Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Ape Who Sang by Bobby Stevenson

By the time that Christopher had reached the grand old age of twenty seven, he had already completed sixty eight of the things he wanted to do with his life before he was thirty.

Sky-diving and swimming with sharks had all been ticked off from the list, but the one he’d shied away from , the one that would take everything that he had - was to cycle across Asia on a push-bike; if he was to complete it by his thirtieth birthday then he was going to have to get a move on. 

Christopher had compiled the list on his twenty-first birthday and that evening when he’d finished writing the last thing to do, he’d assumed that there would be all the time in the world to complete them but as we mere mortals already know, life always seems to get in the way. 

So with over thirty of the more difficult activities to arrange and still accomplish, and with less than three years to do it in, Christopher was starting to get anxious. Apart from his trip into Space, the Asia journey was the next biggest activity which he could take part in.

He managed to get himself a summer job in a hotel in the Scottish Highlands and he spent the warm days working very hard from early mornings to late afternoons, the rest of the time he spent cycling up and down the glens. They were tough climbs but after several weeks he began to eat up the roads and miles as if none of them mattered.

His plan for the trip was to start in South East Asia after the September monsoons had drifted. He had considered all the safety aspects - although he was going to cycle several thousand miles alone so maybe safety was not a word to bandy about. 

His bought a ticket on one of the cheaper airlines and to him that was all part of the experience, and by the start of October he would be in Thailand. 

It was too expensive to take a bike over there but he’d found an old ex-pat on the ‘Net who was willing to trade his bicycle for some British cigarettes and a few quid.The bicycle was older and more damaged than the photograph had shown.

Christopher spent a couple of days in a very plain but clean hostel to get his energy back and to sleep off the jet lag, it also allowed him time to get the bike into a decent shape. By the Friday he was ready for the off and by the time he had arrived at the outskirts of the city, his adrenaline was pumping at the speed of light. 

The smells, the heat, the trees and the people all gave the trip a feeling that he was moving in another world. He was in love with a country and she was going to be difficult to shake off. 

His plan was to travel to the north and then take a train into China. He hadn't planned to cycle the whole of Asia as that would take several lifetimes and besides, he still had thirty one activities to finish in the next three years. 

On the fourth day, he stayed in a small hut which he shared with a young couple from Glasgow. They told him about the Ape Trail, a path about ten miles to the east that they had said had been their most magical part of the holiday so far. 

“There’s monkeys..”

“Apes” her boyfriend corrected her.

“Apes everywhere.”

“Really tame as well, they’ll eat out of your hand.”

So that night Christopher went to sleep, deciding that he was going to make the detour and go and see the apes the next morning. After all, this is what the trip (and life) was all about.

He’d cycled longer than he’d wanted to down the path realising the couple had forgotten to tell him just how muddy the whole place was. Eventually he’d got off the bicycle and walked several more miles without setting eyes on any apes. 

The road, if that is what it could be called, narrowed at points until it was only wide enough to let one set of feet walk at a time. Christopher was struggling to keep his balance and once or twice grabbed out for a muddy wall to keep upright. It was on third time of doing so that he grabbed a lump of mud which caused a large hole to form in the embankment and send tons of mud above to slide down on top of him and his bike.

Both he and the bike tumbled down into the darkness.He sometimes lost consciousness with the lack of oxygen and then the next minute he would shoot into the air, it was at these moments he would inhale with everything he had. The bicycle hit him several times, once almost breaking his back. 

When Christopher came to rest, he was on the floor of a forgotten valley. Luckily for him, the mud had allowed one of his nostrils to peak through and although he was unconscious, he was still able to breathe. He had survived. 

There was no telling how many times the sun had come and gone before he came to . The mud had begun to dry and had caused a crust to form around his body  but it had also soaked up the blood from a large wound on his head.
It was the thumping of the ape on the mud that brought him into the sunlight and into a new life.
He had no idea who or where he was.

His friend, the hairy one with the long arms, and another pulled him clear of the mountain of mud and as he lay looking at the sky and wondering why it was that colour, he saw a large shiny thing shoot past his face ridden by another of the hairy men. 

The apes had found Christopher’s bike and were fighting each other for the chance to push it forward and then attempt to sit on the cross bar. The apes had seen the men from the mountains ride them before but never had a man made his way into their midst with one of them.

High Hands, the chief of the valley apes, had intervened between two of the lower cast apes who had wanted to smash the human to death. They had seen many of their family die at the hands of men.

But High Hands had seen that the man was injured and the family law did not allow injured beasts to be beaten to death within the camp. He was to be cleaned of the mud and helped to a better health. That was the law as written by the elders since the time before time. 

High Hands had expected that more of the men would come looking for their own but it had not been so. Two cycles of the sun earlier, a large shiny eagle had passed which made the noise of the gods and had scared the younger apes. High Hands had seen it all before and stood firm. 

Perhaps the man was an outcast, he had seen such men in his younger days but whatever his story he was to be cared for as if he was one of High Hands own family. 

One morning the man felt some warmth and strength in his arms. His arms were not as hairy or as strong as the rest of the family - perhaps was a weakling of the tribe? He could not remember. One of the elders had given him two small rocks and when they were referring to him they would place the two rocks in the sand and point. The man guessed that his name must be Two Rocks and so he called himself such.

As he was recovering, the family had washed him and given him water to slake his thirst and each time he had  awoken from his fever, he could recall terrible pictures in his head. Yet there was always one of the elders sitting by him to watch over and protect him. 

The dreams were strange. Thoughts of large structures that reached into the sky, shiny boxes that went faster than High Hands could run, metal birds that flew and contained others like himself, (those with less hair than his family). 

After one moon had passed, the man was able to use signs to talk to his family. Two Rocks could ask for food and drink, he could understand that the borders by the large trees were not for the likes of him - for that was where death lay waiting. 

Then one night a strange thing happened. It was a night when the moon, the god of the sky, was shinning brighter than usual that the man went to the highest of the hills located within their territory and he opened his mouth and made a noise. 

“Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday ....” 

He had no idea what the sounds meant but they were pleasing and they made him feel calm. Down below some of the family were concerned and said as much to High Hands, but High Hands knew that men had to make such noises. It was the way they were made by the Sky God. 

Each night as the sun cycle came to a close, the man would climb the hill and make the same noise. High Hands had told Two Rocks that the Sky Gods were happy with the noises.

As Christopher sang to the moon some tourists had heard the song and on their return from the mountains had told the local police. They said it was the apes, they made noises at night that sounded like a human singing. So no one came looking.

But when the second moon had come and gone, something peculiar  happened to the man. He felt something in his heart, he felt an ache and he felt the loneliness. He knew that his family, for all he wanted to be with them, was not enough. 

It was something to do with his dreams and the singing. None of the other family members sang and when he would come down off the mountain, they would all keep their distance and try to avoid him. 

So one night, after the third moon had come, he went up the mountain and sang his song.
“Happy Birthday to you....”

When he had finished, he wept and wept and wept. 

He looked back at the family but instead of returning down the mountain he walked away to the trees where death waited. He wasn’t afraid, he was more afraid of staying with the family and feeling the loneliness again.

So he walked down the other side of the mountain and decided to take his chance with the forest. 

(still being edited)

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