An excerpt from "The Elephant of My Heart"

 

"The Elephant of My Heart"                                              


My name is Jessica. I’m nine years old. I had a brain haemorrhage. That’s like a bruise but in your brain. The problem with bruises in your brain is that there’s no-where for the blood to go so I got very sick. They had to do an operation on me to stop the blood vessel from leaking.

 

I should have got better but I didn’t. My head began to swell and they had to do another operation on me. This operation put a plastic tube inside my head and then into my stomach.

 

Then I was taken back to my room in Intensive Care. This is where Mum said I would recover. It’s a small room painted pure white with a large window overlooking a lake. I can’t see the lake because I’m lying in bed. Mum and Dad have just gone out with a nurse to talk to the doctors. Mum did say they’d be back soon though. 

 

That was when I heard the knocking on my door. I lay there wondering who was going to answer it. It continued and I waited. No one must have been able to hear it for they didn’t answer it. I couldn’t wait anymore. I decided that whoever was behind that door needed to be let in. I got up out of bed, and went across to the door. It looked a perfectly normal door into the corridor, but when I turned the handle and pushed open the door there stood an elephant.


“Hello,’ I said laughing. ‘You’re an elephant!’ He stood quietly, gently swaying his trunk. ‘But if he’s an elephant,’ I thought, ‘how did he knock on the door?’ The sensitive tip of his trunk swung up and wrapped itself around the metal doorknocker and promptly knocked again. ‘But you understood what I thought?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘You can speak!’

‘Yes,’ he replied and he uncurled his trunk from the knocker and gently wrapped it around my waist. His breath was soft as he nuzzled the tip of his trunk into my hands. ‘I am the animal of your heart.’

‘Wow, you’re the animal of my heart? I didn’t know I had an animal of my heart!’ I said excitedly.

‘Yes, and if you climb up onto my back, I will take you to meet all your other animals.’

I wanted to say yes, but hesitated. I looked back at the bed and at my parents who were just coming back into the room. ‘Can they come too?’ I asked.

‘No, this journey is for you alone,’ he said.

‘Will I come straight back, as soon as we’ve met all my animals?’

‘Yes.’

‘They will still be here when I get back?’

‘Yes,’

‘OK, but how do a get onto your back?’

 

I squealed as I sailed into the air. His trunk had tightened round my waist and up I had gone! He plonked me on the top of his huge head. ‘Move back to my neck and put your feet down between my ears,’ he said. I crawled back and found that my legs fitted snugly down between his ears.

‘Wasn’t that difficult?’ I asked once there.

‘What do you mean, difficult?’

‘Well, wasn’t I heavy?’

‘No, you are very small and I am very big. You are easy to lift.’

I looked up as the elephant stepped into a forest of tropical green. There were huge trees hung with enormous plate-sized leaves. These took my eyes up to a tiny bit of blue sky between the tall, tall trees.

‘Are you comfortable?’ the elephant asked, sensing my movement.

‘Yes, thank you.’

‘Good,’ he replied, ‘I’m going to move now so hold onto the top of my ears.’  My hands found the edges of his huge ears. They were like soft, crinkly pieces of grey paper, but warm. My hands gripped tightly for I was uncertain of just how my elephant would move.

 

He walked quickly through the forest. Though initially uncertain, so far above the ground on his back, I found my elephant’s footsteps gentle. My eyes were stuck on the forest around me, and the birds that kept flying past, which I heard long before I saw them. Their cries were long, loud screeches. Turning towards this din I could see splashes of colour darting out from a dark spot amongst the trees. Then they’d be upon us, bright streaks of red, purple, yellow and blue across the green backdrop of the forest.

 

The elephant stopped. We were at the edge of a river. It was wide and shallow, running fast, dappled with white water and sunshine. He carefully walked into the centre of the river. ‘You must not be afraid of this river,’ he said, ‘for it is yours. Its water is your life energy and into it you must go.’ He sat down, rolled gently over and I promptly fell in.

 

I came up splashing! ‘That wasn’t fair,’ I giggled. ‘I didn’t have a chance!’

‘I know,’ said the elephant, who wrapped his trunk around me and dunked me again. He brought me up out of the water and stood me upright on a little sandbank.

‘I’m a drowned rat!’ I said outraged.

He stepped closer to me, ‘You are not a rat, nor have you drowned. You are a little wet human with your hands on your hips,’ he said, and his trunk gently nuzzled them off. ‘Onto my back again’, the elephant said and I was soon sailing into the air to be placed ever so gently back on his head. I sat down quickly grabbing the top of his ears as his huge body began moving underneath me. We walked out deeper into my river to the sound of the chattering parrots and began walking down stream.

 

The river began to change. The sandy shores became banks as the water began to eat a gorge out through the earth. This didn’t bother me for I was way up high on the back of my huge grey elephant. He was easily big enough and strong enough to manage a river of this size.

 

A large tree cut into the sky in the distance, huge roots coming out of the bank and arching into the river below. Its branches hung with fruit like water dripping off wet hair. We stopped and my elephant lifted the tip of his trunk and picked one of them. His trunk curled up over his head towards my hands. He squeezed it as he placed it into my hands and they were covered with the juicy flesh. Giggling, I licked it as it dribbled over my hands.

‘What are they called?’ I asked.

“They are mangos,’ he answered.

‘Two more of these and I was getting full. It was then I saw and heard who else fed from this glorious tree. It was their fighting I heard first, then I saw them. Three tiny parrots wanting the same fruit. Each one of them certain it was theirs.

I began to laugh and saw that there were other branches with other tiny parrots having the same fight over similar fruit. They were bickering for the best spots, hanging upside down, wings spread to get the best position to feast on the delicious fruit. My laughter startling them, they were off, a tiny flock of them flying down the river.


“Oh, Mr. Elephant, quick, let’s follow them.’

‘We have to wait here,’ he replied.

‘Why? Oh, please can we follow them? Please?’

‘Do you remember that I am the animal of your heart?’

‘Yes.’

‘We have to wait because this is where we are going to meet another of your animals.’

‘Which one?’

‘The animal of your solar plexus.’

‘My where?’

“Your solar plexus.’

‘What’s my solar plexus?’

‘It’s your second heart.’

‘I didn’t know I had two.’

‘You don’t, but it’s easier to understand it that way. It’s a large knot of nerves just below your heart.’

‘What’s it for?’

‘It is for power.’

‘Whose power?’

‘Your power.’

‘I think that it’s easier to understand it as my second heart.’

‘Yes, I agree. Now if you look very carefully at the base of your mango tree you will see her.’

‘Where?’ I looked. “I can’t see her.’

‘Look again.’

 

I crept forward onto the top of his head and stared at the bottom of the tree. Then I saw a movement under the leaves and roots. ‘Is that her?’ I squealed.’

‘Yes, Do not be afraid. She will not harm you.’

It was then I saw her. She was a snake. She glided out from under the tree and showed herself in all her glory. She was like a moving carpet of shapes. Her head was flattened and painted with a diamond of sandy yellow, bordered with black. These shapes flowed down her long back, creating patterns of orange, yellow and green which caught the sun as she moved. ‘Oh, Mr. Elephant, she’s beautiful!’ I watched in fascination while she slid down onto the sandy shore and into the water. ‘Is she coming this way?’

‘Yes, she has a message for you.’

‘For me?’

‘Yes, for you.’ 

The elephant moved a little closer to the shore, stopped and waited. As the snake drew near he lifted his foot very slightly helping her to coil herself round his foot. Having wound her length around the elephant’s leg, with incredible speed she was in front of me on the top of my elephant’s head. How she reached there so fast I did not see, but there she was in front of me, all curled in a perfect circle.

‘Hello’, I said, ‘you’re beautiful!’ She certainly was. Her head rose above her body, while her two-tipped tongue investigated the air around her. She hissed.

“I’m sorry but I don’t understand ‘hiss’.”

‘Hiss.’ The tongue emerged again.

‘Don’t you talk?’ I asked.

‘Hiss.’

I was confused. I had quickly grown used to my elephant talking to me. Needing time, I pulled my legs up from behind my elephant’s ears, crossed them over and put my hands on my knees. I looked at the snake. Then I lifted the top of my elephant’s right ear and whispered, ‘Mr. Elephant?’

‘Yes.’

I know you told me not to be afraid, and I’m not, but I don’t think Mrs. Snake knows how to speak English, so what do I do now?

‘You know that I am the animal of your heart?’

‘Yes’

‘And that she is the animal of your solar plexus?’

‘Yes, you said that was my second... my second...

’Heart. Do you know where the solar plexus is?’

‘No’

‘Then ask her to show you.’

‘OK’ I let go of his ear. I grabbed it again, worried. ‘It won’t hurt, will it?’

‘No. Do not be afraid; she is part of you. She is here to teach you who you are.’

I let go and tucked my feet securely down behind his ears. ‘She is here to teach me who I am,’ I repeated, hoping the idea would stick. I looked back at the perfect snake who still sat on the top of the elephant’s head, watching me, tongue flashing.  I took a deep breath, and said, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Snake, Mr. Elephant told me that you were the animal of my solar plexus...’

‘Hiss’, her tongue flashed again.

‘Please would you show me where my solar plexus is?’

 

As soon as I had finished my question her tightly coiled shape began to move. It was difficult to say where the move started, for the patterns of her head began to drop as her tail began to move. Her body was skilfully made for movement. Effortlessly she slid off the top of my elephant’s head and very gently she moved towards me. I sat absolutely still bewitched by her colour and shape as she moved. Her head, led by that double-tipped tongue, stopped just above my belly button. ‘Is this where my second heart is?’ I wondered, as my fingers found my skin closest to her.

‘Hiss’ was her only reply, as her diamond shaped head moved through my fingers into my second heart. Her body was no longer in front of me; it was part of me.

 

My fingers touched the spot on my skin into which she had gone. ‘Wow’, I said, feeling her warm, soft skin pass my heart. ‘She’s tickling’. As these  words left my lips her head appeared at my mouth and out she came, her colours glistening vivid and true. Yet this was not all that had happened to my heart-felt animal, for she had changed like a butterfly from a caterpillar, and now she could fly! Her structure had grown wings and like an angel  she flew into the sky where she now belonged.

‘Good-bye,’ I called after her, but she was long gone, into the sky where the clouds sail and the parrots fly.

My elephant swayed gently, always careful of me. ‘Will she ever come back?’ I asked him.

‘Whenever you need her she will return. All you have to do is ask. Now we must leave this place.’

He began to move slowly into the river away from the mango tree and the noisy parrots. I turned to watch the tree get smaller as I thought about what he had just said.

‘If I asked her to return now, would she come?’ My question turned me back to my elephant. He stopped walking. ‘Do you need her now?’

I sat back not expecting a question in reply! I sighed realising what my answer had to be. ‘No, I don’t think I really need her, but I want her to come back.’

‘She is precious and if you see her all the time you will forget this.’

‘Yes, I suppose you are right,’ I answered a little sadly.

‘Are you ready to leave now?’ he asked gently. I looked back at the mango tree, and the wondrous place we had just left remembering the touch and taste of its fruit, and the animal of my second heart. I turned back to my elephant, lifted his ear and whispered, ‘Yes, I’m ready.’ And as we moved off, I turned back and watched it go.