Princess Chana and the King of the Monkeys (or, How the Monkeys got their laugh)

I am sure you have all heard the monkeys laugh. Of course you have. As they climb and swing and dance in the trees, you have heard them screaming and crying out. That is their laugh! But do you ever wonder how they learned to laugh? Well…

Once upon a time, when the world was still young and innocent, there lived a beautiful princess, named Chana. She was adored by her family, cherished among her friends, and wanted for nothing.
But she was ever so wilful. Although kind in heart, and charitable in outlook, she could not calm this rebellious streak within her, and would often get herself into trouble. She would wander away from the grounds of her father’s beautiful palace, and have all kinds of adventures (some of which you may hear more about, one day). And because she was so sweet, and so loving, when she was caught where she should not be, she was always forgiven.

One day, not long after the sun had risen, one of princess Chana’s wilful moods came upon her, and she took herself off and out into the jungle that bordered her home on three sides.

The jungle was deep, and dark, and contained many dangerous animals. But this did not worry princess Chana, because she had never encountered a situation in which her looks, her smile, or her sweet personality could not get her out of. And if all else failed, because she was a princess, she was very rich and could offer money or gifts to extricate herself from trouble.

On this particularly bright morning, princess Chana took one of the darker paths through the trees and hanging leaves. The air, as it is in jungles, was damp and humid. But princess Chana had her light summer silks on, and her beautifully jewelled sandals, and was quite comfortable. As she walked further and further into this green world, she lost sight of the walls of her father’s palace, and began to feel as though she were in a whole different world.

Eventually, she came upon a clearing wherein she saw a fallen tree, perfect for her to rest a while on and gaze about herself. She perched herself on the trunk of the tree, took a deep breath, and said to herself “Well this is a lovely glade. Time and peace for me to rest and think”.

But, the peace was not long in lasting, as there came a rustling in the trees above her, and a voice spoke to her and said “Who is this, in my jungle, without my permission?”
Princess Chana looked about her, but because the jungle was so thick and deep, she could not see anything other than trees, and branches, and leaves.
“Who’s there?” she called. She was not afraid, merely curious as to who may have spoken to her.
“I’m there” replied the voice.
“And who is ‘I’?” said Princess Chana.
“You are I, but I am me” said the voice once more.
“Oh, this is silly”, said princess Chana, “I am a princess and am in no mood for silly games.”
With that, as princess Chana was about to raise herself from her seat, a large, black furred monkey dropped from the trees and landed in front of her with a thump.

“A princess?” said the monkey, “Well, I am a king! I am the king of the monkeys and you must address me as ‘Your Majesty'”.
“The king of the monkeys?” said the princess, “I have never heard of such. I know of the lion, who is king of the forest, and I know of the orca, who is king of the sea, but I never did hear of the king of the monkeys”.
“Well, it is I and I am me” said the king of the monkeys, “and to honour me, and to prove to all my subjects I am truly their king, I must marry a princess. So I will marry you.”.

Well, princess Chana was shocked! But once again, she was not scared, for she knew she could rely on her beauty, her smile, her charm, or at the very least her money, to get her out of trouble.

“Your majesty” said princess Chana (for although she was wilful, she was not stupid, and knew how to keep people happy), “I am far too young to marry, but I have something far more precious to give you in honour of your station. I will give you my laugh. My laugh is like music, sweet in melody and high in tone, and is truly a gift worthy of a king!”.
The king of the monkeys had not heard of a laugh, but being proud and a little stupid, did not admit to such.
“Your laugh? Well, that will indeed be a fine gift for a king. Tell me, is it beautiful? Is it regal? Will it make me the envy of all other animals in the jungle?”
“Yes, your majesty” replied the princess, “it is all those things and more”.
The king of the monkeys held out his hand and said “Give it to me then, princess, let me have this laugh”.
Princess Chana smiled and said “No, your majesty, to receive this gift you simply need copy the sounds I make”. And with that, she began to laugh. Softly at first, as though amused by a small joke;
“ha, ha, ha” she said.
The king of the monkeys repeated it, “ha, ha, ha”.
Princess Chana then laughed a little harder, as though amused by one of her court jesters antics;
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” she said.
The king of the monkeys repeated it again, “Ha! Ha! Ha!”.
Finally, princess Chana started to laugh as though she was being tickled by her father, which always made her feel happiest and made her laugh so much!
“HA! HA! HA!” she cried.
The kind of the monkeys repeated this, “HA! HA! HA!”, and realised how wonderful this felt! Why, monkeys had never laughed before, but oh what a feeling!
The king of the monkeys laughed, and laughed, and laughed! He became so weak, he fell down, and rolled around on the floor, laughing, and laughing and laughing.
The noise attracted his monkey subjects – they came creeping out from the trees and branches and leaves, to see what the noise and fuss was all about. They saw their king, rolling on the floor, making such a strange noise… they all started laughing too!
Soon, all the monkeys in the jungle were laughing, and screaming, and unable to control themselves.

Princess Chana, seeing her chance to quietly slip away, left the king of the monkeys, and all his monkey subjects, laughing themselves silly in the jungle. She made her way back to her father’s palace, and safely returned home.

That night, and for every night since, the monkeys can be heard laughing in the jungle, laughing at their king and his silly antics. All thanks to Princess Chana.

Snapshot 6

And we sat, with the machines beeping and the rain falling against reenforced glass.
You always liked stories. We would spend our pillow talk on make-believe, not wishing to analyse the events of the day, only wanting to share our duvet cocoon with peace and love.
So as the weather outside reflected my mood, I told you a story. One last story.
About a man who was rescued, although he didn’t realise he needed rescuing. About a man who was blessed, although he was not religious. About a man who was rewarded for years of bad luck, with a lifetime of good luck in one perfectly formed package.

As I watched your eyes, unmoving behind closed eye lids, I wondered what you were thinking. What you were seeing, with your minds eye. Did my words get through? Did they reach you?
I wanted you to hear me, I wanted my words to form a bubble, a perfect little world in which my story lived.

To me, that’s what stories are – worlds enclosed in a membrane that, at the merest touch, will pop and free the story from within.

I don’t want my last image of you to be of you there, in that bed, body broken and sick. I want my last image of you to be this:
You, stood with your arms wide, head thrown back, laughing at the hundreds of bubbles that float around you, conjured with my stories. Reflecting the last of a dying sun on their glistening surface, dancing and moving with your breath. And with each touch of your finger, a bubble bursts, and gifts to you a story that I have made. That’s how I want to remember you.

Snapshot 5

Night driving again.
Headlights of approaching cars growing out of the dark like an onrushing double sun, disappearing behind and leaving an after image in the eye, the red glow of rear lights in the rear view mirror. Left alone once more, within the metal bubble of warmth, road noise, and isolation.

Journeys always seem to both take longer, and pass quicker. Why?
Is it the lack of perceivable landmarks, no road signs or passing white lines to reenforce the forward motion? Or is the way travelling at night messes with the circadian rhythm, confusing the mind and body with a combination of sleeping dark, and adrenaline inducing speed?

Driving past fields, imagining the peace of a moonlit walk, journeying to a destination in the same way as our ancestors, centuries before.
Catching sight of a lay-by as it whizzes past, the oft-thought of sentence that ghosts into the mind – “Imagine being stuck there now…”.

Familiar roads, and junctions, look different at night. When the roads are this quiet, some junctions look like the scene of an accident, where all the bodies have been removed, but the forensic lighting is still there, scanning for spilled blood, skid marks. Or they are like a dressed stage, set for actors to play their way across, before an audience that isn’t there.

Stiff neck. Tired eyes. Counting down the miles as they tick off the odometer, getting ever closer to home. No cars in the rear view mirror means a black, empty space behind, as though the road and all the world has been gathered in by the car’s rear wheels.

Finally coming upon the exit junction, leaving the main artery and filtering off into a smaller, less important one, like an air bubble in a bloodstream.

Smaller roads, slower roads. The mad, head-long rush slowing to a more gentle cruise through sleeping streets, to home.

Snapshot 3

Fishlake National Forest, just outside Utah, is where we buried it.

Wrapped in a blanket, which we took from the cupboard in the hall, where all the bedding and towels are kept.

When we made the decision, there was no going back. And to paraphrase Macbeth, “If it were done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”. Hesitation during any of what followed would have proved disastrous to our resolve.

We saw a different side of each other that day – you proved far more ruthless in deed and thought than I had seen before, and I like to think you saw a softer side to me.

As the forest closed in around us, the mood in the car darkened along with the shadows that surrounded us. We knew we were approaching the spot we had picked out using Google maps satellite view. Quiet, secluded, and off the seldom travelled road. We didn’t speak. You knew the way, so I was left to sit and look out of the window, watching the dark greens and browns flow by.

The dark, black peat gave way under the blade of the shovel. You sat on an old stump and smoked, your first cigarette for two years, while I dug down. All about us was the noise of the forest – falling branches, rustling creatures, and the deep age old sound of trees growing. The steady thump and scatter of the excavated peat hitting the floor.

“That’s enough”, you said. I looked at the hole I had created and agreed, it was deep enough. Or maybe it would never be deep enough to hide what we had done, and you were just cold and ready to be done with this. I returned to the car to fetch our burden, and lifting it from the back seat I carried it back into the small clearing we had found.
You stood, and gently placed one hand on top of the wrapped bundle. Our eyes locked for a second, and in that heartbeat of time we knew this was a secret that would keep us entwined forever.
I lowered it down into the ground. And while you went back and sat in the car, I filled in the hole.
It filled in quicker than it emptied.

Snapshot 4

This is what I saw: I work from home, balancing the guilt of feeling as though I am not productive enough, with the desire to see just how little I can get away with doing.  From where I sit at my desk, I have a view through to a bedroom window of a nondescript three bedroom house.  Most days, all I see is the drawn or undrawn curtains, occasionally a view of a person  of indeterminate gender.

This day, with the perfect storm of a clear day and the sun in just the right portion of the sky, the window appeared to me as though highlighted by a stage footlight.  And there, stood looking out through the glass, was a woman. Simply stood, posed like a picture on an advent calender. And she was crying. 

Not the dramatic, hysterical crying of a mourning mother, but a calm, almost serene outpouring of grief.  The reason for this woman’s tears was of course unclear.  But for a few minutes,  I was captivated. To be so still, frozen in place,  but to be feeling something evidently powerful enough to invoke tears…  What was it?  Sadness? Misery? Happiness? 

I wanted to know about her life,  I wanted to sit at her kitchen table, an unseen guest, and learn the tale of this woman’s sorrow. Why is it, other people’s lives can seem so much more fascinating and glamorous than our own?   Why do we often think that? And why do we fail to appreciate, even when we’re at our lowest, that our lives will seem infinitely more interesting to others? 

Snapshot 2

I saw a black sun today.
You were driving, which for me is a big deal as I’ve always been one to want to be in control. Not in a domineering, manly-man way; more like… actually, it’s nothing that complicated. I just prefer to drive.
But today, you were driving, and the verges of the motorway sped past while we moved in their shadow.
I played the game I play with myself. I spot just one tiny piece of road furniture – a barrier support, a particular cat’s eye, even just a hole or mark in the ground – and I acknowledge it. I focus on it. And I think to myself, “I will never see that piece of the world again”.

You said something to me, about how happy you felt, and as I turned toward you we left the shadows and my eyes were hit square on by the sun. It was like those videos of test nuclear blasts, an instant of pure, white light. This made me slam my eyes shut with a wince, and the impression the sun made behind my eyelids was a black sun. I refused to see this as an omen.

Snapshot 1

I want to try and write more, and as well as keeping the poetry going, I want to try these ‘snapshot’ pieces of fiction. I have been inspired by Douglas Coupland, who in more than one of his books writes in this style. If you want a good example of his work in this vein, read “Life After God”. I’d like you to be patient and stick with these. I hope to get better at them as time goes on. Thank you.

One day, just as the last morning cup of tea had worked it’s way through my system, I fell down.
It was a shock, because in my mind I was still the youthful footballer, the skillful skate boarder, agile and sure of foot. For a few moments, lying there on my back and looking up at the ceiling, I had an insight into what it might be like to die.
Nothing moved. My entire world was the near 180 degree view of my walls and ceiling. There was silence, just the faint rub-dub of my heartbeat, and the constant low ‘sssshh’ sound that seems to constantly be in my ears.
I held my breath, kept all my limbs and head still, and slowly closed my eyes as though drawing down a blind over a window.
I imagined my inner-self coming loose, untethered, and drifting away like a piece of paper on a still lake. I pictured the scenes that would unfold when I was discovered, cold and alone. The shock, the sadness. In a few moments, a whole lifetime of grief and life moving on was played out on my internal cinema screen. And then I got up, and went about my day.