We were more or less protected from the heat of the sun by the tall trees surrounding the narrow dirt road. The van jolted along over potholes and speedbumps as I read the rusty signs along the path.
They all seemed like fair warnings, in case someone’s common sense left in a moment of panic.
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The steaming jungle was quiet except for the chirping of birds and the chatter of my mother, father, and grandmother. My little sister was too young to appreciate the drive and I was too impatient to admire the same trees over and over again.
We had been driving for several hours and the Chikmangalore mountain resort seemed to be located in another world. India was a big country, but who knew that a six hour drive barely took you from one point on the map to another?
Our driver seemed distracted by everything around us. With mounting frustration I felt the car slow down to a crawl several times as he gawked at something outside. I tried to spot what he was staring at, but never found anything worth stopping for.
I was about to shout in anger when the car stopped altogether. Half of my father’s body was hanging out of the car window as he held a video camera in his hand and my baby sister in the other. My mother and grandmother were both leaning towards the left side of the car and the driver gasped loudly.
I looked to my left to find a herd of elephants dangerously close to the car.
I saw a mother elephant and her calf surrounded by other larger elephants. The mother eyed us warily, her trunk swishing back and forth. Her baby had its tail to us.
I pressed my face to the glass, unable to tear my gaze away from the sight. I had seen elephants before. I had even ridden some. But those beasts were tame and trained. These were wild animals and that fact set my heart racing.
I dared to raise my voice above a whisper to say, “The sign said no stopping, dada.”
But no one heard me. Everyone’s attention was focused on the wild herd—except for the driver.
The driver was looking to his right. Another herd of elephants were on the other side of the road, partially hidden behind the greenery. We were surrounded.
I jerked in my seat as loud shouts rang through the jungle. My parents were yelling at the driver to “Move! Move! GO!” The mother elephant had no intention of tolerating our presence any longer. She drew her huge ears back and charged.
The driver had forgotten to turn off the engine and we were all thankful for that. It took my parents a minute or so to get his attention away from the calmer herd on the right and to the angry mother elephant on the left. Once he saw her giant gray form hurtling towards us, he shifted gears so quickly his hand was a blur, then stepped on the gas.
I was thrown back in my seat, but my eyes didn’t leave the mother elephant’s. She was upset, I could tell. Luckily, she didn’t dare venture out of the shade of the trees. She stopped before she crossed the line between the safety of the jungle and the dirt road.
Everyone in the car burst into laughter except me.
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