I originally wrote this piece as an entry in the FaithWriters weekly challenge, under the topic of "Uncle." This week's Friday Fiction is being hosted over at The Surrendered Scribe, so head over there to read the other entries when you're through with mine.
A Monkey's An Uncle
Matoke finished his third somersault and came to rest in his favorite observation spot. He grabbed a palm branch and waved it a bit, but he didn’t really pay attention to its playful motion. He felt much more interested in The Vipara.
The Vipara came every day. At first they had frightened him, because they often bared their teeth when they looked at him, and sometimes they would jut their forelimbs right in his direction when they did so. It used to make him hide behind his mother, but he was older and braver now. Now he understood that the Transparent Hardness separated him from them. Sometimes he even dared to go right up close to the Transparent Hardness and put his hand on its cool surface, or even to rap on it. The Vipara always rapped back from their side.
Those hairless apes-that-weren’t-apes fascinated him, but Matoke couldn’t sit still for long. Life promised far more fun than he could ever find while plopped on his bottom in the dirt, so he grabbed a thick vine and swung on it. But he never really stopped watching them, even if only out of the corner of his eye. Perhaps he was crazy, but he couldn’t help thinking that THEY actually enjoyed watching HIM.
His preoccupation with them almost cost him, though. He didn’t see the ball of energy hurtling toward him until his arch rival was nearly on top of him.
Matoke leapt off of his vine with a scream. He slapped the ground hard a few times, then threw fistfuls of leaves up in the air.
Kuchekesha had claimed the vine as soon as Matoke abandoned it, and now he grimaced and wagged his head at Matoke’s tantrum.
Matoke screamed again, slapped harder, and threw even more leaves. “Come and get me, Kuchekesha!”
His rival could only take so many challenges. He flung himself down and charged Matoke, barreling into him with a force that sent them both tumbling. They wrestled for a few moments until a flea started to chew on Matoke’s back. He couldn’t reach it, so Kuchekesha found it and ate it for him.
On the other side of the Transparent Hardness, the Vipara made their funny throat sounds and bared their teeth and jutted their forelimbs.
“Why do you think they come and stare at us?” Kuchekesha asked.
“I think they need to learn from us,” Matoke replied. “Babu says they aren’t very smart.” Matoke spotted a flea on his friend’s shoulder and went after it. “What do you suppose happened to all their hair?”
“Why don’t you ask Babu?”
“Why don’t YOU ask Babu? How come you never talk to him?”
“I think he’s a little crazy, but don’t you dare ever tell him I said that!”
“You’re afraid of him!” Matoke taunted.
“Oh yeah? Then let’s see who gets the closest to him.” Matoke took off running foot-and-knuckle across the ground toward the motionless patriarch in the corner. But despite his bravado, he couldn’t help slowing to a very tentative pace when he got close. Even though he’d talked to Babu before, he wasn’t about to presume upon his good graces.
Kuchekesha followed him, but stayed back a few paces.
Matoke offered his best submissive postures and faces, and finally offered to remove a tick from the old silverback. Babu didn’t reject him, so he dared to speak.
“Babu, I know you have studied the Vipara for all the many years of your life. What do you think happened to their hair?”
“I don’t know.”
Kuchekesha spoke up from behind. “Matoke says you don’t think the Vipara are very smart. Why not?
Babu actually seemed amused. “The others will tell you I’m crazy, but I swear that I have learned to understand much of what they say with their mouths.”
“You think they’re actually communicating?” Matoke asked, wide-eyed.
“Absolutely. And here’s how I know they’re not very smart.” Babu turned to look full at Matoke with a twinkle in his eye.
“They think we’re their uncles!”
Matoke and Kuchekesha howled and rolled with laughter before scampering off to play some tag.
“Do you think Babu’s right?” Kuchekesha asked.
“Well, if he’s wrong, then he’s crazy. If he’s right, then the Vipara are crazy!”
The two playmates charged across boughs and branches, laughing and shouting “Uncle, uncle!”
On the other side of the Transparent Hardness, the Vipara bared their teeth, jutted their forelimbs, and made those funny noises in their throats.
The names in the story were taken from a Swahili-English dictionary. "Matoke" means "Banana." "Kuchekesha" means "Funny." "Babu" means "Grandfather." And "Vipara" (the hairless humans) means "Bald!"
(Photo taken by Betsy Markman at the Denver Zoo, 2003. That's my son, Andrew, in the reflection.)
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