The Just When? Stories – Extract

from Zushkaali and the Elephant by Angela Young

Of all the creatures in all the world, the elephants are the most like us. They can be sad like us, they can be frightened like us, they can be happy like us and, like us, they can be angry. And elephants who are left alone for too long are never happy elephants. They like being with their fellow elephants. Just like us.

But it was not always so.

A long long time ago the elephants who lived in the heart of the heart of Africa were, well, just elephants, and not at all like us.

And it was in those times that, one very hot day, a strong young bull elephant was so busy eating delicious shoots and leaves that he didn’t notice his fellow elephants moving on, and when he stopped eating and looked up, they were gone. The elephant found himself all by himself for the first time in his life, and strange things began happening to him. His eyes filled with water and a lump grew in his throat. His skin tingled and his knees went weak. He lifted his trunk to bellow for his fellow elephants, but the lump in his throat was so large that his bellow got stuck behind it. Only a soft sad bleat found its way past the lump and it wasn’t loud enough to summon his fellow elephants.

It was then that the earth heard the soft sad bleat deep down in her heart and, because it was the saddest sound she’d ever heard, she decided to do everything in her power to help the elephant. First of all she cried some large tears from her clouds because she felt so sorry for the elephant – and her tears cooled him down – and then the earth spoke to the elephant.

She said, ‘Don’t be sad, oh please don’t be sad. I’ll give you all the powers you need to help you find your fellow elephants. You’ll soon see them again. I promise.’

The water stopped spilling from the elephant’s eyes and his knees felt stronger, and he felt cooler from the rain and, while he listened to the earth, he felt his heart fluttering and jumping.

‘I will give you the leaping and the running power,’ said the earth, ‘and I will give you the flying power. The swimming power will soon be yours and so will the curling and coiling and twisting and bending powers. I will give you the power of excellent eyesight and the power to make yourself as small as possible, just in case.’

And so it was that, with these unaccustomed powers, the elephant leapt and ran and flew and swam all over the earth looking for his fellow elephants. He picked up small creatures in his tusks that curled and coiled and twisted and bent, and he asked the small creatures if they’d seen his fellow elephants. At night he made himself as small as possible so that he could sleep in tiny rock caves and not feel so alone. But the elephant did not find his fellow elephants because elephants do not live in the air, nor do they live in rivers or lakes, nor in tiny rock caves. And the elephants’ fellows never saw him because they were not looking for a leaping elephant or a flying elephant or even a swimming elephant. Nor were they looking for an elephant with tusks that curled and coiled and twisted and bent. Or an elephant who could make himself as small as could be. And even if they had been looking for such an elephant, their eyesight was so poor that they would have missed him.

So the earth, who had truly meant to help the elephant, had not helped him at all … .


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