Sumatra, or Bust!

We know from our ancient collective memory that a very, very, very long time ago the human, a distant and quite difficult cousin, diverged from our common path of wisdom. We — and when I say we, I mean we, the simia, farflung over our world, from the robust down to our smallest relations, and not human — we remained, abided all, endured. The human, however, in the long ago as now, was never content. The human wanted the sky above the forest, like the birds, and has sadly lost so much. Its fur, the trees, its sense of humour.

My sometime friend and immediate neighbour, Gandalf, the zoo-born mountain gorilla penned with his mother and aunt, regularly, as in daily, flung his feces at visiting humans. These were young Gandalf's innocent attempts at cross-species connection. His generous sharing of a natural joy: the strength of his arm, and accuracy in his eye. Older myself, no zoo-born and no innocent, I understood, as they invariably chattered unpleasantly and scattered from the concourse, and his accurate peltings, that our hairless cousins simply might have been too long away from the trees.

Most evenings, afterward, we sat together and spoke of it. Nearly together. In adjoining enclosures. Gandalf, dejected, on his brushy sand island, and moat ringed around it. And I consoling, ever consoling — too long consoling, I saw this fair evening — from high within my puzzle forest of broken trees the human arranged for my stay.

"Doctor Zaius, why won't they play with me?" Gandalf asked, again.

I was away in thought a long moment before replying him.

Doctor Zaius, the human had named me. She liked teevee, a box of lights and sounds and wonders. The name suggested by teevee. When I was little, she had kept me in a warm room. She, me, and teevee. The world was white outside, and strange. It burned my hand when I touched it. I held tightly to her, because little, I needed her warmth, needed her heart beating under my ear. But she was not my mother, nor could she ever be. And teevee not once could answer me directly, the poor thing.

"You are from Sumatra, Doctor Zaius." she sang to me, "The Malay call you o'rang'hutan. Forest person."

Even before she sang me it, it was a fact I always knew, somehow.

Gandalf was waiting. Gleaming eyes watching. Sitting on his haunches in the sandy beach in the twilight, by the moat filled up to keep him in.

"They won't play, because they have mostly lost their way, my young padowan." It was my usual consoling response.

The great puzzle tree they had made to amuse me also afforded an uncomplicated way outside, over the surrounding fence, until recently. But then I liked a puzzle. With night fast descending, reaching my arms, I swung, branch after branch, along the likeliest path.

"You going out, Doctor Zaius? To watch teevee?"

"Yes, Gandalf."

It had been easy, leaping those many nights from the last branches of my puzzle tree, into the great tree on the concourse. Then toddling over the ground to the window, to the light and sounds, and teevee, and man watching it. Until the night the man turned, saw me peering in, and yowled. Then they cut back my puzzle tree.

"I like it when you come back and tell me about teevee, Doctor Zaius."

I hadn't decided yet if I would tell Gandalf that I wasn't coming back. I had decided I had stayed long enough. Displayed myself long enough. The humans had click'clicked enough pictures, and could now peer at them. I was going to Sumatra, however far Sumatra might be, and my forest, the forest of old dreams.

The puzzle tree ended. It ended too far to leap. But they had not cut away every last long twig. And remembering a wondrous thing a man did to that fence one rainy day, I saw a new way.

"Doctor Zaius..."

Dropping the long twig in the pond, I went to the fence, to the gate the man came through. To the small metal box. Picked up a rock. I hit the box, again, again, again, and again. It opened.

"Doctor Zaius! — I remember th...that's bad!"

The dark guts inside the box seemed dead. I threw the rock inside. It spat blue fire. I had woken it up.

"Man didn't get up, Doctor Zaius! — Bad bad bad! —"

"SHUDDDUP! — YOU SHOULD BE ASLEEP IN YOUR BUSHES!" — Gandalf's mother. His aunt, also, sleepy annoyance pop'popping in her voice.

I dragged the wet twig from the pond. And paused, thinking at first perhaps to touch one end of the twig to the strange blue spitting fire inside the box and the other end to the fence. Remembering then the man, I certainly yelped — simply flung the wet long twig at the sparking box and the fence.

There came one great flash, hard like lightning. I fled to the puzzle tree. Peering, seeing the box dark, dead again, I ventured nearer, and nearer the fence. Saw one end stuck in the fence, the other inside the dark box, the twig really hardly at all smoking. Tentatively, reached my hand to touch the fence...


Startled by Gandalf's outburst, I sprang — all fours upon the fence.

Evidently, now the fence was dead. However, a torchlight was coming along the concourse, swinging over the ground in time with the man running with it.

The End

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