We came around a tree and nearly ran into his backside. The elephant was facing away from us. His ears billowed back and forth slowly as he grazed, using his trunk to tug up clods of grass and sod. These he inserted delicately, almost surgically, in his tent-shaped mouth.
We sat down, unnoticed still, on the grass. We stayed there a long time. So long I had to adjust my posture twice to save my knees from seizing up – not easy to do when you have a rifle in one hand and you are not allowed to let the butt rest on the grass.
The elephant came closer and closer until he had consumed everything in our field of vision. I wonder what will happen, I thought, as the elephant’s trunk edged toward us. He hadn’t seen us; it was twilight and their vision is particularly poor in these interstitial times of day.
As the elephant’s forefoot came within five metres of us, my heat pounded out a single alarmed beat. I felt my hand tighten around the stock of my rifle.
We will have to do something now, I thought. It’s only seconds before the elephant is upon us. I looked at Adam. His face would tell me what to do. He was framed in twilight. His eyes had deepened from blue to khaki green. His profile was etched, then, dark, certain and uncertain.
He took off his hat and scratched it in the grass. The elephant stopped, one forefoot off the ground. He turned his head, to angle his vision better. He paused, his ears a slow breeze around his head. Adam continued scratching in the grass with his hat.
The elephant turned elegantly, swinging on his hindquarters, and slowly walked away. He stopped on the other side of the umbrella thorn that had partly obscured us, and toyed with one of the branches.
Pretending to feed, Adam whispered to us, his eyebrow raised. It was the first we had spoken in ten minutes.
The bull carried on, swinging wide around us, and began to feed – this time for real – on a tree nearby.
We moved in formation across the opening the bull had just vacated, and drew up to our vehicle. Wonder and delight moved through us. We had been so close and so easy with this giant creature, who towered even more convincingly over us as we crouched on the ground. We had held our nerve.
‘I let him know there was something there,’ Adam explained. ‘He thought it was a small animal, a warthog maybe. Enough to give him a sense that another animal was feeding, but not enough to frighten him.’
The elephant growing and growing in front of us, like an exercise in visual perspective, the night shrinking behind him as darkness gathered and his bulk seemed to absorb the night, becoming full and dark and more dense. Adam’s profile, etched against this same night. The look in his eye so strange, an alloy of pleading and command. How I had thought his eyes were blue but saw now they were green, or vice versa. Suddenly he was more than I had taken him to be – braver, crazier, denser with knowledge. He has the mind of an animal or knows enough about the mind of an animal to be one himself, when needed. Through him I might be able to get somewhere. He could be the conduit.