Thursday, September 30, 2010

The King's Life in the Balance

He was a pest, a curse, and a bane on so many of our lives. A rowdy of the first order, he bullied his way to the top of the trees. He only ate the sweetest, tenderest coconuts, supping out the centre of the young green fruits before wantonly throwing the remains to the ground, little caring that each bud he plundered would have given us an income, had we let them grow. He scared the kids, and seemed to take a fiendish delight in watching the kids run screaming back to their mums. He put us all on our guard, and waited for each of us to be alone before he'd appear in a doorway, growling from his belly and baring his teeth as he frightened us into giving up our last banana, or a tender guava, or a little bag of sugar or other sweets.

The monkey catcher came to catch him. He brings a cage with a trap door, and places tender food inside. Attaching the trap to a wire, he hides in the bushes, he melts into the leaves and soon the world forgets that he is there. Sooner or later a monkey is overcome by hunger or greed or both. He reaches in and finds the fruit secured. In tugging it he inches closer, then as he goes to grasp the prize — ker-lunk! the string is loosed, and that's our monkey trapped. Once that has happened, the rest is easy: the others, anxious to find out what's happened to their friend, will go to help. But the first one has worked his way into an inner chamber, leaving the first space empty, empty for another primate to enter. It's only a few hours more before seven or eight monkeys are encaged.

The cages are spacious, airy, roomy, and at all stages plentiful supplies of food and water are supplied. Before too long, two or three may be seen inside the cage, chatting and chewing, gossiping away about their new situation. One of them waves his paws expansively in the direction of the field, to explain the direction the troupe will be following next, as if he knows. He only needs to le the others think he knows.

Let's find out: The monkey man has lit a beedie and smoked it down to the stub. He asks for water, and a dish of rice and soup, before sitting on his haunches to consume his fare in similar vein to his cousins in the cage. The final stage of his job is drawing near, and with two large bags made of stitched-together paddy-sacks he hoops them over the other end of the cage. This also has a door, an escape door, and with a hucky-hucky-hushing sound he shoos them into the bag. A few deft sleights of the hand and the bag is released and tied and knotted, and we're handed a bag of wriggling monkeys.

Next step is grabbing a rider and hoiking the bag onto the motor-bike. We point ourselves away from the town and into the open road, deeper into the countryside, away from paddy, culture, crops and people. And while such places remain to us, we free ourselves and open up a further enterprise for them. We open the bag and shake it out, watching their bemused faces, as they purvey their land and wonder what's to steal. Adjusting from the darkness of the bag, they blink and wonder, even looking chattily in our direction as we let them out. For a few hours we were their captors, and now for many more they have their freedom; while we remain within our cages, made of bars you cannot see.

The King, however, never could be caught: he laughed defiantly as he bared his teeth, scorning the cages and bags, humiliating us all and out-witting the ruses of the monkey man. We settled down into an uneasy truce, we lived our lives and left the King to rule with tyranny atop the sighing trees.

Our King has Lost His Strength
And then there were the screams; the sobs, the cries of pain.
The Wheelchair Ridge becomes a Bed-rest
It made no sense, to hear the cries, and rush outside, and find the King of high trees crying on the ground.... Instead of Palm-fronds, leaves wet from a monsoon downpour now become the mattress for our King.      

The hard ridge I built to stop the wheelchair sliding into the soft silt becomes the place where Hero King will rest.

Oh yes, he was a nuisance sure, a plague, a pest, a background itch; it was our fervent wish that one day soon, the monkey man would catch him fast and bag him up so we'd carry him away, further than his kingly eyes could see, beyond our reach and out of sight and once and ever out of mind.

He cries for Help then shoos us off
Yet now it's different, now we want to know, what might have happened to make this fall from Grace. Was it a scorpion, or a krait, lurking in the bushy can-can tufts which blow and billow in the humid air? Was he stung? Did he fall? Nah! It seems unlikely, unbelievable that such a guy with street-cred such as this can fall, or break, or succumb in any way. Yet succumb he has.

We look up, suddenly suspicious of the electric cable, the government cable leaning on its rotting pole, sparking and hissing when the branches brush against it. Electricity, the unknown force, the unseen enemy of the Monkey King. His wives and children and minions, subjects all, are gathered in the bushes at the wall side of our compound. Seeing if we can help, they stare hopefully up, yet hiss at us if they think we mean him harm. Our Rowdy, our Nuisance, our Pest and Danger, and yet our King to climbed to heights and places where we can merely dream.

We Offer Food, the Choicest Monkey-fare we have...