Jakaranda, The Great Elephant Dancer Part 6
As the water kept rising, the elephants sank ever deeper into the foul sludge, lifting their noses high to prevent it clogging their nostrils. Almost all the adults were stuck now, plus one or two juveniles, who were in real danger – including Mudilla. He was only small, and the muck was already up to his shoulders. Portia was beside herself. “Help!” she cried. “Who will save my child?”
Several of the nearby bulls tried heroically to break free, but only succeeded in churning up the mud further, and sinking deeper in. They cried out in frustration, but it was no use. Try as they might, they could get no closer. Mudilla was doomed.
So, it seemed, was Jakaranda. The water was almost over his head now, and soon only the pinkish tip of his nose would be visible above it. Bilimbi could only hope that some unconscious process had kicked in to cause Jakaranda to breathe only through his nose. His mouth was completely submerged, and Bilimbi was plagued by visions of the Great Dancer choking to death on his own shit. Though he was not superstitious, he hurriedly pushed them away.
Just then the leopard emerged once more from the forest. She was carrying something on her back; Bilimbi squinted to make out what it was. As the leopard moved closer, he realised – it was the King of Mice!
“Pah!” said Bilimbi. “She has brought him here to gloat – him and his entourage! Oh, what an evil cat! I should have known. She is laughing at us!”
But the leopard was not laughing, and the King of Mice had not come to gloat.
“I’m here to help,” he said, from his perch on the leopard’s back. “But you gotta pay a price.”
Sapturpani, whose hearing was very sharp, called over from a distance: “Help? What nonsense! You are so small. What use could you be in a situation like this?”
“Have you forgotten about Bhallatak, who we rescued from a pit of quicksand?” retorted the King.
“But that’s just a story!”
“It’s a historical fact.”
“But how can a mouse pull an elephant from the mud, when even a leopard cannot?”
The leopard chuckled. “I never said I couldn’t.”
“Then why won’t you pull us out?” cried Bilimbi.
“Because I’d have to do it in bits.”
“Oh.” Bilimbi shuddered. “But how can a mouse do any better?”
The leopard shrugged. “Ingenuity, I suppose.”
“You’d be surprised.”
“That’s ridiculous!” huffed Sapturpani. “Everyone knows that mice are stupid.”
“Oh, really?” said the King of Mice. “Don’t you wanna be rescued?”
“By a mouse?”
The leopard broke in: “That’s enough!” she snarled. “I brought the King here in good faith. He says he can help, and I believe him. The story of King Bhallatak and the Mice is well-known among leopards. That’s one of the reasons we do not hunt the mice. Not only is it more trouble than it’s worth, but we have come to respect them, and even to enjoy their company. Leopards are mainly solitary animals, but we get on with most mice very well.” The leopard lashed her tail. “The King’s a personal friend of mine. Don’t insult him again.”
“Alright, alright,” muttered Sapturpani. “I’m very sorry. But I still don’t see how a mouse can possibly help me get out of this mud.”
“Not you,” replied the King. “I’m here to help Jakaranda.”
“Jakaranda?” cried Portia, who like the others had been listening in. “But what about the children? They’re not to blame! You must save the children!”
The herd took up the cry: “The children! The children!”
The King of Mice looked around the glade, taking in the situation. He pointed at Jakaranda. “But look how high the water is! Don’t you want to save the Great Elephant Dancer?”
“Let him choke on his own shit!” shouted one of the hares. “He killed our shaman!”
“That’s not strictly true,” said the leopard. “From what I saw, he was knocked off his perch when the elephants stampeded.”
“Yeah, but it was Jakaranda’s fault! He should never have come to our glade in the first place!”
“That’s right! Who d’you think planted all that rhubarb?”
“This is gettin’ us nowhere,” said the King of Mice. “You hares just calm down. I’ll deal with you later, once I’ve sorted out this trouble with the elephants.”
“But they killed our shaman!”
The hares continued shouting, but the King ignored them and turned back to the herd. “It’s up to you,” he said. “Shall I save the children, and leave Jakaranda to drown?”
“No!” shouted Mudilla. “Don’t let him die! Please!”
The King of Mice gave a smile. “What a brave young elephant! Do you speak for the herd?”
“No. I’m just a calf.”
“What’s your name?”
“It’s the shame the elephants have no king,” said the mouse. “Cos you’d make a good one.”
At this, the youngster was speechless. He glanced shyly at his mother, who beamed with pride. “That’s my son,” she said.
“Congratulations,” said the King of Mice. “He’s a fine specimen. Shall the mice rescue him from drowning? Or shall we do as he says, and save Jakaranda instead?”
“No!” shouted the herd. “Yes! Save Jakaranda! The children! No! Please! The children! Jakaranda! Help!”
The leopard looked up at the clouds. “It’s still raining. The water’s getting higher.”
“Make up your minds,” said the mouse. “Jakaranda? Or the children. Can’t save both.”
“Aargh!” yelled the elephants. “Help us!”
Sapturpani’s voice rang out over the hubbub: “Wait! Let’s talk about this rationally.”
“Good idea,” said the Mouse King, still perched on the leopard’s back. “I can wait. But I’d talk fast if I was you.” He pointed. “The water’s almost up to his nose.”
“I know,” said the leopard. “I’ll go over there and hold it clear. Should give us a few more minutes. You mice want to get down?”
“Nah,” said the King. “We’re fine up here.”
“Very well,” said the leopard. And, slinking over to where Jakaranda lay unconscious, she picked up the tip of his nose in her teeth and lifted it from the water.
“Right,” said the King. “You elephants best get talkin’.”
The elephants did talk, but not for long – after all, there was not much to say. They quickly decided to take a vote. Adults only, of course. The juveniles were not sufficiently developed in their mental faculties to take a part in decisions of this magnitude. The rules also barred their parents from voting; the conflict of interest was obvious, and no parent could be expected to think rationally when the fate of their offspring was at stake. This left just seven elephants who were eligible for the vote. Three raised their noses in favour of Jakaranda, and three for the children; one elephant abstained. By tradition, in the case of a tie the vote of the eldest was to be counted twice. This was Mohwa, who had voted to save Jakaranda.
“No!” cried Portia. “Please! What about the children!”
But the decision had been made.
“Right,” said Sapturpani. “That’s that, King of Mice. Now get on with it, will you?”
“Not so fast,” said the mouse. “I told you there’d be a price.”
“Aargh! Unscrupulous creature! What do you want?”
“A new treaty,” said the King, holding up a scrap of paper. “Same as the old one. Here it is. I’ll read it to you: ‘In recognition of the great services performed this day by the esteemed and noble nation of Mice for the benefit of the fine nation of Elephants, in rescuing the Great Dancer Jakaranda from a pool of shit in which, were it not for the intervention of the King of Mice, he would surely have met his doom, the Nation of Elephants hereby warrants and requires that from this day on, and until the End of Time, no Elephant shall enter the forest save to walk along the wide north-south pathway that leads to that Great Clearing in which the Elephants have since time immemorial performed their esteemed mating rituals.’ ”
“This is a trick!” exclaimed Bilimbi. “Mice are not to be trusted!”
Sapturpani sighed. “I don’t think we have a choice.”
“She’s right,” said Mohwa. “Not if we want to save Jakaranda. Let’s take another vote. Who will accept this treaty?” He raised his nose. So did four of the others. “There – it is decided. King of Mice, the elephants consent to be bound by this treaty.”
The mouse leapt off the leopard’s back and ran over to him, using bits of floating debris as stepping stones. He brandished the treaty in Mohwa’s face, then picked up a long twig and dipped one end into the mud. “Sign here.”
The old bull carefully made his mark on the paper, and the King hopped around the glade collecting signatures from every member of the herd – including the juveniles. When at last he reached Mudilla, he smiled and stroked him gently on the tip of his nose. “Don’t worry, my friend,” he said. “Look – the rain’s stopped!”
He was right. The clouds were moving away now to reveal glimpses of the setting sun.
“Yeah,” said Mudilla. “Look at the moon!”
“Yes,” said the King. “Innit beautiful?”
“Will you sign the treaty, little one?”
“Yeah.” Mudilla made his mark. “Are you gonna save Jakaranda now? He’s all covered in poo.”
“Watch this.” The King put a claw in the side of his mouth and let out a piercing whistle. After just a moment there came a great rustling from the undergrowth, and soon more mice appeared at the edges of the glade. At first there were just a handful, but this quickly grew to dozens, then hundreds. Still they kept coming, until at last there were thousands of the little creatures! They covered every available surface; the hares looked around nervously, then quickly made room. The monkeys, who’d been watching quietly from the trees, jumped from branch to branch hooting in excitement.
The King of Mice raised his paw in the air, then looked round the clearing at the assembled masses of the great Mouse nation. Ten thousand beady little eyes met his own and held firm. “Mice!” he cried. “Are you ready?”
The mice shouted in unison. “Yes, O King!” The sound was almost deafening.
The mice streamed into the glade and swam toward Jakaranda, who was by now completely submerged in shit. The leopard stood on the elephant’s head, holding his long nose in her teeth to keep it clear of the filthy water lapping at her feet. As the first dozen mice reached her they formed a pyramid; the leopard passed Jakaranda’s nose over to them then leapt away to higher ground. The topmost mouse poked a claw into the elephant’s nostrils and hoiked out some debris.
Other mice formed up into long chains, then swam together through the filth until they reached Jakaranda, where they held position to await reinforcements. Many more of these chains formed, until the elephant was completely surrounded. All at once the frontmost mouse in each chain dived beneath the surface of the muck; those to the rear found suitable anchors among the forest undergrowth, and took up the slack. “One!” shouted the mice in unison. “Two! Three!” And they began to pull.
Jakaranda emerged from the mud slowly, with a great sucking sound. The elephants strained anxiously to look and, seeing the steady rise and fall of his chest, they let out a cheer. The Great Dancer was alive! The mice dragged him to the edge of the glade, then stepped back.
“Is Jakaranda alright?” said Mudilla to the King of Mice. “Why won’t he wake up?”
“He’ll be fine,” replied the King. “But it might take a while. He got a bonk on the head.”
“Yeah. A big one, too. It was a gaur.”
“A gaur!” exclaimed the King. “Goodness me!”
“It’s like a giant buffalo,” added Mudilla. “It’s got horns.”
“Yeah. It hit him on the head. He fell down in the poo.”
“But Jakaranda already smelled of poo.”
“Yes,” agreed the King. “He certainly did.”
“Now we smell of poo, too,” said the youngster, after a moment’s thought.
“Mudilla!” shouted Portia. “That’s enough!”
“My mummy doesn’t talk about poo,” whispered Mudilla. “She says it’s rude.”
“Does she now?”
“Yeah. But look!” Mudilla swept his nose in an arc around the glade. “There’s poo everywhere!”
“Yes, there is.”
“I’m standing in poo.”
“You are. It’s up to your shoulders!”
“Yeah,” agreed Mudilla. “My mummy calls it ‘shit’—”
“—but I’m not allowed. Not til I’m older.”
“Old people are allowed to be rude.”
The Mouse King nodded. “That’s very true.”
“Stop talking to that mouse at once!” yelled Portia.
“Shit,” said Mudilla. “Jakaranda stinks of shit.”
“Worse than that,” observed the King. “He nearly drowned in it.”
“Yeah. I might drown in it, too.”
The King of Mice reached up again to stroke the tip of the calf’s nose. “No, you won’t.” Then he whistled again.
The mouse nation surged forward once more into the glade, this time heading towards the King himself. Several mice took hold and carried him away while the others linked up again and dragged the youngster free. Mudilla giggled as the mud gave way. “Glop!” he cried. “Gloop! Hey, this is fun!”
“Oh, thank you!” cried Portia. “Thank you, King Mouse, for saving my son!”
But it wasn’t just Mudilla. All around the glade, the mice were hard at work helping the juveniles out of the foul muck that covered the glade.
“Hooray!” shouted the elephants. “The children are saved!”
“Long live the King!” added Portia. “The King of Mice!”
“The King of Mice! Hooray! Jakaranda! The children! Hooray! The children!”
The King, standing high atop a pyramid of his subjects, appealed for quiet. He had to wait several minutes for the jubilation to subside, but he was eventually able to make himself heard.
“We’re not heartless. And this mess has got nothin’ to do with the children. So we done you a favour and rescued ‘em. The rest of you are in no danger now the rain’s stopped – see how the water’s drainin’ away already? The sun’ll come out tomorrow and dry out the mud and make it crumbly. You’ll be out in a couple of days.”
“But it’s getting dark!” cried Sapturpani. “What about the fierce creatures of the night? They’ll eat us alive!”
“She’s right!” cried the elephants. “We’re all going to die!”
The King held up a paw. “No you won’t. Us mice will keep watch and make sure you’re safe.”
“But why not drag us out of this mud?” asked Bilimbi.
The King shrugged. “Cos we got principles.”
“We don’t mean you no harm. But there’s gotta be consequences. You need some time to reflect on all this mess you caused.” The King shook his head sadly. “If we pull you out now you’ll just go on ignorant the same as before. You gotta learn your lesson.”
“Stay out of the bleedin’ forest!”
“That’s right!” shouted one of the hares. “You killed our shaman!”
“Worse than that,” added a dhole. “I heard Jakaranda ate all our rhubarb.”
“We planted that rhubarb!”
“Why? You don’t eat it.”
“It’s supposed to be decorative!”
“Well, it’s delicious,” said the dhole. “Goes very well with rotten meat.”
“Never mind the rhubarb,” said Berberis Vulgaris, the former Tyrant. “It’s the night of the election. Without a leader, we hares are rudderless. But how can we move on? The ritual was left incomplete when our shaman was squashed to death by a herd of elephants!”
“I ain’t forgotten,” said the King of Mice. “And I’ve got good news. Look!” He pointed, and everyone turned. There, sitting calmly on a banana leaf held aloft by a formation of mice, was the Shaman of Hares, bedraggled but apparently unharmed.
The hares gasped. “How can this be?” asked one. “He’s alive! It’s a miracle!”
“He is a great shaman,” said the former Tyrant. “Perhaps the greatest of them all.”
The shaman twitched his nose and looked calmly around the glade before speaking. “We are free now,” he said. “But freedom has a price. And for hares, the price has always been high. Many have paid with their lives. But there is another way. The hares may, in accordance with tradition, choose to abandon their freedom and instead give way to tyranny. The choice is yours.” The shaman paused to look once more around the glade. “Hares!” he cried. “Are you ready?”
“Yes, O Shaman!”
The shaman nodded to himself. “Alright then – first, let’s hear it for freedom!”
“Freedom!” came the shout. “Woo! Freedom!”
“Not bad,” said the shaman. “But what about tyranny!”
“Yeah!” screamed the crowd. “Tyranny! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Tyranny forever!”
“One more time, freedom! Let’s hear it!”
“Yay, freedom! Freedom! Woo!”
“Wooooooo yeah! Ty-ran-ny! Ty-ran-ny! Ty-ran-ny! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Oh, yeah! Ty-ran-ny!”
“Well,” said the shaman. “I think that’s pretty clear. Sorry, freedom – tyranny wins again!”
“Alright, quiet down please! Quiet! Where are the Tyrants-In-Waiting? Jump up and down please.” The shaman paused as the candidates identified themselves. “Three of you? Perfect. Have you all given your speeches? Good.” The shaman cleared his throat. “Today, the hares have chosen tyranny. But, like freedom, tyranny may take many forms. That is why the hares must choose between these alternatives. Hares! I have given my visions to guide you – but you must each make the choice for yourselves. This is a great responsibility – do you accept it?”
“We accept, O Shaman!”
“Tyrants-In-Waiting! On the count of three, you will lead your supporters to your assigned voting burrow! Are you ready!”
“We are ready, O Shaman!”
“Hares! On the count of three!”
“One!” shouted the hares. “Two! Three!”
“Let voting commence!” cried the shaman.
The three Tyrants-In-Waiting moved slowly away through the trees, each trailed by a stream of noisy supporters. Soon, only the shaman was left, still sitting on the banana leaf. The mice carried him a short way into the forest and gently laid him down under a bush, where he fell immediately into a deep sleep.
The mice went home then, all except for the King and a small contingent of guards who were posted around the clearing to keep watch. The leopard had left long ago and was fast asleep up a tree somewhere. Soon the dholes left, too, and at last even the monkeys got bored and moved off into the forest. It was dark now. The children fell asleep and were followed soon enough by the adults. Jakaranda regained consciousness briefly, muttering something about a coconut and farting loudly before passing out again. All in all, the night was peaceful.
The next day was hot, and the mud dried out quickly. Jakaranda awoke late. He was confused and had trouble with his memory – he had to be told several times what had happened, and though he smiled and nodded each time, it was not clear that he understood. Apart from that he seemed fine, and busied himself playing with the youngsters. Their parents looked on anxiously, but they needn’t have worried.
The day after that the mud began to crumble, just as the leopard had said. The elephants freed themselves, and slowly made their way out of the forest. Jakaranda was more coherent now, and this time when he heard the story he was shocked. He had never imagined that his little dance would cause so much trouble! As a matter of fact, he still couldn’t bring himself to believe it. It was only a dance, after all. He hadn’t meant anything by it! It was just a bit of fun.
The elephants considered this point at length before coming to agreement. This business with the hares had been a misunderstanding, clearly – after all, the shaman was completely unharmed. And if it hadn’t been for the bad weather – well, none of it would have happened at all! And then there was the gaur. Jakaranda had been hit by the gaur, and when the elephants had tried to help they’d got stuck in the mud.
The mice had taken advantage of the situation – but what about the leopard? She was the one who put the gaur up that tree in the first place, just where it would fall and hit Jakaranda, knocking him unconscious. Was that her plan all along? Leopards, after all, were renowned for their cunning, not to mention their ability to take large prey. There was uncertainty on this point, but one thing was clear: the elephants could not be blamed for what had happened in the glade.
Though Jakaranda danced again, he was never quite the same after that. He had lost much of his prestige and with it his rhythm, and a faint smell of shit hung around him now wherever he went. He should have retired gracefully, but he didn’t. Instead he went on; his talent faded, and he became a sad caricature of himself – a tragic figure among the elders, and for the children a running joke. He died and in a short time was reduced to a mere cautionary tale. But soon even that was forgotten – though of course, that was no fault of the elephants.
The blame lay firmly with others.