafiki spoke at last. ‘Must learn you Tembotalk. Then meet you other elephants. Babytalk not with them.’
For almost three moons they wandered through the bush together as Rafiki taught his companion the language of the wild elephants. Kidogo learned rapidly. Although the language was complex and subtle it seemed to come naturally to her. The combination of throat and trunk sounds with body stances and trunk gestures enabled her to convey the most varied range of thoughts and ideas. Once she had mastered these Rafiki taught her the names for all the other creatures of the bush, the trees and the plants and for the senses of smell, touch, sight, taste and sound. She learned the words to describe the weather, and how she felt about things. After knowing only babytalk, Kidogo was excited by her ability to tell her friend about the things that interested her. They talked about the times they remembered from the past. They talked about the various pale-skinned and dark-skinned humans who had been at the orphanage and the camp and compared their experiences of them. Both elephants had learned to understand what they had heard the humans discussing between themselves in mantalk but had been unable to join in any of the conversations or convey the fact that they understood them. Humans could make such a wide range of sounds and words with just their mouths. Now, knowing Tembotalk, Rafiki and Kidogo conversed almost continuously – even when feeding.
They practised singing low~sound, with which elephants can communicate over long distances and which is heard as much with the feet as with the ears.
‘Humans can’t hear low~sound,’ Rafiki told Kidogo. ‘Maybe it’s because their ears are so small and they wear shoes on their feet. Anyway low~sound goes like this. He stood still and concentrated.
Kidogo could feel a vibration in the air and a sort of tremor in the ground. At first she could not detect any words – just a pattern of senses.
Dum de dum de ~ dum de dum de
Dum de dum de ~ dum de dum de.
Then she could detect Rafiki’s voice within the sensations.
‘Let the words come ~ do not seek them.
Only tembos ~ sing in low sound.’
She tried to produce the same feelings from within her head, and after a while the sounds came easily. Her first success was when she sang:
‘You Rafiki ~ me Kidogo.
We good friends are ~ always will be.’
After this they practised at least once a day, taking turns to compose and to listen and soon it became almost as simple for them to converse in low~sound as with their other forms of speech.
One day, as they were resting under a tall tree on the edge of a riverbank, Kidogo asked Rafiki how he had learned low~sound and the language of the wild elephants.
‘You know me – always wanting to find out things! What’s beyond that hill? Why do humans do that? What’s inside a termite mound? What’s this? Why is that? Well – when I left the camp I tried to meet as many other tembos as I could and find out what they knew. I tried to join up with families of females but they mostly ignored me. What I didn’t know then, because we had always lived with humans, was that families of wild tembos encourage the young males to leave when they are about fourteen years old. I say encourage, but the Tembella – that’s what they call the eldest female who leads the family – is quite brutal. When she decides that a young tembull is ready to fend for himself she pushes him out of the family herself – even if he’s her own son!’
Kidogo thought about this. There must be a good reason for such behaviour but she couldn’t think what it might be.
‘So who taught you?’
‘I joined up with other young tembulls. They call themselves jostlers because they mostly go about in groups – but they all seem to have an obsession with size. They have this idea that the biggest and strongest is the best tembo and they spend much of their time shoving and jostling one another. It seemed stupid to me so I always let them think they were better than me and, after that, we got along fine. I talked a lot with them and I learned the language but they didn’t really know much else and didn’t seem interested in what I had done. Mostly the jostlers wanted to talk about themselves or about certain females with whom they wanted to joyn. I had hoped to make friends with an older tembull but they just ignored me.’
Kidogo wanted to ask Rafiki why he had gone away without her but put off doing so until she was sure that she could get the question right.
Her chance came one morning as the dawn-doves were calling their Dee-daadaa, dee-daadaa’s in the thorn trees and the friends were walking through the bush together, each young elephant sweeping up trunkfuls of long grass and pushing the green bundles into their mouths. Kidogo chewed a mouthful and swallowed it before she spoke.
‘Why did you leave without me?’ she asked. ‘I missed you so much, Rafiki. The other elephants didn’t seem to want to bother with me because I was smaller than them – even though I was just as old as they were. And because I had no tusks. I missed you so much,’ she said again.
Rafiki finished his mouthful before answering. ‘You are small,’ he said. ‘And you don’t have any tusks – but that wasn’t why I went away on my own. I needed to get out and learn how real wild elephants do things and you were so— well, scared of everything. So nervous all the time. I didn’t think that I could protect you properly – and that would have been dangerous for us both.’
Kidogo picked up a stick and scratched her right shoulder, a trick she had seen Rafiki do. ‘Am I still a danger to you?’
‘By the Tusks of Tembo Jay! Can’t you tell I love having you with me?’ He reached out his trunk-tip and touched the centre of the smaller elephant’s forehead in a token of love and reassurance. ‘I wish I could see as well as you can. Everything beyond that bush is blurred to me. The eyes of most tembos are like mine. Together we are much safer – and it’s fun having you around.’
That was typical of Rafiki, Kidogo thought. He was a real friend to have. But who was this Tembo Jay and what was so special about his tusks? There was still so much she had to learn. They moved off again, pulling up various small plants and bushes and enjoying the differing flavours of their foliage.
Ahead of them was a tall kopje. Kidogo liked kopjes. Sometimes she would just stand and look at the way the huge rocks were balanced on top of one another and how the trees grew out from the cracks between the rocks. She was trying to remember the word that Rafiki had taught her which meant that something looked exactly right. The word ‘elegant’ came up from memory but so did ‘grotesque’ which meant nothing like elegant. Yet both seemed appropriate. Could the kopje be both elegant and grotesque?
Rafiki held his trunk out to the side to prevent Kidogo from walking past him. ‘Tembas ahead,’ he said quietly.
They had seen other elephants during their wanderings together but had not gone near them. At first, Rafiki had been reluctant to approach the family groups.
‘They think because I’m a male all I’ll want to do is joyn with their daughters. One day they’ll probably be right. I expect they wonder what you are doing – females are always part of a family.’
Sometimes they had seen older males following the herds, trickles of sticky liquid oozing from either side of their foreheads. Those huge males had all seemed to be oblivious of anything but a desire to be near one of the females, even though the females were apparently trying to ignore all of them.
‘It’s the mustdo madness,’ Rafiki had told her. ‘It’ll happen to me when I get older. All males get it – I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing!’
The family that Rafiki had scented was moving slowly across the open ground in front of them. Knowing now that Rafiki’s eyesight was less sharp than her own, Kidogo described them.
‘There’s a big female in the front,’ she said. ‘Then one, two, three … six … ten other females, with five babies. All the older ones have tusks,’ she added, envy in her voice. ‘They’ve seen us. They’ve stopped and are looking this way. I’d like to talk to them.’
Rafiki sang out an ancient greeting to the females, using low~sound.
‘Love, live long and ~ find sweet-water.’
The leader raised her trunk and sang back.
‘May Mana bless ~ and keep you safe,
Tembo Jay and ~ goodness guide you.’
The other females acknowledged Rafiki and Kidogo with a slight raising of their trunks and the older calves edged forward trying to get a closer look at the strangers before being summoned back into line by their mothers or aunts with a slap of a trunk or a nudge with a tusk.
The Tembella walked up to Kidogo and asked sharply, ‘Why are you alone with a male?’
‘He’s my friend,’ Kidogo answered, wondering at the disapproving tone in the Tembella’s voice.
‘How long have you been like that?’ the Tembella asked.
‘Rafiki has always been my friend.’
‘I meant – how long have you been alone with a male?’
Rafiki stepped forward to intervene but the Tembella waved him away. ‘You. You stay over there.’ She pointed to the kopje.
Such was the authority in her voice, Rafiki obeyed meekly and walked away to stand in the shade of a giant fig tree growing out of a crevice in the rocks.
Without him by her side Kidogo felt very uncomfortable. The female was so much larger than she was and had a fine pair of tusks. Unconsciously she felt her own barren cheeks. The Tembella reached out her trunk and sniffed behind Kidogo’s ears, first one, then the other.
‘You are kin of ours,’ she said. ‘Distant – but definitely our kin. You may join us.’
Kidogo looked towards Rafiki who stood, trunk hanging loose, under the spreading branches of the fig, then across at the females and the babies. She wanted to run over and fondle the ears and the tiny trunks of the little ones and had a great urge to belong to a large group. She would feel so safe amongst so many.
‘Can my friend join too?’ she asked.
The Tembella snorted.
‘Of course not – he is far too old! Tembos of that age are nothing but trouble.’
‘But he’s my friend,’ protested Kidogo.
‘At your age, your friends should be within the family,’ the Tembella said scathingly.
Kidogo realised that it had been an honour to be invited to join but she was not going to leave Rafiki. They needed each other more than she needed a family.
‘I thank you for your kindness,’ she said formally. ‘But I choose to stay with my friend.’
The Tembella dismissed her with a wave of her trunk. ‘So be it. May Tembo Jay guide you.’ Then, as though having second thoughts, she reached out her trunk and touched Kidogo’s forehead. ‘Fare well,’ she said, then turned and ambled back to the rest of her family.
Kidogo watched them move away into the trees. Rafiki came and stood beside her but did not speak.
‘Did you hear what was said?’ she asked.
‘Most of it,’ he replied and, like the Tembella had done, he touched her forehead with his trunk.
After watching the last of the family disappear, he stepped forward and sniffed at a pile of newly-dropped dung. ‘They’re well fed and have drunk recently. They were not in a hurry, so it’s likely that where they have come from is safe.’
The mention of ‘safe’ made Kidogo look round nervously. Should she have gone with the others? Being with Rafiki had allowed her to be more relaxed recently but she was still acutely aware that danger for elephants in ones and twos might be lurking anywhere. At her feet dung beetles were tearing half-digested fibres from the steaming pile and forming them into round balls. She snuffled at one of the beetles, which raised its antlered head ready to defend the ball it had just made, before starting to roll it away into the grass at the side of the path. Kidogo thought, I have only to place a foot thoughtlessly and that beetle would be dead. No creature was really safe.
‘We’ll follow the tembas’ tracks back to the last place they drank, and rest up there,’ Rafiki announced.
The tembas’ foot-scent was fading as they walked and when they reached the water it was in the bed of a river that had ceased to flow with the arrival of the dry season. The riverbed was now a series of muddy pools in which storks and herons waded, stabbing at the fish trapped there. Crocodiles lay on the banks of one pool they passed, mouths gaping in the sun. Birds pecked around the teeth of the huge reptiles, somehow knowing that the scaly beasts would not snap their mouths shut while they were busy there.
‘Stay clear of those water-biters,’ Rafiki warned Kidogo. ‘They’ll grab your trunk when you drink and bite it off. See those teeth!’
Kidogo looked at the resting monsters, saw their cold and hungry eyes watching her, shivered and hurried on. Water-biters weren’t like any other animals she had seen. All the others she could think of had some warmth about them – but not these. She would never go near a place where such fearsome creatures might be lurking.
Far from the pool, the two friends stopped and rested in a grove of acacia trees on a high ridge where even Kidogo felt that no water-biters would ever find them.
Temba Kidogo slept little that night. The moon was full and the bush was alive with the calls of night creatures. A lion grunted not far away and a skulk of hyenas laughed and quarrelled amongst themselves over towards the riverbed. When she did sleep, Kidogo dreamed of water-biters snapping at her trunk and wondered if an elephant could live with the end of its trunk missing. Thinking how sensitive every part of her own trunk was, the pain would be cruel and the tembo must surely starve, unable to feed itself. Rafiki seemed to have no such fears and dozed for most of the night, shifting his weight occasionally to rest one of his legs at a time. Near dawn he even lay down and snored while Kidogo watched nervously, twitching and staring in the direction of every unexpected sound.
Watching him lying there, Kidogo thought about Tembo Jay. Who was he and why had Rafiki used the words, ‘By the Tusks of Tembo Jay’?
The leader of the family they had met had also mentioned the name in her response to Rafiki’s greeting. ‘Tembo Jay and ~ goodness guide you’, the Tembella had said. She would ask Rafiki when he woke. Then she also remembered the leader saying, ‘May Mana bless ~ and keep you safe’. Who was Mana? There was so much to learn. She would ask about Tembo Jay first. If Tembo Jay had tusks he must be an elephant like herself. Mana, whoever or whatever it was, could wait.
When her friend did open his eyes and heave himself to his feet, Kidogo thought it best not to ask questions immediately. It sometimes took Rafiki quite a while to be ready to talk. He would first pass water, then dung, accompanied by great gusts of wind, then he would walk round in circles several times. Kidogo followed him about as he did all of these before she said a word.
They started to browse on some half-grown thorn trees. The flavour of the foliage was exquisite but long sharp thorns protected each tiny cluster of leaves. Both elephants were cautiously folding the foliage into their mouths while trying to keep their tongues away from the hard spines until they had ground them to harmless fibres with their teeth. Kidogo swallowed her mouthful and asked her friend, ‘Who is Tembo Jay?’
‘Who was Tembo Jay,’ Rafiki corrected her. ‘He died – well actually he was killed – about two thousand years ago. I don’t know much about him but he must have been a very special elephant to be still talked about today.’
‘Yesterday you said, By the Tusks of Tembo Jay. What did that mean,’ Kidogo asked.
‘It’s just something that elephants say, when it’s important, or if you are a bit cross. Did I say it yesterday?’
‘Yes. When I asked if I was still a danger to you, you said, By the Tusks of Tembo Jay that you loved having me with you. Do you really?’
‘By the Tusks of Tembo Jay—’ Rafiki stopped and they both chuckled. ‘There you are,’ he said. ‘It’s something you say without really thinking. But Tembo Jay’s tusks must have been very special to be talked about after all this time.’
Kidogo looked at Rafiki’s tusks. She was sure they were longer and perhaps even thicker than when they had met at the waterhole. Then, when she thought her friend wasn’t looking, she felt her own cheeks but there were still no bumps on either side and certainly no smooth ivory buds. Why not, oh why not?
Rafiki had noticed her actions and came and put his trunk-tip to Kidogo’s forehead. ‘It bothers you that you are tuskless,’ he said. It was a statement, not a question, and Kidogo fondled her friend’s trunk with her own, then stroked his tusks.
‘It has always bothered me. I suppose it’s silly really. I’ve seen many elephants without tusks – mostly ones who are scared all the time – like me. Confident elephants like you always seem to have tusks. Perhaps it’s because you have tusks that you are so confident.’
‘It could work the other way,’ Rafiki said. ‘It may be that being scared all the time stops them growing. I don’t really know. I don’t know much about Tembo Jay either.’
‘Who would know?’
Rafiki swung his trunk slowly from side to side. He was thinking.
‘This is really important to you, isn’t it? And I’d like to know too! I’ve been told that there is a very knowledgeable old tembull down at Amboseli. He lives near the swamp there. We could go and ask him. His name is Tembo M’zee. He should know – if he’s as wise as they say.’
Kidogo knew that M’zee meant The Wise One. ‘Could we go?’ she asked. ‘How far is it to Amboseli?’
Rafiki pointed with his trunk to what looked like a thin curved cloud in the sky to the south.
‘That’s water on the top of the Holy Mountain. I was once told it is so cold up there that the water gets hard and turns white – which I’d be really interested to see. You’d think that water is always just water. Amboseli Swamp is on this side of that mountain. Tembo M’zee lives there. It’ll take us five days – three if we hurry.’
Tembo M’zee was feeling his age. In the sixty years of his life he had seen many changes and sired many calves. Now his legs often seemed extra tired and he was even more inclined to sleep through the heat of the day. He especially enjoyed wading deep into the swamp so that the cool water and mud half supported his weight. There he would suck up a thin slurry from around the roots of the reeds and spray it over his back to keep his skin cool. If he could find a dense mass of vegetation on which to rest his huge tusks he could be even more comfortable. In this restful state he would dream away the hot afternoons remembering the excitements of a full life and the many females he had joyned with when he was in his glorious prime. It would not be long now before he stepped-over. His last teeth were beginning to break up and soon he would not be able to eat enough to stay alive. He was not afraid of this happening – it came to all tembos, in fact to all living creatures, in time.
One thing was bothering him. He was sure the ice cap on Holy Mountain was getting smaller year by year and that this in some way affected him, though how, he never could work out. In the late evenings and early mornings when the head of the mountain was clear of clouds, he would look at the white streak high above him. Was it smaller than it used to be? He thought it was – but could not be sure.