"Life is a balancing act"

Loud music plays into the sky at dusk, a cheerful tune accompanied by the buzz of laughter and the drone of clashing human voices. I blinked as colourful lights flashed in front of me, making me feel dazed and stunned. Having been standing still for too long, I shifted uncomfortably in my cage. I could hardly turn a full circle; the metal walls forced me to return to my original position. People were filing into the gigantic, striped, tent. I knew I didn't have much time left; they would come for me any minute now. I moved around restlessly in my confined space, heavy chains around my feet clinked and jangled. In silence, I waited.

A man came and violently rattled the bars with his hands, jolting me out of my stupor. In a gruff voice he bellowed, "You're up Annabelle, get up!" He opened the cage door and fiddled with the chains at my feet. With a familiar sharp click, I felt immediate relief I was relieved of the painful chafing around my ankles. Scrambling out of my cramped cage with a length of rope around my neck and following the man as he tugged, I am lead inside the big top to a small backstage space hidden behind a lavish curtain. I eye my trainer warily, a short and stout man with a black, menacing whip in hand.

The rope is removed from my neck as the deafening applause signals the end of an act. The lights dim dramatically and as if on cue, the crowd hushes creating a brief blanket of silence. Building up suspense and awe, a blaring voice wastes no time in announcing the most spectacular act. Feeling the vibrations of thundering drums beneath my feet, I ready myself and listen carefully for my cue. All of a sudden the drumming ceases and from the blast of the speakers I hear, "Presenting Annabelle! The balancing elephant that defies gravity!"

A bull hook prods me in my behind and I shoot forward, trumpeting in shock. The curtains lift up and an ear-splitting cymbal crash declares my arrival. I am transported to a different world, a world with blinding lights, brilliant velvet red, roaring applause, unceasing music and a sea of people. Hearing the cracking whip behind me, I totter onwards, parading in circles around the huge arena like a toy train on a circular track with only one direction in which to go.

Hands reach out in attempts to touch me as I race around, faces grin and children laugh. I am then presented with a series of round pedestals, a short tight rope and a large, round red ball. Plodding over to the pedestals, I step up on them one by one and execute handstands with perfect posture. Moving on to the tight rope, I climb the steps in a hurry, shimmying across the rope to the platform on the other side; but coming face to face with the bright red ball, I hesitate.

"Up Annabelle, up!" the trainer cracks his whip. I raise my trunk in the air and trumpet. "Up Annabelle!" the trainer cries once more. I am apprehensive; the ball is a recent addition to my act, I am not yet familiar with it. However, I have no choice but to obey, for I fear the consequence of going against a command. Lifting up one large foot followed by the other, I painfully heave the rest of my body up and onto the ball. By shifting my weight from side to side, front and back, I barely manage to balance on the round object. The crowd goes wild, some stand up and applaud, and others stay seated and cheer. The noise is deafening and I lose my concentration for a split second. My posture falters, my legs buckle beneath me and my body topples over. A split second is all it takes for me to come crashing down.

With a thunderous boom I lay limp. Gasps and cries of horror replace the applause. The music stops and the trainer is beside me in an instant, cracking his whip painfully into my side and shouting incoherent words. I try to get up but it's no use, my legs won't let me. I'm not as young as I once was. The fall had knocked the wind out of me and as quickly as it had come, the pain melts away and I am left without sensation. I'm feeling the spirit draining from my limbs and my eyes drift shut. From a life filled with balancing acts, I never thought that this one would become my last.