Excerpt for Fahjem - Clear Blue Sky by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Constantin Himmelried

Copyright © 2018 Constantin Himmelried

All rights reserved.

Published by Constantin Himmelried at Smashwords

Cover design by Michael Bennett, London

Cover illustration by Tanes Rojrunglerk, Bangkok

Translated from the German by: Professor Michael C. Blumenthal, Former Director of Creative Writing and Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Poetry at Harvard University Cambridge, MA; Professor of Law and German language, Professor

of American literature, former editor TIME LIFE Books; Attorney. His latest book "Because They Needed Me": Rita Miljo and the Orphaned Baboons of 

South Africa, was published in 2016. His Be Kind: Poems 2000-2012, was published in 2012, and his book of short stories, The Greatest Jewish-American Lover in Hungarian History, in 2014. A frequent translator from the German,

he is also the author of the memoir All My Mothers and Fathers, the Ribelow Prize-winning novel Weinstock Among The Dying, and a collection of essays

from Central Europe, When History Enters The House.

No part of this publication may be copied, reproduced in any format, by any means, electronic or otherwise, with the prior consent from the copyright owner of this book.


Instagram: @chimmelried


For Kampon.















I would like to thank the many people who helped me with the research and supported me energetically.

Also the owner of the Nongnooch Tropical Garden in Pattaya / Thailand, which made it possible for this novel to emerge.


A few weeks ago. In a District Court in London. An urgent motion is to be decided upon this morning at 9.00 a.m.

The attorneys had just put on their robes and the judge had taken his place when the cell phone of the attorney who represented the applicant rang. His client was calling. After hanging up, he explained that he was withdrawing the motion on his client's behalf. The court date was therefore cancelled.

The fact of motions being withdrawn is not unusual. But to do so at a time when the negotiations had not even begun, is quite extraordinary.

It was allegedly a matter of a Thai botanical garden's exhibition being rejected by the annual garden show in London's Chelsea district. The reason given was that the garden's director was also organizing elephant shows in his botanical garden, and he was therefore denied admission to the exhibition at the Chelsea Flower Show. Actually an unspectacular case involving equally unspectacular facts.

But behind it lay an unbelievable story. About a man. With a plantation. And an elephant.


He was excited. There was much going on within him. Memories. Pleasure. Suffering. Doubt. Anxiety. A veritable bath of feelings. It was exhausting for him and, on one hand, he was happy about what he and his team had created over the past several years. Successes. Setbacks. Many years ago, he had made a decision from the heart. And he had never regretted it. He dropped into his chair and gazed at the many pictures on the wall that told his story. A tear formed in his eye. It ran slowly down his cheek. Joy. Sadness. He could only wait and hope that the doctors would do everything they could to save the baby. He experienced a feeling of déja-vu.


It was in the 80s. Kamon's parents operated a palm plantation. They harvested pineapples and coconuts. Sold the fruits and produced oils. They could live very well off of this. So much so that Kamon and his parents could travel a lot and see some of the world. Different cultures with all their peculiarities. Kamon grew up liberal. His mother always taught him to be open to all things and to condemn nothing. It was her charisma that Kamon inherited. Her cordiality. Despite many travels and impressions from foreign countries, Kamon's heart belonged to the plantation. To nature and animals. As a young boy he already spent his free time among the palm trees. Watched the workers as they planted and reaped. He was always fascinated. So much so that his mother sometimes had to get him off the plantation, since he questioned the workers to the point of exhaustion and kept them from their work. Kamon developed a very special relationship with the plants.

"Plants feel it when you give them love, just as we do," his mother taught him. And that's exactly what Kamon internalized. He treated plants warmly. They became his friends. His companions. Even the animals. From the insects to the cats and dogs, and also to the elephants he sometimes saw when they dragged wooden logs into the valley. He was always concerned by how they were treated. The Mahoods, as the elephant handlers were called, used lances with sharp metal tips to guide the elephants. Some of them struck the animals so hard that Kamon could feel the elephants' pain. His mother told him that the elephants had such thick skin that they only felt a slight sting. They would not experience any pain. Kamon believed his mother, yet it always hurt him when he observed it. He just looked away and focused on his elephant friends, and on the plants and palm trees. It quickly became clear that Kamon had a "green thumb." A passion, which he transferred to the plants with his whole heart. Even at a young age, he knew every plant. All of their effects. Every trick and knack. He gave love, unconditionally. Free of prejudice. Both to plants and to people.

But on this day, Kamon was more than 30 years old, his mother came up to him and asked him to take over the plantation on his own. Not merely that - she also wanted him to dissolve it. His mother recognized his passion for nature. His unique ability to allow plants to thrive. She asked him to follow his passion and create a garden throughout the plantation. Kamon was surprised and didn't understand. The family had lived off the plantation, even though the business had declined in recent years. It was their only income. But his mother insisted. Kamon respected her wishes. She knew what was good for him. "Follow your passion and let this plantation blossom into a garden that expresses your heart and love. Everything else will fit in," she told him at the time. They would invest everything they had saved to finance his mother's vision, which would become Kamon's as well.

Kamon began transplanting the palm trees. New plants grew alongside the old. He designed and bred. He researched and visited plant exhibitions all over the world. Within five years he transformed the huge plantation into a garden. The idea surfaced to present the garden as an exhibition. To charge admission. He would then have more money to invest in expansion, for his ideas and visions knew no end.

Kamon was startled by a loud cry that echoed from the mountain as he paved the bed of the French garden, just one day before the garden was to be opened for paying visitors. He knew that sound. He had heard it many times. But that day it was louder. Penetrating. It struck him to the heart. The cry was one of pain. Deep pain. Kamon put his garden shears aside. He looked into his friend Niti's eyes. Niti had helped him convert the plantation into a garden. Niti understood. He could read Kamon's facial expression. No words needed to be spoken.

They set their work down and made a plan. They would rescue that elephant. Kamon had seen her a few times as he passed through the village. Just so that he could see her. And then to return with tears in his eyes. Actually, he wanted to ignore what he saw, since he would not be able to do anything to help. But the cry aroused something in him. The desire to oppose all prejudice. Not to judge, as his mother had taught him, advice he had always followed. It passed through him, into his flesh and blood. But this day was also about more than that. It was about helping. About rectifying. About acting. The facts themselves were prejudicial enough.

Niti and he discussed their planned rescue. They would kidnap the baby elephant. At night. They would break in and get her out. They needed a plan. They would have to proceed quickly, quietly. So that no one would see them. They would park the pick-up and the small trailer a short distance away from the village. The engine noise wouldn't wake anyone. Then they would sneak up to the house. Break open the gate, and enter the property using large wire cutters. Loosen the chains to which the elephants were bound. Then quietly sneak away.

Niti and Kamon were not burglars. Not criminals. Their plan was simple. Unprofessional. Their focus was on action. Something had to be done, that night. They agreed on a spot on the grounds where they could hide.

They parked a good kilometer away on a small side street lined with tall bushes. The moon emitted a gentle light and allowed the palm trees to cast shadows on the street. Carrying a large bolt cutter, they sneaked along the road, protected by the shadows. It all seemed rather humorous, even to themselves.

"What are we doing here?" Kamon asked nervously.

"We are doing something wrong in order to do the right thing." Niti had found the right words. But he too was uncomfortable.

The property lay off the road. A dirt road led up to it. Beautiful vegetation. Palm trees. Shrubs. And a view across the valley to the sea. They could see the garden. The footpaths. The moon dancing on the light waves in the sea. It glittered.

The gate to the property was unlocked. They ran inside, then partway around the house. There she was. She was sleeping. Next to her mother. Kamon and Niti looked at each other. They wouldn't be able to free her. They would have to take them both, mother and baby. But would the mother understand that they wanted to save her? What if she thought she was in danger? She would attack them. She would cry out loudly. It was dangerous. Too dangerous. They gazed at the two of them for a moment. Then they went back to the car.

The plan had failed.

Their disappointment was still palpable the next morning. A planned rescue operation had become merely a nighttime visit. They could only look at the baby elephant helplessly. They had just begun cutting the shrubs when three pickups drove up the dirt road to the garden. A group of men were sitting on the loaders. They did not appear to be friendly.

The driver of one of the pickups got out. Kamon knew him. He was the elephants' owner. The one whose property they were on. The one whose baby elephant they had wanted to save. It was Ayun.

"Good morning Kamon, hello Niti," he greeted the two of them in his scratchy, deep voice. Friendly but determined. Kamon and Niti immediately knew why he was there. He must have spotted them last night. They folded their hands in front of their chests and greeted him. Respectfully. Ayun was the village spokesman. He had many elephants, and, along with his helpers, uprooted the entire woods. The elephants worked for him, pulling the heavy tree trunks through the rough terrain.

"I have seen you. You've been on my property. With my elephants. "

"That's true, Ayun," Kamon said. Lying was futile. Besides, Kamon was not one to tell untruths. He stood by what he had done. And so he told Ayun what their plan had been. That they wanted to rescue the little elephant baby. He had heard her screams, which had pierced him to the heart. He wanted to save her.

"Well," Ayun said. "Apparently everything went according to plan, only the plan was bad." Smiling slightly at the men who accompanied him. Kamon and Niti too had a grin on their faces. Ayun knew how to handle such a situation diplomatically and calmly. He was a wise man. A good man.

"So you wanted to take my elephant. And what did you want to do with her then?" he asked them both, and smiling gently.

"It was my idea. Niti helped me because I asked him to," Kamon said, stepping forward.

"Kamon. I've known you for so long. I know your parents. I watched you playing as a little boy on your plantation. Watched daily as you transformed it into a beautiful garden. You're a good boy. You have a good heart. I understand you. You have compassion. You wanted to do something good and take my elephant with you. Feed her. Maintain her, and then give her back to me." Ayun was constructing a bridge for him, so that no one would lose face.

"I would be very happy if I could look after your elephant," Kamon said, bowing deeply, hands clasped in front of his face.

Ayun looked backwards, toward the men who accompanied him. He nodded briefly. The crisis had been solved. Then he looked straight into Kamon's eyes.

"Kamon. You and I are Ai Baan Nawks. Hillbillies. We were born that way and will always be. Ai Baan Nawks are family." Then he got into the car and the group drove off. Niti looked at Kamon, visibly excited.

"That could just as easily have gone wrong," he told Kamon.

"Right. But Ayun is right. We are Ai Baan Nawks. We made a mistake. Ayun has corrected us without our losing face. He's a good man."

Only a few hours later they saw four men and two elephants running up the dirt road to the garden. One was sitting on the elephant mother. The others ran alongside and prodded the baby to a halt with their lances. It was tied to the mother with a chain, hobbling. They handed Kamon and Niti a lance.

"Ayun will take the mother away in a year. Then the baby will learn to feed itself. If it is strong enough to work, we will also take it," said one of the men, stretching the heavy chain which held the mother out towards Kamon. Then they left.

The two elephants were nervous. The mother was restless. The lamed baby squealed. Niti cut bananas as well as palm leaves from the palm trees. He laid them down in front of the mother and backed up a few steps. She stretched out her trunk and carefully took them. The baby hid beneath her. It would take time before she had enough confidence. The big, heavy mother was chosen because of her ability to work in the woods. Long, deep streaks across her body betrayed how the Mahood had treated her. His lance had drilled deep into her fatty flesh. Now there was no more Mahood. She was free, as was her baby. When an elephant cow gives birth to offspring, she cannot work. She has to suckle her baby. During this time she is useless to the owner and creates even more work, because she has to be fed. And an elephant, especially a nursing one, needs a great deal of food. Up to 200 kg in a single day. And she needs a Mahood she trusts, because when she has young she is more sensitive. She evaluates situations differently. She protects her offspring.

Niti would be the new Mahood. Gentle. Careful. The first thing he did was to saw the point off of the lance. No cuts. No pain. No screams. And no chains. The garden was lined with tall shrubs on several sides. There was no money with which to build a fence. But it took a great deal of effort to get the elephants settled into a stall, at least at night. They rode with the mother animal and the baby into the adjacent forest and dragged tree trunks into the garden. The mother was familiar with this work. It took a bit longer, because she took a lot of breaks so the infant could follow, for it was limping slightly. The right front leg seemed to be the problem. It had had a chain wrapped around it. Kamon and Niti assumed it would surely heal quickly, now that the baby no longer had a chain on its foot. The elephant mother took paths that the young animal could navigate. Niti sat astride the mother so he did not have to lead her. She stopped at various tree trunks, as if to say, "Let's take this one." Then she gently lowered her head and lifted her forehead so that Niti could descend and fasten the tree trunk to her, so that she could drag it behind her. Only one tree trunk. Not like the men in the forest, who would tie several tree trunks to the elephants. They, by contrast, had time and did not want to burden the elephant with heavy loads. The little baby looked on curiously. Shook its ears. Always stayed close to its mother. Sometimes it would run a few steps ahead and then immediately return to the mother and hide beneath her. She was curious. And very playful.

It took a few days before they had enough wood to build a stable. The roof was made of palm leaves. It wasn't easy, because the mother mistook the roof covering for food, so it took a while before the roof was finally finished.

The opening day of the garden had to be moved. First they had to take care of the elephants. And it wasn't as easy as they had imagined. Mother and baby were more and more pleased with the garden, trampling the beds and eating some of the bushes. The property was huge. Only a small part was designed to be the garden. They built a small fence of logs around the larger part, which contained the elephants' stable. Niti felt that the fence was much too low. The elephant mother could climb it effortlessly. But Kamon was convinced it was just right. The elephants should feel comfortable. They should be free. After a few weeks the fence was up. And it turned out as Kamon predicted: Mother and baby remained behind the fence.

Niti and Kamon were busy getting both elephants fed. After some time, the mother allowed the two of them to get closer to the baby. They approached carefully. Respectfully. One day the mother pushed the baby towards Kamon and Niti, who were just bunching banana trees in front of the two of them, with her trunk. The baby stretched out its trunk. Kamon stood still. He very slowly held the banana fronds forward. With her little trunk the baby took them and stepped back a few steps toward her mother, placing them on the ground. That the mother picked them up and put them in her mouth. Today Kamon says that this moment gave him goose bumps. That mother and daughter both smiled. Feelings of gratitude must had flowed through them. The elephants had thanked him and Niti at that moment. A fantastic moment, the beginning of an intense, inner bond of friendship. They were now part of the same family. The elephants were Ai Baan Nawks.


The small wooden hut was the cashier's window. Shrubs to the left and right of it. Word had spread in the neighborhood that the garden was now officially open to visitors. A small entrance fee would finance the further expansion. It was high time that some money came in. The entrance fee was cheap. Kamon figured there would be between five and ten visitors per day, so he would have enough income to pay his helpers and buy the special seeds he wanted to plant in the garden. He wanted to see his dream realized. A garden with special plants, rare plants. Beautifully designed. A place of rest. Of nature. A place where different species from all over the world flourished side by side. Where people felt comfortable and could absorb the wonderful energy of the plants. He wanted to offer visitors what he felt when he was among plants.

It was a Sunday. Shortly after 9 o'clock in the morning. A family with four children had come from the neighboring village down by the sea with their scooter and a sidecar. Kamon stood beside the little cash box and greeted them. The admission fee was only required for the parents. Children were free-- Kamon laid the policy down spontaneously at that moment. Then he led them through the garden. Showed them the many colorful flowers they looked upon with astonishment. He encouraged them to inhale their smell. Told them how to plant them. Perhaps they could feel Kamon's very special relationship with the plants as they followed him across the meandering walkway. Suddenly, one of the children began to gesticulate wildly and ran over to the bed. The others followed him. The elephant mother and her baby stood at the little fence. They had watched curiously as Kamon ran through the garden with his guests. The children were not afraid. They got very close to the fence. The little elephant baby hid, shyly, beneath her mother, who pushed her forward with her trunk. The baby moved toward the children stretching out their hands to touch her small trunk. Kamon was surprised. It seemed as if the elephants were running to the fence to welcome the visitors. As if they were part of the garden. A part of him that welcomed visitors.

Kamon had planned the garden tour differently. Now the family stood with the elephants and the father asked for bananas to feed them with. Kamon immediately got them for him. After this unplanned interlude, the children talked only about the elephants. Especially about the little elephant baby. They asked for her name. It was something that Kamon and Niti had been thinking about all that time. The elephant baby had no name. The elephant mother was named Palita.

Kamon glanced into the little children's eyes and toward the bright blue sky above. In the background he saw the elephants. The baby who raised his trunk at that moment. High into the blue clear sky.

"Her name is 'bright blue sky'-- Fahjem," Kamon replied.

"A beautiful name," said the mother and the children shouted loudly "Fahjem."

"What's the garden called?" the father asked. Kamon hadn't thought about that either. At the entrance the word "garden" was painted on a piece of wood. No one had thought that the garden should have a name. The father was right. The garden needed a name. Kamon didn't have to think long and said, "The garden is called 'Nongnooch'."

They followed Kamon. The children were still quite excited and didn't even listen to his explanations of the plants. For them the elephant baby was the highlight. Fahjem, whose name they still sang and shouted.

When Kamon returned to the entrance with the small group, Niti waited there to thank the visitors and say goodbye. They had enjoyed it very much. Four other visitors came that day. Another family with two children. And again the same thing happened. The elephants came to the fence when they saw Kamon with the visitors. The children ran to the baby elephant and the adults fed her bananas. At the end of the tour, the father gave Kamon some money. "For the bananas we fed to the elephants," he said. Kamon accepted it gratefully. A very friendly gesture.

Purchase this book or download sample versions for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-12 show above.)