Zara of the Jungle Story by L’Espion Chapter 6 The Gorilla God Zara poled steadily through the swamp, wondering how far it went. She was somewhat out of her element. Although she was quite used to the sounds of nature this realm seemed quite strange. Long strands of moss hung from the branches of trees that grew straight out of the water and it was strangely quiet, devoid of the lively sounds of birds and monkeys with which was familiar. The stagnant waters did, however, have sounds of their own: the quiet burble of swamp gas as it popped to the surface; the croaking of frogs, the hum of insects, and the splash of a crocodile entering the water. None of it was particularly reassuring, but she had no choice but to keep on poling and hope that she would reach the edge of the swamp. Meanwhile… “Are you quite sure, Mr. Thorndike? You received quite a blow to the head.” Reginald Thorndike nodded his head. “Please Mrs. Alstead, you must call me Reggie. I’m just an hon you know, nothing special. And yes, I’m quite all right. I’ve received harder knocks playing rugger and your ministrations have been quite excellent.” He had gotten up from the bed where he had spent the last two days and had pulled on his clothes. He had been intercepted by Mrs. Alstead as he had stepped onto the veranda of the hut. “Well then, you must call me Alma.” “Where is Reverend Alstead?” Thorndike asked. “He’s over at the hospital attending to some patients. Nothing serious he should be back quite soon and then you can tell us a bit about yourself. We could get nothing out of the men who brought you here other than the obvious fact you had been hit on the head.” “There is a bit of a story in that,” Thorndike replied. “But I will wait until the Reverend returns.” “Well then, sit down and I’ll have Rachel bring us a cup of tea.” Thorndike sat. The veranda was wide enough for a table and a several chairs. He hadn’t seen much of the mission, but what he had seen was quite impressive. There were no traditional African huts here. Instead all of the buildings were constructed so that they were elevated a few feet off the ground to enable air to circulate beneath them and were surrounded with wide verandas where people could sit out of the sun or rain. It was almost civilized and he had to admire the work the missionaries had achieved. He understood that they had been there almost twenty years, but it was still an impressive achievement. The Reverend Alstead arrived about half an hour later. Thorndike had spent that time chatting with Alma about the mission. She was an attractive woman in her mid-forties and her bright red hair had only a few streaks of grey. There was something about her he found intriguing, but he couldn’t quite place it. “Now, Reggie,” Alma said as the Reverend sat down and Rachel brought them more tea along with a few cakes, “tell us about what happened to you.” “I think you are going to find some parts of it a bit fantastic,” Thorndike began, but here it is…,” “By Jove, what did I say?” Thorndike stammered as he helped Alstead get Alma back into her chair. “I’m sorry, Mr. Thorndike,” Alma said. She had gone completely white halfway through his story, and slipped out of her chair. “But when you mentioned the jung…, the girl, I couldn’t believe my ears. Did you say she had red hair?” “Why, yes,” Thorndike answered, settling back into his chair. “The same shade as yours actually. In fact…, Good Lord! I mean, I beg your pardon, but you don’t mean to say…,” “It has to be Judy,” Alma exclaimed. “But you said she called herself something different.” “She said her name was Zara,” Thorndike explained, “but she spoke only the local native dialect. No English.” “Zara. That is ‘gift’ in Ngamba,” Alstead volunteered. “That village is just a half day away from here. I was intending to go over there. The village headman reported something about a devil gorilla terrorizing the village.” “Then it should be investigated,” Thorndike said. “I will go with you and take my men with me.” “I’m going too,” Alma said. “And don’t try to keep me out of it.” “Wouldn’t dream of it, dear,” Alstead smiled. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” Zara had finally reached the end of the swamp. Before her loomed the familiar rainforest and she quickly clambered up the nearest tree. There was a spear in the bottom of the canoe and as it was the only weapon available she had strapped it to her back with a length of cord. By now it was fully light and she made her way through the treetops heading for what she hoped was her home. However, the rumbling of her stomach told her that she needed food and she was in an area of the forest with which she was unfamiliar. She would just have to keep her eyes open and hope that she came across something edible. As usual she depended on the monkeys to help her out and she headed toward the familiar sound of monkey chatter. However, she got a rude surprise when she came upon them. Instead of welcoming her as did the monkeys near her home these proved hostile. They pelted her with broken branches and even some of the fruit she was seeking. Since she was outnumbered more than a hundred to one she beat a hasty retreat. Fortunately, the attention span of her simian assailants was limited and she was soon let alone. However, that did nothing to alleviate her hunger. At that moment the smell of smoke came to her nostrils. A village? If so that meant food. That brought up memories of what had happened the last time she had staged a food raid. She would have to be more careful. She swung slowly through the trees, following the smell of smoke. Suddenly she realized that the forest seemed familiar. This is it, she thought, I’m home. She proceeded a little farther and suddenly came upon the Ngamba village that was close to where she had been raised by Kokuma. She had never approached it from this direction before, but it was unmistakable. Growing up, Zara had generally avoided coming into contact with the villagers, although she had spent many hours watching them. As a child she had often longed to play with the village children, but had heeded Komuna’s instructions to stay away from the village, mindful of the fact that most of the villagers still came to Kokuma for help whenever they suffered from some illness or another. In fact it was almost certain that most of the villagers had never seen her. However, she knew a good deal about the village and she knew at once that something was wrong. Her side of village seemed almost deserted and there was a great deal of shouting coming from the far side, beyond the barrier of thorn bushes that surrounded most of it. Something seemed to have completely drawn the attention of everyone in the village. Curious, she began to work her way around it moving silently from limb to limb until she was almost directly over the mob of villagers. At the forefront of the gathering was a warrior she recognized as the village headman. Next to him was a woman who was wailing loudly and gesticulating toward the forest. Zara followed the direction of her eyes and saw something she had never imagined. High in one of the forest giants was the largest gorilla she had ever seen. This was remarkable in itself as she had never seen one of the huge apes ever climb a tree. Just a strange was the fact that the gorilla seemed to have constructed some sort of nest and was crouched at its edge, roaring defiance at the crowd of villagers below. Then she saw still another reason for the uproar. Directly behind the gorilla was a squalling baby. She had no idea why the gorilla would kidnap a human infant. In fact the entire scenario made little sense. She had encountered gorillas before and although she knew that they were immensely strong and extremely dangerous when angered, she also knew that they were among the gentlest of creatures when left to themselves. However, whatever the reason for the gorilla’s agitation Zora knew that the Ngamba baby was in deadly danger. It could fall from the nest or even be trampled due to the movement of the gorilla, which was dancing around on the edge of the nest and screaming in rage. She acted almost without thinking. It took just seconds for her to swing to a spot directly over the nest the gorilla had constructed. She dropped onto the grassy platform, seized the crying baby, and prepared to leap to the safety of the higher branches. However, at that point several things went wrong at once. First, the infant turned out to be heavier than she expected. She had expected to grab the child and then swing to safety. However, she was forced to brace herself before leaping away from the gorilla. Second, the nest the gorilla had constructed turned out to be little more than a loose pile of straw. As she pushed her foot down it went right through, sinking her up to her thighs and leaving her temporarily stranded. Desperately she looked about for a safe place to set down the infant and spotted a hollow in the truck of the tree. Paying no attention to the infant’s screams she stashed it in the hollow and then struggled to get free of the nest. She managed to regain her footing just in time. The gorilla spun around, looming over her and giving her no chance to flee. She jerked the spear from her shoulder and presented it just as the huge animal attacked. For all the good it did she might just as well have defended herself with a twig. The point of the spear struck the gorilla’s massive chest, but it barely penetrated before the shaft splintered, leaving her holding nothing but a useless stick. And then a huge arm swept toward her. If it had made full contact it probably would have taken off her head. However, she managed to avoid all but a glancing blow. Even that was enough to knock her off her feet and she sprawled across the nest, but she kept on rolling, using her momentum to get to her feet. As the gorilla lunged for her once more she ducked beneath its arms and darted to the far side of the nest intent on leaping to the higher branches. Unfortunately, the nest once again shifted beneath her feet and she slipped forward, her arms flailing as she toppled over the edge and hurtled toward the ground. The ground was twenty yards below her and the fall would probably have been fatal had she not been suddenly jerked back into the tree. For a second her head spun as she was swept up in a wide arc. It took her a half-second to realize that somehow the gorilla had caught her as she fell and was whirling her above its head like a rag doll. There was a sudden crack, followed by another, and suddenly her ankle was released. She just had time to grab hold of a branch as the gorilla toppled from the tree and slammed hard into the ground below. Confused, she stood there for a few moments before the wailing of the infant reminded her of its presence. She quickly moved to where she had left it and scooped it into her arms. Then she grabbed a vine that hung from the tree and navigated her way to the ground. A woman dashed from the crowd of astonished villagers in front of her and quickly snatched the child from Zara’s arms before quickly retreating into the mass of villagers. Zara hesitated, unsure of whether she should return to the trees or wait to see what was going to happen. She had seldom revealed herself to the villagers and they were no doubt astonished to see her. Still in her mind was the loud crack she had heard just before the gorilla had fallen from the tree. From behind her came a shout, “Zara!” She turned to see several people running toward her. Three of them had the strange white skin and one of them was someone she was very pleased to see. “Master Reginald,” she squealed and rushed toward him. Her action caught Thorndike completely unprepared. One moment she was twenty yards away and the next she had crossed that space and before he could react she had leaped into his arms. Or rather she tried to leap into his arms. What actually happened was that she knocked him off his feet and ended up straddling him, her hands on his shoulders, and her face just inches from his. “I say, old girl, steady on,” Thorndike protested as he tried to move to a sitting position. “Master Reginald,” Zara gushed. “Are you not glad to see me? You are my mate.” At that point another player entered the scene. “Judy!” a female voice cried. “It must be Judy!” Zara looked up to see and older red-headed woman running toward her. Strangely there seemed something familiar about her. And then as the woman reached her she knew what it was. “Judy,” the woman kept saying, and dimly, from the depths of her childhood Zara recognized the sound of her voice. She got to her feet, unsure of what to do and then the woman embraced her. Zara made no effort to escape. The woman’s touch was unexpectedly comforting and she kept repeating the word “Judy” over and over. Zara had no idea who or what a Judy was. Extricating herself from the woman’s grasp she addressed her in Ngamba. “What is ‘Judy’ and who are you?” For a second the woman just looked at her and then replied in the same language. “You are Judy and I am your mother.” For a moment Zara was too surprised to reply. “No,” she said finally. “Kokuma is my mother.” “That is not quite right, child. I plucked you from the river and raised you as my own, but I am not your mother.” Kokuma stepped into view as she spoke. Aroused by the commotion caused by the gorilla, she had come to investigate, fearing that Zara, who had been missing for several days, might be at the centre of it. The villagers, who had surrounded Zara and the other three Europeans moved aside to let the healer pass. There was a considerable amount of discussion after that as the missionaries, their daughter, and Kokuma all attempted to understand and resolve the situation. Thorndike in the meantime moved away from the family gathering and walked over to the dead gorilla. “An abscessed tooth,” he muttered as he looked into the open mouth of the dead animal. “The poor blighter must have been in terrible pain.” He looked up at the villagers who had watched the proceedings in some confusion and had now come over to the dead gorilla. “Do what you want with this,” Thorndike said in his heavily accented Ngamba. “You saved my son,” said the one Thorndike noted was the village headman. “Me? No,” Thorndike replied. “I just wanted to save girl. She save son.” “A good shot in any case,” the headman replied. Thorndike shrugged. It had been a damned lucky shot so far as he was concerned, but if the village headman wanted to give him credit so much to the good. He still had most of his trade goods and now that Grafton had completely disappeared all of the profit would be his. What in blazes had happened to that bounder? He wondered. At that moment his thoughts were interrupted when Reverend Alstead wandered up. Apparently the discussion over Zara’s parentage had been resolved to some extent. “Pardon me,” Alstead said, “but why does my daughter keep on referring to you as her mate?” “Wha…?” Thorndike gasped. That question was the last one he had expected. “Oh dash it all,” he muttered. “Umm, umm, well, it’s like this…,” Epilogue Zara sat in the bow of the canoe, scouting the river. Behind her four African porters paddled it upstream and behind them sat Thorndike or her “mate” as she liked to think of him. She had been told by her White mother that the proper term was “husband,” although she had found the mating ceremony and all that went with it quite confusing. She had learned quite a few words in the language of her White mother, enough that she and Thorndike could properly converse, and since she spoke Ngamba much better than he did she fit right into his trading missions. Events had worked out well for Kokuma as well. She now lived in the mission settlement and added her healing skills to the European medicine of the missionaries. There was a shared bond between the mother who had given birth to Zara and the one who had raised her. Zara didn’t care as long as everyone was happy and that included her mate who had not needed a great deal of convincing when it came to making came to making an “honest woman” out of her. It seemed a strange term to Zara. After all wasn’t all mating honest?