Permafrost or an Israeli abroad
Hair in her eyes ... she could hardly be seen. There was some smell in the air, but the cold temperature dulled it, and perhaps my own body odor, after two weeks of strenuous activity, wrapped in a heavy coat and with no shower. The mammoth stood in front of me, very tranquil, snowflakes falling on her wooly fur. She was gazing at me, it seemed, but with that hairdo, can she really see anything?
"I see enough." She sat down and put one foot on top the other, getting ready for a civil little chat with an accidental tourist.
"Cold, huh?" I couldn't think of anything smarter to say, but what else can you talk about in Siberia?
"Mostly it's very cold, yes, but its temporary - we expect it to end."
"So ... how long have you been here in the ice?" I asked, just making small talk.
"Who's counting? Our perception of time is different from yours. This is the waiting period, so we wait. I don't suffer. I'm at peace with myself and don't need all this endless social interaction that makes you so restless. This is the case for most mammoths, anyway."
"And where are all the others?" I asked, still polite.
"You may know that ancient humans here believed mammoths lived underground - sort of giant moles. To a degree, this is true. We are unseen because we have to be. This whole new notion of eating meat, the huge traps, the Neanderthal non-conventional spearheads ..."
"New idea? There are lots of meat eaters. Always were. It's not exceptional." I looked at her giant body with the relatively small hindquarters, which seemed degenerated, creating an awkward, almost grotesque, appearance.
"Numerically speaking, it is - think of all those herds in the savannas, how few predators for all those huge masses. In my view," - she looked up thoughtfully, making sure I appreciate the depths of wisdom she relies upon - "carnivores are, in the last analysis, parasites. Large, sophisticated parasites. But nothing more."
I sensed she was expecting a response to this provocative declaration. I pondered the taste of mammoth meat. Not so tempting unless you're truly hungry, and a big supply of meat for you and the entire family for the oncoming winter seems like a legendary prize. I didn't say anything, just nodded. "You see" - she leaned back and shook her great head, the wool, falling from her forehead, swinging and exposing her dark, glinting eyes - "eating grass makes much more sense. Grass is not running anywhere, it's plentiful, it's available. True, you must dedicate lots of time to pasturing, but what do predators do when they don't hunt? Sleep, right? Grazing is a kind of active relaxation, or relaxed activity, if you will, which frees the mind, if not the body."
"Yet it seems like the strategy failed in your case. No one sees you around anymore," I pointed out.
"Like I said," she smiled with restraint - "we cannot be seen, but it doesn't mean we are not around."
"Many people were looking for you all these years."
She cleared her throat: "Ahem. Yes, I'm aware of it. We didn't want to be discovered. We prefer - and I speak for the mainstream of mammoths now, though there are militant, oppositional trends from both sides which think differently. The big deserts of ice are ideal for this purpose. Of course we follow the developments. Since the last technological wave - big camouflaged holes in the ground with pointed sticks - we assume people will try to track us down with sophisticated devices."
"Infrared sensors," I thought. But apart from zoos and theme parks, and the Spielbergian movie about resurrecting the mammoth, the attraction will rapidly fade away. Compared with impressive parasites like T-rex, a big elephant with a pony hairdo is nothing to write home about. Yet there was something appealing about her - she could easily become a cute cartoon, the logo of the Vladivostok Olympics. I looked at her again and felt the claws of hunger in my stomach. I was jealous of her total indifference to the freezing wind.
"So, do you meet humans often?" I inquired, just to keep the conversation going. I was shivering.
She breathed deeply and sighed. "Occasionally. A mammoth that meets one and survives, tells about it - we have an active communication network. The last one I met was Kropotkin."
"Sounds familiar ...the anarchist?" I flaunted my trivia knowledge.
"The zoologist, actually. Are you familiar with his theory?"
"Not really," I mumbled. I was getting bored. She was a bit of a pedant, like those eccentric Russian scholars, half scientist, half mystic, you might find in the ruins of the old Soviet science cities. "He presented a theory that challenged Darwinism. He traveled Siberia and his observations led him to conclude there is much altruism and cooperation in nature - and he drew ideological conclusions as well, something Darwin smartly avoided, which is why Darwin is a revolutionary thinker whereas Kropotkin at most a thinking revolutionary -"
"She speaks like Shimon Peres," I thought. I was very tired by now, my eyelids heavy. I had walked a long way with no rest, no hot drink, no food. But now she surprised me with a question: "Why did you come to Siberia?"
Why did I come? To search for lost love, lost past, a meaning, adventure, beauty, a clean empty world - a list of potential answers, all lies, came to my mind, but I didn't say anything. I didn't know anything about Siberia. She blinked and remained unaware of my weariness, my impatience; she didn't offer a cup of tea or porridge. I looked around for a place to sit and couldn't find anything, so I squatted on the frozen soil.
"Do you know where I can find something to drink?" I asked eventually, not answering her question, unable to wait any more.
She silently pointed with her grayish trunk westward, then said, "There's a McDonald's at the next junction. They serve hamburgers - seal meat, one presumes. They say they sometimes have coffee."
Sitting didn't help. My body hurt. Than I thought of something else: people ride elephants. Why not hold to her hairy ropelike fleece, climb up and ride away, to the next crossing? When the thought came to my head I expected her, for some reason, to read my mind, kneel down and offer herself as a vehicle, but it never occurred to her. She kept looking at me, slowly and peacefully waving her trunk like a flexible shaggy pendulum. She had not the slightest tendency to answer my needs, no empathy, no understanding. She wanted to build our relations on nothing more than the intellectual and was quite chilly regarding my emotional or physical needs. My discomfort was turning to anger but I tried to repress it. I decided to hint and insinuate. I asked if she knew about other relations between her kind and humans.
"Dead mammoths are quite popular in museums. We are anatomically not suited to riding - the slope of the back -" she was, unwittingly or not, answering my questions - "our wool too coarse to process, you can't milk us or harness us. What's left is meat and tusks" - she squinted at her rather impressive tusks - "but we are biased against anyone trying to take them away too soon."
I nodded with fake sympathy. I quite despaired of her, I must say. I'm the first to agree that meeting a giant intelligent creature that disappeared from this world millennia ago is an awe-inspiring, even uplifting experience, but these emotions are usually gone when you're hungry and tired. I decided to end the conversation. I took out my M-16 and shot her twice through the eyes to the center of the skull. The frozen earth trembled as the huge mass hit. I labored for a long while with my saw, cursing and sweating, on the left tusk. When I finished I shouldered it - it was about two meters long - and headed west. I could buy many super-sized meals with it.