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Said The Gibbon
by Adam Lewis Schroeder

A truck could be heard far away. His eyes left the tired cigarette and fixed on the furry object in the road. It was another monkey, a gibbon, with a black coat and white belly and little white hands so he looked to be wearing gloves. He tilted his head to study Amin. His fur was crusted with faeces.

Would it please you, said Amin, to strike a match for me?

I have nothing of the kind, said the gibbon, I only wait here for the trucks and I hit the driver with this. The gibbon held up a ball of faeces that he was shaping in his hands and grinned at Amin. An acrid heat emanated from the ball. It smelled very ripe.

Amin realized that this was going to make it difficult for him to get a ride. A red cockroach struggled to push herself out of the ball but the gibbon pushed her back inside with his finger.

Nenek probably warned you about me, said the gibbon. Everyone says I should take orders from him, but he is happy to watch while they burn the forest down around him. I wouldnít be surprised if he had something to do with it! Do you not have a son yourself who is involved in the cause? A tall fellow? Iím sure of it!

Amin had no children. He had never even had a wife. His mother had often encouraged him to drink tea with the parents of certain girls, but he was sure that nothing had ever come of it.

Permisi, said the gibbon, but I wonder if now you could stand in the road, sir, as though you wanted a ride, and when the truck stops Iíll go right in the window and get him a good one! Do the trucks recognize my right to govern myself? No! They want to help themselves to the forest but they do not want the forest to have any help! Now you please just pretend you need a ride. This is the beginning of our movement, sir. It begins with you and I. Poor peasants and fishermen, jungle flora and fauna like myself, we are victimized by the men in town and their trucks that reach out to strangle the countryside, they make victims of us all!

I do need a ride, said Amin.

Thatís the spirit, sir, said the gibbon.

Now the sound of the truck was angry and loud and they could see the cloud of dust coming around the bend. The gibbon nodded to Amin and hurried into the jungle, his spindly arms straight above his head. Amin put the cigarette back into his pocket, gave a few tugs to tighten the cloth on his head and straightened up as quickly as he could.

The truck was piled high with ironwood. Amin walked into the road and waved an arm over his head, but the truck sounded its horn and did not slow down. Amin waved both arms, hopped on one foot, and did not move out of the road. He had to see his friend Pak Arafim! If the driver was friendly he could soon be in town. The back end of the truck swayed a little across the road, the logs creaked and the axles whined, but it stopped in front of Amin. The pain in his side was suddenly excruciating and treetops whirled past Aminís eyes. He concentrated, though, kept his feet, and stumbled to the driverís window.

The driver had a moustache and a lot of fat, and was eating rice with his fingers. Rice was stuck to his lips and his cheeks. The truckís dashboard was covered with pictures of women in revealing costumes, and Arabic phrases. Amin could not read Arabic, though when he was young his mother had told him that a boy who could would be the star of the mosque each Friday. And that every girl would fancy the star of the mosque. Loud music blared from the cab of the truck.

Watch out, the driver shouted, there is a dangerous monkey near here!

Just then the gibbon ran out of the jungle, hoot-hooting in his loudest voice with the ball of faeces high above his head. The driver leaned across the cab and frantically started rolling up the window. Amin stepped back from the truck lest the truck speed away and his toes be crushed. Oh, he was tired. How he wanted to lie down!

Solidarity! screamed the gibbon, and he hurled the faeces with his long arm. The driver wound up the window as quickly as he could but still had a few inches to go because the window was stubborn and old. The faeces lodged in the gap at the top and the red cockroach fell out onto the seat.

The gibbon put a white-gloved paw to his brow.

Ha! said the driver. He lowered the window and the faeces ball fell down into his hand. Iím keeping this, you bastard! he shouted at the gibbon. Youíre not getting this back! He set the ball on the passenger seat, found first gear and roared off down the road.

Amin watched the truck pass and the gibbon give chase, vaulting along on his slender arms.

Terima kasih, pak! shouted the gibbon over his shoulder. The truck slowed for an instant as the driver looked for second gear and the gibbon leapt onto the back with the logs. And as he climbed up to the cab the truck began lurching across the road, one wheel going up into the grass, creepers whipping the windows. The gibbon beat on the top of the cab with his fists. Amin imagined that the cockroach had wriggled under the tight waistband and was making merry in the driverís trousers. The truck struggled across to the other side of the road, the front wheel went over a rock, and the cab tilted over at a dangerous angle. The gibbon leapt off into the trees. The truck tore through the foliage until it toppled over completely, skidded along in the dirt for a hundred more feet and burst into flame. Then there was a large explosion and the truck and the logs were on fire. A column of black smoke tumbled into the sky.

The truck was a long way down the road and Amin squinted his eyes. All around him, deer and monkeys and clouds of insects came out of the jungle to see what had happened. The gibbon strolled onto the road and inspected the wreck.

What has this place become? thought Amin.

Adam Lewis Schroeder is cheating on Beckam with us.

***

AUTHOR'S NOTE: When I wrote the story "Pak Arafim the Pharmacist" a few years ago there was this lengthy passage with a talking gibbon that I ended up cutting -- well, 2 or 3 pages may not sound lengthy but at the time I'd only ever written stories and that was a lot. It was integrated into the rest of the story in some ways -- the first mention of Amin's son, the death of the truck driver who's mentioned near the end -- and though Amin was present for the whole passage he was mostly just watching the gibbon run around, and in the context of a 25-page story in which he did something (however feeble) in almost every sentence, that was too little Amin. So I cut the gibbon passage and it was the first significant cut I'd ever made so I was proud of myself.




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