I sat at the German café overlooking the river. It was high, high above, higher even than the top of the suspension bridge that swayed slightly under the weight of hundreds of people, a handful of cows, a few donkeys, numerous monkeys, and endless honking, swerving motorbikes. I watched the commotion of the coming and the going from above, the colorful women in saris, the crush of people and cameras right before you merged onto the bridge. In the distance, bells clanged from one of the countless ashrams that lined the river’s shore.
Outside my window was a large, green tree. I was on level with its uppermost branches. A thin, almost inconsequential piece of glass separated me from the tree, but as the rest of the cafe was open to the elements, it seemed strange that someone had put that piece of glass there, an anomaly of a window in a restaurant filled with so much air. All I had to do was lean back in my chair, and I could stick my head out, or reach my hand out and grab a leaf. If I leaned too far forward, I would fall right over the rail and tumble down, bumping and bouncing painfully off rocks, until I slid, bruised, into the Ganges.
But as it was, I was fine. I was sipping a fresh lime soda and eating an almond square. A movement outside the window caught my eye. It was a tiny monkey. He had appeared from the undergrowth of the tree, and was sitting perched in the branches as he munched on a nut between his paws. His eyes flicked back and forth in his tiny, wizened face. He looked about a million years old, but he was a baby. The early evening sun shone through his pink ears, as delicate as tissue paper, folded like two budding flowers. Suddenly another paw reached up through the leaves and pulled his leg down, and he went tumbling, head over foot, into the shaking tree below.
Suddenly there were monkeys everywhere. This was clearly the “kid’s tree,” as all the bigger monkeys were lounging maturely on the suspension bridge. Those older monkeys seemed to know what was up- they had tricked the passersby into feeding them nuts and popcorn, and when they got sick of that, they would lope up the steel beams of the bridge, high into the air, and relax at the very top, picking at their fur, unconcerned with the world of humans below. But in the tree outside my window, the baby monkeys played. They chased each other relentlessly, appearing and disappearing like a rollercoaster cresting the top of the tree, and then dropping again into the dark, rustling underbelly.
One monkey would appear, sit back on his haunches, and perhaps reach around to scratch his back. He might chatter for a moment, looking in the window at me as sun shone through his tissue paper ears, and then suddenly the branches would rattle and he would shoot a quick glance into the leaves before jumping up and diving away, apparently into the Ganges. From where I sat, it really looked like they were taking flight and disappearing into the river far below, but I knew that they were just catching branches further down. It was a continuous cycle. One or two would appear on the uppermost branches, pick at their toes, chatter at the people in the restaurant, and then take a flying leap, arms and legs akimbo, as other monkeys from below appeared and reached for their sides and their tails. No one was safe. Monkeys were attacking monkeys.
At one point, I watched a monkey picking curiously at his side. He appeared to have found an insect there. He was scratching carefully, paying great attention to what he was doing. I saw it first. A paw reached up through the branches. The long fingers circled around his tail. Then another paw reached up. This one was right over his belly. Just as he noticed the paws, they closed in on him, and his tail and his belly were captive. He threw his arms up and disappeared into the tree below, the branches shaking violently. Just before the sun set, the rollercoaster of fighting monkeys ceased, and calm returned to the tree.
One small, lone monkey appeared in the uppermost branches and looked at me. He was so curiously human, I couldn’t help but laugh. This provoked an immediate response in him. His head started jerking back and forth rhythmically. His eyes widened and focused, widened and focused. His ears swiveled forward, and he leaned towards me on his haunches. I thought he was going to jump. I was uneasily aware of the open window at my side. Then I remembered something someone had said- don’t show monkeys your teeth, or they will think that you’re threatening them. I was laughing with my mouth open and my teeth exposed. I quickly shut my mouth. The little monkey stopped rocking back and forth, and his ears flattened back against the side of his head. His eyes returned to normal and he lost interest in me. I leaned back in my chair, relieved. The fresh lime soda bubbled in the glass, and left a wet mark on my upper lip after I sipped it. I licked it off and went back to eating my pastry.