I look up in time to see that the two largest elephants have broken away from the herd. They must have heard Neema’s distress call.
“Everyone, back in the car!” Uncle Rob hisses. Adriaan, Samuel and the other ranger are backing away towards their vehicles and Samuel grabs Jabu by the arm and pulls her along with him.
Uncle Rob clambers in to the trailer, desperately trying to undo the last two ropes that hold Neema in place. There is no way of knowing what the elephants will do to the trailer to get to Neema. For her own safety she has to be free.
She is still thrashing around wildly. In that moment I have a decision to make— go back to the car or do something to save the ones most dear to me.
“Rob, they’re about fifty metres away.” The voice on the radio sounds scared. “Samuel says the big one is the matriarch. Do we shoot off a warning shot?”
“No, give me a little longer.” My uncle looks up as his fingers work the ropes. “Anna. Please. For once just do as you’re told.”
I know it’s what I should do, but just then Neema lets out another call.
“I’m here Neema. Don’t be scared.” I dive into the trailer and stroke her shoulder. Her thrashing eases slightly, allowing Uncle Rob to untie the second last knot.
I glance up to see that the elephants are now a mere twenty metres away. They are both shaking their heads, disturbed by Neema’s call.
“Rob. What do we do now?” murmurs the voice on the radio.
“Just one more knot and she’ll be free,” my Uncle says softly into the receiver.
He agitates the knot free as I soothe Neema. Suddenly I am not afraid anymore. These are the last few moments I have with Neema and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“I’ve got it Anna!” I look up to see the last rope fall from Neema’s back. One of the elephants has stopped—flapping its ears menacingly—just the other side of Adriaan’s car, but the Matriarch is moving around the car, towards us. She is now so close that I can hear the soft rumble from deep inside her.
Neema hears it too; I see her look up. “Go,” I whisper, giving her a push, willing her to walk down the ramp, but she stays, uncertain.
Just before the elephant reaches the trailer, Uncle Rob grabs my hand and pulls me to the far corner where we crouch down, knowing that the bars above and around us offer little protection from an elephant’s wrath.
The elephant towers over the trailer, her trunk investigating its bars. She rumbles again and now I hear Neema’s reply – not as deep, but a reply, of that I am certain.
The Matriarch’s trunk finds the trailer opening and she swings it in, feeling for the baby inside. I watch as it moves over Neema’s face, and I see Neema’s own small trunk lifting up in response. Finally the elephant’s large trunk swings over Neema’s back, where it must be exerting some unseen pressure, for very slowly Neema starts to edge down the ramp, the large trunk guiding her all the way.
Once Neema is on the ground, the Matriarch again feels over her face and body, before turning around and moving away. Neema takes a few quick steps and falls into place just behind her. Together they make their way back to the rest of the herd.
Once the two elephants are past Adriaan’s car, we all clamber on top of the three vehicles, and it’s from here that Jabu and I watch as Neema is reunited with her family. Every one of the elephants comes to cluster around her, trunks touching and feeling and welcoming her again into their midst. After a while she follows the two youngest elephants into the mud and Jabu and I laugh out loud watching her roll in it, the way she always did in the enclosure.
I wish that moment never had to end, that we could stay and watch Neema’s beautiful family forever. But too soon the matriarch swings away from the water, and—by some unseen sign—the adults follow her. Neema and her two companions clamber from the mud and water, and fall into place behind the adults. Uncle Rob’s arm is around my shoulder as we watch them move further and further away, finally vanishing into the African bush.
“You did well, Anna,” he whispers. “You did well to save Neema.”
But the truth echoes softly in my heart. God had saved Neema, and for a few precious days she had come into my life to remind me of His grace. Neema had saved me too.
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