He feels no guilt when he whips us,
He rejoices when we are tanned,
Strange but true,
Man is a sadist.
The last time I saw mother was probably when I was a few months old. I remember her only vaguely now – only that she smelt like home, the wilderness of the jungle. I remembered how we would lie on a familiar grass patch in our home, looking skywards as she covered me with her trunk to keep me warm. Life now was very different. I recall being torn from her as she fought back. Would she have lived if she had not fought so hard to save me? I try not to think about that now.
I sat on my stool as I did every day. All of us sat on our stools in a circle. We just sat there. Blinding white lights were trained on us. Men, women and children watched us, saying and doing nothing to help. They are just eager for the show to start, to be entertained by us perching on stools and large rubber balls. It happened every day at the same time. Sometimes there was a moment of respite but not for long.
All of us quietly observed the Man as he paced to and fro. The Man was middle-aged of average height and bears a muscular physique. He was in his usual eccentric get-up: a jet black tuxedo with red highlights. Red arm straps were wrapped around his biceps. In addition, the right side of his shirt was embellished with fiery designs – which matched the equally fiery look in his eyes. As the stage lights gathered to shine at the Man, they dimmed everything in the room except his face and his soulless, merciless eyes.
The Man tapped on young Corey’s stool with his bull-hook. Corey flinched. He looked at his sister Connie, who nodded and he got off his stool. All of us waited for what the Man would instruct next. “Come,” he commanded. We watched helplessly as Corey bent and prostrated before the Man, shedding every bit of self respect he ever had. Everyone in the audience cheered and clapped loudly. It was maddening.
Next was old Kandula. Kandula was the oldest among us and he was named after a legendary war elephant given to a Sri Lankan prince. When we were back in our trailers, he loved to tell us bedtime stories about how the original Kandula and the prince grew up together. It eased us into slumber after the tiresome performances and rehearsals we had to go through almost every day. The legendary Kandula and the Sri Lankan prince, Dutugamumu, had been close companions throughout their lives. Found as an orphaned elephant – like us – and raised as a weapon to fight in war. Kandula served as Dutugamunu’s mount during the wars that led to the unification of Sri Lanka. The glorious victory of the prince and Kandula made history, as their names are remembered for millenniums. Hence our Kandula got his name because it means self-assertiveness and confidence. Kandula was like a father to the us. He was our knight in shining armour, our diamond that shone the brightest against the dark blue sky.
When I first started training at the circus, the first trick I learnt was balancing on a giant wooden chair with my hind legs. It was not in my nature. The chair wobbled violently as I lost my balance. Whenever my legs touched the ground, the Man would reward me with a whip. I could cry later that night, and Kandula would come up to me.
“There was an orphan I know,” Kandula once told me. “His name is Oliver Twist. He suffered a lot of hardships and unfortunate events throughout his life, but would not hesitate to fight whoever who insulted his mother. He is a defiant little rebel, and refuses to give in to his enemies. You can be like him too.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You should learn to be strong-willed and independent, just like Oliver. I won’t always be here with you, one day you have to manage on your own.” Kandula replied.
The Man tapped on Kandula’s stool and he slowly stepped down. “Sit!” he ordered and Kandula sat. “Kneel!” he demanded and Kandula kneeled. “Stand!” he instructed. This time, Kandula just looked at him, refusing to move. “All he does is sleep and eat all day!” the Man joked, garnering a few appreciative laughs. But we could see that he was incensed. We had trained with him long enough, and been whipped and deprived of food long enough to know when he was furious.
The Man repeated himself and still, Kandula ignored the command. The Man turned towards Kandula, his glasses magnified his irritable glare. With wild fury in his eyes, he reached for the whip resting on his belt and cracked it against my old friend. Connie looked away while Corey froze on the spot, as he took in every second of Kandula’s torture. I gritted my teeth. That was no way to treat him. He had never shown any disrespect or retaliation towards the Man or any other of his kind. Then why? All of us watched him slice the whip across the gentle back of Kandula who just sat there, his eyes dead with experience.
The more the Man whipped, the deeper the cuts were and Kandula’s thick skin started to crack. The audience watched, waiting for something to happen, their eyes were filled with anticipation of what had yet to come. Did they think beating an animal was exciting? Were they genuinely dazzled by our suffering?
Enough was enough. I could not take it any longer. I stepped off my stool and my trunk extended to lightly hold onto the whip before the Man had a chance to strike again.
He looked at me, shocked. I snatched the whip away from him and threw it on the ground. Amazingly, the audience broke out into thunderous applause. They must have thought it was part of the performance! The Man bowed with dramatic aplomb but he whispered to me,”I will break your head, I will saw off your tusks if you DARE to defy me again.” Afterwards, he waved his hands, signaling to his co-workers that the performance was over.
I raised my trunk and roared as a final act of defiance, before the performers quickly led me out of the ring. Corey and Connie were led out soon after. They stared at me in disbelief. I knew the Man would keep his word, but he did not understand that we weren’t trying to be difficult. It was not in our nature to be tamed. All we needed was some self-respect and a bit of love and care. Was that too much to ask?
Back at my trailer, I struggled with my thought on what is yet to come for the next performance. It has been 3 hours after the performance, and neither the Man nor his co-workers had came to me. Will the Man whip us for what I did earlier? What will he do to us during tomorrow’s performance? What happened to Kandula? Questions flooded through my mind as I looked out of the tiny window inside my stable. From a distance, a silhouette of a familiar elephant came to view. I looked closer – it was Kandula. Surrounding him were grown men dressed in uniforms and the Man.
The group of people walked along the trailers of where Connie, Corey and I were kept. Kandula was secured with leg shackles as she went along with them. As the group walked past me, I could hear bits of their conversation.
“Kandula would be taken care of, no need to worry, Mr. Jabah.” one of the men in uniform spoke.
“I hope you do,” The Man –Mr. Jabah– replied. “this elephant is useless now. It barely listened to my commands during my show, and it got one of my other elephants to embarrass me in front of my audience. Good luck getting its rotting brain to listen to you.”
That was when I knew Kandula is no longer going to be with us. It was a brutal news to hear, devastation filled within me as I stared blankly at them as they walked off.
I fought myself to go to sleep, as the memories of the performance flashes repeatedly in my mind.