Cities and suburbs, real and imaginary.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

baboons

feeling guilty for crap posts, and still too busy researching to fix this, i dug up an old short story i wrote in college, years and years ago.

it's not the kind of thing i'd send anywhere these days, and it's very simplistic compared to the labyrinths i'm bashing my skull against these days. still, i don't think it's too bad.

if you're lucky, one of these days i'll dig up this story called 'faithful dog'... remind me next time my posts start to stink.

(also, and in case you didn't know, baboons have always scared me.)


Baboons

1

The first time I saw baboons, they were in a zoo. They sat around, scratching themselves and waiting for their next meal. They didn’t look like much.

I pulled my mother’s hand.

I wanted to see those gigantic horses with so many weird spots.

We saw those dirty baboons first and I looked at them. We went to look at the giraffes and I was happy.

2

The second time I saw baboons, it was on TV. This nature show was about a drought in Africa. All these animals were drunk on fruit. The elephant was supposed to dig up the muddy, filthy water hiding under a riverbed.

Then, they showed this huge baboon, like a giant, snatching a baby gazelle, and tearing it to shreds with horrible teeth and powerful arms and blood everywhere.

The baboon licked its lips. The baboon looked up at the camera, chewing with an open mouth.

I looked from the television to my father, stoned out of his gourd and chewing a sandwich with this stupid grin on his face and his joint smoldering in an ashtray next to him, and I wondered if he would kill a little gazelle, too.

I knew what veal was by then, so I understood that these things had to happen sometimes.

My brothers were just little toddlers, and they had nightmares about the monkeys coming after them with human hands and animal teeth, in slow motion and they can’t run away.

3

When Santa Claus left me a small, stuffed baboon from the Lion King movie, I was very happy because I liked the movie, and the baboon character.

I didn’t take it with me when we went to Johannesburg.

4

My father came into our rooms with suitcases at three AM. We woke up to his naked back, shoving our clothes into the suitcases and tugging to keep his sweatpants up. My brothers from their bunk beds asked questions until my father barked at them to shut up, and then my brothers were crying.

I didn’t say anything. I just watched.

My mother talked about the passports from the hall.

We piled into the back seat of Mom’s car. She kept telling Dad to double-check the passports. He kept telling her to be quiet because she was scaring the kids.

We were scared, all right.

My mom bought tickets with three different credit cards. She had to use all of them to get me and my two brothers and my father and herself on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa. We were still in our pajamas. Dad had put on a flannel shirt and a baseball cap, but he was wearing the same ratty sweatpants from our bedroom.

I sat next to my mother on the plane. We took turns braiding each other’s hair on the flight. My brothers watched cartoons in the aisle seats next to me with their headphones. The cartoons played right on the seat backs in front of them.

My mother explained how the weather was going to be really weird in South Africa because Chicago was in snowy autumn, but South Africa was in a hot summer.

We had to change flights once, but I don’t know where we were when we changed flights. Everything looked old and dirty and everyone was talking in weird languages, and they were all these different colors of skin.

We got off, got to our next flight, and kept on flying. My brothers kept whining and asking questions. My father kept telling them to shut up.

Then, we landed in Johannesburg.

5

I held my brothers’ hands in customs. They wiggled, and pretended like they were trying to escape from my electrical grip that kept shocking them and shocking them.

I played along because it kept them from crying. My father talked us through customs. My mother pushed a huge cart with all of our luggage, and I was in charge of my brothers.

My father rented a car. We went to a motel in the middle of nowhere.

My mother dragged me into the bathroom. She took off her shirt, and she had duct tape all over her body.

She told me that she needed me to help her get the tape off. I pulled at it, gently. She was patient. She held her hair up so I could get the tape from her back. She spread her legs so I could pull it off her thighs.

Plastic bags full of Euros hid beneath the tape. I asked her what these strange, colorful pieces of paper were, and she told me that the paper was money from a faraway place, and when dad got back, he’d be taking this money with him and trading it in for the money from where we were.

6

I saw a baboon from the motel window. I looked out from the window, and I saw this huge ape, bigger than me, ambling down the middle of the road.

I clapped my hands and pointed so my brothers would come over and see the big baboon like a pedestrian. My brothers had to jump up to see over the window ledge, and had to struggle to see the animal. They kept shouting about the monkey.

Then, they jumped around the room like they were monkeys.

Mom smoked duty-free cigars in a corner chair. She seemed to be watching the flies buzz around the room. The motel had windows, but the screens were all torn. Big black bars kept the bigger stuff out, but the bars didn't stop flies.

7

When dad got back, he took some of the money mom gave him. He didn’t want to change too much of the money all at once, because people would notice. He put three or four plastic bags in his pocket, and he pulled out two huge buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a six-pack of Coke from some grocery bags he had brought back. He told us to keep the food away from the windows so the baboons wouldn’t bust in and steal it.

Baboons did that in Johannesburg. They tore through screens, tugged open locked windows with brute force, and snatched the food in the window.

We never saw dad again.

My mom smoked until she ran out of cigars. Then, she just sat there. I asked her when dad was coming back. She shrugged. She put her head down on the armrest of the chair. She closed her eyes.

My brothers asked me if they could be monkeys when they grew up. I told them that was stupid. I told them to watch TV. They turned on the television, and that woke up my mother. She took the remote away from the boys. She surfed stations until she found a kid show.

I asked her if I could go walk around a little.

She told me to watch TV.

This cartoon was something I’d seen in America about a baboon and a weasel. The cartoon baboon didn’t look anything like a real baboon.

Real baboons were scary.

8

A couple hours later, mom got up. She said that she was going to go get some cigarettes and to see if she could find our father. She told us kids to stay right there.

My brothers and I said that we would.

After she was gone a while, I was bored and I was staring out the window.

I had opened the window because the air conditioner wasn’t really working, and I was leaning out of the torn screen and looking at the dusty streets of Africa.

I was watching barefoot people in dirty clothes walking up and down the street, riding bicycles, and driving tiny little cars and trucks that looked like someone smashed them around their four corners to make them smaller and taller than American trucks.

Behind me, my brothers were watching cartoons, and eating the leftover chicken. Flies were everywhere, but I didn’t think there was anything I could do about it so I just waved my hands in front of my face now and then.

After a while, the people in the street had all gotten where they were going, and now there was nothing in the streets but dust and dust and dust.

Then, there was another baboon. It had a dead cat hanging from its mouth.

The baboon loped along on its knuckles, with the dead cat dangling and swinging and little drips of blood falling down the body to the tail.

10

When mom got back, she had a carton of cigarettes, and a bag full of cheap lighters. She sat down and started smoking again. My brothers had fallen asleep, and it was just her and me sitting there.

I asked her when Dad was coming back, and she didn’t say anything. She just sat there, smoking, her eyes wrapped in purple, sleepless rings.

I asked her again.

She said that he’d be back soon.

I asked her when we’d go home.

She shrugged. She said that we could ask Dad when he got back.

10

When mom fell asleep, it was just me and my brothers bored to death, and kind of scared, and wondering where dad was. They were fighting over the remote, and I was sick of both of them, hiding in the bathtub.

I just sat there, with no water, and no soap.

I thought about all the baboons I had seen. They were so much bigger now that they weren’t in a zoo. They looked huge next to the little, cheap cars parked along the dirt streets.

Baboons belonged in the wild, or in a zoo.

And they were in the streets, and we were in this room with barred windows.

11

I got so sick of waiting. I just left. I stood up and decided that I was going to go find dad. I didn’t know where he was, and I didn’t care. I wanted to get out and find him, or find someone who knew him.

Mom didn’t stop me from leaving. She was fast asleep.

So I walked down the street, looked around.

I wondered if there was a bank somewhere he had gone to. I knew money usually had to do with banks. I figured I’d look around for banks and maybe I’d find him.

These streets were eerie. The sun was so hot, and so few people were in the street. Lone cars turned corners, and they floated in a haze of yellow dust. The buildings were sun-baked bricks, all cracked and dry.

I sweated like crazy.

I looked at all these buildings, wondered if I’d ever find a bank.

In an alley, I saw something moving, and I thought it was a dog. I saw something big and brown and it looked like a dog when jumping behind a can.

I looked closer. I wanted to see a dog. I walked towards the alley to see the dog.

It was a baboon. It wasn’t a male baboon, though. A baby hung from its breast. It wasn’t as big, or as scary. This mother was lifting the lids of cans and sniffing at the trash.

The mother had this stern face, eyes jammed together, and black skin with black eyes. It gazed furiously at me. The baby moved it’s tiny, brown head against her breast. If she had sat up on her haunches and stood up on two legs, she’d have been taller than me. And she cradled her child away from me as if I was going to run after her.

I wasn’t going to run after her.

We stared at each other.

We stared at each other forever. Then, she backed away gracefully. She was so quiet. She jumped over the fence at the back of the alley.

On the other side of this ratty wooden fence, other baboons congregated, with their monkey cries and prancing smacks and hands digging nimbly through each other’s back hair.

I pushed one of the trash cans over. I poured all the filthy, awful, stinking, hot trash out in a heap. I ran up to the fence. I threw that empty trash can with all my might into the group of monkeys.

I listened to them screaming. I saw them through the cracks of the fence jumping away from the trash can, and then jumping back and striking at it and denting the trash can.

I don’t know why I did that. It felt so good, that I did it again with another trash can, and then again. Then I threw heavier chunks of trash. Rotten fruit. Boxes of junk. An old belt.

Throwing that stuff felt so good.

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