The City Jungle
ON THIS PARTICULAR MORNING, in the sleeping-quarters of the orangutans’ cage, Tikki was born.
It was early summer, and as the sun’s first rays touched a sky aglow with pale pinks, yellows and greens, changing to a clear blue, the blackbird on the topmost branch of the tree burst into a song of joy.
All kinds of things happened in the course of that morning.
There was a domestic scene in the cage of Hella, the lioness.
Mino, the fox, had one of his attacks of insanity.
The big elephant, Pardinos, killed a boy. Nobody knew who he was or how he had managed to get into the cage.
Later, Brosso, the lion, after twelve years of service with the circus, was turned over to the zoo.
And strange and unexpected things also happened to the young wolf called Hallo.
The zoo was still: there were no human beings about. The keepers had not yet put in their appearance, and most of the animals were asleep, for, as usual, they had not slept during the night.
The trees were glorious, bathed in the sun’s first rays. Their leaves were like a green and living gold. In their branches finches trilled, doves cooed, jays screeched. The oriole sped through the air, a golden flash, constantly uttering its melodious and exultant cry of love. Woodpeckers hammered, and the squirrels at their merry antics over and around the boughs, twitched their bushy red tails. There was an odor of leaves, of damp wood, of turf and of flowers blooming in their beds that were like a gay carpet. It smelled, too, of dew, of iron wet with dew, and of trim tidiness.
All the free creatures about the zoo were happy.
On the orangutans’ house was an elegant weather-vane. On its very tip sat a young blackbird, singing her morning song. She had all kinds of tuneful inspirations, and grew quite drunk with her music, sitting up there as if she were alone in the world.
She knew nothing of the mother orangutan, or of little Tikki, who had just glimpsed the light of day. Indeed, she would not have understood; she would hardly have been interested. Free creatures are divided from captives by a gulf as wide as that which divides rich and poor.
Within, in the sleeping-quarters, sat Yppa, the mother orangutan, holding little Tikki in her silken black fingers.
In the two years that she had been imprisoned here with her companion she had never for a moment forgotten her freedom.
Her home had been in the virgin jungles of Borneo. There she had grown up in the brilliant green forests, with their multitude of shapes and powerful odors. She had become daring and strong, and whether with her companions or alone, had been blissfully happy and utterly content.
Once she had gone for a stroll across a small clearing, and in the short-cropped grass discovered a quantity of bananas strewn about. Yppa squatted down and one by one industriously devoured the bananas. Heaven knows, one, or at most two, would have sufficed her. She did not suspect that human beings had strewn the bananas there, or that they contained a narcotic. She knew just one thing—she had been free and was now a captive: there had been a time when she was happy, now there was simply misery without end.
She had been overpowered by a deadening sleep. Waking, she found herself in a narrow cage surrounded by cackling, laughing humans. Her skull ached, her limbs felt numb. Terror at her plight and the loathing and the horror caused by the sight of human beings further numbed her. Her loathing increased; her horror became a kind of paralysis until both were consumed in a boundless rage.
Furiously she shook the close-set bars of her cage. She bit into the iron, butting it with her shoulder, her head.
Exhausted, she sank down, but began all over again the next day with the same result. The days, the hours passed interminably.
By degrees Yppa’s broken spirit began dimly to comprehend that the most furious rage was of no avail. She cowered in her corner, sulking. She shuddered with loathing of human beings. An uncompromising hatred of all their brood kindled in her heart. She had never done them any harm, never. She had always retreated timidly into the deepest jungle whenever she saw, or even heard or scented one.
What did the horrible creatures want of her?
They did not kill her for food. They did not beat her. They fed her fruits. But how unspeakably they tortured her by compelling her to squat day and night in that miserable barred crate. They carried her cage away from the jungle, farther and farther away, while with every day her longing for the forest devoured, gnawed, burned deeper into Yppa.
She saw streets such as she never had seen, broad plains that dismayed her, villages and cities that were a torture to her. But the most dreadful torture was the fact that everybody could watch her. All her instincts revolted. Her nature struggled desperately, with the profoundest aversion, against this abject naked exposure.
She became prudent and crafty, refusing to stir as long as it was daylight and there was a human being near. She did not pay the slightest attention to proffered delicacies but sat like a figure of bronze or wood, holding her head forlornly in her hands and concealing her face. At night she would quickly satisfy her hunger, then work passionately, with all her strength, to break open her cage. She bent one or two of the iron bars slightly, but it was hardly noticeable. Though her hands were torn, she was exhausted, and her bones, forehead and teeth ached, that was all she succeeded in doing.
But she could stretch her arm out of the cage. Secretly, when no one was looking she would clutch at freedom in this way. One day she succeeded in seizing the keeper as he offered her fresh fruit. She caught the terrified man between his neck and shoulder, pressing him against the cage until he was breathless while she spewed her desperate hate into his white face. Had she been able to force her other arm between the bars, she would have strangled the horrible creature. Had she been able to get at him with her gaping jaws, she would have torn his neck open.
She held him tightly while he screamed. Oh, what a pleasure it was to hold him so tight, to bury her nails in his skin, and see blood oozing between her fingers from the keeper’s tortured flesh. She tightened her grip as the other humans rushed up shouting. Yppa was not afraid, no indeed! She gripped him more fiercely.
A sharp pain in her hand compelled her to release her victim.
It was a whip. The first time Yppa sprang up. She was frightful as she stood erect. The long red hair on her shoulders made them seem broader. Her tousled beard, her stringy red locks, her terrible snarling jaws and fierce growls made her a terrifying monster. But behind the bars she was not dangerous. An amusing sight, no more.
The whip cracked between the bars. They were trying to beat her.
Yppa was infuriated. She snatched at the whip. Feeling the knotted leather between her fingers, she pulled once, twice, so that they had to let go at the other end. Yppa pulled the whip into the cage, and in a twinkling tore and bit and trampled it, so that the air was filled with little pieces.
A tall man interfered. “What are you doing?” he shouted.
His face was white and smooth. His clothes were white, too, and so was his sun-helmet. Yppa knew nothing about clothes or about sun-helmets. In her opinion the man looked hideous. In general, she felt the utmost aversion to these chattering creatures, who could take off their skin and put it on again, and could remove a part of their heads. Moreover, she did not understand their speech. She understood just one thing—they were enemies.
“Are you crazy?” the man shouted. “One blow was enough to make her drop him. What kind of stupid nonsense is this—punishing an orangutan! Beating her! Get out of the way, you idiots! Now she’ll never become peaceable! We’ll never tame her! She’ll never get to trust us!”
The others drew back. The man approached the cage and spoke softly, tenderly. “Did you grab the whip? That’s a good girl, Lily!”
He called Yppa “Lily.”
“Did you tear up the whip? That’s right, Lily. You’re a fine girl, Lily, a fine girl!”
He offered her bananas, he tempted her with green figs and nuts. “Look, Lily, they’re for you! Take some, Lily. See how good they taste!”
Yppa did not vouchsafe him the tiniest grimace. She sat motionless again, holding her head between her long, slender hands, hiding her face.
Meanwhile the journey continued.
These humans who were conveying Yppa had all kinds of other creatures. From time to time Yppa caught a glimpse of her companions in suffering. She could always catch their scent. There were little monkeys, parrots, a young tiger, and other inhabitants of the jungle. At night she could hear them, screeching, roaring, howling.
Yppa made no noise: she worked persistently to free herself. But gradually her hope faded.
They came to the ocean, which Yppa had never seen. She was put aboard a ship that was strange and mysterious to her. At the beginning of the voyage the cage stood on the open deck.
Yppa felt just one thing—from here she could never get back to her beloved jungle even if she succeeded in escaping from her prison. Endless water stopped her on every side. It was new to her, this water, strange, hateful. It was at this time that she finally abandoned the attempt to break open her cage.
She wept all night, quietly, perfectly quietly, and a heart-breaking look of sorrow came into her eyes.
Later, when the air grew cooler, the sky paler, and the sun less intense, they carried the cage into the engine-room. It was hot and damp, and there was a deafening noise. Yppa suffered from the stench, from nausea, from her longing, never for a moment stilled.
For hours until she became dizzy, she would watch the rhythmical motion of the piston. She thought the bright, oil-dripping engine was a captive animal. She thought everything was captivity, inconsolable, inescapable captivity.
There followed her arrival in Europe and the torture of the train journey. When she finally reached the zoological garden Yppa was completely befuddled.
Of the garden itself she saw very little. She was brought into a warm house where she lived alone.
When the moment came for her to leave the small cage and enter the large one, she hesitated for a long while. Then she felt that the spaciousness and the mocking picture of the bare trees with the strong bare branches would be a pleasant relief. She moved about a bit, but rarely except at night. During the day she would sit with her face close to the whitewashed wall of her new prison. All day long she would rub the flakey lime from the wall with the knuckle of her middle finger.
To the people who pressed curiously about her cage, it looked as if Yppa were tracing mystic symbols and characters on the wall. Several thought that the orangutan had gone insane. And as she continued day in and day out, hesitantly but perseveringly, slowly as if under some sorrowful compulsion, to rub her knuckle (one would almost venture to say, to write) in the lime, the curator of the zoo himself inclined to the opinion that Yppa was suffering from melancholia.
She paid not the slightest attention to the human herd. She did not heed the keeper’s gentle call or the tender enticements of the curator who used to come to her when she was alone, bringing her oranges, grapes and bananas, courting her as a lover his bride.
Yppa never stirred from her seat, never for one moment ceased writing with her finger. It was uncanny.
A young man who frequently visited the zoological garden was standing beside the curator in front of the cage.
“Dreadful!” he said. “Dreadful!”
The curator smiled. “The animals are well treated in my zoo. . . .”
“No doubt,” Dr. Wollet agreed. “You are a kind-hearted man, curator. And most of your colleagues are kind-hearted, amiable men. That is just what makes it so incomprehensible.”
“Lily,” the curator coaxed and wheedled. “Come, Lily, be a nice girl and I’ll give you the nice banana.”
“She’ll die,” said Dr. Wollet, “she’ll die of a broken heart.”
“What do you come here for anyway?” The curator turned on him suddenly. “What brings you here again and again?”
“Pity,” said Dr. Wollet simply.
Then something unexpected happened.
Yppa rose, grasping the bare tree. A supple swing of her body and she was close to the bars. She stood erect, powerful—an elemental force. With absolute indifference and the vacuous expression of a sleep-walker she gazed past the two men, but seized the banana. Regal—a conqueror receiving an empty tribute. Indifferently she peeled the banana, and ate it neatly, but listlessly. It took scarcely three seconds. Then she again turned her back with its long red shaggy hair. One hand seized the branch. With another marvelously light swing Yppa was seated before the wall, tracing on it again with her finger.
“I’ll pull her through!” the curator exulted. “I’m going to pull her through. Patience is all that is needed.”
“If you stopped to think,” said Dr. Wollet as he prepared to go, “if you stopped to think what prodigies of superhuman patience are performed in this zoological garden, you would never find the heart to use the word yourself.”
The curator smiled at his departing back. “Sentimental bosh!” he muttered and again occupied himself with Yppa whom he insisted on calling “Lily.”
One day, however, he had another narrow cage wheeled up to Yppa’s prison. It was just such a cage as that in which they had brought Yppa months before. In it was a gigantic male orang.
The curator and all the keepers watched the meeting of the two creatures with bated breath.
But nothing happened.
Yppa did not move from her post by the wall. Zato, whom they called “Bobby,” crouched down in one corner of his cage.
The men waited and waited. Neither animal stirred from its place.
A tremendous self-restraint, a tender and insurmountable modesty kept them from betraying to human eyes the thrilling experience of this meeting.
But the next morning they were sitting side by side. With the unconcern of affection, they sat with their arms around each other’s neck and shoulders. They were silent, apparently peaceful, gazing with worried eyes into space.
This went on for days, weeks, months.
They imparted to each other the incomprehensible and terrible turn of life which had forced them into this horrible barrenness of confinement. They were stirred by the similarity of their fates, grasping only the fact that they were both unfortunate.
A gloomy wildness persisted unchanged in them, binding them one to another. They would sit motionless for hours, giving the impression that they were plunged in melancholy thought. There would follow outbreaks of hostility to their keeper—savage but not frenzied, not even angry, rather as if they were the result of mature reflection. They could not comprehend that the terrific energy with which they resisted was all in vain.
Sometimes they succeeded in escaping. In their dreams. Once more they were in the wonderful, damp, humid jungle, swinging along the lianas to the tops of the trees, shaking the fronds of the coco-palms while gigantic brilliant-colored flowers flamed around them, and huge gorgeous butterflies flashed by. A thousand bird voices screeched, cackled, tittered, whistled about them. The well-known sound of every creature that stole or galloped or fled or quarreled or rejoiced or fought, filled their ears and suffused their senses with familiar music, and they were intoxicated with a kind of happiness that only the free can feel. They enjoyed this intoxication in all its purity while they were asleep, for in their dreams they forgot their captive state.
But when sleep forsook them and they opened their eyes in the wretched restriction of their prison, they felt an unutterable despair.
It was still dangerous for their keeper, or even for the curator, to enter Yppa’s and Zato’s barred cell. No one had ever dared to.
But now Tikki had come.
The newborn babe rested in Yppa’s raised hands, and she examined it as a merchant might consider a bit of choice ware in an oriental bazaar. For the first time in the course of her captivity something like happiness dawned palely in her soul.
Though Tikki had been on this earth a bare half hour, he seemed a thousand years old. He looked like a mummy with his meager body and scrawny neck, and especially his wrinkled face. In the sleepy, liquid expression of his eyes there was something inexplicable, unfathomable.
His mother was satisfied with him. She rocked him in her arms and seemed about to show him to Zato. But Zato was not there. Probably they had driven him into another cage.
Yppa did not waste much time thinking about it. She applied herself to little Tikki with all the matter of fact and serious intentness of a mother orangutan. For the first time she forgot her cage, forgot her rage and rancor, forgot her bitter longing for the jungle.
Now all her powers of pacification were directed to little Tikki who stirred at his mother’s breast, looking at once ineffably shrewd and pitiably helpless.
At that early hour the house in which their cage stood was empty. Neither the curator nor any of the keepers had yet put in his appearance.
But Yppa was not alone with Tikki.
She had a tiny observer, one so tiny, indeed, that Yppa did not even notice her. Two eyes, hardly bigger than a pin-head, dark, sharp and clever, eagerly followed every movement of the mother and child.
In a little crack where the floor of the cage joined the wall sat Vasta the mouse.
She had often sat in that crack, certain that she was not observed, yet trembling each time with excitement. After the spectacle that she had just witnessed, she trembled more excitedly than ever.
Of course, nature had designed her to be timid, to tremble and to flee. But here in the zoological garden where so many big animals lived in captivity, Vasta knew the pride of a free creature and was on a fairly familiar footing with all the imprisoned beasts. Though she never forgot that caution with which a mouse is born, she did in time get over her dreadful fear of all the huge forms among which she crept.
She learned that the imprisoned animals were either too good-tempered or too unhappy to harm a tiny mouse.
But these orangutans remained mysterious and uncanny. She was perpetually horrified by their resemblance to the most dangerous and most powerful creature the mouse knew.
Nevertheless, she often visited the orangs. She was drawn by curiosity and probably, too, by the partially eaten nuts that were always lying about. But principally she was lured on by the terror she felt whenever she gazed at the orangutans.
Never could she make up her mind to reveal herself. And she always slipped away with the blissful shuddery feeling of having escaped some horrible fate.
That day she remained longer than usual. She was so spellbound by the event she had witnessed that she never once thought how safely she could have hunted for nuts.
Her sharp nose twitched violently, her majestic whiskers quivered, her whole body was trembling when at last she ran away.