Short Fiction

The Elephant and the Milk by Sean Maraj

The old man with the thin black moustache and neatly pressed white shirt stood at the back of the line. The line of men, women and children crowded tightly on the side of Waterloo Road, stretching from the entrance of the rum shop past four houses. Often cars drove past, forcing everyone to squeeze right up to the edge of the small drain which ran alongside the road. The old man swayed slightly as he shifted his weight between his feet.

The reporter from Port of Spain had come to investigate the news of a miracle in Central Trinidad. A small statue of Ganesh, the type that you could buy at any corner store, was drinking milk from a spoon. Having fed the Ganesh under the watchful eye of the middle aged woman who owned the rum shop, the reporter returned to the road unsure of what he had seen was a miracle, hoax or some bizarre type of science. The midday tropical sun was high in the sky. The reporter walked away from the rum shop, feeling the eyes of the waiting crowd as he returned to his car. He imagined they were waiting for a miracle much more complicated than a small statue drinking milk.

“Are you from Orange Valley?” the reporter asked the old man when he reached the back.

The old man reminded the reporter of his own father who as a rule wore his best shirt and pants whenever he went to the temple.

“McBean Village,” the old man said.

He smiled as he said it, proud to tell a stranger about his corner of the world.

“You’ll be waiting a long time,” the reporter said. “I can talk to the owner about getting you in right now.”

“Thank you,” the old man replied. “But I can wait like everyone else.”

“In this sun. Are you sure?”

“This doesn’t bother me. I work 20 years in the cane fields this is just a little bit of heat.”

He looked like a sugar cane field worker. His dark and wrinkled skin betrayed the years he spent in the sun.

“My son doesn’t think the Ganesh is real,” the old man said shaking his head. “He thinks it’s some kind of magic trick or rock that absorbs liquid. Have you ever heard of such a thing as rock absorbing milk?”

The reporter looked back toward the rum shop. A Carib sign hung over the road just beyond the gate entrance to the house. Inside, the statue sat on an altar, in a room without any windows and surrounded by all the normal pictures of Hindu gods. He wondered how many people had already knelt down in front of the Ganesh asking for a blessing and for how many did it actually perform its miracle.

“Is your son going to come and see for himself,” the reporter asked.

“No he’s lived in Canada for almost 10 years now,” he explained. “He hasn’t been back to Trinidad since his mother died five years ago.”

“That’s too bad. Did you come to prove him wrong then?”

“I came to see the miracle for myself. The pundit in McBean is telling everyone to come and ask for a blessing.”

“Do you have any other family?” the reporter asked still looking toward the house. When he faced the small statue he didn’t pray or give artie. He simply took the milk in the small spoon and brought it to the statue’s mouth. The milk vanished in an eerie silence. It seemed no different than paying an attendant admission to see a movie.

“No,” the old man said. “It was just my wife and my son you see. Mostly everyone else I know has passed or moved away.”

“Have you thought about moving closer to your son?”

“I’m 77 years old. I think I ate too much cascadura. I don’t think I could leave the island and live somewhere else now. I don’t know if I could take the cold in Canada.”

“I’ll ask the owner to let you go in next,” the reporter said. “You’ll be waiting here quite a while.”

“I can wait. It won’t be much longer,” he said. “This sun doesn’t’ bother me.”

“Are you sure?”

“All these people have come with their children and everything else it would be disrespectful. Thank you again.”

The old man looked toward the house with tired eyes. Then said, as if having someone to tell a secret for the first time, “I miss my boy, I haven’t seen him in three years. I hope to see him before I die.”

 “I’m sure he wants to see you too. Sons always pretend to be distant.”

“You think so?”

“Why not? You should move to Canada there’s no point being here all alone in your old age,” the reporter said watching as a young couple at the front of the line walked through the gate to pay their respects. He wondered if the statue would give the couple the blessing as easily as he received it. There was something wrong that he should see the miracle and others more devout left empty handed. He felt as if he’d cheated.

“I don’t want to be a bother. He has his own family and his own worries. I wouldn’t want to add to them.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t be a bother. Call him tonight and tell him what happened with Ganesh.”

“Do you think it will drink for me and give me a blessing?”

“It drank for me, why shouldn’t it drink for you?”

“It’s better not to think about it. But I’ll call him, it’ll give us something to talk about. Sometimes I call and we have nothing to talk about.”

“I think you’ve been out here long enough,” the reporter urged. “Let’s get you to the front.”

“Thank you,” he said swaying from foot to foot. “But I’ll wait here.”

“I miss that boy though. We used to go fishing all the time just down the road when he was small,” the old man said more to himself than to the reporter. “It was a different time.”

The reporter smiled politely. There was nothing more to say. A cloud passed overhead, creating a moment of shade that brought a mild relief from the hot sun. The old man would get to the front and get his chance to ask for a blessing and see the miracle. The reporter thought of his own father and knew the elephant and the milk was the only miracle the old man would see before he died.

Sean Maraj

Image by Jills from Pixabay 

3 thoughts on “The Elephant and the Milk by Sean Maraj”

  1. Hi Sean,
    This was set up to be one thing and it changed into another. So many writers try to do this and very few do it well.
    You did it brilliantly.
    Weirdly, you don’t think of the ‘miracle’ you just think how sad it is for the old man.
    There was not so much a reveal as a no reveal.
    I thought this was clever and very well constructed all for the last line.
    Hugh

    Like

  2. “The old man reminded the reporter of his own father,” and the rest flows from there. Simple narrative that tells a story of the past and of the present in a clear and subtle way.

    Like

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