Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Tropical Beach Party

Jolanda Dubbeldam by Jolanda Dubbeldam

It is one of those very rare moments where I am entirely conscious of simply being where I am, finding in my core an enormous quiet only gently touched by the sensations floating around me. I have always loved early mornings. Sitting in this wicker chair with a perfect view of the wide white sandy beach, it must be low tide, and the small brightly painted wooden fishing boats working their way across the crystal blue sea. A slight salty breeze strokes my face, no hint yet of the sweaty heat that will follow in just a few hours. Behind my back, waiters start putting out dishes and chatting in low tones and foreign sounds as they prepare breakfast for the tourists who are starting to rouse themselves from deep sweat-drenched sleep. The occasional rumbling laugh, contagious, making me grin, too.

Breakfast smells begin to float out to the veranda. Bacon and eggs, toast, fried tomatoes, all food I normally do not start my day with but that make my mouth water now. The screech of metal chairs scraping across the cement floor as well-scrubbed and sun-screened people wearing cheery tropical outfits sit down at the little white tables. I, too, find a table. I place my order with the friendly waiter, focusing hard though hopefully inconspicuously as I try to understand his English, which seems somehow to have many more syllables than my own.

As the restaurant fills, one by one the little monkeys start to appear and settle down a dozen or so yards away from the open sliding doors to the veranda. It is as if they, too, have read the warnings posted in every room:

Please, do not feed the Monkeys.
Remember always that these are Wild Animals.
Please, do not smile.
Showing teeth can be seen as aggressive behavior.

The large group near the doors, easily pegged as Americans by their vocal and noisily expressed enjoyments, also see that the furry friends have arrived. Maybe they missed the signs, because they immediately start providing happy, toothy commentary.

“Aren’t they just adorable?”

“Makes you want to take one home with you.”

“That little one there is just so cute!”

But then suddenly, one of the American women who has not been participating in her friends' general merriment, but was staring with concentration at one of the animals, cries out, “Look, look, that big one in the back is holding something blue. Can you see it? I think its Sarah’s handbag. Remember, with all those beads? She was carrying it a few nights ago to the dance?”

Disconcerted mumbles ripple through the group. Heads start to swivel in search of Sarah. Where is she? No one has seen her this morning, or even since the dance three days ago. Finally, a burly man steps up onto a chair and lets out a yell, and all eyes turn to him in sudden silence. "Could I have everyone's attention please? We're looking for someone from our travel group, her name is Sarah. Tall gal, red hair, wears glasses, about my age. She seems to be missing. Has anyone seen her recently?"

Nobody has, and now the worried ripple spreads to the other guests. Their always present awareness of the foreignness of the country outside of the hotel grounds explodes into panic. Tourists, aren’t they always considered easy pickings? Who knows what might have happened to Sarah, a robbery, kidnapping, maybe she's been hurt? Quickly small search parties form: back to the rooms, the swimming pool, the TV room, the gym. It seems nobody has considered the beach, so I slip on my sandals and head outside. The fishing boats are out on the sparkling water like before, but besides that it is still quiet. To the left, a few early morning walkers, a man carrying his young daughter on his shoulders, a woman walking besides them, tickling the child’s foot. Some teenagers throwing a beach ball across the waves. No red hair, no middle-age either. To the right, nothing. The beach ends quite abruptly at the low black cliffs and large rocks that close off the bay. Or wait, did something move over there? I try to see, squinting my eyes against the glare. Yes, there is some movement over there. I’ll have to get closer to see what it is. I walk across the sand, trying to stick to the hardened layers, but it is tiring progress. I wish I had grabbed a hat, the heat bearing down on my head and shoulders is becoming increasingly unpleasant. Terrible thirst drying out my mouth.

As I get closer, I finally see what caught my eye. It is a group of monkeys clustered closely together, agitated, chattering, baring their teeth excitedly. What in the world are they doing? I hesitate, remembering the warnings: these are wild animals. Suddenly I see a single monkey running along the top of the cliff, yelping softly. He seems to be carrying something - is that a pair of glasses? The monkeys are unaware of or uninterested in my presence, their attention focused on the center of the group, so I take a few more steps towards them, hesitating. I really don’t dare get any closer. I scan the area quickly, looking for inspiration, and decide to climb up a nearby rock.

I struggle to the top and crouch, carefully turning to face the animals. Now I have a clear view. I can see. I can see locks of red hair. Scraps of blue silk. And blood. There is so much blood. I turn my head to the side and retch as I am swallowed by nausea, careful not to make too much noise, keeping my teeth covered.

bared teeth monkey

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