Friday, March 16 Lisa and and I are having dinner on the patio. Leftover pad-thai from the night before with the remains of a bottle of wine. It’s a late dinner, even for us, for we have spent the evening packing in preparation for our week in South Africa. We have just returned from delivering our dog Elle to friends Teri and Lee, who live several houses away. They have graciously agreed to watch over Elle while we are away. The delivery has turned into a small ordeal when, while returning, Lisa’s bike developed a flat tire, pulling the tire from the rim and fouling the brake, requiring me to carry her bike the rest of the way home.
Home by 9pm, and it is very dark. Our nearest neighbors have left for Sette Cama in the late afternoon, and the darkness and silence of the neighborhood permeates the screen of our patio, held at bay by three little tea candles. We prefer to have dinner by candlelight.
Lisa hears a snuffle and crunch from outside, beyond the drive. “Sounds like an elephant”, Lisa remarks, and casually goes to look out the patio door. A lone elephant stands at the end of the drive, 30 metres away, sorting bush from bamboo. Bamboo is a favorite when the mangoes aren’t in season, and the new shoots don’t stand much of a chance when there are elephants around. There is more snuffling across the road, and another elephant comes into view, a silhouette passing in front of the distant street lamp. She has a baby in tow, a barrel with restless trunk and flopping butterfly ears, tottering along on thick stumpy legs that don’t quite have the gravity thing worked out. Crossing into our neighbor’s garden, they linger, and are soon joined by another two elephants. We hurry to the back door for a better view and watch as the two additional elephants are joined by three more. Suddenly there are elephants everywhere, in the neighbor’s garden, walking down the road, crossing the road, coming up the drive, heading for the patio.
And now, I think, we have left our dinner on the patio. We are warned about leaving food on the patio. The elephants will be hungry and will come to investigate. Screens are no match for a hungry elephant. I don’t know if they like pad-thai, but I tear through the house to the patio and jump out to gather the plates from the table, glancing up to see a herd of elephants rounding the car-port, approaching within metres of the patio; trunks, big ears, marching feet, the glint of soft candlelight reflecting from their eyes. It is their bulk that is intimidating. In the darkness, they give form to black, their dull-gray mass undulating between dark-black and way-black, momentarily blotting out the few windowlights of distant neighbors. I back away slowly, unsure whether I am too late, and the nearest elephant approaches the door, its trunk swishing through the potted plant I have set alongside the entry. At least I have put potted plants outside, in case their flavor appeals to elephants. They can have their salad without tearing through the patio screen. She is so close I can see the hairs on her trunk, the moisture at the tip of her nose. I hear her sniffling as she examines the vegetation, see her watching that I don’t misbehave in front of her children. By now I have backed out of the patio and close the door gently, so as not to offend our guests. Our wine sits on the table, for the moment out of reach. If she wants wine with her salad, she will have it.
But they are moving now, crossing the front of the patio to the side garden. We count them as they turn the corner, ten elephants have come to visit, and they move through the darkness in near silence, moving from bush to bamboo, visible now only as dark shadows blotting out distant streetlamps, like ships crossing through a harbor in the night. So why, we wonder, are we going on vacation?
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