Our Elephant Masterpiece. It took us nearly two weeks.
Well, two weeks of afternoons in Mrs Penrose’s Year 3 class. We always did literacy and numeracy in the mornings – that’s English and maths in more mature language – but the afternoons we were a bit freer. And we probably did some PE so it wasn’t every afternoon. But it felt like we worked on it for ages.
We were doing ‘India’. Most of the topic was a bit boring. You know the sort of thing that you do at primary school: find India on a map; draw some Rangoli patterns on the playground; design a new flag; read a poem about ‘If I did this and if I did that’.
And then we got onto Indian wildlife. Brilliant! Me and Ella were both well into animals. Back then, we’d often do trips together in the summer holidays. Ella’s mum had taken us both to the big wildlife park just a few weeks before I think. Our mums still sort of know each other now, but we don’t do trips any more.
Anyway, the wildlife park that summer had had some new arrivals: a family of elephants. Elephant mothers like staying with their kids when they move zoos, so they arrived together. A mum and a little one. Just like my family really. Ella and I laughed loads when the big elephant crapped all over a park-keeper’s leg. I suppose it’s part of the job so he wasn’t too upset. But it was dead funny.
I think in a funny way that Our Elephant Masterpiece was a bit of a tribute to that trip. All those afternoons of papier-mâché, moulding, painting, and then… bang – it was there in front of us. Perfect. Ella and I had made a brand new real thing. It was supposed to stand on four legs but we cheated a bit and added a sort of colourful circus-like box for it to kneel on that made it steadier.
And boy – did everyone like it. It sat for the rest of the year on the ‘Art Attack!’ table in the school entrance hall. You’d pass its big elephant grin as you went into assembly and you couldn’t help smile back or give the thumbs up. Loads of teachers and visitors would say, “Did you two make that by yourselves?”, “How long did it take you?” and “Oh – you did it with Ella? That must’ve been before….”
They’d just trail off. And I’d go quiet too.
When the time came for it to be taken out of the school entrance hall at the end of Year 3, Mrs Penrose suggested that Ella and I have part-share in it. I was 8 so wanted it all for myself. And I didn’t want to have to go and visit Ella in the state that she was in. I can see now that Mrs Penrose just wanted to encourage Ella to have visitors. But, at 8, it all just scared me.
I saw something the other day on telly about India. A travel programme. The presenter went on about seeing elephants in the wild and them dying out. And I felt suddenly panicked. My throat tightened and I remembered it. Our Elephant Masterpiece. I ran up to the loft, scrabbled in a few boxes then found it. One of the legs was missing and its grin was a bit lopsided, but it still looked special. Perfect.
Mum says that Ella still lives only a few streets away, just past my high school.
She hasn’t got that long, apparently.
So that’s where I’m going now. Our Elephant Masterpiece is tucked under my coat, shielded from the persistent drizzle.
I step into the greying evening light on heavy legs.