We Stupid Apes

Entry by: Freya

24th August 2016
To err is apish

Limping Joe was even less hairy than my wife. Lucinda had always tried to hide the fact by adorning herself with branches of trees and wild flowers. But the other females – all boasting beautiful brown coats – couldn’t be duped; Lucinda had been ostracised since her youth. They called her Skinny Lucinda, not for her meagre body but for the pale skin shining through the barely visible fur. Since Lucina and I got engaged and then married, others left her alone, but she remained shy, preferring to limit her excursions to the outskirts of our family tree in case she met one of her old persecutors.

So, when I first lay my eyes on Limping Joe, it wasn’t his mal-formed leg that drew my attention. It was his bare skin. He was unlike any ape I knew. Of course, we had our share of quirks in the tribe. Old Karl Big Mouth was born an albino, for example, and nobody much minded. He was gifted by the nature with a rich fleece, though. At the moment I met Limping Joe, as at any other point in my life, I considered our tribe to be as tolerant as any other tribe of apes. But strangeness always brings disquiet. It reminds us of our own little departures from the norm and we dread them being noticed by the others. Nobody wants to be singled out.

The guards, two bulky youngsters, brought him to me as soon as they spotted Limping Joe wandering aimlessly through our woods. His eyes shot terrified glances at myself and my faithful elders who accompanied me to greet him. But he let the guards carry him to me without protest. For an ape with his unimpressive stature, it would be pointless to fight the guards, and I was pleased to see that he was wise enough to comprehend that.

Limping Joe’s skin glossed in the sun with droplets of perspiration. He appeared so naked without his fur that the little ones pointed with their fingers the only hairy spot on his body and giggled. His man’s parts did look kind of funny, as if they grew out of a tiny tuft of grass. The reddish tint of these hairs didn’t add to the general miserable appearance of this malnourished and ugly ape. But I consider myself one of the most open-minded chiefs our tribe ever had – I married an outcast Lucinda after all. Her family wasn’t powerful, and everyone knew I married for love. But one thing is to marry a female with underdeveloped fur and the other to meet a nearly completely hair-free male.

I asked the guards to release him and spoke to him kindly. He didn’t understand me, and the language he responded in sounded foreign to me. Seeing however that I had no intention of harming him, he used his hands to tell me his story.

He fared from afar and came by water from a land apparently crowded by the apes resembling him in looks. A poor miserable lot, I pitied them, eying Limping Joe from his bald head to his skinny legs, one of which was shorter than the other. He waved his palms in front of my eyes many times to show how numerous his tribe was. His family cruised in a wooden shell powered by wind. A big storm erupted and he was lost at sea, drifting on a log of timber to our shores.

I shuttered his hopes explaining to him that the apes like him were unknown to us. The only ape with so few hairs was Lucinda but she must have appeared to him unlike the females of his tribe as his eyes spilled water. Only then he truly realised he was alone among strangers. He fell to the ground unresponsive to my prompts for more storytelling. For days he ignored us – even the antics of the little ones didn’t draw a smile from him. If not for my dearest Lucinda who fetched food for him, he would have starved to death.

One day he broke his stupor and started helping the females to gather bananas. They didn’t trust him at first and kept their distance but in time they accepted Limping Joe. From the first, Lucinda took to him and Limping Joe to her, treating my dearest as his long lost sister. The tribe’s gossipers warned me that he might want to take her from me but I told them to mind their own business. Lucinda was my soulmate, and I was Limping Joe’s friend, his only male friend. His arrival and then his decision to join the tribe didn’t please the apes. With his narrow shoulders and a small chest, he wasn’t considered a sparring partner for the males. The youngsters, full of stamina and juices of life, persecuted him when I wasn’t around. When I challenged them and tried to open their little minds to the opportunities for learning new things from the stranger, they nodded but then carried on with their torments. A few times Lucinda had to come between the youngsters and Limping Joe and reasoned with them but it only made matters worse.

When I ran out of patience I used my position of the chief and the support of the elders to threaten the youngsters with exile, the most serious form of punishment known to apes. We couldn’t afford a long-standing conflict in such a close-knit tribe as ours. The youths got scared and settled for a while. They avoided Limping Joe and kept their distance from Lucinda. For the latter I was particularly grateful as my wife had become teary and fragile of late. I was concerned for her health and, as it turned out, for good reasons. In the weeks following the arrival of Limping Joe, she started losing energy to the point of not being able to leave her bed. Her body burnt and trembled and she refused nourishment. Somebody then spread the gossip that she caught her sickness from Limping Joe, as she stayed so much in his company. I told the tribe strongly to stop their silly insinuations. Limping Joe, other than his leg, was in perfect health as everyone could see. I was harsh with my apes and as always they yielded to my strong stature, fearing my power. Had they known how fragile I felt inside, they would have removed me from the position of chief in a split second. But success in life is a matter of appearance, more often than not. Act strong and the others will take you for one.

As my dearest Lucinda shrank in front of my eyes, I lost interest in the world. I ignored the matters of the tribe and turned deaf to even the kindly expressed concerns of the elders. As the gentlest of wives finally passed away, I barricaded myself in our tree for days, oblivious to everything but my pain.

When I returned to the world of the living, the damage was already done. My tribe was no longer my own. Attributing my grief to weakness, a few youngsters started terrorising the tribe. One of them, a huge, sinewy ape, called Kampa led the upraising of the young against the old.

Limping Joe was the first victim of this revolution.

While Lucinda lied on her death bed and I tended to her with all my love, one of the she-apes, Karina, befriended Limping Joe. She was young, cheerful and as open-hearted as Lucinda, her only fault being the sister of Kampa. As she knew her brother’s sentiments towards the hairless ape, she took pains to hide their friendship. In time, however, as Limping Joe and Karina became more than friends, the infatuated she-ape lost her vigilance.

On the night when the uprising erupted, I was already back from my weeks of solitude, gathering with the elders in a small clearing in our bush where we held our usual council. As we were coming up with the ideas on how to occupy our youngsters better so that they invested as much energy in the development of their minds as they seemed to spend working on their muscles, a loud noise cut through the twilight. We leapt to our feet and ran as fast as we could towards its source. As we reached the centre of our settlement, I froze. Two bodies, still warm, lied on the ground, their throats torn, their skin clawed. The youngsters jumped around their trophies in a crazy dance. I gazed at Kampa. It was his sister that lay there next to her lover but he didn’t seem to care, so drunk he was with power.

And, he was the one who murdered them. The lovers met far from our settlement, in the thicket which witnessed their lovemaking many times before and until that moment hid them well from prying eyes. Kampa suspected his sister for quite some time and asked his cronies to follow her. As soon as they located the love nest, Kampa administered his justice. As he was stronger than any ape but me, killing the two presented no difficulty. But it wasn’t a crime of passion which one could forgive. Quite the opposite. Kampa planned it well and brought his cronies to watch his success. What better proof of his steely character than killing his only sister for disobedience?

The youngsters surrounding the corpses moved closer towards me and the elders. There were ten of them and strong as only young he-apes could be. While none could defeat me in a one-to-one combat, a group of them could easily overpower me. The elders behind me started to retreat. They were no fighters. I kept them as my council for their brains, not their fists. I then challenged Kampa for a duel but he merely laughed. He wasn’t stupid. His cronies just witnessed his power and he had no plan to lose his stance in their eyes. They overtook us quickly, slaughtered their grandfathers and uncles without even blinking, their hunger for control finally quenched.

I wasn’t fortunate to die that day or the next. They built me a cage and have kept me there since as their plaything. Each morning when Kampa and his apes still dream their bloody dreams, some kind-hearted female or a little one tiptoes to my prison and offers food and drink. Every day anew I promise myself I won’t put anything in my mouth, to not prolong my existence, but I always fail. I do not know why. I have no reason to live, with Lucinda gone, the elders butchered, and my friend Limping Joe’s remains already half-eaten by the worms. From my cage I see violence and terror. I see the rule of the fist under which many hairy backs bleed. But I also see young apes celebrating their victory. As if youth prevailing over old age was a reward unequalled by anything else. As if replacing a ruler who governed with his brain and his heart with the one who chooses power and physical strength was the greatest good. But we stupid apes desire power above anything else.

I worry that with such a leader my apes will not evolve beyond the mundane. We will never better ourselves. But then I remember that to err is apish and I pray that the leader who supersedes Kampa will have his strength but my heart. Perhaps I cling to life to remind my apes that no rule is eternal. Perhaps they will take some reassurance from my perseverance. A bright day always comes, even after a seemingly endless night.