Jakaranda, The Great Elephant Dancer Part 3
Jakaranda returned to the glade the following morning via a different route, which avoided the place where the mice had their burrows. Holding his nose high in the air and waving it from side to side, he followed the scent of his own urine as far as possible down the main path before finally veering off and pushing his way through the scrub.
Suddenly he stopped in amazement. There in the middle of the glade a peacock strutted, its fan-like tail raised and quivering in full iridescent display. Jakaranda held his breath and stared.
The peacock strutted and turned, shaking his tail. “Piaaa-oww!” he cried. “Pia-ow! Kok-kok kok-kok-kok kok-kok. Kah-aaan. Pia-ooow!” He turned again, spotted Jakaranda, and stopped. “Honk!” he yelled. “Honk!” Then he stretched his neck out and peered up at the elephant, cocking his head to one side. “J-Jakaranda?”
The elephant nodded. “Hello.”
“By the Breath of Stars!” exclaimed the peacock. “The Great Elephant Dancer?”
“You are too kind.”
“It is you! Oh, please forgive me!” The peacock lowered his tail and kowtowed.
“No, please; the honour is mine! To have witnessed such a dance! Such beauty! What wonderful colours you have in your tail!”
The peacock raised his head slightly from the ground. “I am flattered, master.”
“Master? Oh no!” Jakaranda reached down to brush the peacock gently with his nose. “Please get up, my dear friend – my kindred spirit!”
The peacock stood up cautiously. “Do you really like my tail?” he asked, unfurling it again.
“Oh, yes!” replied the elephant. “It’s splendid! Tell me, why do you—”
Just then a dhole sprinted into the glade and launched herself at the peacock.
The dhole’s teeth closed around the peacock’s neck and with a savage jerk ripped off his head. Blood squirted from the wound and splashed across Jakaranda’s nose.
“Gah!” he cried, stepping backwards.
“Sorry about the mess,” said the dhole, her jaws still clamped around the peacock’s neck. “Unavoidable.”
“I was talking to him!”
“Yeah, he was distracted. Thanks for that.” She wagged her tail.
“But I…” Jakaranda sighed. “Never mind. I suppose not everyone appreciates beauty.”
The dhole released her grip on the peacock. “Oh, don’t worry. I appreciate beauty, alright. But I appreciate meat even more.” She grinned. “These things are tasty! You should try one.”
Jakaranda shuddered. “Elephants do not eat meat.”
“Suit yourself. What are you doing here, anyway? Funny place for an elephant.”
“I am Jakaranda, the great—”
“I know who you are,” said the dhole. “It doesn’t faze me, though. I’ve met lots of famous people.” She grinned again, showing her teeth. “Eaten some, too.”
“Really?” said Jakaranda, backing away.
“Don’t worry – I’m a fan of yours.” She shrugged. “Plus you’re too big to eat.”
“Oh. Yes, of course.”
“So? What’s an elephant like you doing in a place like this? Do you come here often?”
“Not really, no,” replied Jakaranda. “I discovered this glade yesterday. I thought it might make a good setting for a dance.”
“A dance? Here?”
“It’s different, I’ll grant you. But that’s the point.”
The dhole shook her head. “I don’t get it.”
“I’m trying something new. I want to break the rules, to challenge preconceptions. I am an artist, after all – at least, I dare to think of myself as an artist. It’s my job to push the envelope, if you know what I mean.”
“Push the envelope,” mused the dhole. “What does that mean?”
Jakaranda sighed. “It is hard to explain. But perhaps when you see, you will understand. Will you come to my dance?”
“Sure,” said the dhole. “When is it?”
“At the next full moon. In three days’ time.”
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“Good,” said Jakaranda. “Bring all your friends, too.” He stepped forward and looked at the dead peacock lying on the ground between the dhole’s paws. “A pity,” he muttered. “Such beautiful plumage!”
“Yeah,” said the dhole. “Not much meat though. Too bad you can’t eat feathers.”
“Hmm,” said Jakaranda. “I wonder…” He remembered how easily the dhole had torn off the peacock’s head. “So,” he said, “you want only the meat, is that correct?”
“Not the feathers?”
“Nope. Why? You want them?”
“Yes,” said Jakaranda. “If it’s not too much trouble, that is.”
“No trouble at all.” And with that, the dhole tore off the peacock’s tail.
Jakaranda picked it up and examined it closely. He tilted it this way and that; the severed plumage dripped blood as it caught the light, rippling with colour. “Exquisite,” he breathed.
“I’m glad you’re happy,” said the dhole. “Incidentally, I don’t suppose you know what happened to all the rhubarb?”
Jakaranda tore his eyes from the dead peacock’s shimmering feathers, and looked at the dhole. “Rhubarb?”
“Yeah. Funny-looking bush sort of thing. Red fleshy stalks, big green leaves – tastes great. Been growing round here for as long as anyone can remember.”
“I wouldn’t know,” lied Jakaranda, who had of course eaten the rhubarb. “As I say, I found this place only yesterday. As far as I recall, I saw nothing like that here.”
“Too bad,” said the dhole. “Alright – lovely to meet you, but I’d better go. I’ve got pups to feed.” And with that, she grabbed the carcass in her teeth and trotted off.
Alone at last in the glade, Jakaranda began to practise his steps. He started with a few simple exercises to limber up. Then, slowly, as he worked himself into a kind of trance, the muse took over; his conscious mind got out of the way and his movements became fluid. Jakaranda whirled and pranced around the clearing clutching the peacock’s tail in his long nose, turning it this way and that to catch the dappled light of the forest. Now and then he would pause and retrace his footsteps, muttering briefly before executing a more appropriate manoeuvre. These were the first rough sketches, he knew – they were only ideas at this stage, to be refined over the coming days. It was just the beginning.
He took a break at midday, when the grumbling of his stomach could be ignored no longer, and went to search the nearby forest for food. A fig tree caught his eye, its branches laden with small green fruits. Reaching up with his nose, he tore off a piece to eat and chewed happily. The figs were a little sour, but that made them all the more refreshing; the sharp taste helped bring out the contrasting earthiness of the bark. The combination was delicious. He tore off another branch.
As he did so, a voice shouted from above. “Oi, you! Jakaranda! Stop that!”
Jakaranda looked up through the leaves and spotted a monkey. “Oh,” he said. “Hello again. How are you?”
The monkey descended a little, then hooked his tail over a branch and dangled upside down so his eyes were level with the elephant’s. “Fine, thanks,” he said. “You?”
“Oh, I’m splendid, my friend! Splendid!” said Jakaranda, stuffing the branch into his mouth.
“Well, if you want to stay that way, you’d better stop eating those figs.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t eat the figs,” said the monkey. “That’s what.”
“But why ever not?”
“Well, first of all, because they’re not for you – they’re for us monkeys. And second, cos they’re not good to eat yet.”
“There’s plenty for everyone,” said Jakaranda. “And they taste fine to me.”
“We monkeys rely on those figs. Later in the year when they’re ripe the whole troop’ll come here and gorge for a month. We need to put on weight for when it gets cold. Winter’s always tough for us monkeys.”
“But you’re not eating them now, are you? Don’t worry, little friend – the tree will make more. You’ll have your fill.”
“But you’re killing the tree!”
Jakaranda laughed. “No, no! Trees are very tough, you know. They can survive a little nibble here and there.” He pulled off another branch.
“Stop it!” cried the monkey. “I tell you, we need those figs! Can’t you eat something else? There’s rhubarb over there.” He pointed.
Jakaranda looked. “I’m afraid not. How was the mango, by the way?”
“Mango? What’s that got to do with it? Look, I’m warning you— if you keep eating those figs, you’ll regret it.”
“What?” exclaimed Jakaranda. “How dare you threaten me?”
“Why, just the other day I gave you my best mango, out of the goodness of my heart. I felt sorry for you, though you almost killed me with a coconut! Oh, but you turned on the waterworks, didn’t you? And got a fine piece of fruit for your troubles.”
“Huh?” said the monkey. “What’s this fixation of yours with mangoes?”
“Aargh!!” shouted Jakaranda. “Ungrateful wretch! Get out of here!” He stabbed at the monkey with his long fangs, but the creature was too fast for him – he dodged easily, and scampered up the tree.
From high above, the monkey looked down at the elephant. “Have you gone mad?” he yelled. “Attacking people for no reason? Waffling on about coconuts and mangoes? Dancing about in the forest with half a dead peacock stuck in your nose? Oh, Jakaranda! What has happened to you?”
“Who cares what you think?” shouted Jakaranda. “You’re just a little brown monkey!”
“Yeah. And I’m warning you – stop eating those figs!”
“Go away.” Jakaranda tore off another branch. “And don’t expect any more favours. I’m eating these figs whether you like it or not.”
“But they’re not ripe. They’ll give you—”
“I’m not listening,” said Jakaranda. “Save your breath.”
“Incredible,” said the monkey, shaking his head. “Do you know, I used to think you were cool. Can you believe that? Only yesterday, I was saying—”
Jakaranda closed his eyes. “I’m not listening!” he bellowed. The forest floor shook; flocks of birds rose squawking from the trees and fluttered about in panic. “I’m not listening! The little brown monkey can talk all she wants! But! The! Elephant! Is! Not! Listening!” When he’d finished shouting, he opened his eyes and peered up through the foliage.
The monkey had gone. At last, Jakaranda could eat his meal in peace.
When he was finally sated, Jakaranda returned to the clearing, but when he got there he found it overrun with small furry creatures that looked like oversized mice. Were these the King’s most fearsome warriors, sent here to intimidate him? Well, Jakaranda was not so easily frightened! Mice were small; he could crush them with his feet, if it came to it. There was nothing to be scared of. Still – who knew what those sneaky creatures were capable of? He approached hesitantly.
One of the lookouts spotted him coming and sounded the alarm.
“Hey! It’s Jakaranda!”
They all turned to look. Several gasped. “The Great Elephant Dancer,” they whispered. “It’s him!”
“Alright,” said Jakaranda. “What’s going on here?”
There was no response; they just stared at him. One of them twitched its nose. Another raised a hind leg to scratch at an ear. Jakaranda frowned. What strange long ears they had!
At last one stepped forward. “It is a great honour to meet you, sir.”
“Never mind all that,” retorted the elephant. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
“At the summer solstice, we hares must choose a new leader.”
“Hares,” said Jakaranda, under his breath. “Whatever next?”
Jakaranda belched, then spoke more loudly. “I said, why do you need a new leader?”
“It is our tradition,” replied the hare. “My reign as Tyrant is drawing to a close. It is my duty to ensure a smooth transition of power.”
“Fascinating,” remarked the elephant. “For how long have you reigned?”
“I have wielded power since the spring equinox, when I was chosen by my people.” The Tyrant shrugged. “History will be my judge.”
“After just three months, you are resigning the throne?”
“Naturally! That is the custom.”
“Perhaps,” said the hare. “But it works for us. How do elephants choose their leader?”
“We have no leader. We have no need of one.”
“But then who decides on matters that affect the whole group?”
“Why – we talk things over rationally, of course!”
The hare considered this. “That works better, does it?”
“Oh, undoubtedly!” exclaimed Jakaranda. “How could it ever fail?”
“Hmm.” The Tyrant appeared dubious. “Well, you elephants can do what you like. We hares have our own traditions. And right now, if you don’t mind, we must be silent. The candidates are about to give their speeches. They must drum up support in advance of the vote.”
“Speeches?” cried Jakaranda. “For goodness sake! Don’t you know I must prepare for my next dance?”
“A dance?” replied the Tyrant, her eyes lighting up. “How wonderful!”
“Well, I hope so. But it is far from certain. I am trying something new, you see. I am taking risks. I fear I may be misunderstood, even demonised, for challenging cultural norms.” Jakaranda sighed. “But alas, I am an artist. I have no other choice.”
The hare looked suitably impressed. “Incredible!” she exclaimed. “Unmissable! When is this great spectacle to take place?”
“At the next full moon.”
“On the night of the solstice?” The Tyrant was crestfallen. “Then I am afraid the hares will miss it. We must all gather here that night, to choose a new leader.”
Jakaranda smiled. “Here? But this is just where I will perform my dance! In this beautiful glade I discovered only yesterday, hidden deep in the forest.”
“Wait,” said the hare. “You’re going to dance here? On the night of the solstice?”
“That’s right. So you see, time is truly of the essence! These speeches of yours – how long are they going to take?”
“An hour or two at the most. But—”
“Then make your speeches now,” said Jakaranda. “I have just eaten, and could do with a little sleep to aid my digestion. I will return later, when the day has cooled.”
“But Jakaranda, the solstice is—”
“I know! I have just three days to prepare. Don’t worry, my friend. I work best under pressure.”
The elephant chuckled. “I’ll be fine. I am a professional, you know.”
Jakaranda left the glade and walked a short distance into the forest where he found a suitably shady tree and lay down for a nap. He dreamed of a future where elephants were known only as beasts of myth and legend, a fantastic creation of human storytellers entranced by romantic notions of their ancestral home: the garden planet Earth. It was not quite a nightmare. And it did not feel like a dream.
Becoming aware of a soft, regular tapping at the sensitive tip of his nose, Jakaranda awoke; the tapping had been going on for some time, he realised. Twitching his nose away in irritation, he opened his eyes and looked around blearily.
A short distance away, about where his nose had been lying a moment earlier, was a leopard. “Ah, good, you’re awake,” she said, coming closer.
“What do you want?”
“Nothing much.” The leopard sat on her haunches and looked him in the eye. “Just a chat.”
Jakaranda sat up, blinking the sleep away. “About what?”
“I thought you’d like to know the hares have left the glade. All but one – their shaman.”
“Shaman? Hmmph – what rubbish.”
“Perhaps.” The leopard stared at him for several seconds, then yawned, displaying sharp teeth. “I heard you talking to the Monkey King earlier.”
“King? I thought it was a female!”
“What?!” exclaimed the leopard. “Are you blind?”
Jakaranda ignored this. “That was the Monkey King? I had no idea. Where’s his crown?”
“He likes to go incognito sometimes. Get away from all the bowing and scraping. People don’t show their true character in front of a king, he says. They just give him bullshit. He can’t stand it. So he goes about as just another monkey half the time. Reckons that way he’ll learn the truth.” The leopard chuckled. “If only he could! Poor thing. If he knew how much bullshit there is in the world – king or commoner – it’d break his little heart! Stupid, really – but I find it quite sweet.”
“He told you all this?”
“Of course not! I heard him talking to the Queen.” The leopard lashed her tail. “Whispering, actually.”
“You overheard him whispering?”
“I was very close. And my hearing is excellent,” explained the leopard. “I’ve been stalking him for years. That time I very nearly got him. I was perfectly hidden among the leaves. I was almost ready to pounce – just one more step, and I would launch my attack! Slowly, slowly, I eased myself forward. I shifted my weight – and cracked a twig! The Queen saw me first; she reacted instantly with a scream. Then – fwooop! They were gone.” The leopard shrugged. “That’s monkeys for you. Tricky prey, but worthwhile. They have big brains.”
Jakaranda frowned. “What’s your point?”
“Monkeys are clever,” replied the leopard. “And the King is the cleverest of them all. You should have listened to him.”
“He didn’t seem clever to me. He was very rude, in fact.”
“Monkeys are known for that.” The leopard blinked. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just their way.”
“He warned you not to rip branches off the trees. Didn’t he?” The leopard flicked her ears. “That’s good advice. That sort of thing can be dangerous. Especially around here.”
“You don’t want to know. Let’s just say there’s things up there in those trees that could do you some serious harm.” She held his gaze for what seemed an eternity. “Dead things. It’s better you don’t disturb them.”
“Superstition!” laughed Jakaranda. “Pure nonsense!”
“Not at all.” The leopard sniffed the air. “Monkeys are wise. You should listen to them.”
“Pah! Go away now, please. You’re starting to annoy me.”
“Alright. I’ve said my piece.” The leopard got up and began to stretch. “I was about to go anyway.”
“Yes, and good riddance!” snapped the elephant. “Stupid cat.”
“He warned you not to eat the figs, too, didn’t he?” said the leopard, slinking off into the forest. “Remember that.”
“Who cares?” yelled Jakaranda. “Not me! I don’t give a shit!”
As the leopard disappeared among the undergrowth, she began to laugh.
Jakaranda stood up and returned to the glade to continue practising. What the leopard had said was true; the hares had left, all but one who was sitting motionless on a rock, staring at the sky. Following his gaze, Jakaranda found himself looking at the moon, which was already visible – faintly – against a backdrop of blue. It was beautiful, and the elephant found himself staring, too, as though hypnotised by it. After a minute he shook himself from the trance and returned his attention to the hare, still motionless on the rock, gazing up at the moon. This, he assumed, was the shaman.
“Excuse me!” called Jakaranda. “Hello?”
The shaman ignored him. He didn’t move a muscle.
“You there! Shaman! Is this some kind of ritual? Staring at the moon? How long will it take?”
But the shaman remained silent.
Jakaranda walked a little closer. “Hello? Can you hear me?”
The Tyrant of Hares ran forward at great speed, coming to a halt in front of the elephant so suddenly that she actually left skid marks.
“Jakaranda, please!” she exclaimed. “The ritual has begun! You must not disturb the shaman! It would bring great misfortune!”
“What are you on about?” huffed Jakaranda.
“The shaman has entered a deep trance. He is entangled with the forces that govern the very universe! He has entered a space beyond space and outside of time; a realm of shadows and pure mathematics, where the past and future flow together and become one. It is a precarious situation for us all. If the shaman is disturbed, he may lose his grip on the great wavefunction that shapes the present! The resulting divergence from known constants of reality could be catastrophic. Why – the entire universe could pop out of existence in the blink of an eye!”
“What gobbledegook!” cried Jakaranda, roaring with laughter. “Known constants of reality! What are those, may I ask?”
“I do not know,” said the Tyrant. “Only the shaman does. It is he who told me these things, though he knew I would not understand. Such things cannot be understood by ordinary hares, but only by a shaman.”
“Myths and folk tales,” sniffed Jakaranda. “Irrational nonsense! Magical thinking!”
“It is our way,” replied the hare.
“Ridiculous! How much longer must this charade continue?”
“The ritual will continue until the solstice.”
“What? You mean he’s going to stay there for three days? Staring at the moon?”
“Before the hares can choose a new leader, the shaman must speak to us of his visions.”
“Oh, for goodness sake!” shouted Jakaranda. “Visions? What about my dance? How can I practise with him sitting there all tripped out on the moon? Tell him to get out of the way!”
“Impossible. You’ll just have to dance around him.”
Jakaranda was astonished. He looked around the glade with fresh eyes. “Hmm. I suppose I could. But won’t that disturb him?”
“I told you – he’s deep in trance, entwined with the fabric of the cosmos. He’ll be fine as long as you don’t talk to him. And don’t touch him! You mustn’t wake him up.” The Tyrant shuddered. “That would be bad.”
“Very well,” sighed the elephant. “I will be careful. Now – may I dance?”
“Go ahead,” replied the Tyrant of Hares. “I’ll just stay here and watch out for trouble.”
Jakaranda picked up the peacock’s tail and began to dance around the glade. His movements were more certain now; he was more familiar with the terrain, and his creative ideas had begun to take shape. He moved lightly on his feet, stepping and turning, leaping in the air and landing with effortless grace and rhythm. He even threw in a pirouette.
At first he kept his distance from the shaman, but as he grew in confidence he allowed himself to pass more closely, and even to include him in the performance, making use of him as a kind of prop.
The shaman remained perfectly still, staring at the moon; not once did he so much as twitch a whisker! Jakaranda whirled and spun and galloped around the glade, losing himself in his art. Then suddenly his stomach gurgled and began to cramp, and all at once Jakaranda felt the urge to break wind. He paused in his dance a short distance from the shaman, who remained motionless. Looking at him, Jakaranda had an idea too good to resist. After all, he thought, the shaman was in a deep trance. He wouldn’t even notice! Giggling uncontrollably, he turned his hindquarters to face the shaman and farted. It was a mistake.
The elephant’s bottom ejected a small quantity of gas, followed immediately by a jet of hot liquid shit; it struck the shaman directly in the face and spattered all around, coating him from head to toe. Jakaranda was mortified. He turned round to look.
“Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to—” His stomach cramped again, and this time his arsehole opened of its own accord and spat out another gout of stinking fluid. “Aargh!” cried Jakaranda. “What’s happening to me?” He staggered about in pain. “Owww!” he cried, yet more poo spraying across the clearing in a great arc. “Aargh! It hurts!”
The Tyrant came running. “What are you doing?” she screamed. “Why did you shit on the shaman?”
“It was an accident!”
“I saw you!” shrieked the Tyrant. “You aimed it at him! On purpose! Are you mad?”
“I thought it was just a fart! It was supposed to be a joke!” Jakaranda farted again. His anus bubbled with thin brown mucus.
“Farting in people’s faces? You think that’s funny, do you?”
“I’m sorry!” wept the elephant. Another cramp took him. “Oooww!” Another violent squirt.
“Stop shitting everywhere!”
“You’d better!” yelled the Tyrant. “You’ll wake the—” She stopped suddenly and turned to look at the shaman.
He was completely covered in shit. And this was no ordinary shit, the Tyrant realised; it stank like nothing she’d ever smelled before. It was truly an appalling odour. And yet the shaman had not stirred. He sat on the rock unmoved, staring up at the moon, deep in trance.
“Amazing!” breathed the Tyrant. “Such concentration! What a powerful shaman he must be! There will be songs sung of this day; it will be remembered for generations.” She turned to Jakaranda. “I think you’d better go.”
“Yes!” agreed Jakaranda. “I think so, too. But please, let me first say— oooohhww here we go again…” He farted loudly, misting the air with brownish flecks. “Pardon me, please. I’m not well…”
Jakaranda moved away slowly, still farting and spraying shit with each step and beset by agonising cramps. Eventually he found his way back to his favourite cherry tree, collapsed in a heap beside his ever-growing mound of fruit, and slept.