Shirley and Sam

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 09, 2016

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Submitted: July 09, 2016








For the past twenty-five years, Shirley hadn’t seen her kind. All she saw, was Sam. They both knew that this wasn’t enough, that one day, she’d need to be in the company of her own. It wasn’t that Sam couldn’t give her all he had to give - god knows he did that, and then some. He gave to her unconditionally, with tender patience, and constant nurturing. But somehow, they both knew. For Shirley was Shirley, and Sam was Sam, and a man can only do so much for an elephant. 


Sometime during her youth, Shirley was snatched, and compelled to serve a master not of her choosing, like so many of her fellow Africans. Enslaved, she was paraded beneath the big top of a traveling circus, forced to entertain the endless gawkers who expected this behemoth to stand on her hind legs and trumpet some long, forgotten song of the Serengeti. Shackled links bound her legs, while the incessant prodding of a trainers rod kept her in line. And as bad as this was, it was about to get worse. 


Irony has a way of mocking the living. Elephants included. Thus far, Shirley managed to come through her ordeal relatively unscathed, if only in the physical sense. After enduring her capture - and subsequent transport from one continent to another - she had to deal with the transient life of a circus performer. At the end of each stay in yet another small, nameless town, she would be loaded onto a truck and driven to the next community where she’d be unloaded to start the entire process anew. Somehow, she avoided the many dangers that came with this kind of life. Little did she know that it would be one of her own that would change her fortunes once more, and force her into a life of solitary confinement.


Like all living creatures, elephants can resort to acts of malice when one feels that it’s called for. This one was named Star, and she felt that it was called for. The lead elephant in a circus basks in many privileges not afforded  the others, and like their masters, it’s one of honour, and jealously protected. Star was this elephant. 


She began to suspect that Shirley was getting some undeserved attention and decided to do something about it. One day, when they were alone behind the tent, Star lowered her head, built up some speed, and plowed into the back of Shirley’s leg, breaking it instantly, and ending her big top career in the process. Her leg was so deformed, that she would be a liability to the show. Shirley would have to go. 


As Shirley hobbled onto the truck, she had no idea that this ride would not be like the thousands of trips that preceded it. She’d not be heading to a new town to do another performance. There wouldn’t be anymore tricks demanded of her, nor the constant prodding from her task master. But there would be something else lacking from Shirley’s life - something that she wasn’t prepared for. No living thing is.


The long ride finally ended and the door to the truck was opened. As Shirley made her way toward the light that awaited her, she saw Sam for the first time. Unlike the gruff and short tempered circus workers she’d become accustomed to, this man was smiling. He merely stood and waited for Shirley to come to him. He made no attempt to direct her, and the stick in his hand was made of wood, not metal.


“Hello, Shirley.”, he said, hand extended, his smile still in place.


Shirley, at first gripped with fear, stood motionless, and tried to make some sense out of her new surroundings, and the new man who stood before her.


“It’s okay, Shirley. You take as long as you want. There’s no hurry now.” 


The new companions stared each other down, like a duel, waiting for the first one to make a move. Shirley gaped. Sam smiled. The blue sky beyond the truck beckoned. Finally, with the confidence of one who draws first, Shirley lifted up her massive trunk and extended it fully. With guarded movement, she began to inspect this man standing before her, first sniffing his hair, and then his hand. Then, she looked deeply into his brown and gentle eyes. ‘Sam is different’, she thought as she took a step toward him, and, with tender care, Shirley took Sam’s hand with her trunk - an elephant’s display of trust - and allowed Sam to lead her out of the dark and narrow truck, and into a spacious yard. 


Shirley looked at her new home. Trees lined the entire compound, casting shade over most of the yard. Beneath the trees lay a large pond, brimming with life, as birds and frogs, crickets and butterflies, shared its sanctuary. Shirley was thirsty from her long trip and didn’t need to be coaxed to help herself to a drink. Together, she and Sam walked to the pond where Shirley drank deeply and cooled herself by sending a stream of water from her trunk over her back. She allowed herself to feel good - but not too good. This was one elephant who’d been around for awhile. As she continued to cool herself in the noon day sun, she wondered when it would start - the prods, the tricks, the degradation. She turned around to see Sam, still beside her, still smiling.


“Drink up, old girl. And help yourself to something to eat.”, he said, as he walked over and grabbed a handful of hay from the feeder that sat conveniently next to the pond. He handed it to Shirley who sniffed it cautiously. Then, she took his offering and placed it in her mouth, savouring its sweet flavour. “That’s it, eat up.” Sam reached up and rubbed one of Shirley’s ears. His touch was gentle and rhythmic. 


Shirley found her way to the feed manger as Sam found his way to a chair, where his lunch pail waited. He sat down, poured a cup of coffee from his thermos, and began to eat a sandwich. Shirley paused and looked at Sam. She had never had a meal with her masters before. Things were different here. Very different. Everything felt easy and comfortable. As Shirley looked around, wondering when the other shoe would drop, it hit her. There were no signs of any other elephants, anywhere. No sounds, no smells, no large piles. In fact, it was just her and Sam.


Solitude is known by all living things. For some, it’s the end of a long search. For most, it’s the unwanted condition of circumstance. These were the thoughts going through Shirley’s head as she bedded down for her first nights rest. Usually, at this time of day, after performing for the crowds, she and her kinfolk would kibbitz about...well, about elephant things. Stories would be swapped about life in Africa, the children who adored them, their masters who seemed to loathe them, love, likes, and desires. Elephant things. 


But not tonight.


Nor for ten thousand nights yet to follow. 


It’s difficult to put one’s finger on the exact time when something such as loneliness begins, but not for Shirley. She could pinpoint the moment when she realized that she was alone, and that a piece of her heart, the piece that can only be touched by one’s own kind, quietly lost its light. And like any living thing forced to endure such isolation, she believed that no one could understand. But she was wrong.


At the same time, in a single bed, in a small shack, on a tiny piece of land across the road from Shirley’s new home, lay Sam, awake, and full of wonderment about his new charge. Sam knew that Shirley was stolen from her natural life in Africa. So were his great, great grandparents. He could empathize with her past life, being forced to wear a mantle not of one’s choosing. But most of all, he knew full well what it was like to live without the warm and reassuring comfort that comes from a relationship with one’s own kind. Like Shirley, Sam ate, slept and dreamt alone. 


The days and weeks and months began to pass. Shirley and Sam fell into a routine of familiarity. Sam would arrive, fill the feed manger with fresh hay, take a hose and give Shirley a shower, brush her thick skin to remove any unwanted debris, lead her around the yard - purely for exercise - and tell her a story or two. Sam liked to tell stories, but he didn’t overdo it, and Shirley didn’t understand them. Yet, the sound of his voice became something she looked forward to. Every now and then, she’d tell him one of her tales. Sam always laughed when she did, and would answer her as if he understood.  They both knew better.


Soon, the months gave way to years. Many of them. As each season passed, Shirley became lonelier, until she felt as if she couldn’t take another moment. One day, when Sam arrived to give her a shower, Shirley just stood motionless, refusing to walk out of the large barn that served as her shelter. Sam tried to nudge her gently, but Shirley stood her ground. Sam stood in front of her and looked into her eyes. He’d been with her long enough to know that her will to carry on was beginning to wane. 


“What is it, girl?”, he asked. “What can old Sam do to help?” Shirley stared back, but that was all she could do. Day after day, she stood and stared. She ate very little. Her eyes grew more despondent and unresponsive. One night, as Sam sat alone in his tiny shack, he made a decision that would change their lives forever. He knew that Shirley would die if she didn’t have companionship other than his. She needed her own kind now. But finding a place for her would come with a bitter price.


Sam called other refuges that might be able to help. Finally, he spoke with a man he had worked for many years ago. His name was Clayton, and Sam learned everything he knew about elephants from him. 


“Well my word, Sam, how have you been?”


“Fine, Mr. Clayton, just fine. How’s that family of yours?”


“All grown up now. What’s it been, thirty years since you worked for me?”


“Yes sir, that’s about right.”


“What have you been doing all this time, Sam?”


“Well, I’ve been living with Shirley for the past twenty-five years.”


“Sam, did you finally take a wife?”


“No, no, nothing like that. Shirley’s an elephant I’ve been looking after. She’s the reason I’m calling. You see, Mr. Clayton, she’s been the only one living with me all this time, and, well, she needs other elephants now. I was hoping that you could help.”


“I don’t know, Sam. I don’t have much room here. Where’d you get her?”


“From the Fargo Circus. She had her leg broken, and they needed a place for her.”


“Fargo Circus? I got two elephants from them last year. How old did you say she was?


“Near as I can reckin, I’d say about forth-five. Why?”


“That would make her about the same age as these elephants. They must have been there at the same time. Tell you what, Sam, I’ll give her a home. It’ll be interesting to see if they recognize each other after all this time.”


“Thanks, Mr. Clayton. This will mean the world to her, I’m sure.” The two men continued to talk and make arrangements for Shirley’s move. When they finished, Sam hung up his phone, lay on his bed, and cried himself to sleep.


Sam spent the next day caring for Shirley as usual, but without his typical demeanour. After lunch, Sam led Shirley around the yard, talking as they went, his voice laced with sadness.


“I’ve got some news for you, Shirley. I’ve been concerned for sometime now, that you need something more than this. So, my friend said that he will give you a home. A home with other elephants. You need to be with them.” Sam could feel the stinging tears as they made their way down his face. He stopped walking and stood in front of her. “Twenty-five years is long enough. Soon, you’ll find someone more to your liking.”


Shirley looked and listened. She couldn’t understand his words, but she knew what tears meant, having shed enough of them in her life. She wondered why Sam had so many right now. She’d come to know this man - as well as she could - who taught her to trust. She felt a bond that she thought was hers. As it turned out, the bond was his. And more tears would be shed before their story was through.


Then, without warning, it happened. A truck pulled up to the gate, lowered its ramp, and prepared to have Shirley board it. It had been some time since her last ride on a truck, but somehow she didn’t feel nervous. She climbed into the back of it with Sam by her side. Soon, they were on the road and traveling to places unknown. It would be a relatively short ride as the truck stopped, the back was opened and Shirley was led into a large barn, with a large steel fence dividing it into two. Sam led her to some water and allowed her to drink. 


As Shirley quenched her thirst, her nose detected an odour almost lost in her memory. She looked up and let out a loud call. The silence that followed was broken by a similar sound that came from a short distance. Shirley ran to the steel fence and called again. Once more, her call was returned. Then a door opened on the other side of the fence and, for the first time in a quarter of a century, Shirley saw another elephant. But the greatest surprise to her was that it was an elephant she knew. Her name was Louise, and she had shared the ring with her so very long ago. 


The two met at the fence and exchanged greetings. Never had Shirley been so happy. Sam watched as his one and only companion began to pledge her heart to another. As if sensing Sam’s tear filled eyes on her, Shirley stopped and looked at the man who’d given her everything for most of her life. She lifted her mighty trunk and placed it on his shoulder, like she’d done so many times before. But this time would be the last. 


Sam reached up and took her ears in his hands. He knew it was his turn to be alone. Soon, the gate opened and Shirley turned away from Sam. She ran after Louise and towards the rest of her life. Sam did the same.

© Copyright 2018 Norman K. All rights reserved.

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