Sunday, May 15, 2011

I have seen Monkeys

Maybe you've seen monkeys.

Maybe you've come to the zoo and watched them, swinging from lengths of driftwood meant to simulate a tree. Climbing up metal rungs. You think of Curious George. You gesture to your daughter, "Just like Curious George," you tell her, your two faces in the glass sliding past as you leave the cages for the bright air. Monkeys. Check.

Maybe you're like me and you've come to Asia. You've sat in lines of smoke-coughing traffic to arrive at the monkey forest of such-and-such town, where your few rupiah or baht or yen buy a glimpse of the malingerers. Monkeys fed on bananas and puffy white bread. Monkeys with street smarts, ready to rob you blind--your hat, your lunch, even your wallet if you're not careful. Someone got bitten by a monkey, you heard, and had to get vaccinated for rabies, five whole shots. The monkeys look at you, nudge each other. "Check her out," one says to another. "Let's get her."

But I'm telling you, I have seen monkeys. Leaf-eating monkeys, monkeys running across the grass, shy and watching and balanced by wiry tails. One, then one, then one, baby, mother, father. Monkeys sliding down tree trunks, perfectly, like well-greased levers. Monkeys shaking the branches, loosing fingers of rain onto the tent above my head.

I've heard it--the kind of call they make, shuffling in the palm leaves. How many--20? 30? Those, just the ones I've seen and counted. Extravagant to guess more? They keep at least a few of themselves stationed above me all night long, like guards on duty. That call is neither the round cuckoo of a gecko nor an insect's rising bow over string. It is not the clownish screech of Curious George. More like, jungle. Like night and downpour and flashing eyes. A language from the land of tigers, different, but a sign those crouching cats could be near. The monkey's calls spill between my sleeping and waking, pushing and pulling at my dreams in their conversation's tides. What could happen, I wonder all night long, if they decide that I'm not welcome?

With the sun, relief breaks. Partly for having survived the imagined threat. And partly for not missing this, monkeys filling a forest and calling me back to the wild.

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