Family Differences

Ezra Azra

© Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra


Photo by vishnu deep on Pexels.
.Photo by vishnu deep on Pexels.

In the 1950s, I lived at 61 Torquay Avenue, Fynnland, Durban, Natal, South Africa. Ours was the last home at the end of the Avenue. In those days, the word Avenue was an exaggeration of what was merely a two-adult width path overgrown with tall weeds. For the last few hundred feet up to our house, the ground on the Avenue was not visible for the weeds. Beyond our home there was virgin jungle for about two miles to the next suburb, King’s Rest.

I have many memories of our encounters with wild animals entering our unfenced yard from the jungle. Here is one such encounter.

At night, every night, from the sounds, animals in the forest were doing terrible things to one another. When night settled in, we dared not venture even into our yards, front and back. It was normal for noisy animal fights to spill into our yards. We had no fence.

In the early evening after the daily violent short tropical thunder storm, things quietened down a bit. That's when a pastime of ours was to sit still in the dark on the wild grass in our front yard, and wait for bats to snatch mosquitoes inches away from our faces, without touching us.

It was a normal sight every morning to find bloodied animal parts in our yards. Commonly seen in the daytime many times a week in our yards were snakes, rabbits, foxes, jakkals, and a slew of animals for which we had no names.

Fortunately, most of those wild animals feared us as much as we them, and so both of us scurried off on sight of one another. Most animals. The exception were the monkeys.

Towards us, monkeys always behaved aggressively as if we were intruders. Tribes of monkeys would swing by every few months, and belligerently, slowly, walk about our yards, jabbering, growling, baring teeth at us.

We stayed indoors all the while. Locked doors and closed window curtains. We had come up with a protocol whereby if anybody was not at home when the monkeys arrived, we would stick a long stick in the ground at the gate as a warning to not approach.

Always, rowdy fights, rough horseplay would break out amongst the monkeys on the ground in our yards. If these antics were staged to intimidate us, it worked. If we were coming home while there were monkeys on the ground, we turned around and retreated. Quite often some of the monkeys gave chase.

Way back in the past when we did not know better, we had left clothing on the clothesline in the backyard. The monkeys attacked the clothes. Ever since that first time, hastily clearing the clothes line was one of our chores when approaching tribes were heard.

A good thing was those monkey gangs never arrived silently. Always, we would hear them from far away enough to allow us time to clear the clothes lines, and other objects that would provoke the monkeys into disruptive behavior.

They loved sticks long and heavy enough to wield as weapons. They would pick up the sticks and bang them about, at one another, against trees, and against any item of furniture we forgot to take indoors. Their favourite surface was the wash stone in the backyard. An ancient tradition used to be that water-soaked hand-washed clothing was swung and slapped on the slab of wash stone, that was about two feet in height. A monkey with a stick would go at the wash stone ferociously. Quite often the monkey would not stop whacking the stone surface until the stick was reduced to splinters. Early on we had removed all sticks when we heard the monkeys approaching on the tree tops. After that, they brought their own sticks.

We were so very thankful that none of the monkeys acquired the knack of throwing stones as missiles. A monkey always threw under-arm, ‘like a girl.’ Hence, a monkey with a stone was never a threat.

A few times down the years mother monkeys brought their children to play in our yard. The children would stay close to their mothers, while the mothers seemed to encourage the children to explore farther away, alone. Our yards could have been an uncomfortable place for children monkeys because large areas without trees like our yards, were nonexistent in the jungle.

Through small portions of lifted indoor window curtains, we would spy on monkey mothers not having it easy trying to instill independence in their children to move farther off to be on their own in our yards.

There was no electricity in our home. The jungle was our source of wood for cooking and general indoor night lighting. Between monkey incursions, we chopped down trees and left them to dry up before hauling them home.

Frequently, on hot days there would be rain in the sunlight. When there were monkeys in the trees on such occasions, it drove them insane. They had vicious noisy fights high up in the trees. At some of those times when the fight was near our home, monkeys would run into our yards and behave as if they were asking us for help in their fights.

Monkeys would throw themselves against our doors as if trying to flee for shelter, and jumping up to look into our tightly-curtained windows.

Out of fear, we never got involved.

We were forever grateful that in all those years it never occurred to any monkey to throw an object against a window.

I used to wonder why those monkeys never got around to working out the mechanics of a glass window pane. After all, it came naturally to them to try to gain access by a door by throwing themselves against it. I used to wonder until at some time down the years it occurred to me that while those monkeys could have seen us open and close doors, they could never have seen us open and close windows. Always, when we heard the chatter of a tribe approaching along the tree tops, we promptly shut all windows and closed curtains before they arrived, and we never opened any of either until the tree-swinging beasts had long left.

At the side-edge of our backyard, were three huge-stemmed tall trees with some thick branches that extended over our home.

Our home had a flat single-sheet corrugated iron roof. The monkeys jumped off the branches of the trees, onto our roof. From the sounds of it, they proceeded to have a ball once they were on the roof. We heard everything through the single corrugated sheets. We could never corroborate if some of the sounds we heard were of monkeys peeing. Never corroboration; but always a hundred percent accurate guessing.

We would have liked nothing better than to make those trees into firewood, but we couldn't figure out how to guarantee they would not fall on our home when we chopped them down.

The goola-goola fruit was the reason the monkeys came as far as our home. We did not chop down fruit trees for firewood. Goola-goola trees were the most in the Fynnland jungle.

The goola-goola tree grows as high and hard as a mango tree. A fully-grown goola-goola fruit is as large and round and hard as a baseball, and as smooth as an apple. Inside a goola-goola are four or five seeds similar in size, texture and sweetness to the fleshy seeds of a jackfruit. When ripe, a goola-goola is a most delicious fruit. And jungle-free as Biblical manna!

To us and other poor families in Fynnland, goola-goolas and other wild fruit were our only food, most of the time.

Monkeys easily crunch through the hard goola-goola shell. We had to use tools or large stones.

Every farmer in monkey territories knows what criminally wasteful eaters monkeys are. A wild monkey never takes a second bite of a fruit before throwing it away, and grabbing at another. Where monkeys dine on goola-goolas, the ground under a goola-goola tree is littered with partially eaten goola-goolas. A broken piece of goola-goola shell stepped on draws blood. Since all of us, of necessity, went about barefoot at home and in the jungle, in those times, broken goola-goola shells were an ever-present danger.

A heart-warming sight was the many different species of rodents under a goola-goola tree mingling peacefully while they feasted haphazardly on the bits-and-pieces discarded by the monkeys. Especially pleasant to us was that the rodents, while wary of us, did not mind fleeting accidental contact with our feet, from time to time.

It wasn't easy to climb a goola-goola tree. Goola-goola trees are not climber-friendly. Branches have thorns. Often, nests of stinger-insects. We certainly paid a lot in branch scratches and insect stings and bites for our goola-goola loot.

One sunny day we were in the jungle maneuvering one of our dried chopped-down trees to lug home, when we heard monkey jabberings high up in the distance, fast approaching. We abandoned the fire wood. We hurried home. We barely made it home when the monkeys descended into our yards, in a loud and ferocious brawl.

Some were ganging up on one. That one already had blood on itself. It was fighting back, but it was being attacked by several at once. We were safely inside our home, peering from small corners of the curtains. This time there could be no doubt. That monkey banging on our door was pleading for help.

We dared not. We might have considered it if that monkey was far ahead of its attackers. But not there and then when they were shrieking murder while beating up on it as it screamed and pounded on our door.

A lot of fighting happened against our door. The victim fought its way back to the edge of our yard. There, it gave up.

It lay motionless on the ground. Some of the others went at it viciously. Most of the tribe did not come down out of the trees, but screamed and jabbered dementedly while shaking branches.

Eventually, the attackers stopped. The victim lay motionless. A few came to our door and inspected it. The tribe left.

When we could not hear any of them, we cautiously ventured out. The victim, too, was gone. We agreed none of us saw the others take the victim, and that it was still there when we saw the others leave. It must have crawled back into the jungle.

We dared go to get our firewood. It took us longer than usually because we stepped along slowly in order to be extra quiet.

We were horrified at seeing a lot of blood on our fallen dried tree. And moreso when we discovered a half-dead monkey hiding inside the hollow trunk. Our instinctive reaction was to run for our lives.

That dying monkey moaned, as if to gain our attention. That moan was not a frightening sound. It was a sad soft noise. And, of course, there was, too, the matter of urgently needed firewood. And, so, all of us paused instantly.

Within seconds we had impulsively exchanged glances that clarified the monkey was not a threat serious enough to justify not lugging the firewood home.

At first it was the unspoken agreement amongst us that that dying monkey was not worth bothering about. Its body could be easily shaken off our dead firewood tree, and left on the ground.

We set about hauling the firewood we had planned weeks ago. While we took care to stay out of the animal's reach, we hoped it would move itself off the wood. If it did not move itself, we were not going to force it off. We spoke to it a little, individually; shooed it a little. Initially, the monkey paid no attention to us.

We were beginning to realize that we might have to postpone our firewood plans, and come back another time. The wounded monkey extended an arm in our direction. We jumped back in fright. Our first self-preservation thought was that the beast was going to put up a fight. Its next move showed us we were wrong.

The monkey slowly clutched the dried tree and tried to lift itself up. It failed. To our human credit, without conferring amongst ourselves, we spontaneously joined in to help the animal.

One of us ran home to bring back something on which to place the wounded monkey.

We brought it home, and placed it on a piece of flat corrugated iron. We went back to get our firewood, while my mother and adult sister went about making the monkey comfortable.

We offered it water in a cup. We were excited when it drank some! That was the full extent of our knowledge in wild animal care.

At night, we placed the monkey on the corrugated iron against a wall outside, and we slant-leaned another piece over it against the wall for shelter against the usual evening warm tropical rain.

We offered food, but the wounded monkey did not eat. We did not expect that monkey to recover.

For the next few days and nights, that monkey only drank water. And then my mother came up with a brilliant idea: goola-goolas!

It worked. The monkey weakly trembled as it reached out for the fruit. We bypassed its hands and fed it directly. When it co-operated in spitting out the sucked-clean seeds into our cupped hands, we knew it and we were winning.

At some time during the day, it went into the jungle. None of us saw it again. We were overjoyed that it was able to leave on his own strength.

Whenever we went into the jungle for firewood purposes, we would look about carefully. Never a trace of our patient.

When we left Fynnland years later, there were still some faded monkey blood stains on our front door.

After that incident, whenever packs of monkeys descended, they were not noisy nor belligerent in our yards. The reason seemed to be the blood stains on that sheet of corrugated iron, and our door.

Fewer monkeys came down from the trees into our yards. None jumped off the trees onto our roof. The few who came down into the yards, would approach those blood-stains, and pause silently for a few seconds.

Never again did monkey mothers come down from the trees with their children into our yards.

We continued to keep doors and windows closed to them, and to all other wild animals.

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