Short story by Iris Carden
I had brought Jubjub into the treatment room. We were waiting for the new vet. It’s not that the vet was late, we were early. The old vet used to yell if he was inconvenienced by even a couple of minutes.
The new vet’s name was Dolittle, and I was firmly telling myself not to make any jokes about her name.
Jubjub was anxious. If I’d been through the horrors this young elephant had seen in her life, I probably would be too.
Suddenly, the door flew open, and tall, muscular woman, entered, the wind blowing some sticks and leaves behind her. She shut the door firmly. I noticed the scar running in a straight line from her hairline, down the side of her face and neck, disappearing under the collar of her shirt.
“I’m Sarah,” she said. “I’m replacing Doctor Gouge.”
“I’m Katie,” I answered. “Pleased to meet you Doctor Dolittle.”
“Just call me Sarah,” she said. “You’re a Brit, huh? The accent. I’m from Aus. I was afraid I’d be the only foreigner here.”
“Oh, no, there’s a few of us,”
“That’s the pleasantries done, then. Let’s address the elephant in the room.”
I wondered if that was meant to be a joke.
She walked over to Jubjub, and reached up to put a hand on the elephant’s forehead. Jubjub leaned forward. The vet and the elephant stood with their foreheads pressed to each other.
“Nice to meet you, Jubjub,” Sarah said. “I’m here to help. I heard you’re not yourself at the moment. Can you tell me what’s wrong.”
Jubjub lifted her left back foot and held it up. Sarah went to the foot and looked at it closely.
She walked back to the front of the elephant, and the two put their foreheads together again. “Jubjub, you have a cut just where your toenail joins with the skin. It might be an injury still left from the bad place where you were before. Dirt has got in the cut and it’s infected – there’s bad stuff in it. Katie and I are going to find a table for you to rest your foot on while I work. I’m going to clean the bad stuff out. It might hurt a little bit, but I will be as gentle as I can. Then I’m going to wrap up your foot to keep it clean. Is that OK with you?”
Jubjub wrapped her trunk around the vet’s waist.
“OK, then, that’s what we’re going to do.”
I was standing staring in amazement.
“Katie,” the sound of my name shook me out of my stupor. “We need to find a strong small table or something similar for Jubjub to put her foot on.
While we were getting the table, I asked the obvious question. “Can you actually talk to Jubjub or is that some game made up because of your name?”
“I get that a lot. The ability to communicate with animals does come with the name, or at least the genetics, not for every family member, but for a few of us. It’s not always as useful as you’d think” She pointed to her scar.
“Cassowary,” she continued. “Big dumb birds with a huge lump of bone on their heads and a giant chip on their shoulders. I tried to ask this idiot why he was off his food. He thought I said I was going to turn him into food. When I got out of hospital, I decided to find a new job. Never work with cassowaries, they’re psycho.”
“So you can talk to any animal?” I asked in wonder.
“Most of them. Some don’t want to talk. Mostly, I find it easier to talk to animals than people.”
We got the table in place. There was no more talking except to ask me to pass the things she needed.
Sarah went back to talk to Jubjub. “I’m going to give you an antibiotic, it’s a medicine to make sure the bad is completely gone. It’s a needle, and it will hurt a little bit, but I know you are a brave strong elephant, and will handle it.”
She drew up the syringe and gave the needle next to Jubjub’s tail.
Going back to the elephant’s head, she did the forehead thing again, and said, “That’s it, all done. Your foot might still feel strange for a few days. If it doesn’t feel better soon, I want you to do something for me. You know Katie. When Katie is in your pen, you hit your trunk one, two, three times on a tree trunk.” She hit Jubjub;s foreleg with each number. “Katie will know that means you want to talk to me. Is there anything else you need now?”
The elephant and woman stood with heads together for a while. Then Sarah asked me, “The elephant in the pen next to Jubjub was rescued from the same place as her, wasn’t it?”
“Junior, yes,” I said. We went alphabetically, all elephants from the same rescue, if they didn’t already have names were given names starting with the same letter.
“Jubjub can hear Junior, and is worried about her. They are friends. Is there any reason we can’t remove the barrier between the pens?”
“Not that I know of. I’ll find out.”
Sarah went back to her forehead-to-forehead conversation. “We’re going to find out if we can open it up for both of you to be together. But when we’ve watched you, both you and your friend for a bit longer, when we’re absolutely sure you’re well enough, and when we’re sure you know how to live outside of the pen, you are both going into the big park. In the big park there is a herd of elephants. Most of them are like you, they’ve come from bad places, and they’re here now so we can keep them safe. Some of them are babies that were born in the big park. So we will try to get you and Junior together very soon, but even if we can’t you and Junior are both only here for a little while. Now it’s time for you to go back to the pen, but remember, if you don’t feel well, or if you need to talk to me about anything, hit a tree with your trunk one, two, three times and Katie will know to get me. See you soon my new friend.”
As I walked Jubjub back to her pen, I thought the elephant rescue park would never be quite the same again, not now that we had our own Dr Dolittle.