Had it not been for the torrential rains, the events of that night and beyond might have turned out very differently. But because the visibility was barely fifty meters, and because the wipers of his Mercedes were too taxed to clear the windshield properly, Dr. Ovidio Salazar was traveling only forty mph on a highway designated for seventy-five.
A giant shape suddenly appeared in Salazar’s headlights and he swerved instinctively, which sent his car into a tailspin, which he corrected—wrongly—by braking and turning away from the spin, which magnified the result into a sliding, full-on 360. When the car finally came to rest—without slamming into the median barrier or the creature, thankfully—Salazar looked out to see what the hell the beast had been.
And there, standing not twenty feet from his windshield, was the biggest elephant he had ever seen. It was staring in at him through the wipers with what Salazar would later tell his family was concern, he was sure of it. Their eyes locked for a good five seconds, and then the elephant turned and stepped over the median barrier, quickly disappearing under the curtain of rain. Had there been any other traffic, the elephant would have created more havoc, or even been struck, but as it was well before dawn, only people like the doctor, who had to be in a surgical O.R. in Lusaka in an hour, were on the road.
What was an elephant doing on a highway in the first place? Salazar asked himself as he pulled to the side of the highway to let his heart slow enough to drive again. There weren’t any national parks for hundreds of miles, there was no “trail” leading through the suburban developments and townships that spanned north from Lusaka, so this creature was either a runaway from a zoo—highly unlikely, since Salazar didn’t know of any—or he was an escapee from a national park and had somehow traversed the outskirts of civilization for hundreds of miles without being noticed.
I know that I am coming to the end of my days. The pain in my body slows me, the hunger for a good meal taunts me, and my eyes grow cloudier and dimmer by the day. I’ve seen this before many times, and I know what the end will bring. So my journey back to the place where I was born, to the ones who cared for me, if they are still there, is all that is left for me. The distance and the exact direction are unknown to me, but I have no doubt that my senses will tell me where to go. I just hope to get there in time.
I remember every sight, every sound, every smell from the moment of my birth to the moment we are in now. I have no dates to mark the time by, and no knowledge of the two- leggers’ boundaries, but I know I’ve been far from my home, taken to distant lands and climates, across endless waters to towering nests filled with noise and unbearably bright lights where countless of them hurtle about in their false beasts.
My world is out under the open sky, where the stars are so close you can see them moving across the night. Where the only thing you hear is the thrum of insects, the roar of predators carried on the breeze, or the screeching of the tree dwellers—and the dread silence of those who have to sleep on the ground.
It is under that sky that I hope to end my journey, among the two-legged friends who raised me, and the friends from my long ago adopted herd, the wonderful aunts and cousins who took me in as if they were all my mothers.
Trevor Blackmon, the 53-year old assistant game warden for Zambia’s national parks, hung up the phone and scowled. This was going to be a headache. If the sighting was bona fide—and the witness was a surgeon, so he was probably reliable—how had such a large animal been able to avoid detection in a fairly populated area for the several days it would have taken it to travel from the nearest national park?
Now Blackmon was going to have to locate the elephant, probably from the air, and dispatch it before it caused any major problems—like trampling some innocent family in their back yard—and before the beast came to the attention of the animal activists. They would demand that it be tranquilized and transported back to a park, which, with a fifteen-thousand pound bull—and this surely had to be a bull, females rarely traveled alone—would be the biggest headache of all. It would be far easier and more convenient to wait until it was in a tribal area, far from prying eyes, dispatch it and let nature take its course with the corpse. There were 25,000 elephants in Zambia, after all, one less bull wasn’t going to be a concern.
First, Blackmon would check the satellite tracking office for any GPS devices that might be transmitting, and if he was lucky and the bull had been fitted with a collar, or had had a chip implanted, it would make locating him a snap. Blackmon knew this was a long shot, since no alarms had gone off yet, but that might be explained by the budget cuts that had gutted the staff whose duties included monitoring the devices. But it was worth a shot, so he picked up the phone again and stared out at the downpour as he waited for the call to go through.
—Zambia, Present Day (The Long Rains of 2015)