RED MONKEY SAM
That cheeky monkey! Every time I opened the kitchen window to let in some air I let in the monkey as well. He paused just a moment to bare his teeth and hiss at me, then he ran wild through the house. Climbing over furniture, opening cupboards, biting into anything that looked vaguely edible. And those teeth; incisors as long and sharp as needles. There are two types of monkeys here. We see them both in the forest around our house. There are the Dusky Leaf Langurs, who are quiet and shy; then there are the long-tailed macaques who are aggressive and mean. This monkey was one of the mean ones. He was really terribly bad-mannered and ill-tempered, and intrusive too.
“You must shoot him,” said Encik Azan.
Easy for him to say. While I didn’t want him in my house – the monkey I mean, not the old village elder – I certainly didn’t want to kill him.
“But this is how we do. Otherwise how to stop him?”
“Well couldn’t we just catch him somehow and bring him away? Put him in a box and drive him to the other side of the island?”
“This monkey clever one lah. He will come back. This island not so big. He knows where you live. He likes it here.”
I couldn’t see what it was that attracted the monkey to our simple wooden house. Nigel said the he must have lived here in a previous life and had come back to haunt this place. I told him it was a monkey, not a ghost, but whatever drew him, the monkey just kept coming back.
The sole of one of my shoes was coming undone, the result of tramping home through an unexpected monsoon storm. I’m not one to throw out a decent pair of shoes. I bought a tube of Superglue at the little supermarket at the crossroads. It’s a messy untidy shop, but you can find everything there, except ginger-nut biscuits – they stopped stocking them about 6 months ago when I bought the last remaining six packets. I asked the shopkeeper to get them in again, a chubby smiling woman who wears a tudong and wire-framed glasses and sits on her stool all day.
“No point to buy, auntie,” she told me. “I buy and then sell out so fast lah.” I pondered the logic of this for a moment and shook my head, paid for the superglue and left.
The superglue was on the kitchen counter, still in its outsized plastic and cardboard wrapping. I mean, so much packaging for just one tiny tube of glue? Madness. I hadn’t gotten around to glueing my shoes yet, I was working my way down my to-do list, sweating after pushing a damp mop around the kitchen floor. I opened the window for a breath of fresh air, in the hopes of a breeze coming in off the sea. Instead of a breeze of course I got a monkey.
I had taken to calling him Sam. I don’t know why, it just seemed like a name that suited him. So Sam came barging past me and started opening the kitchen cupboards, pulling out all my pots and pans. The old Le Creuset, that I had insisted Jennifer bring over when she was on her break from uni proved too heavy for Sam, so he looked around for something else and I suppose the shiny plastic of the superglue wrapping caught his eye. In no time he had ripped it open with his teeth and pulled the little yellow tube of glue from its wrapping, as if extracting a nut from a shell. I was impressed – it takes me ten minutes of pulling and struggling to open packets like that until I give up and throw it at Nigel in frustration. Nigel is a practical man. He uses a box-cutter to open everything, a trick he learned when we used to buy CDs, which were always impossible to unwrap. I suppose he thought the tube of glue was some sort of fruit – Sam I mean, not Nigel. He sniffed it, held it up and looked at it, then popped it in between his teeth and bit down.
“No,” I screamed. I had a sudden vision of Sam with his teeth permanently stuck together and unable to eat and eventually wasting away from starvation. And while the thought of it was terrible I saw the funny side of it as well and started to laugh. Don’t ever laugh at a monkey. Don’t even smile. When they see that, they see you baring your teeth and take it as an immediate threat. Maybe Sam was intimidated. I had never faced him down or threatened him before, though there were a few incidents with the sweeping brush, which cost me a few porcelain ornaments in the living room. I had brought them to remind me of home, but had long since decided I didn’t like them and I was happy with our new life of retirement on this island and didn’t particularly want to be reminded of the wet dreary climate of home, so loosing the ornaments was no big deal. In fact I took the chance to smash a few more while I was at it, knowing that if Nigel asked, I could just blame it on Sam, who seemed so shocked by my shouting and sudden laughter that he dropped the tube of glue to the floor. It was a miracle it hadn’t burst and when Sam jumped out the window I picked up the glue and smiled at the little teeth indentations on the soft metal tube. I still have it in a drawer in the kitchen and bring it out to show guests whenever we have anyone over for dinner, which is not all that often nowadays in fairness. At first we invited every white face we met on the island, but very few of them ever invited us back in return and most of them, to be honest, are a bit too fond of the drink.
“Auntie,” called Encik Azan from outside the house. I went out to meet him. He was carrying a sort of metal cage with a hoop on it.
“I bring this for your monkey,” he said. “It is a trap and you will catch him inside. You must open it like this,” he said, opening the spring-laden door. “Then you put a banana on this hook. Push the hook all the way in, top to bottom, then when monkey try the take the banana the door will close.” He let the metal door slam shut with a sudden metallic crash.
“But then what can we do?” I asked. “You said the monkey will come back.”
“Then what we do is we bring the cage to the sea and tie a big rock.”
“But that’s awful. You mean you drown the monkey?”
“Yes, if we don’t shoot the monkey we drown the monkey. But there is one other way.”
“I’m not sure I want to know another way to kill a monkey, thank you very much.”
“No, I know you white people do not like to kill wild things, so I bring you this.”
From the folds of his long shirt Encik Azan produced an aerosol can of paint. I suspect he had it tucked into the hem of his sarong. He handed me the can. The lid was bright red.
“Yes. This, when you catch the monkey, you must spray on him. Make him all red. Then when you let him free he will go away. Other monkeys will not accept him.”
I talked it over with Nigel that evening when he came back from his cycle with Jim. He was breathless and sweat was pouring down his face, he looked tired. I see him looking more tired these days. Neither of us are getting any younger. We will probably die on this island. If I go first I have told Nigel that I want to be cremated at the Hindu temple up by the rubber plantation. A few old expats have been sent off that way. I used to think death was something terrible, but some days I’m so tired that I feel it will be a release. Still, we have a few more years in us yet and Nigel’s cycling keeps him fit and he has a body of a man 15 years younger, so I’m not going to complain, am I? You’re only as old as the man you feel, as they say. Anyway once he’d had a shower and guzzled a litre of water we sat down to watch the sun set into the sea. It’s a ritual we have that we started the very first day we moved to this house. It’s our time together. Most days we don’t even talk, we just sit and watch the sunset in silence and sip our drinks, but this evening I tell Nigel about Cik Azan’s visit and the spray-can of red paint.
“Can’t do any harm to try, I guess,” said Nigel. “After all, nothing else has worked to get rid of the damn thing.”
The trap was set the next day. We left the kitchen window open and closed the door. Within minutes we heard the snap of the cage door springing shut and a surprised shriek from poor Sam, who still didn’t know what fate had in store for him.
Nigel picked up the cage by the arched hoop, while Sam jumped around inside.
“Heavy bastard. Hard to carry with him moving around like that.”
My heart went out to him – Sam that is, not Nigel. Well I suppose to Nigel as well, but in a different way. He brought Sam down to the end of the garden, by the row of bougainvillea plants. I followed along with the spray can in my hand and passed it Nigel.
“I’m not bloody doing it,” he said, handing the paint back to me. “This was your idea, not mine.”
“It was Cik Azan’s idea,” I said “Anyway you always said painting was a man’s job.”
“Yes, but I meant painting the walls or the doors. I never said anything about painting bloody monkeys.”
I responded with a silent pout. When needs be a woman has to use what she has.
“Oh, give me the bloody thing then,” said Nigel, snatching the aerosol from my hand. I had to turn away to hide my victorious smile.
“Step back,” he said. “Don’t want you painted red as well.”
I did as I was told and Nigel shook the can. Sam was quieter now but kept looking from Nigel to me and back again. Nigel brought the spray-can close and pushed down on the little white button. The hissing sound of the aerosol was instantly drowned out by Sam’s shriek. You could tell the poor thing was terrified. Nigel threw down the can in disgust. Sam was still screaming, but he just had a red stripe down the front of his chest.
“This isn’t right,” he said, shaking his head. “You deal with it,” he growled and stormed off to go back to the house.
I stood looking at poor Sam, who was trying to wipe off the paint, but getting his tiny grey hands all red instead.
One thing about Nigel is he can never stay angry for long. It’s just not in his nature. While I might simmer for hours, Nigel’s tantrums are usually short and swift, over almost as soon as begun. Within minute he was back again. He had a bowl, a plastic wrapped pan of Gardenia bread, the wholemeal one, because the white one is awful and is laden with sugar and preservatives. As well as the bowl and the bread he had a bottle.
“Brandy,” he said. “Let’s knock the blighter out cold.”
Sam eyed Nigel warily, sniffing the air as he watched him break the bread up into small chunks. Then he poured the best part of half a bottle of brandy on top.
“If this won’t quieten him down, nothing will,” said Nigel grinning victoriously. I thought of mentioning the packet of Valium I keep in the bathroom cabinet -amazing that you can just buy the stuff over the counter without prescription here – but I decided to see how the booze worked first.
The trick was keeping Sam in the cage while opening the door wide enough to put the bowl inside. Nigel puffed himself up big and roared at Sam, showing his teeth and rattling the cage. Sam crouched in the corner trying to make himself small, suitably intimidated by my Alpha-Male husband. That gave Nigel a chance to quickly open the spring-loaded door and slip the bowl of boozy bread inside.
At first Sam didn’t move. He stayed cowering in the corner, eyeing us nervously with sad frightened eyes. I felt a lump in my throat, but at the same time told myself that we were doing the humane thing and that it was better for Sam than being shot or being drowned. We backed away to make him feel less threatened and after a minute or so he unfolded himself and crept forward on all fours to investigate his brandy-spiked meal. After one or two tentative sniffs he took a handful of the mushy bread and slurped it into his mouth. I swear I saw a tremor run through his little body, then a devious gleam light up in his eyes. He took more of the bread, and then more and soon he was visibly drunk. By the time the bowl was almost finished he was weaving from side to side. He finished the bowl with his head lowered inside, licking it clean of every last drop. Then he let out a loud belch and fell onto his back with his head moving from side to side and a little string of drool running down the side of his mouth. For a moment I thought we had killed him, but then he rolled over and soon we could tell by his regular breathing that he was asleep.
Nigel crept forward, armed with the aerosol, got up close and then opened fire. This time Sam hardly reacted. He moaned and coughed a little, but was too drunk to care what was going on. Nigel kicked the cage over; Sam’s little body rolling over inside. Then Nigel painted the rest of him red. I should have gone for the camera. A bright red monkey inside a red cage, but I was too engrossed in the moment to even think of it.
We let Sam sleep it off for a bit then Nigel opened the cage and lifted it up, letting Sam’s near lifeless body flop to the ground. After a moment or two he stirred and staggered to his feet. It took him a few attempts. He stared at us in incomprehension and then turned and made for the forest. We watched him try to climb a tree, but halfway up he fell down. He tried another tree with a similar result. In the end he just slunk away, his bright red coat of paint visible through the undergrowth for quite a distance until he was lost from sight.
We can keep the kitchen window open to let in the breeze now, since he’s gone. Sometimes I open the kitchen drawer and I spot the little yellow, chewed up tube of glue and think back half-sad and sorry, half- amused, of our adventures with red monkey Sam. We never saw or heard from Sam again.