Celebrating East African Writing!
There once lived a boy named Mutwiri. He was diminutive in stature and had a round face and he liked to smile. Most of his age mates thought he looked like a cartoon and so they didn’t take him seriously. Mutwiri was teased a lot especially by the taller more muscly boys. This made him sad. Whenever he was walking home from school and the clique of big school boys started hurling abuse at him he would run as fast as he could away from them and take a longer path home. This path took him to the edges of the dense Mount Kenya forest reserve.
The forest reserve was a protected area in which endangered animals – elephants, rhinos, antelopes, et cetera – were let to roam free under the watchful eye of armed binoculars-wielding game wardens. The entire perimeter of the forest reserve was fenced with an electric fence. This electric fence restricted animals from moving out of the sanctuary and also restricted poachers from crossing over and butchering the animals for their meat, tusks, hides, and horns.
Mutwiri desperately desired to grow big and strong and tall. He thought that by increasing his size the bigger boys would easily accept him and befriend him. This would stop the teasing and he would be able to finally walk home and play in peace. One afternoon when Mutwiri was trudging slowly back home from school (after fleeing from a nasty episode of taunts from the bigger school boys) he passed by the edge of the forest reserve. There was a sign hang on the electric fence which warned all would-be trespassers of the dangerous high voltage of the electricity connected to the fence. The space between the wires of the fence was about a foot wide and the highest wire was about ten feet from the ground.
A young bull elephant was quietly browsing amongst the leafy bushes near the fence. Its sensitive nose soon picked up a strange scent; a scent that it usually associated with human poachers – those upright two-legged creatures who brutally butchered his kind. Alarmed by this thought the young elephant emerged from the foliage only to see a short round-faced boy standing on the opposite side of the fence. Though human, the boy seemed benign. The boy was thoughtfully staring at the wires of the fence as if he was contemplating on crossing over into the forest reserve. The young elephant too had fantasized about crossing the fence and wandering aimlessly in the countryside. He, the young elephant, had also salivated at the thought of raiding maize fields and potato fields that were usually ripe at this time of the year.
Mutwiri saw how big and strong and tall the young elephant was. He wondered what the large-eared animal with a trunk ate for breakfast, lunch, and supper. Mutwiri also wondered what it snacked on. The bushes it was browsing on didn’t seem nutritious or delicious at all. Yet the elephant wore a contented smile on its strange face. Severally the elephant reached into the bushes with its proboscis and plucked some leaves and then deposited them into its mouth for grinding. Was it the uncooked leaves of the bushes that gave the animal its impressive size and weight? Or was the elephant simply eating the leaves as medicinal herbs – maybe to help ease indigestion or a headache or a pain in its trunk.
Mutwiri looked farther into the thickets of the forest reserve and caught sight of a baby elephant and its mother. They too were contentedly browsing on the green bushes. Mutwiri watched in muted awe as the baby elephant positioned itself under its mother’s enormous belly and reached between her legs and found the teats and began to suckle. “What a beautiful sight of nature,” he thought to himself, a smile plastered on his round brown face. He almost blushed.
Suddenly Mutwiri felt thirsty. And this thirst was not a regular kind of thirst; it was unique kind of thirst; a thirst for power; a thirst for dominance; a thirst for authority. Mutwiri desired power to dominate and influence the kids at school, his parents and siblings at home, and everyone else in the community he lived in. He desired a power similar to that of the big boys at school who could taunt him relentlessly until he felt as small and as worthless as a mouse; or the authority that allowed his parents to bluntly refuse to take action and transfer him from that school that he dreaded going to every single day of the school year; or even the casual derogatory manner with which his elder brothers could order him around to fetch things and do chores for them as if he was their slave. Mutwiri hated all these things. He desired change; drastic radical change from the way things were presently. This radical change would only be brought about by one thing; and this was increasing his size rapidly.
Mutwiri had read somewhere that elephant milk was so nutritious that a newly born elephant gained at least ten kilograms in weight each single day. And this rapid increase in weight also led to the rapid increase in muscle mass and bone mass. It is for this reason that the elephant was termed the largest land mammal on planet earth.
That night after Mutwiri had eaten his supper and retired to bed, he conjured up a strategy that would secure him some elephant milk. “Soon I’ll be big and strong and tall,” he told himself before the mysterious hand of slumber snatched him from consciousness.
The big school boys were chanting a silly but insulting song which one of them had hastily composed. “Mutwiri ni panya; Mutwiri ni panya,” they sang loudly and maliciously. (Swahili for Mutwiri is a rat; Mutwiri is a rat.) It was yet another typical sunny humiliating school day and Mutwiri was walking briskly and weaving through a sea of school children in the school yard. The bell signaling the end of the last period of the day had just ringed and all pupils were making a lot of noise as they moved out of their classrooms and out of the school compound towards the various routes that led to their various homes.
On this day Mutwiri could afford to ignore the animated taunts of the clique of silly overgrown pupils. There was a glimmer of hope that a solution to his problem was about to be found. “Soon I’ll be big and strong and tall,” he reassured himself as he strode across the school yard towards the gate. The silly clique of tormentors wouldn’t dare taunt him if he was bigger and stronger and taller than them.
Deep in his knapsack Mutwiri had concealed a five liter empty jerrican. He also carried a length of tough sisal rope and some raw potatoes that he’d sneaked out of his mom’s kitchen. (Most elephants considered potatoes a tasty delicacy.) Deliberately Mutwiri turned right and avoided the main path that led straight to his home. He instead followed the deserted path skirting the edge of the nearby forest reserve. As he confidently walked away from the school gate, the noise of the chanting clique of tormentors grew fainter and fainter and fainter until he could hear it no more. Today the taunts didn’t sting his soul as venomously as they usually did on regular days. Hope is medicine for a tormented soul.
Mutwiri quickly removed the jerrican and the rope and the paper bag of potatoes from his knapsack as soon as he had arrived on the edge of the forest reserve’s electrified fence. Setting these things at the foot of the fence, Mutwiri straightened up and studied the bushes for signs of the baby elephant and its mother. His strategy was fairly simple; (a) lure the baby elephant away from its mother using the potatoes; (b) sneak up behind the mother elephant and tie its hind legs together with sisal rope; and (c), reach between its hind legs and squeeze the teats and harvest five liters of highly nutritious jumbo milk. (Mutwiri knew how to milk domestic cows and he presumed that the same maneuver would be used to milk an elephant.)
The young bull elephant was browsing in some thickets nearby. He looked up in time to see the short harmless round-faced human bending over as if he was preparing to squeeze between the wires of the electric fence. The young elephant’s suppressed fantasies about crossing the fence suddenly flooded his mind. He could almost taste the flavour and juices of a ripe potato bursting in his mouth as he ate it. He could almost savor the scent of the wind – the scent of freedom – as he wondered freely and aimlessly in the Kenyan countryside. “I wish I was small, light and timid,” he thought, “maybe then I’d be able to sneak in and out of places without causing brouhaha.”
The young bull elephant decided to move closer and see what the funny young human was up to. The elephant saw the boy crouching and slowly and carefully moving his torso through the space between the first and second wires. (The boy had already maneuvered his left leg through the wires and stepped on the ground on the forest reserve side of the fence.) With dexterity the boy cleared his torso from the touch of the high voltage wires and then raised his right leg and pulled it clear. Now both of his feet were firmly set on the forest reserve.
Mutwiri grinned to himself and acknowledged that a diminutive stature had some advantages – though not many. Kneeling on the ground Mutwiri was able to reach through the wires of the fence and retrieve his jerrican, rope, and paper bag of potatoes. He quickly decided to leave his knapsack on the opposite side of the fence as a marker – something to allow him to find his way back to the exact spot where he’d crossed over into the forest reserve. (He hoped that no one would pass by and see the bag and presume it was abandoned and hence carry it away.)
There was movement in the bushes as if an enormous mass was moving through the thickets. A tiny creature resembling a much larger creature emerged from the bushes. It was a baby elephant. But where was its mother? The ruffling in the bushes continued for a while until the enormous mass making that sound revealed itself.
Keeping its distance so as not to scare or alarm the mother elephant, the young bull elephant hid behind some thickets and watched the baby and its mother walk slowly across the grass while browsing on the bushes. Suddenly there were little brown round things shooting from the bushes and rolling on the grass. Each time this little round things rolled on the grass the baby elephant would turn and run in their direction and pick them up with its trunk and put them in its mouth and eat them. Judging by their delicious scent, the bull elephant guessed that the round things were potatoes. But where were the potatoes coming from? And where was the short round-faced human?
Soon the baby elephant had been drawn away from its mother by allowing itself to chase after the sweet rolling potatoes. The short human suddenly materialized from the bushes. He was crouching really low and was carrying a jerrican, a length of rope, and a paper bag of unknown contents. The young bull elephant watched the boy closely as he dipped his hand in the paper bag and flung some potatoes farther away – a deceptive but clever ploy to draw the baby elephant farther away from its mother. Soon the boy was alone with the browsing unaware mother elephant. The boy swiftly discarded the paper bag and unwound the rope he was carrying and sneaked stealthily behind the enormous legs of the jumbo. The elephant seemed to dwarf the boy by a million times.
Now the young bull elephant began to fear for the boy’s life. The bull elephant acknowledged that even he – though big and powerful – wouldn’t dare sneak up on a mother elephant. Yes the boy was brave, but he was also desperate and thus reckless and suicidal. How can I save the boy from being trampled upon by the mother elephant?
More horrifying sights were in store for the young bull elephant. He saw the boy throwing the rope around the mother elephant’s hind legs and tying the legs together tightly at the knees. With a tight knot the boy secured the rope in its place. Now the boy gripped his jerrican and sneaked underneath the mother elephant’s enormous belly. He knelt down and then unscrewed the top of the jerrican and set it directly below the teats. Now the young bull elephant figured out what the boy was doing; the boy was trying to milk a live wild mother elephant! Even the crazy poachers were cautious enough to kill an elephant before attempting to extract anything from its body! The last time the young bull elephant had tried to suckle his mother a solid knee kicked his face so hard that he gave up suckling altogether. (He was aged ten and was expected to have outgrown suckling. Soon thereafter his herd had rejected and ejected him. He now wondered the Kenyan wilderness by himself.)
The boy seemed rather calm in this bizarre undertaking. He reached up and fondled the teats before he began to squeeze them. With each hand gripping one teat the boy settled into a rapid sequence of pulling one teat while relaxing the other. A squirt of yellowish fluid jetted out of the teats right into the open mouth of the jerrican.
The mother elephant must have thought that her baby was suckling because she didn’t move but kept on browsing on the bushes. Soon enough the jerrican filled up with the thick yellowish fluid. Mutwiri swiftly screwed back the top of the jerrican. He then sneaked from underneath the belly of the mother elephant and hid behind its bound hind legs. “Run, little human, run!” thought the young bull elephant in excited alarm. Milking a live wild mother elephant was already an epic accomplishment. But why was the boy stalling behind the jumbo?
“The plan worked perfectly,” thought Mutwiri smugly. “I could do this everyday!” Then a crazy thought crossed his mind: why carry away the five liter jerrican full of milk when he could drink some of it on the spot and then easily refill the jerrican? Mutwiri was pretty sure that his stomach could store at least a liter and a half of milk. Quickly he unscrewed the top of the jerrican and tilted it over his mouth and took a big swig of the nutritious jumbo milk. He swallowed it and stared at the jerrican. The level of the milk in the jerrican hadn’t moved an inch. He needed to drink it up quickly so as to have room for more when he resumed milking the browsing jumbo. Tilting the jerrican over his mouth he took another long swig.
It was at that instance that the mother elephant decided to evacuate its bowel. As expected it raised its tail and expanded the muscle under its tail. The mother elephant crouched ever so slightly and contracted its bowel muscles to allow for the discharge of waste. At least thirty liters of hot solid waste matter spewed noisily from under its tail. The greenish stinky semi-digested waste matter dropped over the boys head and covered his entire body. The jerrican of precious milk fell to the ground and all of the milk spilled to the ground and was sucked up by the dry earth.
Mutwiri suffered serious burns on his skin and was rescued by the game rangers who rushed him to a nearby hospital. Though drinking the jumbo milk didn’t make him grow big, strong and tall Mutwiri at least managed to draw his parent’s attention to his plight. After healing from his burns Mutwiri was transferred to a new school.
In the brouhaha accompanying the rescue of the injured boy the young bull elephant managed to escape from the forest reserve and raid a potato field. The villagers were so enraged by the rampaging jumbo that they shot it down and killed it and slaughtered it and divided the meat amongst themselves. That night the villagers roasted the meat and feasted on it and partied noisily till dawn.