Una Nina Nine
In the surreal world of the Kano Zoo, a tatty newspaper page stained with palm oil fingerprints, hovered above the green metal perimeter fence. It hesitated as if to check for the right address before drifting into the gorilla enclosure.
From the ground, a gang of harmattan dust devils spotted it and cheered. They swirled and twirled below the paper, in anticipation of a new game. When it was within their reach of three feet, they whirled into action. Round and round. Around and about. This way and that way until the poor piece of paper, dizzy from the abuse, folded its edges and refused to play.
They soon tired of their ‘fun’ and left to go in search of new mischief. Free from turbulence, and on a provocative mission of its own, the paper touched down on the crude concrete balcony of the small cage, where it wanted to be seen and waited.
Jane, the gorilla, discreetly turned his large head from left to right to be sure there weren’t any humans in the vicinity.
It was 8 am and, although the zoo didn’t open for another two hours, it was common knowledge that some zoo staff and visitors, slept and even lived within the premises. It was illegal and to the animals, illogical. Fish do not backpack across desert sands and monkeys do not live in Antarctica but humans… It wouldn’t matter to man’s intrusive nature, if you hid at the bottom of the ocean or atop Mount Everest. They want to be everywhere.
Satisfied that there were none about, he unbolted and slid his cage door open. Then, he walked over to grab the paper, as fast as his cramped limbs could manage.
Back in his cage, but still wary of the cunning nature of humans, he took the extra precaution of using his massive back as a black and grey matted wall of privacy, before he squinted down at the paper.
“Oo, oo, oo, oo!” Jane grunted in staccato and beat his chest, surprised that he was not just in the news; he was the news! An auditor had discovered a shortfall of thirty thousand dollars raw cash, in the zoo’s gate takings. The report went on to say that Jane had eaten all the money, prompting Mr Governor Gran Jude, to order a prompt investigation.
He yawned. The fraud allegation didn’t bother him. Animal trials ceased to exist two hundred years ago, so he knew nobody would be asking him questions. He was more worried about his masculinity being challenged. That was the umbrella of his existence. In the real animal kingdom, it was all about the alphas. The studs. The jocks. Nothing else mattered, so money was nothing.
He scanned the news article again, line by line, this time committing it to his reprographic memory until every word, comma and period was saved.
He found that his name, Jane, was not featured in the news article — the reporter had used the generic term, gorilla, from start to finish. That was cause for celebration, so he stood upright, cranked his shoulders like a T-Ford and tap danced a little jig to his favourite song, ‘Cherie Coco.’
It hadn’t always been like this. He had once been proud of his name. It was foreign and sounded macho. Back then, Jane knew that with the right chains, he could look better than any Mr T and that he was finer than Uub in Dragonball Z, thank you. To him, a single syllable name like Jane was emblematic of his impressive six foot frame, three hundred and seventy four pounds of pure hunk, all topped with a red mohawk which he put on full display when he was high on adrenaline — Hayaah!
Like when those hungry looking visitors who sported contradictory potbellies thumped their chests and bounced to mimic him. “Jane biri. Gorilla biri. Walk like a-this,” they taunted.
“Yeah? Yeah? Swaga ya haga,” he would huff in return and mock charge them on all fours, across the fifty foot length of his half concrete, half dead grass flat.
He always interrupted his charge at the two feet mark before the fence. Most of the fences in the Zoo were weak and although Jane could brush the fence aside like a shower curtain to confront the hysterical crowd, he didn’t. As a leader and an honourable gorilla, he thought it beneath him.
Of course, that was all before the arrival of his newest neighbours: a pair of teenage chimpanzees named Tiko and Biko, with empty eyes and broad grins that lacked true mirth.
“Jane is a girl’s name. Jane is a girly girl. Hakaka-hark-at-her. Jane is a girl,” they shrieked, during their welcome party on Zoo Night. Then they bopped and swung and hung sideways off a bar, to pound their feet against a metal door in a frenzy.
Jane’s heart shaped nostrils flared. He dropped his head and pursed his lips the way he did on the rare occasions a veterinarian visited.
It was thanks to Ms Nio, the midget giraffe, that it didn’t all descend into a comedy night. She hooked each of her eyes to the hyenas, in her noble but stern way, staring them into silence with her long lashes. It worked. They stifled their infectious laughter and Jane’s dignity was saved. For the night.
The memory of that humiliating night became a recurring gif in Jane’s mind who now wished he hadn’t called a meeting to welcome them to the zoo.
In the old country and even to this day in the wild, gorillas and orangutans, actively avoid the company of chimpanzees and bonobos. The Royal Kong dynasty exiled them in the tenth century, when they found that in flagrant contradiction of the Hominid Mutiny Code A100, chimpanzees and bonobos were interacting with humans; allowing themselves to be domesticated and performing tricks for scraps of food! And the tales on the grapevine…
In more recent times, one lucky returnee to a nearby game reserve, Pansy, was almost lynched twice. First, for his name and, second, for his account which had some baboons’ bottoms frothing, “Tueh. Kong forbid!” he began by saying that a pair of infant male chimpanzees were sold to a nice couple who put baby diapers on them and pink ribbons in their fur to match their frilly miniskirts. He was interrupted by Rodrigo, leader of the owls, whose head was permanently bent to the left from doubt. “You. Liar. Hoo!”
At other times, their hooting might have triggered a rage but the rest of the horrified audience was silenced by a photograph on an empty packet of tea bags, of shoe wearing chimpanzees cycling in a park. For weeks thereafter, the traumatised animals wrapped their arms or wings around themselves and rocked to and fro, until they became trance like and easier prey.
Jane shook his head and chewed harder on his pacifier, a thick stalk of lemongrass. The next Zoo Night was imminent and for sure, this money nonsense would generate more waves, but he still didn’t have a solution to his name.
Experiencing an existential crisis in the zoo was normal but the older animals could not hold a grudge against their keepers, most, volunteers. The Zoo Director, Sy, was a kindly African Burma War Effort veteran who had returned seventy years ago toothless and barefoot, with lumps from the shrapnel embedded in his head.
Initially, his family was overjoyed to receive him but soon changed their minds and got him this job with a contrived resume.
In the last seventy years every Zoo animal had as intriguing a story as Sy’s: Zaki the lion who had been abandoned by his pride, was now a vegan. In the cage, labelled ‘Wolf,’ was a Malamute whose owner had travelled on vacation. The domestic staff fled the house with the dog after they ran out of money and begged Sy to accept it. Faya was a partially devoured zebra who occasionally allowed herself be saddled to give visitors rides, but secretly poisoned every resident leopard and crocodile.
Jane’s thoughts rambled all the way over to his twentieth birthday, when he was surprised with a harem of five crying female mandrills who looked as uncomfortable as he felt. He wondered who had named him Jane and what money might look or taste like.
With no ready answers at hand, he considered becoming a bit more like Sy. So he wrapped his coir mat around his waist and performed a ‘limbo’ through his cage door.