“Do it!” the trainer hit him with a whip, “Balance on your front legs, you idiot!”
THWACK! Tears streamed down Cooper’s cheeks, as the whip slashed off a chunk of his skin, letting the blood flow down his leg and staining the floor. The little elephant tried his best to balance himself on his shivering, wobbling legs. But, a few seconds were not enough, and he fell down on his side, spraining his legs.
“Get up!” THWACK! “Get up!” THWACK! “Get up!” THWACK! Cooper wailed loudly, as he squirmed in his own blood, trying to get up. But, even a little movement and the pain shot through his entire body, making him cry loudly in pain.
“That is it!” the trainer kicked Cooper in his stomach and spat on him, “No food for you, till you start balancing on your stupid legs, you filthy animal.”
The trainer turned to his assistant, “Make sure he is not fed till I get back!”
Cooper wailed in pain, trying his best to stand up. His stomach began to growl in desperate hunger and his weakness was not going to help him get a decent meal. But to add to his pain, every time he tried to stand, his blood made him fall harder. Finally, he gave in to his exhaustion and lied in the corner, letting his tears flow.
It happened on that fateful day… Cooper, along with his mother and his herd, were walking along a thick part of the forest. It was a rainless day, and perfect for walking a few miles in search of food. After covering a couple of miles, they finally reached a sturdy bridge, strong enough to hold their weight without breaking, or so they thought. They began to cross the deep abyss, in order to get across quickly. They could feel the bridge bending under their weight, making them move quicker. But, they never made it to the other side, because there was someone waiting for them on the other side, somebody unexpected. Humans. A huge group of humans stared at them with huge torches of fire in their hands and anger in their eyes. They were breathing heavily, as they sauntered ahead with menacing grins and determined glares. The largest man, who seemed to be the leader, shouted.
“You have destroyed our lives,” his voice boomed, “now it is time to pay the price!”
With a loud cry, they all came running towards the herd, their torches ready. The elephants right behind managed to heel and escape, but the ones in front were not so lucky. They scampered and tried their best to make it out alive, but the moment the villagers stepped on the bridge, it began to give way. Half of the herd and some of the villagers fell to their death, while some of them made it back on land. Cooper and his mother were one of the lucky ones, but not for long. The herd split in the melee, separating Cooper and his mother from the rest of them. The both of them ran, with Cooper trying to catch up to his mother on his tiny legs. As they ran, the roar of footsteps became louder and louder, until they were completely surrounded.
“Mamma, what is going on?” Cooper shivered. He hated fire.
“Nothing sweetheart,” she smiled.
“I do not like that hot thing,” Cooper said, “Why are they angry?”
“They are not angry, sweetheart,” his mother smiled and looked at him, “we are playing a little game. You see, whenever they catch us both together, they win. If you run, we will not be together, and they will lose. You have to hide, wherever you go. You do not let them win at all, promise me!”
“Promise, mamma!” Cooper’s eyes brightened, “but where do I run?”
The villagers were closing in on both of them, so Cooper’s mother did the best that she could. She pushed him down the hill. It was small but bushy enough to hide his tiny body. He slid down and got buried under the thick green bushes. ‘Mamma said to run, mamma said to win, mamma said to hide. Listen to mamma…’
He hid silently, hoping that they would not find him. The light peeping through the foliage stayed for a long time. He could hear the villagers screaming angrily and his mother wailing in pain, but little worried Cooper knew that the light had to go away if he had to win the game. But, as the sun began to set, so did the yellow lights. Slowly, Cooper walked out of the foliage and began to climb up. It was not that steep, so it was easier for him to climb back up. The moment he reached the top, he ran happily to the spot where his mother had been. He saw his mother laying on the grass. Maybe, she was sleeping to make the villagers go, but it did not matter. They were gone, and he had won the game for the both of them.
“Mamma! Mamma!” Copper said excitedly, “We won! We won! We did it!”
He nudged his mother, who was lying still on the burned bushes. His heart began to beat fast as he walked around to see her face. His heart almost stopped as he saw the truth – the charred remains of
his dear mother’s body.
“Mamma? Mamma?” his innocence could not comprehend the truth, “Wake up, mamma! Mamma, please!”
He shook her and called out to her. But, no matter what he did, it could not alter the bitter and heart-breaking truth. She was gone. Cooper sat there and cried. He cried, sitting in the dark, eventually brightening with the rays of the morning sun. He cried till another set of footprints could be heard. He cried until he felt the sharp prick of something piercing his skin until he finally lost consciousness and fell to the ground…
When he finally gained consciousness, his blurry vision could catch a splash of bright colours shaking and dancing about. As it cleared, he could make out definite edges of the shapes around him. He blinked a few times to understand his alien surroundings. The colours above him formed stripes, which converged at a centre, forming a peak. The other ends of the stripes, which joined to form a huge circle around him, met another piece of colourful stripes that formed a fabric wall around him. Around him, within the perimeter, were people who had looked just like the villagers who killed his mother, except that their clothes were just as colourful as the tent around him. Some jumped high up, some played with sticks, some laughed, while some played with fire. They all looked happy and excited. It was new to watch. A man in a white suit approached him and looked at him. Cooper did not like his hungry look in his eyes.
“Well, well, well,” he said, licking his lips, “looks like we have hit the jackpot, haven’t we?”
“Yes, sir!” the man, now his trainer smirked, “He will be the star of our stellar act!”
“Isn’t he too young for that, Sanchez?” the man in the white suit cocked his eyebrow.
“Don’t worry,” he replied with a lop-sided grin, “Nobody is too young for Sanchez!”
It began. The training began. ‘Teaching the tricks’ began. Flogging for every mistake, or making him go hungry and thirsty, yes that too. In spite of the tears and the blood, it did not matter. They were covered up with cheap cosmetics and heavily glittered fabric. Below all that glitz and glamour, Cooper could not do anything to free himself of his pain and torture. He was a prisoner for life.
And today, was the huge day, the grand finale of the Great Circus Show. And today was no exception. He was tortured and deprived of food or medical help, even before his show. If he had to survive another day, he would have to put all his efforts into standing on his two feet, even if his legs were shaky. But, instead, he made up his mind to lie down, just for a bit longer. He needed his rest. Finally, the time came for him to get ready. Slowly, with every wince and shiver, he made himself stand up. Luckily, for him, the hay sticking to his skinned wound stopped the blood from flowing. He took a deep breath to try and bear the pain. He managed to calm himself down, barely.
“Let’s get Cooper ready for the act,” Sanchez waved his hand, “and cover that bloody wound!”
Cooper was manhandled, as they pinned the golden fabric to his body, puncturing his skin. They applied some grey and brown paste on his wounds, burning his skin. He began to cry and hyperventilate.
“Oh, save it, Cooper,” his trainer fumed, “Nobody cares. Just do your act well, if you do not want to stay tonight!”
He tugged hard, at the rope tied to Cooper’s head, pulling the poor elephant ahead and out to the main arena. Many people yelled and screamed in excitement, as the lights glared in his eyes, blinding him.
“Do it!” the trainer whispered through his teeth.
The poor elephant stood on his two hind legs, burying the excruciating pain to get his act right. If he wanted to eat in the night, he had to do it right.
“Stop it, right now!” someone said from behind.
Cooper looked behind, to see many people in suits standing behind. Around him, the audience was being evacuated, by more people in suits. The trainer, who had whipped the poor elephant a few seconds ago, was being handcuffed and taken away. The lady behind the voice came forward and smiled, stroking the elephant lovingly. Cooper cried even more. This was the first time anyone had touched him with so much love in such a long time. he closed his eyes and lowered his head, a warmth spreading within him. A few more men in overalls gently took him out of the tent and loaded him in a truck. They wiped off all the dirt and make-up off him and treated his wound, while he was fed with lots of vegetation. It had been a long time since he was treated with love.
“Don’t worry, sweetheart,” she stroked him gently, “you will get your life back, I will make sure of it!”
The truck kept moving for a long time, while Cooper got his rest. After what seemed like hours, the truck finally stopped and bright light streamed in. But, the source of it was far from pleasant.
The man driving the truck came hurrying to the back and spoke urgently, “The forest has caught fire!”
“What?” the lady shook her head in disbelief.
“It is spreading everywhere!” the man panicked, “They say it is man-made, but I don’t know. And-”
“Okay,” she said, getting out of the van, “Call the boss, and tell him to send reinforcements, stat! We need to go in and save all of them inside!”
Within minutes, trucks and fire brigades arrived at the scene. Many men rushed with hoses, putting out the fires, while many more rushed in the forest. The lady turned to Cooper and whispered.
“I will be back, sweetheart,” she stroked him gently, “I promise!”
She removed her coat and ran out with the others, leaving Cooper in the van. The air began to get hazy and his eyes began to water. The scene outside began to hide behind the curtain of smoke clouds. All around, he could hear loud cracking sounds and hissing of the water subsiding the fires. Helicopters arrived to save and tame the burning embers. People were running and shouting, carrying the animals out of the forest fire into the huge lorries for rehabilitation and relocation. He could see everyone trying their best to revive the unconscious and the unresponsive injured ones. Cooper was scared of the tall fires, the wounds of his memories opening fresh again. He wanted to run as far away as possible. He closed his eyes, shutting out the disturbing scene from his vision… till a voice made him face his fear. Again.
“Take her! Take her!” his saviour screamed, pushing the frightened deer in front of her. Her leg was stuck under a heavy fallen log and she pleaded with the everyone. The poor deer was too weak to move and was leaning on his saviour for support. There were too many scared animals and lesser people, so everyone’s hands were full. She did her best to drag herself out of the approaching flames, but she was not fast enough. Soon, it was catching on, and her shirt caught fire, as she screamed in pain.
Cooper saw the entire incident unravelling in front of his eyes. And, he began to understand everything, the true meaning of winning, the truth about what had happened on that fateful day, the truth about his mother… He made that mistake once. He was not going to make it twice. He rushed out of the van, as fast as his chubby body could take him, to his saviour. The fire was catching up and was spreading along her back. He pulled off the log that was crushing her leg and used his body weight to push her as well as the deer away from the fires, helping her to get to safety in the process. After making sure that she was no longer in danger, he began to walk back in relief. But alas, fate had other plans. He shifted the burning log out of her way all right, but he did not realize where the log had rolled until it was too late. He slipped on the log, that he unknowingly pushed, just a foot away and slipped, falling right into the fires…
He could hear a woman screaming, as the burning flames made him scream in agonizing pain. He could hear loud hissing sounds, he could feel the flames being put out, cooling his skin… But, the pain stayed. The pain stayed and spread, making it impossible for him to bear.
“Do something!” The lady’s voice quivered, “bring him back!”
His vision began to blur. He began to become weak. His will to fight was going away. And, somewhere, in his tiny existence, he knew, he knew…
“Tina, I am so sorry, I-” the man treating Cooper began to say.
“No, don’t you dare!” she said, beginning to cry.
It is okay, hooman, I understand…
“Please…” she pleaded in a feeble voice, “Please…”
But. Cooper knew better. He was ready. His mother sacrificed her life, he was left homeless, he was captured and rendered defenceless, he was tortured and was deprived of love. All he wanted was to be loved once again. And, for those last few hours, he had finally got what he wanted, and for that he was grateful. Except for one thing, that he needed to do. He thought of his mother, of the promise that he made to her.
“I am so sorry, Mamma,” he thought, a tear rolling down his eye, “I did not win. But, I promise you that I will see you again…”
And, after a lifetime of reality and a final sacrifice…
…he finally let go.