I am alone. Some cold gray contraption has replaced the life-filled fruit tree that I am so used to sleeping in. My capturers call it Cage 166. There is not enough room in Cage 166 to lie down. The tight space wouldn’t be so bad if my droppings had not surmounted to such a disgusting amount. My family is nowhere to be seen. I worry for their wellbeing. The fire used to seek out my large family engulfs my memory. The images still haunt me in my cramped, uncomfortable sleep. The nightmare is reoccurring: bits and pieces of the horrific day that my family was driven out of the beautiful rainforest that I had lived in since I was brought into life. The memory wouldn’t be so evocative if I didn’t feel responsible for it all. It always starts the same way…
The family fruit tree: Photo by Alain Houle, 2005
I grab a branch off of the small shrub next to me. Instinctively, I shove the stick into the appetizing termite hill, anticipating my next meal. Normally, I would quickly remove the stick and pick off all the termites I can, but the sight of two odd creatures hiding behind a tree catches my attention. After exchanging glances, the two creatures approach me. Despite sharing a remote resemblance to my own family, their appearance is nothing short of weird. They do not walk on their hands, and look unattractively naked, missing hair everywhere except on their heads. Out of fear, I quickly climb up the nearest vine and swing towards the large fruit tree that is my home. The odd creatures follow me on the ground, but keep a good distance away from my family’s home. I don’t think they mean harm. Rather, they sit on the ground, and make use of a stick like I had done in an attempt to find some termites. They are not eating though. The creatures use small yellow sticks to make marks on large white leaves of some sort. As the light in the sky fades away, the creatures quietly leave. Unfortunately, their visit was not telling of their motives, and their absence was short lived.
Burning rainforest and home
The naked creatures come back with several more of their kind. They also bring fire. It eats away at the surrounding trees like a vulture eats away at flesh, leaving nothing behind. I can’t escape. I see my brothers being swallowed by the fire. Some of my family is falling from the tree, brought down by what the creatures ironically call “tranquilizers.” With the life sapped out of all the creatures and plants around me, I can only wait until the creatures capture me. My panic and fright remain with me as I suddenly wake up.
The blazing red fire from my dream contrasts the cold gray environment I am in now, but the feeling of helplessness is unavoidable. Different creatures look over Cage 166 then the one’s who captured me. I think the creatures are called “doctors”; at least, that’s what they call each other. The pain in my right foot becomes more excruciating as the days go on. Due to lack of exercise and the uncomfortable encumbering quality of my confinement, it only gets worse and worse. The doctors don’t notice my pain until the foot is black and swollen. Fortunately, there was no feeling when they cut it off. My circumstances hardly change as the days go on. In fact, the insurmountable foulness of Cage 166 sucks the hope out of me like a leech sucks blood from its host. Just as my dismal state of being seems inescapable, I see my mother enter the room.
Seeing her face shines light into the dark space that is Cage 166. I look into her eyes for some recognition, hoping for a “meeting of the eyes for a moment beyond it all.” She does not respond. “Mother!” I start screaming. Still, she does not respond. My tiny spark of happiness is quickly smashed like a young firefly under the greater force of some larger being. The creatures have done something to her. Her unnatural drowsiness is evident as the doctors carry her through the corridor. Even wore than my own cage, my mother is attached to a bright surface, the only lighted part of the room. Her head covered by what the doctors call, “the machine.” I can’t look into her covered eyes anymore, but I still look on in confusion and fear. “Commence the machine,” the older doctor orders to the younger. Judging by his skill, experience, and relationship with the other doctors, I can tell he is the leader. His hairless skin is marked with lines, like the bark of my old fruit tree. All joy is void from his being. “Machine commencing,” responds the younger doctor. He shakes. The younger one is always nervous, like he is about to be eaten by the older dominant doctor in the room. His shaking intensifies as a tremor builds in the room. Just as the heavy wind and rain from the monsoon brings a constant deafening sound to the jungle, the tremor brings a constant high-pitched piercing sound to the dark room. The sound is finally stopped with a quieter, simpler: Ding.
Ding. My mother’s head is twisted sideways until it almost faces her back. Her body convulses as I reach an unparalleled level of panic. I call out to her, screeching ten times louder than “the machine” ever could. Ding. Her head twists. Her body convulses. I scream. Ding. Her head twists. Her body convulses. I scream louder. Ding. Her head twists. Her body lies perfectly still. I stop screaming. She is dead.
I had witnessed death once in the rainforest. A young starving jaguar ate an elder in my family. Oddly enough, the introduction of the concept of death didn’t terrify me. “Reperception itself, [I’ve] found, has the power to transform situations.” The loss of life was but a necessity for the jaguar. Nature, in her wisdom, knew it was time for the elder chimp to finish his life on Earth. My whole family sincerely mourned his loss in love and unity. It just seemed…”right”.
I cannot see the “right” as I stare at my mother’s emaciated, lifeless body. There is no family to share my sorrow with, no family to care for me. The longer her body shines under that isolated light, the angrier I become. “Her death isn’t even replenishing the life of any of these idiotic doctors.” I think to myself. “The creatures killed Mother for nothing!” My anger, fear, shock, and misery erupt in a fiery temper. At first, the doctor’s do well to ignore me, using those yellow sticks and white leaves as I had first seen the day I encountered these wretched creatures. Eventually, I catch the attention of the younger doctor. “Shut up!” he nervously yells at me. He aggressively walks over to Cage 166 and makes use of a tranquilizer.
I have trouble opening my eyes. “Light?” I skeptically question myself. Finally, I regain full consciousness. I am still in captivity, but I am not in Cage 166. I am in a crate. O how glorious the smell of tree is. The box must be made of tree from my home. My nostalgia is more deserved than I think. Part of my confinement is taken off right before my eyes. I am home. The smell of trees was not from the crate, but from the thousands of fruit trees towering before me. With the loss of my foot I cannot escape. Regardless, I look on with fear at the doctor who set me free. I am reluctant to approach her; I am not ready for more pain. Her face is bright and warm, starkly contrasting the face of the doctor who took away the life of my mother. As I carefully walk out of the box she turns to a gentle woman in the background, “We just rescued this one from abusive neurological research Mrs. Goodall. On behalf of Advocates for Animals, I would like to thank you for your support. Please take good care of him.” I cannot walk out, but the Misses Goodall picks me up and carries me back to a place where I belong. I am no longer alone. I am cared for.
Jane Goodall gives an amazing talk on blurring the line between human and animal and the importance of learning to find compassion for animals.
Listening to the stream of consciousness of any animal like the unnamed chimp in our story is not a reality we can experience. Unfortunately, unnecessarily violent research performed on large mammals, spider monkeys, and chimpanzees is very real. As humans, or “doctors” as our protagonists sees us, we cannot help but feel compassion towards the suffering of animals like our young chimp. As human we have the greatest capacity for cruelty, yet the greatest capacity for love. We can use compassion and love as the driving forces for our willingness to prevent and alleviate the suffering of others. “We are sharing the experience of unity.”
Word Count: 1489 with quotes. 1462 without quotes.