Some backstory is needed. The Drill Sergeant was the gorgeous yet aloof and impatient young ranger who was assigned to be my boss. He didn't have much patience for people in general but he really had a bee in his bonnet for city women - he thought they were best left in the city and out of his hair! Kittibon is the resident female ellie whom every single morning would greet me with a) a serving of ellie dung thrown in the face b) a trunk slap across the head c) a branch whipped in my general direction d) a trunk full of water sprayed over my head or e) all of the above. And Harrison is our rickety old work truck. Needless to say after several days of this coupled with physical exhaustion and the Drill Sergeant on my butt, I decided to take matters into my own hands...
Revenge of an Elephant
The Drill Sergeant says elephants never forget. I don’t believe him. I think this local folklore is just as fictional as those “important calls” he needs to take when he leaves me alone to clean out the elephant stables.
Kittibon continues to mock me every morning by slapping me in the face with trunks full of sawdust. I thought I outsmarted her by wearing a bandana for protection—but she was smarter when the sawdust was replaced by branches whipped at my head. I couldn’t let an elephant outsmart me, so I upped my ante as well. I’ve been leaving a layer of dung-encrusted shavings in her feeding tray, just below the surface to remind her who’s got the real upper hand. Two can play her game, but only one can master it, and master I have become. I may not be able to do a lot of the jobs around here, but I can outmaneuver an elephant. I am convinced I’ve won the battle with Kittibon and proven a point to her: No four-ton prehistoric grouch is going to intimidate me.
Today the Drill Sergeant says we will be doing ground maintenance in the elephant camp. I had never considered that we would have to work among the elephants when I had tainted Kittibon’s feeding tray.
“I daresay we must exercise extreme caution today. The ellies are territorial and hate it when anyone’s in their camp,” the Drill Sergeant says. “And remember, I did warn you that elephants never forget when you continued to harass Kitty.”
It’s as if he read my mind that I was suddenly regretting leaving the dung in Kitty's tray and perhaps I could be intimidated by a four-ton prehistoric grouch after all. What's the worst that can happen? She charges the truck and we drive away. Right?
We climb inside our truck, Harrison, and with the familiar huuuuuccccckk, he takes us into the elephant camp. I search the horizon. No sign of the elephants. They’re probably on the other side of the camp taking a mud bath to stay warm in the chilly morning.
Our orders are to remove all the old telephone poles from the camp. They’re heavy and awkward to carry, even as a team, so I can see this is going to be a painful and boring morning.
It is not until we are in the midst of dragging the fourth pole when, despite my pulling with all my strength, it’s not moving because the Drill Sergeant has stopped dead in his tracks. I look up and see what he sees, a thundering cloud of wrinkly grey skin coming towards us like a twister. I am paralyzed by shock and disbelief. Kittibon and Selati are running with trunks raised like rifles pointed at us, the targets of their charge. We drop the pole onto the ground below us, which has now started to tremble under the weight of the elephant offensive.
I know fear is radiating in my eyes when I shout at the Drill Sergeant. “What do we do?”
His command is simple. “Hide beside the truck!”
The ellies arrive and stop just short of Harrison. Their size makes him look like a toy truck. Kittibon stretches her trunk over Harrison and inhales deeply just above my head. I don’t move. I don’t even breathe.
She pulls back her trunk just as she gives her head a violent shake, ears flapping and slapping the sides of her head. For the record, there are three warning signs elephants give before attacking: 1) head shake, 2) lots of noise, and 3) mock charge.
She’s just given the first warning sign. We’re playing with fire that in any moment will erupt into a blazing firestorm if we don't get out of here. I look to the Drill Sergeant for an escape plan, but he thinks he can scare them away.
“Get out of here!” he screams as he leans across the hood of Harrison.
The ellies retort with long trumpet blasts and move towards the front of the truck; warning sign number two has occurred. The Drill Sergeant picks up a stick and throws it at Selati. It hits him in the ear with a loud thump and falls to the ground beside him.
No one moves. Maybe this scare tactic worked.
Selati lowers his head. It worked; he’s hanging his head in defeat—or is he? The finger-like protrusions of his trunk are delicately moving across the ground, like the fingers of a piano player. It moves over several branches and rocks but he doesn’t pick any of them up. I don’t recognize this sign of elephant etiquette. He pauses at the very stick the Drill Sergeant just threw at him. He curls the end of his trunk around the stick and raises it high above his head.
“Look out!” the Drill Sergeant shouts. “Elephants never miss!”
We sprint to the back of the truck, ducking down and using our arms as cover. Selati throws the stick, barely missing the Drill Sergeant’s head.
The Drill Sergeant grabs a handful of stones as we both jump up into the bed of the truck. He gives me some, and together we barrage them with stones, like hand grenades from a trench, trying to hold our position while keeping the enemy at bay, rat, tat, tat, tat, tat. Each stone we throw gets thrown right back at us with twice the force; all hopes of triumph are quickly slipping away.
“We have to get out of here. It’s a bloody mutiny!” I scream.
“Get in the truck!” he orders, his voice slightly shaken for the first time.
He covers me with a steady storm of rock-fire, while I sprint to the cab and dive in, narrowly escaping stray pebble fire. Kittibon has seen me. She quickly springs to my side of the truck, surprising even me with her agility. Her trunk comes towards my window, which is stuck in the open position of course. Just as her trunk enters I slide over to the driver’s side, only inches out of her reach. She inhales deeply; it is the familiar sound of a vacuum cleaner that’s usually followed by a tantrum. She withdraws her trunk from the window, moves to the front of the cab, and stops. She turns her head, revealing a glaring eye. It’s a standoff, the moment when two enemies come eye to eye just before they try to kill each other.
Selati is at the back of the truck snatching the poles out that we just spent an hour getting in there. The Drill Sergeant tries to hold them in but he’s no challenge for Selati.
I look back at Kittibon just as she hurls a large rock at me. It hits the windshield right in front of me cracking the glass. She's broken Harrison’s face.
She moves to the driver’s window and again encroaches with her long trunk, like the enemy feeling around a bomb shelter in the dark. I slide as far over to the passenger side as I can, but her trunk is nearly on my throat now. It’s as though she’s inhaling my fear, relishing the scent of panic. Fight the fear; don’t let her sense your fear. Stand up and fight, you coward!
She is a terrorist, torturing me with all the possibilities of how she could kill me right now. With an abrupt push I open my door and fall out into the wet straw, immediately pulling myself up into the back of the truck.
“Get back in the truck and floor it while I fend them off!” the Drill Sergeant says with an angry bellow. I haven’t heard this tone from him since the crocodile incident on day one. I thought that tone was behind us.
The Drill Sergeant launches rock grenades at the elephants as I seize the opportunity and jump into the cab again. Through the side mirror, I catch a glimpse of Kittibon’s trunk moving in again. I turn the key while jamming it into first, and the ever-faithful Harrison charges forward.
“Go, go, go!” screams the Drill Sergeant from the back of the truck. I push in the clutch, shift into second, and throttle the gas. I dare not look back. I’m looking forward, trying to find some semblance of a road, swerving around potholes the size of craters.
There are loud smashing noises coming from the back of the truck, and I catch a glimpse of a telephone pole bouncing out of the bed, that one shortly followed by another one. I search the mirrors for the Drill Sergeant and see that, miraculously; he has managed to stay on board. The ellies are charging after the truck, warning sign number three. As the poles are being catapulted from the back, they stop to inspect the toys they thought we were trying to steal from them, allowing us time to escape.
By the time we reach the gate, there are no poles left in the back of the truck, just an angry Drill Sergeant. I stop the truck once we are safely through the other side. The Drill Sergeant jumps out and motions me to get out of the driver’s seat. I do not speak or look at his eyes. The familiar veins in his forehead are bulging, and his face is dark purple.
Through clenched teeth he utters, “I told you, elephants never forget.”
With that, we call it a morning.