Monkey lived on the branches of an old mangrove tree, right on the spot where the land ends and the sea begins. He liked living here. There were lots of other animals to talk to and play with, most of them much smaller than he was, which he particularly liked because it made him feel safe and comfortable at home. The big hunters like the lion hardly ever ventured here because the ground was so soggy that their heavy paws would sink into the mud and they wouldn’t be able to move fast enough to catch their prey. There were birds of all shapes and sizes, some that flew and some that could only run along the ground, like the guinea fowl; and the fish! He loved talking to the fish, listening to their stories of life under water. In fact his best friend was Shamus the Shark.
Every evening when the sun was about to go down, Shamus would wind his way through the roots of the mangroves and look for Monkey. Monkey was always expecting his friend, and he’d find a nice cosy branch that hung close to the water’s surface to sit on while he waited for his friend. The first thing he usually saw was the triangular tip of Shamus’s fin sticking up above the water.
Monkey would jump up and down on his branch, and wave and shout. “Over here, Shamus, I’m over here, Uh Uh Ugh Ugh Un Ugh. Shamus would roll over a few times in the shallow water while he swam the last few yards, and lift his enormous jaws out of the water to greet Monkey: “Yo, Monkey my man, how’s life in the trees?”
“Toil and toil and toil, my salty friend”, Monkey would joke.
Then they would fill each other in on all the news from among the mangrove trees and under the deep blue sea. Monkey would talk about all the mischief he’d got up to that day, how he chased the birds, or caught a ride on Uncle Turtle’s back, or hid from the preying eyes of a hovering hawk. Shamus would tell him about all the beautiful creatures at the bottom of the sea, the squids with their trailing tentacles catching glimpses of light from the surface, the sea anemones that were always waving at passers by.
But Shamus’s favourite subject by far was food!
He loved to talk about delicate textures and flavours of the different species of fish he devoured on a daily basis. And he was always curious to know what Monkey’s favourite dish was. To be honest, monkey didn’t think that much about food. He was a strict vegetarian and usually dined on mangrove leaves. But he did remember once a long time ago he did eat something rather special. That was when his cousin from Zanzibar had paid him a visit. He’d brought along a large bag stuffed to the rim with palm hearts. And they’d been delicious! So Succulent! So chewy! So tangy and so sweet! So utterly Yummy!! They’d feasted for days on end. So whenever Shamus asked him about his favourite food, Monkey would lie back on his branch, rub his tummy and tell the tale of eating palm hearts for three whole days and nights.
Then one day, not so long ago, Shamus turned up at the usual time, the setting sun painting the whole mangrove a glorious bright palm oil red. He seemed a little excited, as if he couldn’t wait for their usual banter to pass so he could get down to business.
“Hey Monkey my man”, he burst out, “GUESS WHAT?!? You know those palm hearts you’re always going on about, yea, well, guess what? I just mentioned it to my wife, you know, a while ago now, just casually, in passing you know, the way you do, you know what I mean, and she just, and she only, you know what, she’s got this friend, who’s a bit of a merchant in the fine food business, you know, he can get hold of anything you like, just like that, you just mention it and he’ll get it for you…………”
Monkey was nodding away through this monologue of Shark’s, to be honest he was getting a bit bored and he wished Shamus would get to the point whatever it was. So he just nodded and smiled and made a few polite noises every now and then when Shamus happened to look his way. “Um, Uhm. Ya Ya, Great, ya, triffic, Groovy, Ugh, Ugh, Uhn Uhm”.
Finally Shark got to the point. “Well! She got some!!!”
“She got a whole bag of these palm heart thingy-me-bobs. And she’s inviting you to dinner! She’s preparing a feast right now, as we speak! Do you wanna come?”
Monkey was so surprised, he didn’t know what to say at first, and believe me, that doesn’t happen very often with monkeys! “D’you wanna come? D’you wanna?”
“Well, Shamus, my salty mate, how we gonna do that? Where do you live?” Shamus pointed his pointy nose out towards the sea.
“That’s what I thought,” said Monkey. “How’m I gonna get there? I can’t swim that far! Y’know, here in the mangrove I can just about get by, I paddle around a bit in this shallow water, that’s OK, ‘cause I know it’s not deep enough for me to drown. But out there……..”
But Shamus had obviously thought about this a great deal because he had a plan and he set out to explain it to Monkey. Monkey could sit on his, Shamus’s back, and hold on to his fin, and he, Shamus, would stay right on top of the water, right on the surface, so Monkey wouldn’t even hardly get wet at all. “What do you think? Shall we go? Let’s go! My wife has done all this work, she’s been in the kitchen all afternoon!”
Well, as you know, Monkeys are nothing if not adventurous and intrepid, not to mention foolhardy. So Monkey agreed to come and join the feast. He jumped from his branch and onto his salty friend’s back, clinging on to the hard fin, and with a swoosh! of his strong tail and a “YIPPEE!” from his grinning mouth full of teeth, Shark set off.
This was really the strangest and weirdest and most wonderful and utterly frightening thing Monkey had ever done. He’d never been out to sea before and he was impressed by the huge waves that pushed them up and down, and the force behind them. Shark must be very strong indeed to swim through this lot! After they’d gone some way, Shark slowed down and lifted his head out of the water.
“You know, Monkey, my friend, there’s something you should know. You see, even though my wife is preparing this wonderful feast for you, she herself is very sick.”
Monkey sat up a bit from his position on Shark’s back, so he could listen better. “Oh really”, he managed to say, feeling very wet and very cold and really rather scared, “I’m sorry to hear that man. What’s wrong with her? Anything I can do?”
“Actually”, said Shark, looking rather sheepish, “there may be something you can do. You see, she went to see her doctor the other day, and he told her there was one thing that would improve her condition without fail and immeasurably enhance her chances of getting better, Surefire guarantee.”
“So what’s that?” asked Monkey.
Shark coughed and hesitated, then he said, softly, menacingly: “Well, the doc told her to get a hold of a monkey’s heart and eat it raw!”
Monkey almost fell into the roaring sea. He looked around nervously. He didn’t at all like what he was hearing! Not at all! Instinctively he tightened his grip on Shark’s fin.
“So,” Shark continued, making his voice sound eerily calm, “we were wondering, you know, if we give you the palm hearts, whether you’ll give us your heart. Like an exchange”, shark explained.
“Hey, Shark!” Monkey shouted, because there was a roaring in his ears, and he wasn’t sure whether it was the sound of the sea or his heart pumping, “Sure! Of course, man, no problem at all! Whatsoever! Man! Are you my friend or what? I mean, what’s a little bit of heart between friends!” Shark smiled. “Aaagh”, he sighed, “Monkey, man I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to hear you say those words. I tell you man, if you do this for me, I mean for my wife, anything, anytime, anywhere, anything at all you ever want at any time in the future, man, I’ll get it for you or my name isn’t Shark!”
“You know, Shark, my salty friend”, Monkey said in a very small voice, “there’s only one thing, though, you know, I wish you’d mentioned this before we set off, because you know, I left my heart at home! I left it in a very secret place in my tree where I always hide it!” Monkey almost stopped breathing while he waited for Shark to digest this information.
Shark Sputtered. He coughed. He gurgled. “You left it at home??” He grinned his crooked grin at its most crooked. Monkey knew he had to be very careful what he said right now. He knew he had to get this exactly right. He could feel his heart beating in his throat, and he was afraid it might just jump out right into Shark’s open mouth. He hoped the thumping wouldn’t make Shark suspicious.
“You see, my friend, it’s like this. For a monkey like me, the heart is the most important thing, the most vital possession. If a monkey loses his heart, well, you might as well give up living right there and then! So you see, I’m always really, really, careful with it and make sure it’s always in a safe place somewhere, so I can find it when I need it!”
“I see”, grumbled Shark grimly, “I see, so what do we do now, Monkey, my man?”
“Well”, said Monkey, hopefully, “we’re not that far out yet, are we? We could race back, I’ll jump up into my tree, get the heart, and we can be back here in what, ten, fifteen, minutes at the most! Let’s hurry, let’s not keep your wife waiting any longer than is strictly necessary.”
Now Shark was in a real quandary. Was Monkey telling the truth or was he having him on? But of course, he didn’t really have a choice. If he was not to arouse Monkey’s suspicion he had to go along with him and pretend to believe him even if he wasn’t at all sure that was the right thing to do. So he swooshed his tail, and turned his pointed nose back towards the land.
“OK, Monkey, my mate, let’s hurry!” He swam as fast as he could, thinking that the quicker he got this done, the less time Monkey would have to change his mind.
They got back to the mangrove in less than five minutes, they’d hardly reached the first tree, and Shark had barely started to slow down, when Monkey got up and made an almighty leap from his friend’s back towards the nearest branch, caught it, then swung up and over, and onto the next branch, and up and over again onto the next highest one, and higher and higher he swung and hurled himself until he was at the highest point in the highest tree in the middle of the mangrove. Then he stopped and looked down.
The sun had gone down completely now and the full moon shone a pale greyish yellow light over the mangrove. Below him Monkey could see the silver dorsal fin of Shark against the black water, his jaws snapping at the cool night air.
“Monkey, Monkey, where are you? You promised, your heart? Where is it, where have you hidden it? Where is it then? Monkey, your heart!”
Monkey couldn’t help himself. Suddenly all the tension left him and he started jumping up and down. “Ugh Ugn Ugm Ugh Ugh Oh my friendly fiendish shark! I was almost done for, wasn’t I? The only thing that saved me is that you are even more stupid than me!!”
zarah Mohamed told this story to Frans Timmermans