But 1 at that moment I glanced around at the crowd that had followed me. It 2 was an immense crowd, two thousand at the least and growing every minute. It blocked the road for a long distance on either side. I looked at the sea of yellow faces above the garish clothes-faces all happy and excited over this bit of fun, all certain that the elephant was going to be shot. They were watching me as they would watch a conjurer about to perform a trick. They did not like me, but with the magical rifle in my hands I was momentarily worth watching. And suddenly I realized that I should have to shoot the elephant after all. The people expected it of me and I had got to do it; 3 I could feel their two thousand wills pressing me forward, irresistibly. And it was at this moment, as I stood there with the rifle in my hands, that I first grasped the hollowness, the futility of the white man’s dominion in the East. Here was I, 4 the white man 5 with his gun, standing in front of the unarmed native crowd — 6 seemingly the leading actor of the piece; but in reality I was only an absurd puppet pushed to and fro by the will of those yellow faces behind. I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys. He becomes a sort of hollow, posing dummy, the conventionalized figure of a sahib. For it is the condition of his rule that he shall spend his life in trying to impress the ‘natives’, and so in every crisis he has got to do what the ‘natives’ expect of him. 7 He wears a mask, and his face grows to fit it. 8 I had got to shoot the elephant. I had committed myself to doing it when I sent for the rifle. A sahib has got to act like a sahib; he has got to appear resolute, to know his own mind and do definite things. To come all that way, rifle in hand, with two thousand people marching at my heels, and then to trail feebly away, having done nothing — no, that was impossible. The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. 9
Metal ground against metal; 2a lurching shudder shook the floor beneath him. He fell down at the sudden movement and shuffled backward on his hands and feet, drops of sweat beading on his forehead despite the cool air.3 His back struck a hard metal wall; 4 he slid along it until he hit the corner of the room. Sinking to the floor, he pulled his legs up tight against his body, hoping his eyes would soon adjust to the darkness. 5
With another jolt,6the room jerked upward like an old lift in a mine shaft.
Harsh sounds of chains and pulleys, like the workings of an ancient steel factory, echoed through the room, bouncing off the walls with a hollow, tinny whine.7 The lightless elevator swayed back and forth as it ascended, turning the boy’s stomach sour with nausea; a smell like burnt oil invaded his senses, making him feel worse. He wanted to cry, but8 no tears came; he could only sit there, alone, waiting. 9
My name is Thomas, he thought.
That… that was the only thing he could remember about his life.
He didn’t understand how this could be possible. His mind functioned without flaw, trying to calculate his surroundings and predicament. Knowledge flooded his thoughts, facts and images, memories and details of the world and how it works. He pictured snow on trees, running down a leaf-strewn road, eating a hamburger, the moon casting a pale glow on a grassy meadow, swimming in a lake, a busy city square with hundreds of people bustling about their business.10
And yet he didn’t know where he came from, or how he’d gotten inside the dark lift, or who his parents were. 11 He didn’t even know his last name. 12 Images of people flashed across his mind, but there was no recognition, their faces replaced with haunted smears of color. 13 He couldn’t think of one person he knew, or recall a single conversation.
The room continued its ascent, swaying; Thomas grew immune to the ceaseless rattling of the chains that pulled him upward.14A long time passed. Minutes stretched into hours, although it was impossible to know for sure because every second seemed an eternity. 15 No. He was smarter than that. Trusting his instincts, he knew he’d been moving for roughly half an hour.