I dislike monkeys. Totally personal. I am aware that essentializing monkeys is quite possibly unfair. There is a remote, very remote chance that there are nice monkeys. A few. Somewhere. I have not met them. So I stand firm: I dislike monkeys.
Two in the afternoon in the magical house on the West African coast (see ‘About’). Siesta time! My parents and little sister were upstairs napping away the hottest hour of the day. For me the equivalent of “home alone”! I was downstairs with a magnificent view to the garden/jungle that surrounded the house, and the sea beyond. Palm trees swaying in the soft sea breeze. Not a sound about the house. For some strange – and fortunate – reason, the sliding glass doors were closed. A bit hot inside, but what does one care about the heat when one is seven or eight?
I was reading for the umpteenth time “Le lotus bleu”, a Tintin masterpiece. Bracing myself for the inevitable ending when Tintin and his new friend Chang part at the harbour in Shanghai. I had shed a tear the first time I’d read it. One is allowed to cry at seven or eight, right? Just a bit.
But the end of the Lotus bleu was still far away. I was on page 48, where Tintin and Chang have their picture taken near an old temple in China – and as all Tintin specialists know, the camera hides a machine-gun, and Tintin is treacherously shot – when a movement outside caught my eye. A reddish-brown movement on the crazy-pavement terrace. I looked outside and dropped my Tintin album on the floor! A large monkey was strolling on the terrace! No “Boogle” then but I knew it was a baboon. Probably a Guinea baboon. (I just checked the exact brand and model). We did live outside Conakry, Guinea, on the West African coast. The Guinea baboon model has a reddish fur, the face black. Weighs about 30 to 60 pounds. Kikipedia terms them the smallest baboon. I honestly don’t know where they get their information. This monkey looked big to me! (I’ll come back to that)
I moved quietly to the glass windows and watched the monkey, fascinated. It was strolling in this particular ambling gait of baboons. I was glad the doors were closed. Though we did not exactly live in the jungle, there were sometimes interesting animals outside. Snakes, some of them deadly. Some just impressive: Soriba the Soussou cook had just killed a 9-10 ft python in the garden a few weeks before. Much bigger than I was. Of course, it was all a better pretext to go out in the garden with my sister and play explorers.
Now this was the real thing! A mighty baboon! Wow! The monkey walked a bit, sat, turned around, walked a bit. Sat. And so forth.
Right then, to the left of the terrace, my cat Têtu, came trotting. Unaware. Têtu means stubborn in French. A fitting name for that cat. Concerned, I was watching the cat coming towards the monkey. Totally unprepared. The cat, not the monkey. The monkey was paying full attention. Têtu was trotting in his usual careless cat fashion when he came nose to nose with the monkey.
The cat screeched. Arched. All hair standing. Turned around and ran for his life! The baboon started running after MY cat! OMG! The cat found a palm tree somewhere. Made for it. Climbed to the crown at lightning speed. Bad choice. Since Têtu had never met a monkey before, he was unaware that monkeys are ve-ry good climbers… The wretched baboon started climbing the palm-tree slowly. When he reached the crown, he picked the cat by the neck and dropped it to the ground! Some twenty-thirty feet below! The cat landed in a metal wheelbarrow with a loud and clear “BANG”. Jumped back out of the wheelbarrow and fled. At least it was alive.
Me? I was mad! How could this monkey do that to MY cat? Revenge and retribution were in order. I ran – stealthily to not wake up anyone – to my room. I donned my cowboy coveralls. Fake leather with fringes. Strapped on my pistol belt. Real leather. With plastic copper-like bullets. I checked my Civil War Colt revolver replica. Black metal barrel. Wooden handle. (Blessed days when plastic had not invaded everything). Checked the powder paper caps. Not real bullets, unfortunately. A shame. Caps would have to do. Put on my hat. Not a cowboy hat, an Aussie hat, you know the kind: two flaps, button one flap to the top. Burn only one ear in the sun, not two. Very cool. I grabbed my trusted suction dart rifle. I had only three suction darts but I figured that would be enough.
Walked downstairs to the kitchen. Where was the cook? Probably napping too. I was on my own! I opened the kitchen door, and went out in the open to avenge my poor cat.
I walked quietly around the house, a miniature James Stewart o Gary Cooper, bent slightly forward, holding my trusted rifle in both hands. Close to the walls. Making no noise. (Barefeet). Searching for the wretched monkey.
Turned the first corner. On the lookout. Nothing. No monkey. No cat. Turned the second corner. Walked along the crazy-pavement terrace. Nothing. Turned the third corner behind the kitchen. I was back to where I’d started. Not a soul.
The sun was hot. I lifted my Aussie hat to wipe the sweat from my brow. When…
I felt a scratch, or a tickle on my neck.
I turned around slowly…
And found myself nose to nose with the grinning, upright monkey. Just about my height (a BIG monkey. Forget Kikipedia!) I jumped, screamed, turned around in mid-air, dropped my rifle and ran for my life!
I ran and I ran, the infamous animal trotting calmly behind me. I though: “tree”? No. No. Not tree. Door. Yes! Find a door. And still the monkey was running behind me at an annoying, slow rhythm.
I’m not sure how many times I ran around the house, twice? Thrice? Maybe just once, until I found a door, opened it. Barged in and shut the door slam behind me…
Panting I ran upstairs calling for my parents. When in dire straits, that’s what parents are for, right? I woke them up. Told them about the monkey, the chase, mine and the monkey’s. The latter definitely more successful. We all went downstairs, then out, my father leading the way. His job. Searched everywhere. No monkey. I was already sensing that they did not believe me. You know the kind of unspoken comment: “That boy has a vivid imagination!”
Fortunately my credibility was restored a few days later, when the abominable monkey came back to the garden with my mother present. The cook chased the monkey away with a broom. I hadn’t thought about a broom. Darn! Turns out the baboon was some kind of a “pet” to a neighbouring Minister, Trade or Foreign affairs or something, escaped regularly from his cage – the monkey not the Minister – and took great joy in scaring the household. And neighbours! And little boys and harmless cats.
The cat came back alive the next day. Limping and with a – very – foul mood. But from then on, we were comrades in arms, the cat and I. And totally agreed on one major issue: we did not like monkeys.
“Têtu” (stubborn) mulling over the incident. You can see the African sea in the background.
Yours truly. Some time later. Pondering whether to take my boat out and play pirates
or just dive and snorkel for a lost Spanish or maybe Portuguese treasure somewhere at the bottom of the sea.
Text and photos © BMO and Equinoxio
The cover photo of a distant relation of the infamous baboon is by Jakub Friedl, courtesy of your local friendly Kikipedia.