I was eight years old the first time I drove an elephant.
It was one of those nights where no matter what I did, I couldn't seem to sleep. There was scarcely a sound but the rustling of wind in the orchards, and the occasional chirping cricket. It was a serene and peaceful setting by any standards, but my eyes stayed wide open and fatigueless, staring at the faint moonlight peeking around the curtains of my bedroom windows.
Giving in to the restlessness of a sleepless young mind, I pulled the blankets off myself and swung my legs over the side of the bed. As silently as possible, I pulled myself to my feet and eased open my bedroom door before slipping through.
Through the unobstructed hallway window, I saw a nearly full moon peeking through layers of banana leaves in the back orchard, casting swaying fragments of light onto the opposite wall. Opting not to risk the creaky bamboo floors of the kitchen, I reached up to unlatch the back door a few steps away, and pushed it open with a turn of the knob.
Looking back, I reflect that very few eight-year old girls would willingly walk into a jungle barefoot at night. But being completely familiar with our gardens, having walked and played in them countless times in daylight, often barefoot, I didn't think twice about it.
The warm night breeze of the Thai Highlands greeted me outside the door, whispering lightly onto my face. In that moment, I was certain I couldn't go back to bed now.
I wandered through the dark orchard, weaving through the familiar layout of fruit trees and vegetable stalks. To my small proportions, the orchard seemed vast, and I seemed far from the house by the time I reached the large stables that formed the main operation of our farm.
I could tell right away that something was amiss. The undergrowth had been trampled down in a path that led from an elephant stall whose bamboo door lay creaking and ajar. I followed the trail off into the forest, and immediately saw a large, four-legged form between the trees, cloaked by darkness and a stand of wayward vines.
As I drew near, the elephant timidly pushed through the vines towards me. A beam of moonlight fell on its face.
"Ratana," I said softly, recognizing the young female, "what are you doing out here? It's cold." As I said it, I noticed that the cool breeze whipping my pajamas was beginning to feel less like a pleasant cool, and more like a goosebump-inducing chill.
Ratana whined softly, and proceeded a few more steps out of the covering. She brought her trunk up to my face (not much of a distance, small as I was) and, snaking it under my chin, she considered my scent. Deciding to trust me, she came fully into the open.
She brought her head around, her trunk leveling at my chest. The sinew and skin seemed to form a seat much like a swing, and I did not think twice about swinging my leg over Ratana's trunk and folding my knees up.
My improvised seat caught her by surprise. It was quite likely no one had ever done this before; if even the lightest adult were to try this, it would be far too much. Ratana uttered a short trumpet of protest, but played along. She slowly lifted and dropped me a few times, testing, before accepting that I was light enough to do her no harm. She lifted me to her eye level, where I glanced back to see a playful gleam in her usually solemn eyes.
Suddenly, Ratana was whipping her trunk from side to side, sending me shaking back and forth. I gripped her trunk tightly in my arms, though I knew she had no intent to dislodge me. A laugh broke from me, sounding loud as an extremely cheerful thunderclap in the silence.
"Ahem" said a deep male voice.
Ratana stopped at once. Still straddling her trunk, I looked to the ground fearfully, expecting to see my father, a strict man at the best of times.
Below me stood Dawad Sanarong, the old Ajaan, or teacher, of the monastery up the hill. His hands were clasped peacefully on the front of his saffron robe, and he looked up at me with twinkling eyes. The expression on his lined face was curious, but seemingly unsurprised.
"Kanya Duvelle," he said simply, in well-practiced English "that is quite an interesting way to be seated."
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Sanarong allowed a smile to play around the corners of his mouth as I tried to signal to Ratana to lower me.
"Ajaan," I managed finally, "I'm sorry, I..."
He held up a hand as I trailed off.
"You have no need to apologize," he said calmly, "Enjoy your youth while you can. And if you truly needed as much sleep as your elders say you do… well, you would be asleep!"
"Khop Kun Kha," I thanked him, and continued in halting Thai, "What are you doing out here, Ajaan? It is a long walk down the…" I paused and searched for the correct word.
"Down the hill, yes," He finished, returning to English, "but not so far for one who has seen as many years as I. I often take late-night walks when my mind is restless… We are not so different that way. I was nearing the farm, thinking I would turn around, when I heard a noise. Forgive my curiosity."
At that point, Ratana became bored and lowered her trunk. I slid forwards off of it and landed lightly on the ground.
"I think we should return this animal to bed, don't you?" Sanarong suggested. I nodded and placed a hand on Ratana's hip. Walking slowly, the three of us marched back towards the stall. Progress was slow, but as Sanarong pointed out, we were not exactly stretched for time.
"Tell your father that he needs to build a new door," the old monk observed as we shut Ratana back inside her stall, "But I suggest you do not mention our meeting." The thick bamboo of the stall door was splintered along the edges, and Ratana had easily pushed it through the latch.
"Goodbye, Ajaan," I said as we parted, him walking off towards the path to the monastery, me back towards the house.
"Goodbye," he echoed.
After only a few steps Sanarong turned once more to me.
"I have never, in all my years, seen something like that. You are an extraordinary child, Kanya Trunk-rider. I think we can expect great things from you. Great things indeed."
Not surprisingly, it's tough to sleep through a herd of elephants arguing.
I squeezed my eyes shut and pulled the sides of my pillow up around my ears, but there was no denying the frantic trumpeting echoing from across the garden, and the morning sun streaming through the curtains. Even as I lay there, I grew more awake, and more aware of the fact that I had stayed up far too late reading last night.
I sighed, gave up my feigned attempt at sleep, and swung my legs out over the side of the mattress that served as my bed. I knew that if my mother was calling me, it must be late indeed.
As I sat up, my eyes lingered on a picture on the opposite wall. The blurry shot showed a ten-year-old me straddling Ratana's trunk, and I thought, as I had so often, about that night seven years ago.
Though I had heeded the monk's advice and not mentioned the meeting to my parents, I couldn't resist trying my trick again the next spare moment I had with Ratana. My mother saw, and after plenty of fussing and making sure I was on the ground alright, decided that it was time I got involved with farm business, along with my home-schooling.
The Duvelle Elephant farm served no single function; though at the core a veterinary operation, we depended largely on the occasional tourists passing the remote corner of Thailand where Chiang Ban sat among the hills. We took in elephants from wherever we could; old farmers, bankrupt circuses and the like. Mostly, we got the animals that were of no use to anyone: the old and worn-out from years of work; the small, young animals that held no potential. We raised them, trained them, and tried, whenever possible, to sell them. My father made sure that an elephant was always sold to a good home - once, my father refused a man a sale because of a well-used whip found in his trunk -, and every sale was a cause for celebration.
However, there was no way the family could live solely on these one-or-twice-yearly bursts of profit. This was where the shows and my role came in. Chiang Ban lay near a secondary route between Chiang Mai and Cambodia, and the tourists trickling through the highway were our true lifeblood. Tour busses stopped to cool their engines, if nothing else, and Westerners seemed to never get enough of creatures that were, to them, strange and foreign.
My role in the shows was simple: to bring in money. I was the star attraction, the light-skinned girl who trained elephants. Though I was now able to do any task on the farm as well as my parents, that was still my main duty. Over the years, I had lost the cute, babyish face that brought in so many tips, but gained skills few could master.
Drowsily, I stood up onto the floor of my bedroom. I dressed quickly in my usual clothes - a pair of knee-length khaki shorts and a t-shirt - before stumbling out of my room, down the hallway and into the bathroom. I thrusted the pump handle on the sink a few times, and splashed a handful of water on my face as soon as it gurgled out of the pipe that ran from the well.
The cold liquid sent a shock that almost immediately brought me to full consciousness, and the trumpeting from the stables seemed to diminish its rudeness. I shook my head to dislodge the remaining drops, and glanced up into the small mirror mounted on the wall above the sink. I pondered, as I had so often, the odd contours of my face, the wide eyes, the light skin and even lighter, sun-bleached hair. Even after fifteen years of the Thai sun darkening my skin, it was inarguable that I looked far more like a tourist than the local I was. I futilely tried for a few seconds to run a comb through my tangled hair, then left.
As I walked into the kitchen, the floors changed from thinly carpeted concrete to long rows of inch-thick bamboo that slid under my feet. This was the original portion of the house, barely changed since when my parents first came to the farm, when it had been nothing but a small shack, not truly fit for human habitation (the farm's last owner had lived in town). Since then, over the years, we had patched the original roof more times than I could count, completely redid the roof with far less leaky corrugated iron, and added a multitude of blocky poured-concrete rooms, making what was once effectively a toolshed into a home for a family.
"Well, she's alive," my mother joked as I walked into the kitchen. Louise Duvelle was a tall woman with sleek dark hair and a pair of hazel-gold eyes I had inherited, her face lined from years of the kind of sarcastic smiles I was on the receiving end of. I gave a short laugh as I pulled out one of the wooden stools that stood around the table.
I took a bowl from the cupboard and ladled a few scoops of the rice pudding on the stove into it. In the years of living in Chiang Ban, my mother had always made an effort to eat like the locals, though I noticed that she had complimented the pudding with generous amounts of fruit. My father, a broad-shouldered, square-jawed man with a shock of blond hair and light blue eyes, was less willing to assimilate, but agreed with me that his wife's cooking was good enough to break tradition for. Of course, for me, there was no tradition in the first place.
The succession of trumpeting reached a peak as I sat down. I wondered out loud as to the reason, and my father replied exasperatedly.
"Well, you're usually out to feed them two hours ago, so of course Ratana's worried. Aroon, got woken up by her and starting going. Sukhong got scared, and once all them were bothering the rest…"
"I get the point." I interrupted, "you're saying I should have got up earlier, and I should go handle it now."
"It would certainly help," Mom said, "We couldn't even get Ratana to have breakfast."
I put down my spoon and stood up. Out the kitchen door, it was a quick walk to the stables, straight out through the garden. The walk seemed far shorter than it had those years ago.
The argument got louder as I approached. I noted that only a few animals were actually responsible for the noise; Ratana was one of these, though her contributions had a more concerned tone than the others' annoyed grunting. Most of the elephants, including Aroon, had retreated into their stalls in an attempt to block out the noise.
I went first to Ratana's stall. As she saw me, she stopped mid-whine and broke out into the goofy lower-lipped grin only elephants can make.
After our encounter in the garden, Ratana had immediately latched onto me as her absolute favourite person on earth. If I was guiding her in a show, she would be happily willing to do things that my parents couldn't coax any other into doing. My absence from the typical morning must have had her in hysterics.
As I entered the stall, she lowered her trunk into an inverted arc. I took a high step sideways with my left foot, as if stepping over it. Though I had long been far too heavy to perform the stunt in the garden, this had become a kind of salute between us, like a secret handshake among friends.
There are many ridiculous things visitors think they know about elephants, but one in particular rings with the most truth. An elephant never forgets.
I tended to the others, calming them with soft tones and handfuls of hay, as Ratana finally began to eat the stack of hay and greens that had been sitting in her stall. I made my way around the concrete-and-bamboo block of the stable building, to the row of stalls that faced out of the farm. Past a single row of planted trees, a beaten dirt pathway ran parallel, and I could hear the sound of footsteps in the uphill direction.
I peeked out through the trees, and sure enough, Dawad Sanarong was leading a line of boys in orange robes up the hill.
I continued working as if I hadn't seen them, and the footsteps grew louder. In less than a minute the company was directly along the edge of the farm; giving up my pretense of deafness, I turned around.
The monastery boys, all orange-robed and shaven-headed, ranged in age from seven or eight to young adulthood. Young boys travelled in from a large region to perform their duties in Chiang Ban; great family honour came from spending a few years in a monk's order, and Sanarong was supposedly a near-legend in some nearby towns. The youth monastery had always been the main draw of the village (of course, my parents liked to think that our farm was quite the attraction as well, but I saw through that instantly). Every morning, the boys would march down the path from their sleeping quarters up the hill to Wat Kheng, the temple in town. From there they would collect breakfast from the townspeople, before those who weren't running their shifts at the temple walked back up.
"Kanya! Aboh iya!"
The speaker was a wiry boy about my age, standing near the front of the group. He held a hinged wooden box in his hands
"Niran," I replied, grinning, "Aboh iya. I heard you a mile away, it's a good thing you're not a hunter." I spoke in fluent, albeit horribly accented Thai.
"At least I was awake. I thought we came for breakfast late, but you were still snoring away." Niran replied.
I nodded, not really able to deny it (though I was quite sure that I didn't snore). "What's in the box?" I asked.
He lifted the carved lid and showed me a pile of simple wood bead bracelets. "I spent all last night making these. I was going to sell them in the temple for, eh… much good money."
I concealed a snicker. As bad as my Thai was, it was nice to know that Niran's English was worse.
"How much were you asking for them?"
"I thought fifty baht. Before bargain."
"I'll give you seventy,"
Niran laughed. "I've never heard anyone bargain up before. Because you're my friend, you can have it for sixty."
"His friend," a boy next to him piped up, "That's what she thinks. He loves her, more like."
"He wants to marry her," interjected another.
Niran blushed a rather interesting shade of purple, but didn't miss a beat. "Her? May as well marry the elephant. Kanya has spent so long with them, they're pretty much the same thing… and the beast would be less noisy."
This brought a heavy laugh from the boys, and even Sanarong cracked a smile.
"Sixty, plus this mango," I resumed bartering, indicating the freshest fruit I could pick out of the elephant's feed bin.
He plucked the mango from my hand and offered the open box to me. I picked one string of beads out of the pile, pulled my tattered wallet from my pocket, and peeled out two thirty-baht notes. The bracelet fit my wrist firmly, but not strangling tight.
Calmly, Sanarong called on the boys to continue. I bid Niran a quick goodbye, and walked back to the house. The stables were silent.
The rest of the morning passed in a textbook schooling lesson on electricity. This culminated in me questioning about the farm's generator and fuse box, and Dad quite nearly destroying the weak air conditioner that kept some of the jungle heat out of the house.
"So you see," he said, attempting to fold a paper clip into a workable fuse, "I just, er, overloaded the voltage in the circuit back at the generator and it blew out the weakest part… we'll need a new one before the next heat wave, unless… Ah, crap."
At that moment, Mom burst into the house hurriedly. "Tourists!" she cried, "Two of them, waiting at the amphitheatre - can you get a show ready?
I nodded, slipped on my boots at the door and rushed out across the gardens, straight to Ratana's stall. I unlatched her door and led her out without a harness, relying on my voice and her loyalty to keep her going where I wanted her to.
At the side of our driveway sat the true breadwinner of the farm - the amphitheatre. It was a dramatic name for what was really just a circle of benches. If a longer-than-average tour bus stopped at the farm, some would have to stand.
I led Ratana into the circle, where a young couple sat on the benches, glancing apprehensively around at the dusty, hard-packed ground of the amphitheatre and surrounding bushes.
"Hey guys!" I called, bringing their attention. "Welcome to the farm, sorry to keep you waiting." I clasped my hands and pretended to look around the benches for the audience I knew was absent.
I waited for one of them to respond, but their attention had become focussed on Ratana, who stood calmly plodding the ground. I reminded myself that they had likely never seen an elephant, except perhaps in the strict confines of some urban zoo.
While they were watching her, I sized up the couple: younger, fitter than most whom came on the tour busses. Anyone who drove alone this far from the common tourist attractions must be either fiercely adventurous or hopelessly lost; I had met many of both, and these seemed the latter.
After introducing Ratana and myself, I launched into the show. I narrated overenthusiastically as Ratana performed a series of feats that were ridiculously simple, but impressive to Westerners' foreign eyes. She picked up logs with her trunk and swung them low to the ground, I jumping lithely over them; she reared on her back legs more times than I could count, looking like some humiliated circus animal.
"Keep going," I whispered in the sheltering flap of her ear when I could, "I know, it's silly. But you need to do this." She seemed to understand this, despite her stubborn inability to obey commands off-stage.
"Alright, If you feel like you've just been passively watching," I told the couple, "I'll need some volunteers here. This is your chance to get up close with her."
This was a lie, of course. They would have as much time as they wanted after the show to spend time with the elephants, but most left almost instantly after the show.
The man volunteered himself. I led him into the circle and told him to lie down.
"Here?" he asked skeptically, looking at the packed dirt ground, at Ratana standing nearby.
"Here," I confirmed, "we have a mat if you don't…"
"No, I'm all right."
He lowered himself to lie on his back in nearly exactly the center of the Amphitheatre. I whistled to Ratana, calling her to attention.
"You can trust her," I assured the man, then grinned, "Though I can't promise"
I whistled a short but complex series of notes to Ratana. Immediately, she trumpeted good-naturedly and tramped over. Despite walking relatively slowly, she moved at a fair speed, particularly from a perspective of lying down in front of her thumping feet. She trotted up to the man and appeared not to stop. His eyes widened, and he tried to roll out of the way, but Ratana was nearly upon him.
When her foot was scarcely a foot from his stomach, she stopped on a dime. The base of the thick stump hovering inches above him, he embarrassedly unclenched his teeth and issued a nervous chuckle. On the bench nearby, his wife, or girlfriend, laughed loudly and began applauding vigorously.
"I told you to trust her, didn't I?" I asked down at him, grinning, "Let him up, Ratana,"
She removed her foot and lowered it to the ground beside him. The man raised himself from the ground of the amphitheatre and dusted himself off, turning towards his partner.
"I was just, like, you know… play-acting. I wasn't really scared."
"Sure, John," she quipped playfully, "just like at the rafting place." As she got up from the bench, she smiled over at me.
"Did I ever get your name?" she asked sweetly
"No, I'm sorry!" I said, "Kanya. Kanya Duvelle"
She nodded "I'm Laura. That was very cool… I didn't know elephants could even do most of that stuff. How long does it take to train them?"
"I really don't know, ma'am. My parents were teaching Ratana here before I was even born."
As so often when I told people of my birthplace, she seemed surprised.
"um… how old are you?"
"Fifteen, ma'am. A few years younger than Ratana here" I replied, patting Ratana's flank.
"And you were born here? In Thailand? It's just that… well, you don't look exactly local."
I bit my lip in frustration. How many times would I have to explain this, repetitively telling my short life story to every visitor wondering at the tone of my skin? I knew that I was being unfair, that they were only asking out of well-intended curiosity and friendliness. But in this friendliness, couldn't there be even an inkling of variety?
"I was born here," I confirmed, "A few years after my parents came from England and bought the farm."
"Yes, I wondered how your English was so good,"
I had been too young to remember, of course, but I often wondered how it had been for my parents those first years. How hard must it have been, struggling to make a derelict farm into a living, and support a newborn daughter to boot? This brought into perspective another, even more perplexing question: why? Why did Peter and Louise Duvelle, just out of college, set up for a brilliant future in their country, choose to leave everything they knew and travel halfway across the world, risking everything? Were they simply seeking adventure, bored of life in the magnificent cities I had seen only in pictures? Or was something more at work in their story? I reflected that there was far more shaping people than showed at the surface; even my own parents held secrets from me.
As I was lost in my thoughts, the visitors had begun to take an interest in Ratana. As they patted her flank, she panted heavily, and I remembered how the shows tired her out. Quite likely she hadn't had the common sense to drink more than a little at breakfast, with my surprise visit to distract her.
Making sure that John and Laura were engaged for the time being, I slipped out of the amphitheatre and jogged down the path back to the house. I ran to the small clearing that housed the well pump, placed one of the large, battered metal buckets kept nearby under the spout, and pumped the handle. I filled the bucket in a few spluttering thrusts; it was not even a mouthful for a full-grown elephant, but it would have to hold Ratana until John and Laura left.
Even after I removed the now full and heavy bucket, excess water continued to drizzle onto the concrete culvert the pump stood on. When the last droplet fell, glistening in the sunlight of the clearing as it fought against its own tension, all was silent but for the noises of the surrounding forest.
That was when I heard voices, scarcely discernible from the distant birdsong, wafting from towards the house. Soft as they were, I recognized the tone as that of my parents. They were whispering, as if not wanting to be overheard.
I thought of John, Laura and Ratana back at the Amphitheatre, but my curiosity got the best of me. I put down the bucket slowly, silently, and crept towards the source of the voices, taking care to keep my boots from treading on dry twigs. My mother's whispers grew to legible words.
"Peter," she hissed lightly "do you remember why we came here in the first place? They didn't leave us alone, even in Bangkok, and you're suggesting we go back?"
"Not home, no," I heard my father reply, "that'd be just as good as handing ourselves over. But we could go to America, Australia. I just want to walk down a street again, and look at signs I can actually read."
"I know you do… I have too. But you have to realize, our life is here now. What about Kanya? She's never been anywhere but here. And you want to throw her into that kind of world? If they do find us, it's not just us at risk, it's her too."
"But they wouldn't. Even sixteen years ago, they were in decline. There's no telling whether they would even still be around."
Mum sounded exasperated when she replied: "well, if you're really serious about this..."
"No question, we could. We've paid off the farm and more and got enough saved up. The economy's that much better than sixteen years ago; it would be way easier going back there than it was coming here."
There was a long pause before Mum replied,
"We'll ask her tonight. That way she has time to think it over,"
My head spun, and my breathing seemed loud as a thunderclap as I turned away from the conversation and laid my head against a palm trunk. They were talking about leaving the farm, returning to the rich cities of Europe and America, to the life that most of world seemed to consider the center of the universe. And my father, who seemed an immovable island of solidarity, had been terrified; terrified that they would find us, that some nameless pursuer would track them down at last. It seemed that I had an answer to my previous question, as to why they had left: fear. They were running from someone, or something.
The new question brought up, at once simple and infinitely more perplexing, was apparent: from what?
I returned to the amphitheatre, where John and Laura had apparently had enough time to familiarize with Ratana, and retreated to the benches to pour over a paperback guidebook. I put the bucket of water down near Ratana, and she immediately thrust her trunk in and drained the bucket in a single slurp before spraying it haphazardly into her mouth. Droplets flew away from the scene like from a malignant geyser, blinding me and soaking the front of my shirt. Ratana looked over and smiled goofily, and I felt a rush of affection cut through the annoyance. I heard a quickly stifled laugh issue from the benches.
"And here you see the clumsy drinker in its native habitat," I narrated dramatically, blinking and grinning through the streams of water trailing from my hair.
John began to nod and applaud in a sarcastically polite way. Laura, sitting next to him, broke out into unbridled laughter.
I looked over at Ratana again, and felt another rush of exasperated love.
But a thought cut into the feeling like static on a radio, and I remembered the conversation I had just overheard; if Father persisted, and the family left the farm, I would have to leave Ratana and her pranks, along with everyone and everything familiar to me. I had never really thought about it, but I loved so many of the elephants: shy, quiet Sukhong, arrogant Khemkang, and old, grumpy Aroon. I would have to leave them all behind, along with the humans I knew: the children in the village, the old couple down the road, and - my stomach gave an odd backwards lurch as I thought it - Niran, my only true, human friend.
"So what else is there to see in town?" John asked, cutting through my thoughts.
"Wat Kheng is nice," I suggested, thinking of Niran.
They paid for the show with a generous tip, and left. After their Bangkok-rented car pulled out of the drive, I stood alone in the amphitheatre once again. Was it really possible that I might never see it again?
I walked back to the house and retrieved my faded canvas backpack from my bedroom. I had some murky intent to spend the afternoon wandering the forest, but my only real plan was to get away from the farm for the time being. The fact that I packed my slingshot almost as an afterthought was a testament to my dazed state; there was ample chance that I might encounter a cobra or a scorpion, and it was foolish to leave alone without some sort of weapon.
I started to walk up the monastery path, but soon veered off into the jungle on the downhill side, heading to the base of the small creek valley. There was little chance of getting lost, for I could simply follow the valley downstream to where the creek ran under the highway in a corrugated metal pipe.
Keeping this in mind, I headed upstream through the undergrowth, occasionally having to wade into the shallow water that tumbled over the rocks. My footfalls seemed like an invasion on the quiet symphony of birdsong and earthy scent of rotting wood.
In due time, I came to a small pool at the base of a short waterfall. I sat to rest on a mossy boulder nearby, and stared up at the falls, entranced by the roaring, sparkling water.
I stayed at the pool for most of the afternoon. I swam, practised slingshot at random targets, and made an attempt at whittling (an attempt, because I ended up decided that the piece of driftwood, horribly mutilated by my pocketknife blade, was fit for nothing more than hurling into the stream).
Mostly, I thought about my predicament. I remembered how often my father won arguments, how he had never really adjusted to Chiang Ban. It was extremely likely; I would be going to the west. I thought of what I knew of that world; when it came to reality, I was woefully ignorant. Occasionally the woman at the small village bookstore would recommend me something that 'all the American girls' were supposedly reading. Most of these I had found terribly dull, full of ridiculously over-contrived romances and pointless chatter. I knew from my studies that I would have been just beginning High School, perhaps able to get a job. My parents would surely be able to… at least to the point that the family could be supported.
I was surprised when I saw that the sun had sunk to hover just over the high ridge to the west. Had I really been out that long? Dinner would be served soon - I was thinking not so much of me, but of the elephants I needed to feed. And there was no way I would want to be stuck up here even in the beginning of twilight.
As I gathered the contents of my pack from where they had been strewn along the edge of the shoreline, I remembered Mom's words back at the well. We'll tell her tonight. If I went back, I would learn more about my upcoming fate. With a heavy heart, I speeded my packing. I might not want to hear what they had to say, but I needed to. Try as I might, I knew there was little I could do to influence the predicament. I may as well learn what I could about it.
I finished packing, pulled the drawstrings tight, and heaved the pack onto my back. It was time to learn the truth.