The Range Rover bounced through the trees like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, then, mercifully, stopped. Our guide shut off the engine. I could hear the ticking of hot stressed metal. My body was just as stressed. I may have developed a tick.
I could see him, hiding, a giant bull elephant, trying, it seemed to me, to be inconspicuous.
I began taking photographs. Through the lens, the elephant looked annoyed. With crunching footsteps, he lumbered out of the trees into the open, staring at us. We stared back at him. He came closer. Closer. CLOSER. I reached for a wider lens.
Hold very still, our guide whispered. He reached for his rifle.
The giant elephant stopped, three feet away. I could hear him panting. Snorting. I could SMELL him. VERY BAD BREATH.
From my open seat in the Range Rover, he was massive. His tusks were stained red near the sharpened points. He looked down at me with huge, tired eyes.
What are you doing here?
I came to see you.
He sniffed, his snake-like trunk sampling the air around me. His giant eyes blinked. I could see myself reflected in their rich, deep brown. He looked…sad, maybe. Resignedly tolerant, perhaps. Proud, certainly.
He moved on.
I realized that the pounding I could hear was my heart, not his footsteps.
Our guide put down his gun and started the Range Rover. The roar of the engine shattered the quiet surrounding us and we moved on.