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The Little Ape Man

August 4, 2017

The Little Ape Man

I was taking my usual walk through the densest part of the blessed jungle to the beginning of the sea. I love my tribe and my tribe loves me, but sometimes I just like to get away, have my own thoughts and enjoy all the life around me.

The sun had just risen and the day’s warmth was beginning, when a shaft of light pierced through the trees and showed me the thin white body of an infant child sleeping comfortably on a patch of soft vegetation and leaf fall, breathing noisily, his little chest rising and falling.

Well! We had not seen much of the whites in those days and many of us just found their pale skin, with its tendency to burn, rather amusing. We knew they had come from a long way away, were impressed by the quality of their trinkets (often made from strange stones and metals) and rather frightened by their tendency to shout and, of course, by their weapons, their guns.

None of the whites had stayed for a long time yet. The ones we had seen up to that point were explorers, looking for what they would not say. They were friendly enough, more scared of us than we were of them seemingly, but I was one of those who always wondered about the meaning of things and I did wonder what might happen if more of this strange tribe appeared.

I would not disturb the boy’s sleep, of course, while I looked at him enquiringly (he seemed unhurt), looked around for signs of how he had arrived there (no sign in the immediate vicinity though when I got to the sea later there were traces of shipwreck) and half jokingly muttered,

Go back to your own country!” as people often do when they see a stranger.

The child seemed healthy enough, despite his strange appearance, but I knew he would need raising and looking after. I had no child of my own and could think of no one in my village who wanted one just then.

When one finds a lone infant animal in the bush we usually leave it to wait for its mother to find, unless it is obviously sick or injured or would make good eating. But this strange creature seemed so close to human, with no sign of its mother near, so incongruous and helpless that I did feel under some obligation, however uncalled for. The white people might have left him as some sort of gift perhaps, or because they couldn’t look after him themselves, or as a trick, that could harm our people, introducing a new sickness (as I knew they had done before) or turn us all white! More whites might appear and blame us for harm coming to their youngster, or accuse us of stealing their child, in order to wage war upon us.

I looked at this sleeping boy with something like resentment. I wanted peace in my life just then and did not relish the thought of taking care of another’s needs, but I knew he was really too young to be left alone to fend for himself.

More creatures of the day could be heard and puffs of mist rose from the ground as the day achieved its full heat, and the boy woke, shaking his straight black hair, opening his sleepy blue eyes and opening his mouth to scream like the baby he was.

I calmed him, gently taking him by the shoulder at first but when he could not stand I cupped him in my hands, swung him round to see all the jungle and set him down again on a more comfortable, drier patch of ground.

Listen!” I said, as patiently as I could, but of course he would not and kept on screaming until he gulped for breath.

He was old enough to walk, but still small enough to want to be carried. His eyes grew clearer as he calmed a little, but then he began to stare at me with what looked to me like great resentment, as if he felt the right to take over my life just because he had arrived there, though I certainly hadn’t invited him!

So, though I should have loved this pale, black haired stranger as a child I found I couldn’t. I just saw him as a problem, to be dealt with quickly and kept away from my village, my people.

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I tried singing to him as one does to a baby but he writhed and pulled faces, as if he did not like my voice, my face, my very presence. Perhaps the poor boy just wanted his mother but I felt challenged and hated, as if I was the one who didn’t belong.

The day was warm enough now to bring out a sweat in both of us. I tried to cool him a little with a broad leaf but he batted it away with his little arms, kicking his legs too, and he would not try to stand, would not be comforted.

It would be a simple matter to take him in my arms and embrace him by force but he wasn’t mine and I found I couldn’t do it.

It was a problem! I laughed but he would not share the joke and I looked around,searching for other company.

High in the trees the little birds had started chattering and chirping, and nearer to the jungle floor I saw a couple of macaques darting around on some errand, but they would not come nearer and show curiosity because of the noise the boy was making.

I hadn’t seen her before, of course, but I was then startled by the soft thump of a great ape arriving beside me.

They rarely come so close but she knew I was tame for her and wasn’t afraid.

Her eyes were sad and I noticed she was still holding her own child close to her though that poor little beast was already dead.

So now I was stuck between the two of them and though the white boy had not yet noticed the great ape mother she was full of curiosity about him, whimpering and tugging at my arm as if asking permission to go nearer.

Perhaps I should not have done what I did. My people would have taken good care of the boy even if a single family had not taken him. But I did not want him living in my village; I did not want those cold eyes staring at me every day.

The great she ape had no such qualms. She whimpered and pushed against me and when the boy heard and seemed to notice her for the first time, he imitated her noise and then resumed his own crying. I lost patience, stopped blocking her way and let the animal approach the human child.

I retreated some distance but kept watch to see there was no violence, waiting to see if some bonding might be possible between the strange pair.

As if she thought his tears were for her dead child she lay the little corpse at the boy’s feet. He sat up and turned away violently as if disgusted but soon directed his attention towards the mother. She didn’t seem displeased by this, and I could see her effort to transfer her maternal feelings to this little stranger.

Too shy and gentle to touch him yet, her heavy hands pulled at the shrubbery around him as if to make the ground smoother, bringing them closer gradually, to tempt the boy.

It looked to me like more of his disgust but she was eager to overcome the boy’s hesitation and gave a triumphant yelp when, finally, he deigned to touch her finger.

Before we knew it she had the white child in her grasp and clinging to her neck, as she bounded away and disappeared into the jungle with him, leaving me alone with her natural baby.

I waited and listened and soon the retreating cries faded or were drowned by the other sounds of the bush.

I felt guilty at first but was full of stories it suited me to believe of the strange adoption of one animal by another.

I forgot the whole incident for a long time as I wanted, but this black haired, white skinned lost little boy would prove to be the one who grew to be a terror to all animals, even those who raised him, whose tricks soon stopped making my people laugh but became sinister, who, once other whites had found him, would call himself the lord of the jungle and expect to be treated as such.

Sometimes I think things might have been different if I’d treated him more kindly, but mostly I’m just glad I got him and his curse away from me.

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