Maasai farmers learn to admire an immense elephant who at one time was a terror to them.
Tim, The Terrifying-Terrific Tusker
The midnight sky above Kenya had no moon and with low clouds stretching from horizon to horizon darkness enveloped the open plain. Plodding with noticeable purpose across it were the faint outlines of three elephants. Conditions were ripe for another raid. Tim, in the lead, was an elephant of such immense proportions everyone knew him as Big Tim. And ever since the downwind scent of corn entered his trunk — about one mile earlier — his partners in crime, Townshend and Tolstoy, had faithfully followed. Two nights before the trio raided a tomato field without a hitch. Maasai farmers somehow managed to sleep through their feast of red tomatoes and greens. Big Tim always enjoyed his salads, in particular, on uneventful nights. On this night they moved with a bit more pace; corn was their favorite crop.
Big Tim was a tusker which meant his ivory tusks nearly touched the ground. At one time he explored the savannah with many other tuskers, but over the years — one by one — hunters and poachers took them away. Tim knew nothing of companies that purchase ivory to make piano keys and billiard balls; he knew nothing of those who gather in parlors to hear Chopin ballades or sing songs of comradery round the piano, nothing of the gentlemen and their billiards; he only knew his long-toothed friends had been vanishing. The whole, miserable process never got to him though. Somehow, over an illustrious forty-four year career, he had alluded the blast of gunfire into his side or the poisoned arrow crippling his legs until his enormous mud-cracked body succumbed to the ground. Big Tim did, however, experience close calls. One was about to happen later that night.
Legishon sat crosslegged in the wooden tower above his family's crop. He was the son of Sironka, a Maasai farmer who had recently deemed the eighteen year old to be a man. This meant a slot in the rotation to guard against elephant raids. On this his fifth time to keep watch, he struggled to stay awake. His heavy eyelids alternated between open and closed .and the closed status was lasting longer each time. To help fight this battle he began to make mental notes of crickets in the thick night air. Does the drone of their pitch ever change? . . . How long between pauses? . . . Does . . . the . . . .
A bolt of adrenaline jolted his body. Legishon opened his eyes. He had heard movement in the distant woods, at least, he thought he heard movement. After silence for the next minute or so, he decided it to be imagined and closed his eyes and leaned into the wooden sidewall of the tower.
Nothing could be done about it, but Legishon realized his mistake from earlier in the day. He had bet his older brother, Adamu, he could chase down a rabbit in a nearby field. Legishon lost the bet. He also spent the good part of an hour sprinting and making quick turns in the hot summer sun. These were his final thoughts just before he heard the rattle of crickets no more.
As Big Tim neared the cornfield, he slowed down to negotiate three long rows of chili peppers Sironka planted around the perimeter of the crop. Tolstoy and Townshend slowed down, too. For elephants, rows of chili peppers might just as well be an electric fence. Usually, when inhaled, the instant irritation reverses their direction. But there was more to Tim than just his immenseness in size; he possessed immenseness in experience. He inhaled nothing, stepped over the chili peppers, and made for the corn. Tolstoy and Townshend did the same. The two proteges had been following Tim's lead for years.
Now within the field, trunks began to curl around cornstalks and their ears of corn. As trunks slowly raised up, the stalks were magically manipulated for entry into mouths.