I was born in 1984, in the forests of Sri Lanka. My mother was the leader of our group, a strong lady with a formidable reputation and a loving heart. No matter how mischievous my brothers and I were, she’d always be there to protect us, teach us and care for us.
The day after my fourth birthday, my mother was leading our group down to the local watering hole, where we’d usually bathe, play games and socialise. Sri Lanka’s forests are very warm, so any opportunity to drink and cool down was warmly welcomed.
On the way, my mother noticed something that spooked her. She discussed it with the other adults, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. There was a sense of unease that I’ll never forget. Everyone was quiet. Vigilant. Just the sound of our footsteps rustling as we made our way through the dense trees. Every crack of a branch, every stir of a bird made us sweat.
Despite the trepidation, we continued on until the smell of damp mud and sound of rushing waters washed away our fear. The muted group started to chuckle and trumpet once again.
A break in the trees revealed the shining waters ahead, sparkling in the sunlight. Being the child I was, I ran ahead of the herd, overtaking my mother and making may way to the ridge ahead, as fast as I could. Just a few feet from the water, as I trudged over the river bank, the sand beneath my feet gave way and collapsed. I fell onto my face, realising that I was surrounded by eight-foot walls. This was like nothing I’d experienced before, so I started to panic.
The happy trumpets died down as my family peered down at me. My mother was the first to help, already desperate to get me out. On her knees, she held her trunk down in an attempt to wrap me up and pull me out, but she couldn’t reach. Every try making her more anxious and the group more restless. My aunt also stooped down to lend a hand, but her and my mother’s attempts were futile.
My clever mother noticed that her weight was breaking the top of the walls down, so she and my aunt immediately started stamping and kneading at the pit, until –
A cloudless clap of thunder rang out deafeningly. Most of the family ran immediately, knowing full well that such sounds meant danger… but not my mother. She didn’t even look up. Instead, she hastened her attempts to set me free. I’ll always remember the look on her face and her continued whispers telling me that I’d be okay.
Another clap of thunder, this time much closer and followed immediately by roars and bellows from human men. Hundreds of rocks were suddenly zipping across the blue of the sky above me, striking my mother in the face until she couldn’t take it anymore. She trumpeted angrily, but was silenced by another deafening crack of thunder. She turned in fear and disappeared.
A few seconds later, the shadows of a dozen men darkened the pit further as they gawped at me from above. They spoke in tongues I couldn’t understand, pointing at me and then back at my family, now well out of view. I heard a pop then felt a slap on my back, stinging long after the fact.
My mother, reacting to the sound, came running back to help me but she was met by more men, armed with hooked sticks. As she approached the pit, they surrounded her and beat her into submission.
I watched as long as I could, but before I knew it, I was unconscious, with that image ingraining itself deeply into my mind.
If Kaavan could speak - Part 1 of 5
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