Prompted by the Roots & Wings contest: 'What is buried under the dust in your attic?'
|Behind glinting glass soared row on row of great-grandpa's books.|
I stretched for the key -- a long way up for a six-year-old girl. I loved the sound of the bookcase opening, plop, like a pebble thrown into the sea. The doors creaking open, a musty smell of dried leather and sun-parched papers wafter into the living room.
Fetching down the chocolate-coloured wooden elephants used as bookends, I squatted on the rug. They were as heavy as coconuts, and almost as round. Their stubby legs gave a hollow ting when I flicked them. I loved their startled look -- tiny white eyes, with pinprick dots for pupils, lent to them an endearing, humourous expression. Summer sunlight glinted on their shiny, rotund bellies, whilst shadows picked out zigzag patterns behind their colossal teardrop ears. Weaving my tiny fingers around the elephants I felt for the deeper cuts behind their trunks. Caressed love heart faces.
For years, Mum kept the elephants in the attic. She had sorted out the bungalow after great-grandma died. She knew I loved the bookends and would like them as a keepsake.
Kneeling on the dusty timbers covering the attic floor, I reached for the package containing the elephants. Tight strings twanged with a tug like my heartstrings. Layers of newspaper crackled.
Years melted away as slowly, thoughtfully, I turned the elephants over. They still had the familiar musty smell of leather and polish. When I closed my eyes, it was easy to imagine myself a child again, reaching for that bookcase key.
Great-grandpa and great-grandma travelled the world. They would have picked the elephants up at a market in some distant land.
As I ran my fingers over the smooth tusks, a startling thought tumbled into my mind. The tusks and eyes of each elephant were cut from ivory. African elephants had been killed to craft these souvenirs for tourists. I felt confused, wondering if my great-grandparents had considered the slaughter of the elephants when they bought the ornaments? Surely they would never have bought the elephants if they had? They loved animals. When a circus visited the neighbourhood when my grandma was a girl, great-grandpa let the circus elephants stay in the field near his house. Grandma remembers the apple tree shaking as the elephants reached over to help themselves to fruit!
Another scent mingled with the leather and polish aroma as I stroked the smooth wood of the elephants' bodies. Smoke. Unwillingly, I recollected how great-grandpa had died when his lit cigarette slipped from his wrinkled fingers onto the bedclothes, filling his lungs with choking fumes.