I considered the carved coconuts in front of me. This one was the best size, but it was a little lopsided. I liked the shape of this one yet the design was not as intricate. I eventually whittled it down to two. The first had fine swirling leaves, whereas the second had birds of paradise hiding in the larger fronds. I chose the more delicate design, and the shopkeeper wrapped it in bubble wrap as we stood under the imposing etched horns of a water buffalo.
The shopfronts were inviting and sold psychedelic artwork, painted wooden toys and ceramics. The materials here were organic, from petrified wood to animal bone. Some shops were open and had racks of tie dyed genie pants and vest tops, with various Asian beers slapped across the front, spilling out towards the pavement. A Western-style coffeehouse with angelic clouds painted on the walls sat empty. The cafe across the road which had a darker interior was crammed full of visitors. It was easy to forget about the other residents here, until they clambered on the corrugated tin roof and were shooed away with sticks.
The steep road twisted suddenly as it hit the outskirt of the forest. Statues speckled in moss with rubbed off noses announced the entrance. We had explored the Sacred Monkey Forest and seen the brutal glory of those long-tailed macaques. My brow was still smarting from the sharp scratch a monkey gave me after it was invited by a villager to sit on my hand for a nut. My stepfather had bloody bite marks on his crown as he hastily paid for a bunch of bananas. The vendor was unable to fend off the attack and it was easy pickings for the aggressive alphas.
We had seen the babies squeak as they rolled around biting each other’s tails on the old flagstones. We stood clutching our belongings as a gang ran through a simple graveyard at the promise of food – one unwitting tourist had rustled her bag by mistake. We were wary and released anything they showed an interest in. “Yes, take the whole bunch. Why not?”
Our guard was down now as we were outside the perimeter. We assumed we were safe, but it was too late. A male with glowing orange eyes had watched us from the large tree that shed its tendrils down to the ground. He snatched the bag containing the carved shell and did not anticipate any resistance. The monkeys are revered and hated in equal measure here. Tom instinctively pulled it back and was rewarded with a fearsome hiss and display of teeth. Those canines would do some damage. He let go and the monkey took his prize out of reach.
Sitting with his legs sprawled out, he proceeded to bite at the wrapping. He dropped the coconut and greedily reclaimed it as we tried to retrieve it. Resuming his position, he now had to contend with the sellotape and bubble wrap. After a short while, he had punctured a hole big enough to scoop out his winnings. He sniffed it briefly, then dropped it. The effort had not been worthwhile – it was not edible despite the sound of scrunching plastic.
As I picked up my coconut shell, which had somehow emerged unscathed, I felt guilty. We had not been cautious enough, and now the plastic was out of reach. Every time we approached him, he bared his teeth defensively. When we left, the monkey sat there quietly popping the plastic wrapper.