| Once upon a time, and yes, it was long long ago, but it might as well have been today, for the tale is timeless.
Deep within the verdant lush forests of India lived a She-monkey; insignificant, just like any other of her tribe, except that she is the heroine of this tale. She grew up playing the usual monkey tricks – what was unusual in her was a desire to see what was in the next tree, then the next and the next.
One day what she found in that next-next tree was a lithe brown male monkey swinging back and forth and baring his gleaming teeth. She ignored him just enough to entice him and then let the inevitable happen. Like most males he disappeared soon after but she barely noticed that in her endless quest for new trees.
In this way she came to a strange tree some weeks later, she was far from her tribe’s normal grounds and she was seized with a strange desire to stay. The boughs of the tree had long tender leaves with curly edges and smelled wondrous. She crept into a fork surrounded by lush foliage and tiny hard green fruit and slept there.
Later, the fruit ripened and swelled to blushing gold richness, globular but with a parrot-beaked end. Her body had alike ripened and she found the change amazing and rewarding, a welling forth of such pride and tenderness that her joyous tears rained upon the face of her newborn son.
The child and mother stayed in that tree thereafter, eating of its delicious fruit; it gave of its bounty for nearly four months each year. For the rest of the months they ate berries or nuts or seeds of the wild plants, but every summer they feasted on the strange fruit.
The young monkey grew into a fine handsome specimen and ventured off at times, spurred by some inner restlessness. He soon came across a comely She-monkey with dark liquid eyes and supple limbs and led her back to ‘his’ tree. She was not impressed with him until he shared with her the tender fruit that grew upon it, when her eyes grew round with delight.
Soon there were three of them in that tree, for the mother made the new addition welcome; the tree was a large one now and there would have been food for twenty more. She found the youngsters more intent on each other than gathering or storing or even cleaning, but was happy they were happy – the chores were not arduous.
The inevitable has a habit of occurring, so it came to pass that the young She-monkey was with child. She became more indolent and greedy and wanted to eat mangoes all day and night. She would tear off the thin skin with her sharp teeth, bite a couple of chunks from the cheeks of the fruit and discard the rest in contemptuous abandon.
The mother would gather these split and crushed fruit to suck the juice, whilst her child and partner gorged on only the sweetest flesh. It was better, at her age not to over-indulge on rich foods. The son occasionally attempted to join her but it seemed to agitate his mate too much. He did not want to invite acrimnony, nor did his mother appear to disapprove, so he gave up the habit. His eyes would often be upon the forest floor however, following the now lone, bowed figure of his mother.
One day the mother felt a bit faint and rested at the foot of a nearby tree; her son’s anxious restless gaze downwards did not please his partner.
“Darling,” said she, “I think your mother is affected by all this rich food. She would do better to exist on nuts and berries all year round. Do tell her to stop hunting for fallen fruit.”
“My mother eats very little nowadays; surely you do not begrudge what you yourself discard?” A rash question that earned a petulant shoulder and soft chitters of disapproval that nevertheless reached the sensitive ears of the mother.
When she came to sleep in her fork that night she informed her son that she would in future keep to berries and seeds from the fields nearby, as she feared the fruits did not suit her stomach any longer.
So peace returned to the young couple for a few days, but more and more did the younger female become jealous of the bond between the other two and try all her wiles to sunder them. At last, she set her eyes upon the comfortable perch in the fork of the tree and declared, “My bones ache so on this knotty branch, if only there was another fork upon which to sleep; I declare I got only two winks of sleep last night!”
“My mother’s bones are old and she cannot climb high now, the fork should be hers.”
“I suppose when the baby comes, both of us can fall from our branch and you will not shed a tear to see our maimed bodies below?”
Now, the mother slept little, like most older folk; the young monkey’s all-night snores resonated enough to show her what the actual issue was. So, she gathered her few possessions and announced that she found it difficult to climb trees at all these days.
She took to living in a small cave nearby, up a rocky hillside. Near a trickling stream, there were birds and squirrels for company to share her berries and seeds. Her son came to visit, when he was able to get away. It helped that his partner craved things like grubs and snails, fruit season was now over.
It came to pass that twin young ones were added to the family. For some time the young mother was busy with feeding and caring but greed was never far away.
The fork was not quite so inviting now with four bodies curled within, two of them squirming and turning all the time. She began to think that the old monkey was the wily one, all alone in a big warm cave with plenty of company and good food, whilst she struggled here to bring up two imps and forage a living.
But no hint of hers that he should dispossess his mother of the cave and make it a winter home worked. He wanted his mother safe and near him and the younger monkey chafed to see the unbroken bond.
The strange thing about Life is that it has a tendency to cycle, and yet one is surprised anew at each turn. So once more new life burgeoned and cravings grew, alike, in that greedy mind and body. The tree still had new pink leaves of spring; fruition was so far in the future that she salivated for the taste of one mouthful of the juicy plump golden flesh. Flesh … hmm …
Her wicked mind thought of the years the older monkey had spent eating that fruit, assimilating the juices within her body, becoming an extension of it. How sweet must that heart be, how rich, how delicious; she slavered in anticipation.
She demanded her prize; he was aghast at the thought. She remained adamant.
“How can you say I am unreasonable? I did not ask for this craving. It came to me and unless it is fulfilled, I, and the child within, will die. You must lose one of us, your mother or me – which is it to be?”
He could neither speak of his dilemma nor resolve it on his own and his despair was clear to his mother’s eyes. She wormed the story out of him, bit by bit, with soft word and gentle query. She turned warm brown wise eyes upon his troubled ones and smoothed back the stubborn tuft of ginger that sprouted on his sable back.
“Little one, my time has come near. I told you nothing before, for fear of hurting you, but now I can serve you by doing so. I have a hard growth within my belly and each day brings only pain. Death would be a blessing. Take this sharp thorn and pierce my heart, cut it out and take it to your partner. Live long and happily and think of me, sometimes.”
His eyes overflowed with tears and his heart with warmth; his trembling hands fumbled at the deed. It was done; he found a large leaf and placed the bleeding organ upon it whilst he tenderly covered the still body with stones and leaves.
It was growing dark by the time he finished. He hurried down the rocky hillside bearing the precious burden; he stumbled a little in his haste. He cried out as a sharp rock grazed his foot.
“Careful, my son,” said his mother’s heart “you may fall and hurt yourself.”
You can cut the heart out of a mother but you cannot cut the Mother out of a heart!.
Word count :1477