Awakened by light filtering through the banda window, Edith flung the bulky mosquito net to the side of her cot. “Wake up, Dorothy. Time to get on the road.”
Edith had taken several days off from the clinic she managed in eastern Kenya to show another missionary nurse, visiting from Ceylon, some of Africa’s wildlife. They hoped to make the most of their last morning inside the game reserve before returning to the mission compound.
Dorothy grabbed her camera, eager for a few more photographs, and they started off in Edith’s Peugeot station wagon. When she glanced in the rear view mirror, dust billowing up behind the car obscured her view. Farther on, a herd of impala leaped across in front of them. Edith reminded herself to be watchful of such sudden appearances.
“I wish we would see at least one elephant up close today.” Dorothy peered through binoculars scanning the distant landscape. “Over there,” she said, pointing. “Can you get closer?”
Edith steered the car off the road and across the grassy plain. She slowed to watch a giraffe stretching its neck to feed on a flat-topped thorn tree. As they moved closer, Dorothy took up her binoculars for another look at the object. She laughed. “Another anthill.”
Back on the road, they viewed a rhino with a baby, and another time Edith turned off the road to get a better view of a lion finishing off its prey.
“Oh, look. Elephant!” Dorothy leaned forward. “Maybe I can get a good picture.” She grabbed her camera.
Edith knew they were in trouble the moment she saw the huge bull elephant coming toward them. Bushes kept her from leaving the road or making a U-turn. Remembering someone’s advice, she turned the engine off. At close range, she had been told, it was better to wait quietly. Do nothing that will attract the animal and it will go away.
This tusker had no such inclination. Edith guessed it had been provoked. No telling what it might do. Get out of my way, the beast seemed to say with the waving of its gigantic ears and wild swings of its trunk. It passed by the car. The advice had worked. Edith sighed.
Before her next breath she heard, Crunch! Edith cringed at the sound of metal. The elephant must have turned around and pierced the side of the car with its tusk. “Not the fuel tank,” Edith prayed, laying her head on her hands which clenched the steering wheel.
Dorothy murmured, “Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.”
Crash! Edith jerked at the sound of shattering glass. She squeezed her eyes shut. Her hands gripped the wheel tighter as she felt the back of the car going up, up, up—high enough that the rear wheels left the ground. Her eyes flew open, and she found herself staring at the ground at a 45-degree angle.
Then, the car dropped—hard. Edith felt the impact in her bones. She sat motionless not knowing what to do—imagining the worst as a thick cloud of dust swirled around them. The car began to move. Dorothy screamed, “Faster! Faster!” But the engine was silent. The impact must have pushed the car forward.
Sensing an opportunity while the car was in motion, Edith reached blindly, her fingers searching for the key in the ignition. Her mind blanked trying to remember which car she was in—Land Rover? Peugeot? Land Rover—medical safaris. Yes, Peugeot. She found the ignition and turned the key. When the engine came to life, she pushed the accelerator to the floor.
That evening, safe at home, still stunned by their close call, Edith sank into a chair and picked up a stack of mail which had arrived that afternoon. She chose one from a friend in the U.S. and leaned back to savor the news. The closing words seemed to jump off the paper. We’re praying for you!
A simple prayer and a few encouraging words written in a letter—a person might never know how much they touch someone far away.
It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:23)
A group of us surrounded Edith’s car when it pulled up to the house that afternoon. It was shrouded with dust, except a small part of the windshield cleared by the wipers. A piece of plastic covered the back window opening. Over it Edith had taped a big red cross. In assessing the damage, we found that a tusk had pierced the side of the car, narrowly missing the fuel tank, and a tusk had gone through the window and inside roof. The elephant must have pushed its trunk through the broken window and lifted the car. The ladies reached home unharmed except for aches and emotional stress. I hope the bull elephant’s anger subsided before it met the next car.
About the story
It is a retelling (a new and better version) of the same event which I described in my very first published short story. It appeared in a 1974 “Sunday Digest,” the weekly Sunday school paper of the David C. Cook Publishing Co.
About the elephant photo
This is not the angry elephant in the story. I don’t recall if Dorothy got a picture of it.
Either my husband or I took this one when we lived in Kenya. It’s not the best picture but considering I/he had to focus and set the shutter speed, and all that with our 35 mm Pentax MX, it was the best we could do in a short time. I found the picture in an album of prints taken off some of our Kodachrome slides.
About the painting
“Wise Old Elephant” is a David Shepherd painting. In the early 1960’s, this print sold more than any other title in the world and launched the artist’s career as a popular wildlife artist.
The print, pictured here and which hangs in my office, was a farewell gift to me from the boys’ secondary school in Kenya where I taught. It brings back memories of my life in Africa and also Edith’s terrifying encounter with an elephant.
copyright – dgustafson 2019