FLASH FICTION #19:
‘He’s 97% human. This fellow. Can you believe, son?’ Alex taps the cage.
‘But I wanted a Komodo dragon.’
‘And I wanted to spend the vacation in our island, not in this forest flicking mosquitoes,’ is the complaint of Alex’s daughter, as she applies a squeeze of lotion on her wad of face and throws away the pulpy tube. Its crinkled body shows it contains palm oil, possibly from Alex’s plantation a few kilometers away in Sumatra.
‘Darling, only this summer. Dad has to iron out his business here,’ enters Mother in a flaring skirt and sunglasses. An Asian brings her a basket, bows, and departs watching the orangutan.
Referenced from web* [labelled for reuse]
Outside the guest house, shards of sunlight fall through the porous green cover. All around is air chill and herbal. Deep into the woods, whereto the Asian is now driving Alex, empty patches of land are expanding, like an aging man’s balding head. Hired lumberjacks fell trees in a hormonal surge of productivity. Fires engulf the rest and reduce to charred lumps. Elephants try to flee the puissant intrusion, but elsewhere seeing only lands stranger to their nature, they fall with the trees. The feet of orangutans, unaccustomed to the touch of earth, jiggle in search of their crusty habitat, umbrella leaves. Meanwhile, Mother clicks photographs of her surrounding and shares with her clique and calls out serenity, inner peace, natural unction and unhurried relaxation in her self-pandering captions.
In the backyard, Nick pokes with a twig the orangutan captured for him. It jumps and rattles the cage. The nail on one of its toes has been uprooted, leaving the cuticle to the flies. Nick slowly brings his finger into the cage; the orangutan watches closely. He takes his finger to its underarm; it smiles. As he wriggles his finger there, the ticklish ape responds with laughter. Nick, satisfied, next inserts a banana; the orangutan grabs his hand. Nick drops the fruit in panic and shouts.
A flaring skirt is lifted as it anxiously sails across the courtyard, the living room, disturbs a jar of cookies (containing palm oil) in the kitchen and enters the backyard, overflowing with tension. Nick smiles to Mother and motions it is nothing. The orangutan has just picked a flea from his arm and stuffed it into its bulbous mouth.
Hearing the gasps of Mother, the ape turns in its cage. Moments later, rills of tears stream down its eyes. In them, if you watch closely, you can see the flare of smoke rising in the wild brown yonder. It figures the burning place as where it has lived all its years and raised its children. The sight of the smoke is a plunge into uncertainty regarding its family. The last it has seen its family was during their expulsion after their home had been toppled into a plantation of oil palms.
It stands crying, as Mother drags Nick away from the cage. After all, the orangutan is only 97% human. The remaining animality does not render it capable of inflicting the kind of harm natural only to humans.
*Image referenced from here.
For further factual reading of this topic: Guardian article on how palm oil producers are wiping out orangutans.