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The Fable of the Elephant

The Fable of the Elephant


Vincent Gray



Copyright© 2015 Vincent Gray

This book is a work of fiction. All the characters developed in this novel are fictional creations of the writer’s imagination and are not modelled on any real persons. Any inadvertent resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental. Mention of persons who are deceased and who feature incidentally have been made to contextualized some of the events which are significant to the story.

All rights are reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the author.

The next day on the 1st of January 1970 Aaron and Geraldine headed back to Swaziland to begin their new lives as teachers at the mission station. On the long stretch of road from Inhambane to Lourenço Marques for the first hour they drove in silence, both were in a reflective mood.

“Let’s talk,” Geraldine said breaking the spell of silence.

“About what?” Aaron asked.

“Anything you like,” she answered, “even about Plato’s Symposium or Phaedrus. I will listen. You have an audience.”

Aaron looked at her.

“What about you, can’t you think of a story?” he asked.

“No at the moment my head it empty.”

“You once said that you had a story about the Elephant Trading Store. You can tell me that story. Is it a true story?

“Oh yes, it is a true story indeed.”

“Well what are you waiting for? Like Socrates I am all ears to hear your story, my dearest ‘Aaronicus’,” she said.

He glanced at her sitting next him. She was in a playful mood, she smiled back at him.


OK then, I will tell you a true story about what happened at the Elephant Trading Store. When Mr Ian Noble, Mr Keith Whitehead and Max my father bought the Elephant Trading Store they hired Mr Ashkenazi a Polish Jew originally from Warsaw to manage the store. Mr Ashkenazi, his wife and four children had fled Warsaw just before Hitler’s invasion of Poland. The Nazi Holocaust devoured every member of Mr Ashkenazi‘s large extended family. They arrived in South Africa in 1939. In recent years bad times had fallen on Mr Ashkenazi. He saw the advert for the position of shop manager at the Elephant Trading Store advertised in the Star newspaper and in the Boksburg Advertiser. Max and Mr Whitehead interviewed him and decided to employ both him and his wife to run the trading store. He was 65 years old when he started working at the shop.

Often during the day while standing behind the counter he would sway back and forth while reading the Torah, or the Talmud, or some Kabbalistic book like the Zohar, or some book on philosophy like Spinoza’s Ethics. He always wore a yarmulke. Under his shirt he wore a Tallit Katan with the Tzitzit or ritual fringed tassels hanging almost to his knees. He drove an old battered white Opel station wagon. They lived in a very modest house in Leeuwpoort Street a few blocks away from Boksburg High School. Their home was within a Sabbaths walk from the old Synagogue on the corner of Trichardt and Leeuwpoort Street.

They always babbled in Yiddish to each other. Mr Ashkenazi had a very colourful way of expressing himself by translating Yiddish sayings into English. He possessed an inexhaustible supply of pithy and witty Yiddish sayings. Like some gifted but eccentric sage, he was never at loss for words on any subject. Mr Whitehead would often say: “If you don’t believe me, go and ask Mr Ashkenazi”. The statement “Go ask Mr Ashkenazi” appeared to carry sufficient weight to settle most debates. Our families had sort of adopted the Ashkenazis.

Every Friday Mr Ashkenazi and his wife observed the mitzvah for the Shabbat. He always became quite anxious at about 16.00 on a Friday afternoon. He had an agreement with the Whiteheads that the store should remain open until late on a Friday afternoon and that it should also be open on Saturdays. During the time which coincided with the Shabbat Gavin, Helen, Irene and Mrs Whitehead would relieve the Ashkenazi’s. They would relieve Mr and Mrs Ashkenazi as early possible on a Friday afternoon so that they could rush home and prepare for the Shabbat. Gavin’s mom and his sisters looked after the shop on Saturdays until two o’ clock in the afternoon. My sister Hillary also used to help a lot at the compound store before she went to Wits University. Sometimes I would also help at the store when the Ashkenazi’s were relieved for their Shabbat observance. Anyway it was not just for the Shabbat that the Ashkenazi’s had to rush home.

There were also a whole stack of mitzvot for other occasions like various Jewish feasts, celebrations and fasts. So as the annual passage of time marched through the different seasons, Mr Ashkenazi and his wife would have to leave the store and rush home for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Pesach. Like me, Gavin hated having to help out at the store. So whenever he was asked to assist at the store he would regularly complain: “If it is not the bloody Shabbat, then its bloody Yom Kippur or bloody Hanukkah.” Or he would mutter under his breath: “Bloody Jews and all their darn Jewish holidays, not to mention all those other bloody mitzvot, every 613 of them, bloody hell, I’ve got no life, I am always in the bloody store because Mr Ashkenazi and his wife have to rush home to observe some crazy Jewish rules that Moses made up to keep them out of mischief.”

It was all so confusing mitzvah, mitzvot, mitzvah, mitzvot. Everything was somehow linked to a mitzvah….a command, an obligation, a duty…it was endless. Everything in the store was marching to the tune of the Ashkenazis. They couldn’t do this and then they couldn’t do that.

Hillary once persuaded me to experiment with her in observing the Shabbat so that we could experience what it must feel like to be Jewish. She listed the more or less 39 categories of activities forbidden on the Sabbath, which commonly involve anything which could be defined as ‘work’. It proved to be an ordeal. On that Saturday I counted each hour. The minutes before the Shabbat was scheduled to end felt like an eternity. The yoke of Judaism was definitely not for us.

Once while we were assisting Mr Ashkenazi in the dry goods section of the store I came across the front page of an old newspaper in one of the drawers. It was dated 8th March 1959. In bold letters the headlines for the front cover story announced Largest Elephant Ever Shot. I spread the newspaper out on the counter and began to read the article. A Hungarian-born businessman called Josef Fénykövi living in Spain had shot the world’s largest elephant in Angola on the 12th November 1955 in the Cuando River region of south eastern Angola.

He had the elephant stuffed and donated it to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in America. It went on public display in March 1959. There were two large front page photographs of the elephant bull, one picture of the stuffed elephant on display in the museum and another of the dead elephant lying on its left side next to a huge tree. The 65 year old Josef Fénykövi was sitting next to another younger man on the outstretched left foreleg of the elephant. The elephant had been shot many times with a 0.416 Rigby before it succumbed after fleeing for many miles through the dense Angolan woodland. The article stated that Angola was teaming with wild life and was one of the last places on earth where vast tracks of pristine wilderness could still be found. I thought to myself Angola is the place I want to go too and work as a Zoologist one day. Forget the Amazon.

Very soon the others including Mr Ashkenazi also gathered around the newspaper gaping at the photographs of the elephant in complete astonishment. After quickly reading the article about the elephant Mr Ashkenazi remarked that story of the elephant in the newspaper reminded him of an ancient medieval Jewish fable. While stroking his beard and wearing an ironic kind of smile on his face he told us the following story.

There was once an elephant hunter who had not been very clever or successful at hunting elephants. The elephants were too big, too strong and too clever for the hunter. No net and no snare could hold the elephants. No sword, or spear or arrow could hurt the elephants. After thinking day and night he finally came up with plan. He noticed that elephants had no knees or joints in their legs. So when an elephant wanted to sleep it had to lean against a tree so that it would remain in a standing position while it slept.

If an elephant fell over while it was sleeping it would not be able to get up again by itself. The hunter waited until the elephant fell asleep against a tree. While the elephant was in a deep sleep he took a saw and sawed through the tree’s trunk. The tree fell over and the elephant fell over on top of the tree. Lying on its side the elephant could not get up. The hunter called all his friends. They shackled the elephant’s legs with big strong chains so that the elephant could not walk or run.

Using long poles as levers they managed to lift the elephant back onto its feet. The hunter tamed the shackled elephant and made it work in his fields. The hunter then told all his friends of a clever plan he had thought up on how to get very rich very quickly without needing to work very hard. He asked them all to be on standby for his call to come and help him with his plan. One night while the reapers who lived in the nearby village were harvesting their wheat in fields, he climbed onto the elephant’s back. He covered his head with a cloak and in the moonlight he rode past the reapers. When the reapers saw the silhouette of the elephant with the hooded rider on its back passing the field in which they were busy reaping they began to tremble with such fear and fright at the sight of this huge monstrous and terrifying apparition that had suddenly appeared before them out of the night.

Some of them even fainted at the sight of the horrifying apparition. Before the deathly apparition had disappeared from sight they all run away into the night screaming. In their state of terror they run away from their own village, leaving the doors and windows of their homes wide open. They left their village completely abandoned. As they fled they warned the people in 11 other villages there was a terrible demon riding a colossal horse, and he was on the rampage sowing death and destruction wherever he went. In blind panic everyone fled their villages, leaving their homes wide open. In the end all 12 villages were left completely abandoned.

The hunter then called his friends. Together they, looted, plundered and pillaged all the houses in all 12 villages that had been abandoned. They stole everything of value. They stole all the treasure, jewels, silver and gold. They stole all the cattle and sheep. When the people returned to their devastated villages the hunter visited each of the 12 villages, he told them he could exorcise the demons and get all their lost wealth back. But he would only do this for a fee. The fee would be half of all the booty that he recovered for them. They pledged to give him half of the booty. So he returned their booty and the elephant hunter went home a very wealthy man.

When Mr Ashkenazi had finishing telling us the fable of the hunter and the elephant he waited to see our reaction.

Gavin was not impressed with the fable. He said:

“Elephants do have knees which they can bend. Look at the picture of the dead elephant in the newspaper. See it right foreleg is bent at the knee. Any elephant laying on its sided can get up.”

“I have never heard such a fable before. What is the moral of the story?” Irene asked.

Helen asked: “What is the symbolism of the fable. Who is the hunter? What does the elephant symbolize? And who are the villagers?”

Mr Ashkenazi smiled. There was a twinkle in this eye. Mrs Whitehead had overheard the whole story from her little room which functioned as office at the back of the store. We heard her chair move as she got up from the desk. She stood in the doorway looking at us.

Irene turned around and asked: “Mom what do you think the fable means.”

Mrs Whitehead surprised all of us with her reply:

“Mr Ashkenazi has actually mixed up two fables. Mr Ashkenazi knows what the elephant symbolizes and who the hunter represents. Why don’t you ask him?”

Mr Ashkenazi also looked surprised.

“What does the elephant mean and who is the hunter?” We all asked, looking expectantly at Mr Ashkenazi.

While looking at Mrs Whitehead with a mysterious smile of his Mr Ashkenazi passed the buck:

“You seem know, so why don’t you tell us what the elephant symbolizes and who the hunter represents.”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for us pursue this matter any further,” replied Mrs Whitehead.

“Come on mom tell us. What’s the big deal? It is only a fable,” said Gavin trying to urge his mom.

After lot of pleadings from Gavin, Helen and Irene, Mrs Whitehead eventually relented and began expounding on the meaning of the Jewish fable.

“The elephant symbolizes the Torah, the five books of Moses,” she finally answered.

“Is that true?” Helen asked turning to Mr Ashkenazi.

“If you say so,” he replied shrugging his shoulders.

“Where in the Bible do we find anything being said about the elephant symbolizing the books of Moses?” Gavin asked.

Gavin was right. Strange as it may seem, nowhere in the Bible are elephants ever mentioned directly. We hear about ivory in the Bible, but nowhere do we find any description of an elephant. We hear about the Behemoth and then we hear lots about the Leviathan when God answers Job.

Apparently Herman Melville was influenced by the Bible and also by the book of Job when he wrote his book Moby Dick. I mentioned this, saying that I had recently read Moby Dick. It beats why I mentioned Moby Dick, but it must have been triggered by trying to recall what kind of monstrous creatures one finds in the Bible. But it is true no mention of the elephant is made in the Bible. Then Mrs Whitehead said something so strange, so astonishing, she said:

“If you have read Moby Dick, then you are ready to read the elephant called the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin,” Mrs Whitehead said.

Why did she say that? I was dumbfounded. But shooting from hip, I asked the following question:

“What about St Thomas Aquinas and his elephant called the Summa Theologica?”

I seemed that Mrs Whitehead was engaging in riddles in the guise of light hearted banter so I could not resist adding the heavy weight of my own opinion on what books could count as elephants.

She smiled and said:

“Aaron you are a fine boy. I have always had a soft spot for you. You are the only Roman Catholic that has touched my cold Calvinist heart. But I don’t share your enthusiasm for the Angelic Doctor or for Plato or for Darwin. Nor do I share Mr Ashkenazi’s enthusiasm for the Talmud or that strange book called the Zohar.”

We all burst out laughing. It was a truly rare occasion when Mrs Whitehead dropped her guard and allowed herself to joke. But we could see that Mrs Whitehead was not finished. She had something more to say about the Jewish fable. Her demeanour became serious.

“As far as the five books of Moses go they are also my books. The Gentile claims on the five books of Moses which together contain the 613 mitzvot is a key clue to the coded message of Mr Ashkenazi’s fable of the elephant hunter. I am a simple Protestant woman. I have no issues with the Jews or Judaism. They are God’s chosen people. They are an oppressed people. They are welcome to hide under my bed anytime should there ever be a pogrom in Boksburg. We have an obligation to stand up for the Jews and defend the right of the state of Israel. In a sense if we stand up for the Jews and their right to a Jewish homeland we are also Zionists. The Jews are an integral and welcome part of our cultural landscape. Jews are also a highly intelligent people who have made a massive contribution to Western science and culture, a contribution totally out of proportion to their historical minority status they had in their various host countries. I think that their high level of literacy and intelligence was a direct consequence of the intensive study of the Torah and the Talmud. I am convinced this contributed to the development of their intellectual sharpness. I have no doubt about that,” said Mrs Whitehead.

“How do you know all this stuff Mom about the elephant fable and its connection with Torah,” Irene asked.

Mrs Whitehead became quite for moment. It seemed that she was weighing up how to answer Irene’s question.

“Your grandmother, my mother was Jewish, she also came from Poland like Mr and Mrs Ashkenazis,” Mrs Whitehead finally answered.

This disclosure landed like a bombshell out of the bright blue sky. Mr and Mrs Ashkenazi’s jaws dropped in shocked astonishment at the unexpected revelation that Mrs Whitehead and her kids were in fact Jewish in terms of descent.

“We did not know that,” exclaimed Helen, “why did you never tell us?”

“I have never thought it was that important to tell anyone,” Mrs Whitehead answered, “my mother converted to Christianity. It was a huge scandal. It was also a very painful for everyone. It took great courage on her part. She paid an incredible price. But your grandmother was a very intelligent and strong woman. Her knowledge of Judaism was incredible. She was very versed in the Talmud as well.”

“Does this make us Jewish?” Gavin asked.

“In theory I suppose so,” Mrs Whitehead answered in a sort of indifferent matter of fact manner.

The atmosphere in the store turned thick and heavy. I decided it would be better for me to go. I felt like an intruder, especially as I found myself being the only gentile in the store amongst a bunch of Jews who were now going on and on about Jewish stuff.

Then a few weeks later on one Friday afternoon after Mr and Mrs Ashkenazi had left the store to observe the Shabbat, Helen brought up again the issue of the Jewish fable of the elephant hunter.

“Mom what did you mean when you said there was a coded message in the fable of the elephant hunter?”

“The hunter and his friend represent the Christians and as I said the elephant represents the Torah. They could not kill the elephant because the elephant proved to be invincible. Its superior power, might and strength make it invincible. So instead of trying to kill the elephant they decide to steal it or capture it, which could be taken to mean the same thing. After capturing the elephant the hunter manages to tame and control the elephant. Once he has gained complete command over the elephant, the hunter and his friend use the elephant to terrorize the villages and to steal their wealth,” said Mrs Whitehead. Then she said:

“The coded message can be summarized as follows. The Christians cannot destroy the Torah because it is the invincible Word of God, so instead they steal the Torah from the Jews and make it their own book. Through their own study of the Torah they gain command over it. They tame and domesticate the captured elephant. They use their command of the Torah to steal the intellectual treasures of the Jews which is the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish oral traditions. But in exchange for all the books that make up Old Testament canon, like the Torah and the Hebrew Bible, they returned half of the stolen intellectual treasures back to the Jews, which consists of the Jewish oral tradition and of course the Talmud. The Christians have no use for the oral traditions or the Talmud. The hunter and his friend keep only half of the Jewish treasures for themselves which basically is the Hebrew Bible or the entire Old Testament.”

“So the Jews are the villagers and the Christians are the hunter and his friends. Does this mean that if we have stolen the five books of Moses from the Jews we have taken over the spiritual and religious ownership of Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers? It seems like as Christians we can’t do much with Leviticus and Numbers. Is that true? How is possible that can we take over the religious ownership of the Jewish Law without actually ever practicing it in the way that the Ashkenazi’s observe the Torah,” Helen asked.

“I don’t think we stole the Torah or the Hebrew Bible from the Jews. I think the Jews gave it to us as a gift, in the same way they gave us the knowledge of the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as a gift,” Irene said. “I suppose we should be indebted to the Jews.”

“Who has ever heard of the Jews giving anything away for nothing?” Gavin countered.

“That’s enough Gavin! Salvation is from the Jews, let us never forget that,” Mrs Whitehead said firmly, indicating that the topic of discussion was now closed.

“But really mom, why would anyone want to steal the Book of Leviticus from the Jews?” Helen asked with a genuinely puzzled look on her face.

“In a very profound sense the whole Torah including Book of Leviticus are the most important books in the whole Bible. There is nothing essentially wrong with the Laws of Moses, some of the so-called 613 laws are actually mandatory to the Christian life. Take for example Leviticus 19: 18 which basically states that you should love your neighbour, whether a brother or an enemy, as yourself. Some of the Laws of Moses that deal with slavery are now completely redundant. In fact the slave laws in the Law of Moses are based on an acceptance of the legitimacy of slavery as a social institution. The slave laws in the Mosaic Law have now become practically null and void. All the Laws of Moses that dealt with the Temple, with priests and with sacrifices all depend on the existence of the temple and the practice of sacrifice. Without the Temple there can be no priests, and with no priests there can be no sacrifice. In a very profound sense without the Temple and with the non-practice of blood-sacrifice a huge chunk of Mosaic Law has become null and void forever, because without blood sacrifice the essential core, the very heart of the religion of the Israelites, has been ripped out. Without blood sacrifice the religion of the Israelites has because an empty hollow shell. This is why the destruction of the temple was such a catastrophe for the Jews. ”

“So logically it has become impossible to fully observe the Law of Moses?” Helen asked.

“Precisely, that is why the Bible speaks of the old and the new covenant. It was inevitable that the old covenantal relationship with God based on the Law of Moses would eventually become logically and rationally impossible to fulfil with the march of history. With the destruction of the Temple the old covenant became completely meaningless. So it is perfectly logical and rational to believe that it was imperative for a new covenantal relationship with God to be established. In my mind the elephant that the hunter hunted was an old elephant. When the hunter after much effort and struggling finally captured the old elephant it became transformed into a new elephant. It was the new elephant that secured for the hunter and his friends all the covenantal benefits and treasures that the villagers where supposed have gained from the old covenant. Once the hunter and his friends realized the true worth of these benefits and treasures, they gave back the worthless objects and various goods contained in the old covenant back to the villagers. The villagers where actually duped by the hunter and his friends because the benefits of the new covenant, which is the new elephant, exceed those that were promised by the old covenant. So a gentile reading or hearing of the ancient medieval Jewish elephant fable has turned the Jewish fable in an unexpected way on its head. You can call this a wonderful example of irony.”

“Well if the Jews are indeed so clever maybe they also intentionally meant the elephant fable to be ironical, maybe the Jews invented the fable so that we would interpret it in exactly the fashion that you have, now that would be true Jewish genius, and the Jews would have indeed invented Christianity, and maybe that is the irony of the elephant fable, maybe Christianity represents the deep-seated irony contained in the heart of Judaism, maybe the Jews have fooled the Christians into becoming the keepers, protectors and curators of the holy Jewish scriptures and the Law of Moses, maybe this also what the elephant fable is about,” Helen said.

“But Jews did indeed invent Christianity, Saint Paul was a Jew,” Gavin said.

“Why did grandma convert to Christianity?” Irene asked.

“Well your grandfather was young Presbyterian minister in Doornfontein. He was a regular customer at my mother’s father’s shop. She fell in love with the tall handsome pastor and began to secretly read the New Testament,” Mrs Whitehead said.

Mrs Whitehead became thoughtful.

“I remember my mother saying that the New Testament books were actually very Jewish. This became a quite a paradox for her,” she said, “but there were other things that influenced her decision to convert.”

“What things made her convert?” Irene asked.

“It is complicated. Your grandmother was an exceptionally clever person. She should have become a theologian,” Mrs Whitehead mused.

“She could never completely let go of Judaism. Throughout her life she wrestled with her decision to convert. Don’t get me wrong she never ever regretted converting. I remember her saying the Church was originally Jewish. The Church which is the body of Christ has been erected on two Jewish institutional foundations, the synagogue and the Temple. The Jewish synagogue and the Jewish Temple are the two parents of the Christian Church.”

Mrs Whitehead seemed to have become wistful. She then said:

“The Temple in Jerusalem was always the focal point of Jewish piety, even when the synagogue had become fully established in the lives of the Jews as a religious institution. The synagogue always played an important role, especially during the period of exile that fell between the first Temple and second Temple. After the destruction of the second Temple it filled the religious and spiritual vacuum that resulted with the ending of the Temple sacrifices. With the cessation of all Temple sacrifice and worship a massive chunk of Mosaic Law became obsolete. The termination forever of the Temple sacrifices created a crater so deep and so wide within the very heart and core of the religion of the Israelites that in a real sense the whole Mosaic Law has become null and void forever. Out of this spiritual wasteland there emerged a non-sacrificial mode and form of synagogue worship. Judaism became increasingly entangled in its own inner contradictions and paradoxes. Judaism turned inwards away from the present and the future. It bound itself forever to the past, becoming a living memorial of the history of its people.”

“With destruction of the Temple, Israel loosened her ties to the present and the future. She substituted her responsibility for the present in exchange for a backward looking loyalty that focused only on the past. This loyalty to the past was articulated in the form a peculiar kind of loyalty to the books that she had written about her past. This loyalty to and preoccupation with its past became central to the formation of its identity as a people. It gave its people a sense of historical election. However this turning to the past following the destruction of the second Temple brought Israel’s history to a standstill. After the end of the second Temple period Israel began to exist outside of history. Israel entered into the perpetual exile of an ahistorical existence. Its God ceased to be the God of history. He no longer existed as a vital presence and agent that opened up the present into the future. Instead He now also took refuge in His revelations which lay in the past. In effect with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Israel also cut herself off from the rest of the World. Her perpetual exile, within the borderless horizons of an ahistorical existence, kept her interminably self-enclosed in the observance of ancient unchanging traditions, making her more more remote and isolated from the rest of the World. The future redemption that she had always hoped for herself faded from the stage of history. In cutting herself adrift from history her God also no longer revealed Himself to her in history as He had once done so long ago.”

Mrs Whitehead paused for a while, gathering her thoughts. She had a faraway look in her eyes.

“As the silence of God became more deafening Judaism lost its way in the wilderness of the past. Lost in this wilderness of forgotten memories it became trapped in an exercise of unending commentary. Commentary upon commentary upon commentary in one long uninterrupted study of the Torah and of the Talmud became its yoke of estrangement from reality. Judaism’s exile from history, it’s the isolation from the World, drove it to survive the looming threat of annihilation that began to enclose it, it managed to survive only through the relentless and tireless explication and exegesis of the Gemara. The never ending commentaries on the Mishna, growing like the tower of Babel seemed to reach the very gates of heaven. This unending exercise in hermeneutics, this unending commentary on the stories of its past, on the text of the Torah, on the minutiae of the Mosaic Law replaced the destroyed Temple.”

We all looked at Mrs Whitehead in amazement. To me personally, she suddenly looked very very Jewish to me. She even sounded Jewish. I glanced at Gavin, Helen and Irene with new eyes. They had listened attentively to what she had said. They also suddenly looked very Jewish to me.

I was left completely spellbound by what Mrs Whitehead had said by Judaism and why Jews constant study the Torah and Talmud in the fashion that they do.

She smiled pensively:

“This is what I remember your grandmother talking about, when she spoke about the Jews and Judaism. She spoke a lot about what she perceived to be the crisis in the heart of Judaism. She became an incredibly deep Christian. Towards the end of her life she became more and more drawn to Catholicism. It seemed that the road to Rome began to enchant her in her old age. Your grandfather was a good man. He joked that grandma saw Roman Catholicism as embodying the Temple in Jerusalem with its Priests, altar and sacrifices. As an old woman grandma would say that the Presbyterian Church reminded her a lot of the synagogue.”


“Well that’s the story of the fable of the elephant hunter, my darling Geraldine,” Aaron said.

“But I want to hear more, surely there is more?” she begged.

“Well let me think,” Aaron said.

“OK this is what happened next. I hopped on my bike. I still remember this very minor detail. A green Putco bus swept past the Elephant Trading Store engulfing me in a cloud of dust. Anyway it was Friday and I wanted to be with my new and first ever girlfriend, a beautiful girl called Geraldine McNamara. Earlier on in the afternoon on my way to the Elephant Trading Store I had made a detour to check the tree for any messages. I was disappointed to find nothing.”

“There was chill in the May afternoon air as I rode back towards Hercules Shaft. A familiar figure standing in the foot path in the middle of the veld waved to me. It was you! I turned onto the foot path and rode towards you.”

I said: “Hi, I checked the tree earlier this afternoon, there were no messages.”

You replied: “Hi Aaron. Yes I know. I saw you going to the Elephant Trading Store. That is why I have waited here hoping to catch you on your way home.”

I asked: “What you going to do tonight?”

You said: “Nothing really, and what are you doing tonight?”

I said: “I don’t know. I will most likely listen to LM radio. Maybe I will read something. But I really wish we could be together.”

After a while you said me: “It’s getting late I have to go.”

You hesitated before you left, you then said: “Friday nights can be so depressing.”

I said: “I know.”

Before you walked off back to Galeview I said to you: “I have an amazing story to tell you about an Elephant.”

You said: “Oh Aaron, I have to go now. I would really have liked to stay with you and hear your elephant story, but I will get into such trouble, it is late already, and I did wait the whole afternoon for you.”

I said: “I am sorry I did not come out sooner. Maybe someday I will tell you the elephant story.”


As they travelled along the road to Lourenco Marques Geraldine looked at Aaron in amazement.

Then she burst out laughing.

“I remember that afternoon. I was so incredibly sad. I knew you were in the Elephant Trading Store, and I waited and waited and waited for you. My heart was broken. I was almost in tears. I was actually very angry with you, but I did not show it.”

The Fable of the Elephant

The short story involves a retelling of an ancient Jewish parable from medieval European times. Ironically the re-telling of the story takes place in a historical building called 'The Elephant Trading Store' and the trigger that led to the actual re-telling of the Jewish Parable was the discovery of an old newspaper report in the bottom of one of the drawers in the store. The newspaper story was about the actual 'murder' of the biggest African elephant that ever lived. The fable is about the capture and taming of an Elephant and the key to the unlocking of the meaning of the fable turns out to be the Torah, the Talmud and the destruction of the second Temple. The retelling of the ancient fable also results in the inadvertent unveiling of another secret, a family secret, which turns out to be an unexpected, dramatic and spell-bind disclosure for everyone present in the shop.

  • ISBN: 9781370458486
  • Author: Vincent Gray
  • Published: 2016-08-11 09:20:19
  • Words: 5821
The Fable of the Elephant The Fable of the Elephant