LORETTA COLLINS KLOBAH
Up the mountain, we followed boulders bigger than the van, along that road with no shoulders, until we saw the man at the mountaintop. He pulled a horse by its rope halter, lifted my hand up to her neck. Green Yabucoa Valley spread down from that mountain all the way to the sea.
His house hugged the edge of the drop, vined by chayote, bound by icaco and bushes of yellow-headed sunflowers, banana blossoms, and breadfruit. Bamboo bowed over its flat roof. We were not invited in. One fat black hen tipped forward on the grass. The rooster’s comb vanished into clumps of red Ixora florets.
He took us to the carpa, where there was a brick fogón. Siéntense, he said. He turned the key of a padlocked wooden box.
The glass jug was big, and the liquid in it was clear and had curls of coconut in it. He brought three plastic cups to the table. The pitorro was poured up to an imaginary line that meant “welcome, stay a little while.” We sipped with burning lips and throats. Nothing else had ever tasted that good. Sweet coco fire.
He waved his hands to show where he had once had pastures, plantains and sugarcane, and a few day workers, too. Now he was alone since the government subsidies had stopped.
The hurricane came through Yabucoa while I drank from that cup. I looked into the bottom of the cup. All of his mountain was inside it. And another Yabucoa man was in my cup, too, climbing a high electricity tower inside that cup.
The cup had had no power for eight months after the storm. So that hurricane man climbed until he stood on the tip-top point of that tower, on high steel stilt legs, ready to walk the mountain ridge of Yabucoa like a moko jumbie from islands down the archipelago.
Or jump. His arms were held straight out to the sides like wings. The ghosts of nineteen children who had committed suicide were tucked under them.
When he moved to step out into the air, I drank from the cup. It was so sweet, hot coconut pitorro clearing my sinuses that had begun to run, coco lava igniting my head up.
Veterinarians spread lime into a pit and buried my body with my toys. I traveled on a flower-strewn journey to Dao Chang, people said. I would meet Mother Chang, who would be kind, Brother Chang, who would be kind. Brother Titan was waiting to take care of me, for sure. I would probably meet Thanwa, Chaba Kaew, and Fahsai. Well done, little boy. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Bring toys to share with friends. Kick the ball. Have fun, kid. Thank you to the doctor team, the nanny team, and Team Tula. Everyone did their best. I wasn’t tired anymore, younger brother who fought until the end. Let’s have fun running around on my planet. Don’t be naughty, little elephant. A wild elephant calf that came out of the forest alone that night and fought until today, nine months. Both anterior femoral bones fractured, causing pain shock. Thin bones from not drinking mother’s milk. Go live happily on the elephant star Dao Chang, น้อง ตุลา.
If there is a future life, wish you to be born strong, no pain, no sickness. I died in Chachoengsao Province. Devotees of Ganesha inserted money into the donation box and prayed at Wat Saman Rattanaram to the largest reclining pink Ganesh that Tula might be reincarnated. They whispered their wishes into a rat statue’s ear, covered its other ear with a hand so that their wishes could not escape from the rat’s head: ‘I wish you to have a family with you all the time, never be separated from your family again.’
But I was reborn a wild orphan again on the African savanna. Millionaire Jones rescued 63 calves, bringing us to his Jumbolair estate in Ocala, Florida, after a massive culling by the Zimbabwean government left us parentless. I was blind in one eye, with a damaged tusk. Sold to el Zoológico de Mayagüez, where for 35 solitary years I was named Mundi and paced a small yard with no enclosed shelter. I exhibited stereotypical behaviors of captive-held elephants, bobbing and swaying my head, never resting from pacing up and down the yard. Puerto Rican families were made nervous by my motions, but I was their island elephant even after Hurricane Maria hit, and the zoo lost its USDA license.
For years, in their closed zoo, I still paced, creating endorphins to ease my stress. The drone cameras that sometimes flew overhead to check on the caged animals frightened me. A few months ago, the US Department of Justice shut operations, and Puerto Ricans stood in the roadways to say goodbye to the Mundi of their childhoods.
I was crated and taken on a plane to Elephant Refuge North America, which has two other elephants besides me, the only African one. I’m kept alone. If people see my antics when I’m near the other elephants, they think I am being bitten by insects. But I am playing like a family’s smallest child.