Doug calls out, “Jabu here.”
Then he turns to Stacey. “Time for a photo-op?” I leave off drawing diagrams in the dust, stand up, dust off my pant cuffs, and join them.
Stacey fishes a disposable camera from the pocket of her shorts, “Do you mind?” and hands it to me. I smile; she had a camera after all.
“Ears,” Doug says to Jabu in a conversational tone, in the same tone a mother might remind a teenager, “Dishes.”
But Jabu’s way ahead of him. As soon as the camera came out he spread his ears and posed.
Stacey cuddles his trunk; I turn the camera horizontally in order to squeeze them into the frame.
“How many?’ I ask. Practically the entire roll, it turns out. Jabu with Stacey. Jabu with Stacey & Doug. Jabu and Doug. Just Jabu. Then Jabu with Stacey again. It’s hard to fit all of Jabu into the frame of a point-and-shoot without Stacey appearing to be a mere speck. I do a couple of close-ups.
Behind me seedpods rattle their tiny gourds as Thembi swishes through the grass. Her ears ripple as she walks, a wave going through them, top to bottom. She’s giving up eating to find out what’s going on.
Stacey joins me. I hand over her camera.
Doug’s voice rises an octave between “Squh” and “weeek.”
Trunk tip squeezed together, Jabu obliges, emitting a series of squeaks similar in sound to rubber tires leaving skid-marks on pavement.
“It’s an inhalation,” Doug comments.
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Jabu, Thembi joins in. And over in the brush, with her back to us, Morula squeaks too. Like a kid in a corner, she keeps on practicing. Her squeaks sound more like a finger rubbed across a balloon.
“Talk.” Doug says to Jabu and Thembi.
First one “talks” and then the other. They rumble, leaning back and forth, abdomens filling and emptying like bellows, sounds made by exhalations.
It’s a rhythmic conversation. Jabu and Thembi’s low bass tones carry layer upon layer of vibrations. I close my eyes and imagine giant, reverberating oboes.
Is there an under-current of conversation going on between them? Silly humans. They get so pleased over the littlest things.
Morula saunters over. The tip of her trunk curls against her forehead, waves Hello.
“Morula has something to show you, too” Doug says. “Morula, open,”
First Stacey, standing on tiptoe, reaches in, and then I reach in to rub Morula’s tongue. It’s much bigger than mine is, but feels pretty much the same – wet, soft, fleshy. It’s flecked with bits of leaves.
There’s a common but erroneous belief throughout Asia that all elephants are tongue-tied. It’s also believed that if the tip of their tongue were not tied down at the front of their mouths, each and every one of them could speak.
Morula pushes against Doug’s fingers with her strong tongue.
What if Morula could speak? There’s not a single one of us who do not wish that the great beasts of this world could whisper into our ears the secret of life, could answer our questions in a language we might understand.
But would we want to hear what they have to say about us?
Something tickles the underbrush, a small rustle from a smaller body. Insects buzz in the background, a white noise that echoes the beginnings of the universe, a biological chorus constantly singing.