Saturday morning, I woke at 9:00, after two days of adventures in the Great Rift Valley, adventures which will, sadly, have to be recorded at a later date, for at this moment, I sit with pen in hand to tell the story of the Vervet monkeys that nearly killed me. (Also, I have been reading Agatha Christie and H. Rider Haggard, which may have contributed to all the extra clauses in my sentences, as these two authors tend to do that very thing.) But now, to my tale!
I unlocked the first of the two padlocks that keep out unwanted guests and left the house, planning to walk to the Busseys’ house for breakfast, as is my custom. But before I had made it a yard, I looked to my right and saw instead of the three or four cats that usually lounge in the driveway, a pair of the biggest Vervet monkeys I have ever seen. They were not less than two and a half feet long, including their tails, which draped after them along the ground like hoses from a pair of wheelbarrows. Their faces had that sinister simian intelligence that has caused the downfall of many a mango, and their eyes, when they blinked, turned white rather than dark. They were engaged in chewing the pulp of a piece of fruit that they had plucked, no doubt, from the neighbor’s orchard, and in scratching their little grey bellies. I remained perfectly still (just like Allan Quartermain), wondering if I had been seen. One of the monkeys turned his head and blinked at me. He did not react, and I was on the verge of continuing to the next gate and padlock when I saw the first pair joined by a third, and then a fourth!
I was surrounded by monkeys. There was no escape. I moved backward in my stocking feet (I should point out that at this moment I had not yet donned tennis shoes), and laid hold of a plastic deck chair. The monkeys continued with their rituals, completely unaware of my stealthy movements. I lifted the chair, held it above my head… and brought it down silently on the patio, depositing myself in it. If I could not escape, at least I would not let those monkeys out of my sight.
The next ten minutes or so passed in relative safety. True, the ravenous monkeys were at my doorstep, but behind me huddled a posse of cats who would certainly sell their lives for me if the impasse turned ugly. Amazing creatures, those felines. From my perch, I could watch the doings of the monkeys without disturbing them and I saw several semi-violent episodes (passed off as play, of course) where monkey chased monkey across an aluminum roof, down a drainpipe, around a tree trunk, up a clothesline, and back onto the roof. I also saw a mother Vervet clutching an infant that could have easily been hidden in a teapot with room for Earl Grey. This picture of loving care on the part of the mother almost touched my heart, until she unceremoniously dumped her child onto the roof in order to grab at a piece of fruit. But such is the animal kingdom.
I thought the danger had passed, but suddenly! the whole tribe shrieked and cackled, swooping down from tree branches and sliding down wires, gathering themselves into an arrow of catastrophe directed at one solitary point: myself. The monkey king, for surely he was, as he was the biggest and the most wise-looking, sat down on a flower pot facing me, flanked by two of his strongest warriors. I sat frozen in my chair. Another of the primates tried to come through the iron lattice-work on my left, baring his teeth, but I snatched up my shoes and brandished one in each hand, prepared to go down fighting. The monkeys chattered and stared. The cats turned tail and ran.
Luckily for me, a monkey is the only beast in the animal kingdom that is less patient than a human. After coughing at his guards once or twice and scratching his chin, the monkey king was distracted by something in the bushes and lost interest in me. He skipped away, his tail in the air. One of his guards looked around shyly, then clambered onto the flower-pot throne and crossed his legs. I could almost see him sighing happily. But I had had enough. I knew that if I let my guard down for a second, these simians would sink their sharp little teeth into my skin. I decided to play my trump card, and, pursing my lips in the shape of an O, I gave vent to a terrific hooting.
Instantly, the remaining monkeys scattered in terror. No doubt they imagined a lowland silverback gorilla had somehow descended among them. Congratulating myself on my own cunning, I donned my shoes, opened the remaining padlock, and stepped out into the front yard, breathing the sweet air of liberty. The last I saw of those infernal monkeys was a single sentinel, bobbing in the breeze as he watched my departure from the high branches of a tree.
I didn’t have a camera with me during the above episode, but I did follow the monkeys later and snap a few pictures. You can see them on my Flickr page.