Gorma Tales of the Camino: Elephant Ben from Myland Island

Gorma was washing out her smelly socks when she heard a strange sound. She twisted them tightly, using her strong hands to wring all the water out, then clipped each sock to the clothesline behind the albergue. As she put her other dirty clothes into the soapy water, she heard the strange sound again, like the trumpeting of a horn announcing a king’s arrival.

Gorma peeked around the side of the building, looking just past the hydrangea and rose bushes near the walkway to the front door. There she saw an animal unlike any in the Land of the Heart: big, round, gray, wrinkled, four great legs and two humongous ears and two long tusks, plus a long, strong trumpet of a nose announcing the arrival of – an elephant.

“Why in the world must I wait?” the elephant was complaining to no one in particular. “On Myland Island, where I come from, we never have to wait for anything. I get what I want immediately. This person should give me what I want. I’m tired, and want a bed, and I want it now.”

Gorma frowned and went back to washing her laundry. It had gotten dusty and dirty from all her walking, but the soapy water felt warm and soft, and as she rubbed her clothes together gently, the dirt was washed away, leaving them clean and smelling sweet. She had just finished squeezing all the water out and hanging them all on the clothesline, when the elephant’s trumpeting sounded in the albergue kitchen.

“There’s no dinner ready for me? On Myland Island, where I come from, we never have to make our own dinner. Someone else always does all the cooking, so that I can eat as soon as I am hungry. This albergue should give me what I want. I’m hungry, and want to eat, and I want to eat now.”

Gorma turned away from the kitchen and instead, went to read her good book in the comfortable chairs in the front room. She smiled at the other travelers seated there, and they smiled at her, and all was quiet and pleasant, except for a lot of banging in the kitchen, which they all ignored.

Again Gorma heard the elephant’s trumpeting sound, this time outside by the clothesline. “Wash my clothes by hand?” the elephant repeated, sounding very surprised. “On Myland Island, where I come from, we use washing machines, and dry our clothes in the dryer. Why, I hardly have to touch my clothes that way, especially the smelly socks, and … and other smelly things. A clothesline? I never use a clothesline. On Myland Island, no one has to use a clothesline.” But soon, the elephant was heard splashing and crashing in the washing sink, and he hung his heavy drippy clothes on the clothesline.

Gorma had gone to make a cup of tea in the kitchen, and after her tea and her good book, she said goodnight to the other travelers, washed her face and brushed her teeth, and slept deeply in the bed she had been given in the albergue for that night, for which she was very grateful.

In the morning, after coffee and toast with peach jam, Gorma packed up her bag with her fresh, clean clothes, put on her cloak for the morning chill, and taking Saint Thomas, her walking stick, she began her day’s journey down back roads and byways. It was a sunny morning, and as birds greeted her and the butterflies led her down safe paths, Gorma felt warm enough to stop to take off her cloak. As she took a drink of water from her water jug, she heard a strange sound, like the honking of a goose who has lost his flock.

As Gorma emerged from the wooded path, she saw a fence with a big gate for cows and sheep, and a small stile beside it, that gap the farmer uses to slip around the gate in a V around the gate post, too tight and too tricky for a cow or a sheep to pass through. “Apparently, too tricky for an elephant to pass through, as well,” said Gorma to no one in particular, for there, stuck in the stile beside the gate, was the elephant. He looked a bit panicked.

“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. This farmer has built his gate all wrong, and now I’m stuck. On Myland Island — ”

And at that moment, Gorma opened the large gate with a simple click of the latch. It swung wide and welcoming.

“You mean, this gate?” she asked, stepping through it easily, then back again, before pushing it closed until latched once more. The elephant did not know what to say, sputtering now, not trumpeting. His name was Ben, and, as you may have heard, he was from Myland Island.

“You are correct about the stile, however,” Gorma nodded, and Ben the Elephant began to smile, with his complaining face all ready. “You are certainly stuck.” Ben the Elephant looked shocked; then his face crumpled in defeat.

“Oh, Gorma, Gorma – can you – how will I? – can you help me…get unstuck?” And at that moment, the elephant looked more like a sheep than an elephant, a little bashful and more than a little embarrassed.

“Of course,” Gorma smiled, and with a lot of encouragement and the strength of Saint Thomas, Ben the Elephant was finally free of the stile beside the gate.

“Wow – gosh – thanks – that was – on Myland Island — ” he began, but Gorma simply said,

“You’re welcome,” and walked on.

Gorma stopped to eat her lunch on a smooth, flat rock near a shady tree. She had just finished her bread and cheese, when she heard a strange sound, like the squeaking of a mouse who is searching for, coincidentally, bread and cheese. Gorma looked back down the trail, and here came Ben the Elephant, slowly lumbering UP the trail.

“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. The woman at the albergue sent me out this morning with no food, and now it is midday, and I have nothing to eat!  Women.
On Myland Island –”

And at that moment, Gorma pulled more bread and cheese from her bag. “You mean, like this bread and cheese I bought from her, at her shop next door to the albergue? Did you mean that woman? Or did you mean me?” Gorma asked, taking a bite of the cheese and munching the bread. The elephant did not know what to say, and stood blinking foolishly. And hungrily.

Oh, Gorma, Gorma, will you – how can I? – would you…share some food…with me?” And at that moment, the elephant looked more like a mouse than an elephant, very small, and willing to take the crumbs that might be offered.

“Of course,” Gorma smiled, and she broke the bread in half and gave him some, then broke the cheese and gave him some of this, as well.

“Wow – gosh – thanks – that was – on Myland Island –” he began, but Gorma simply said,

“You’re welcome,” and walked on.

Finally, as the day was wearing down and the evening began to cool the air a deep and lovely indigo, Gorma came to a fork in the road, a place where the path splits into two, and either way might be just the way to take you where you want to go. Gorma always loved a fork in the road, she stepped into the crossroads to read the sign she saw there. And who was sitting under the sign at the crossroads? Ben the Elephant. He was not trumpeting, or sputtering, or even squeaking.

“Oh, Gorma, Gorma, thank goodness you are here. The signs in this country are all written in the wrong language. I cannot read a word, so I don’t know where I am going. On Myland Island –”

And at that moment, Gorma began to read the sign aloud, to no one in particular, in the language of the Land of the Heart.

“You mean, this sign?” she asked, first in the language of the Land of the Heart, and then in Ben the Elephant’s language. He did not know what to say, so he looked back and forth, from Gorma to the sign, the sign back to Gorma, and then he looked down at himself, sitting in the dirt at a fork in the road. He looked up at Gorma, and his eyes understood, and it is just possible that his heart began to understand, as well.

“Gorma,” began Ben the Elephant, “oh, dear Gorma, would you please, if you have the time today, teach me a word or two of this language of the Land of the Heart? For if I do not learn, I will continue to lose my way, unable to read the signs at the many crossroads, and unable to hear the people, as well. This is how we live on Myland Island. But I would like to be changed by my travels in the world.”

Then Gorma smiled her best smile at Ben the Elephant. “Of course,” she replied, and as they nibbled on the last of the bread and cheese from Gorma’s bag, Ben the Elephant practiced saying the most important words he would need to continue his journey.

As darkness called to the owls in the trees and the bats in the caves of the rocky cliffs, Gorma stood to leave, looking down the lefthand path, of course.

Ben the Elephant stood too. “Oh, Gorma, Gorma –” he stopped himself, and smiling a very real and sincere smile, his best smile — “thank you,” he said, in the Language of the Heart. And he pronounced it perfectly, shaking Gorma’s hand very politely.

And Gorma simply said, “You’re – very – welcome.”

Then Ben the Elephant walked away down the righthand path, quietly practicing his new words so he wouldn’t forget. Because even an elephant sometimes forgets.

Gorma walked on, down the lefthand path, quiet and smiling. She arrived at the next albergue just in time for a bed, for which she was very grateful, and she slept deeply. Outside, the night birds spoke each other’s languages with ease, twitter-a-twitter and whoo-whoo, whoo-whoo, softly greeting each other, and politely saying, “Good night.”

Buen Camino, Ben.