Bananas in Paradise

By Isaac Fisher

 

            “Let that be the last banana you take, monkey!”

Varun, the banana stand vendor, lifted Ratanak by the tail, cocked back his leg, and punted the pilfering monkey into the dusty street of the open market. From the ground, Ratanak glanced back at Varun, now gloating to the other vendors about his prowess for dealing with monkeys. Ratanak quickly got to his feet. He knew these shopkeepers, and they knew him. Varun would come chasing after him with his broomstick unless he left in a hurry. So, with the banana bushel in hand Ratanak scampered down the length of market. Once he reached the exit, he took a seat on a patch of grass and laid down his plunder.

            Ten nearly ripe apple bananas, enough to keep a monkey full for an entire day. And to make it out with only a pulled tail and bruised behind? A successful venture this time around, thought Ratanak.

            He pulled back the peel to the first banana and took a quick bite. The banana was not yet ripe and a little sour, but it was still crisp, which Ratanak found most refreshing. With the first banana sliding down his throat, Ratanak could finally take a sigh of relief. While he ate, the occasional tourist stopped his walk to gawk over the cliché spectacle of a monkey eating bananas. Ratanak knew there were other fruits besides bananas that he could eat, but none of them had that sweet, yet still sour, crispness that only can be found in an apple banana. Plus he liked the idea of a fruit specifically engineered to fit a monkey’s hand.

            By the time the monkey awoke from his banansiesta, much of the day had passed and the sun was beginning to set. The vendors packed their stands and Ratanak joined the other monkeys, children, dogs, cattle, goats, and pigeons in the cleaning procession. Together they roamed the streets, scanning the ground for bits of fruit, meat, or garbage, making sure that no remotely edible morsel stayed on the ground.

            Today’s procession was special for Ratanak. One of the banana vendors must have lost a spoke in his cart, because he found more bananas lying on the ground than usual. Ratanak followed the trail through the labyrinth of Rathput’s streets, stopping at each puddle to scoop up some motor oil-infused nana pudding. As the banana droppings became more and more frequent, Ratanak could not help but notice that he was venturing into unfamiliar ground. The soft dirt road had now become hard and concrete, and two tall fences that spanned the length of the road replaced the usual cluster of buildings. No worries, he thought. There was only one path to follow now, so he continued along until he reached a chicken wire gate on which hung a large sign of a woman dressed in fruits. Ratanak saw that the banana trail continued into the setting sun, beyond the gate strung with a series of razor barbs.

            Ratanak turned back but he was not discouraged. He followed alongside one of the fences in search for another means of entry. It did not take long for him to find a soft spot in the bottom of the fence. The monkey pulled on the chicken wire with banana-filled strength and bent it back just enough so that he could sneak through the underside.

            By this time, night had filled the sky, and Ratanak felt tired from the long trek. Instead of going towards the gate and continuing along the trail, he made his way to a short but wide concrete building that stood hidden within the jungle brush. There, the monkey climbed up a nearby tree and crawled in through a window draped by a thick flap of plastic.

            Inside, the building was pitch black. From the windowsill, Ratanak extended down a toe, felt nothing, and hopped accordingly as though he was leaping from the window to the ground outside. His fall was cut short by a bed of some waxy, curvy, bushelly, springy, and yet strangely familiar things.  He made himself comfortable in the pile of mysterious down, and no sooner fell asleep, sinking in thoughts of the golden treasures that lie on this side of the fence.

***

            Ratanak awoke to the shine of sunlight pouring in through window. He groggily sat up and grabbed a banana from the pile that served as his bed last night. He pulled back the peel, plopped the entire banana into his mouth, and then tossed the peel over his shoulder. “Mmm…” he said to himself, “Bananas for breakfast.”

“Bananas for breakfast!?” He looked around the room. Mounds of bananas as high as the ceiling. Between the mounds lied wide valleys of more bananas. There was not a single earthy spot on the floor.  “Am I dreaming?” Ratanak rubbed his eyes. The bananas remained. He bit down on his tail to wake himself up. Ouch! But the bananas remained.  “I must be dreaming.” He bit himself again. It was not a dream. There are million bananas in here, he thought. A million bananas all for me.

            He grabbed a bushel of bananas, pulled each one out of its peel, and then mashed them together into a ball of fruit.  He fervently kneaded the bananas between his hands until they became soft and runny. He let the banana pudding ooze through his fingers and then licked his hands. Never had he tasted pure nana pudding in his life. On the streets of Rathput, even the finest pudding had a tinge of some contaminant, be it sludge or maggots or feces. But this banana pudding was just so sweet. He scooped the remaining puddle with both hands and poured it down his throat.

            For the first time in his life, Ratanak was content. The sun went down. Darkness filled the filled warehouse, and the monkey fell asleep once more.

            Ratanak lived in perfect hedonism, eating bananas at the slightest will.  He spent most of each day perched high on the mound nearest the window, looking down over his banana kingdom. He scarcely moved except to reach for another banana. Before long, the monkey’s cheeks and belly grew wide. His once nimble fingers felt like stubs and his nose felt flattened into his face. The only mark of resemblance to the former Ratanak was a tuft of black hair that stuck up at the top of his head.

            As Ratanak ate more and more, he began to forget. He forgot about when he first arrived to the warehouse, the mysterious paved road that he had followed into the night. He forgot the birds, the bugs, the trees and the shrubs of the jungle that enveloped him in his journey. He forgot the rough sting of gravel and the soft tickle of dirt beneath his feet as he trundled through the cleaning processions of the dogs, goats, cows and children of Rathput. He forgot his home of the market, the land of humans and monkeys. He forgot hunger and pain.

            To Ratanak there was nothing in the universe besides night, day, himself and bananas.

***

            Bananas bananas bananas.  Everywhere and everything was bananas. Strange creatures lined the streets clapping and grinning and throwing bananas in the air. They had such shiny hair. And they were all so plump. Their teeth were ivory white, and their mouths were pink with good health. From the trees rained a shower of banana peel confetti. There was a parade. Giant banana floats were carried by hordes of them dressed in banana shaped costumes. Clowns performed flips, and juggled bananas seven at a time! Others in the parade carried bushels, throwing bananas one by one into the crowd. They sung Ooooos and Eeeees and Ahhhs of happiness. They formed a melody so beautiful that Ratanak was moved to dance. Banana towers lined the streets. Ratanak saw mommas look out from the windows with their babies hanging onto their front side, sucking at their teats. In every momma’s hand a tiny banana that she planed into her baby’s mouth after each suckle. The grins the mommas made as their papas crawled to their side, smoking big banana cigars. Ratanak had never seen it before. Again he was brought to tears. They were all so happy, and they all had so many bananas. So many bananas. Like all the bananas in the entire warehouse… 

            Ratanak looked around. Where did the festival go? Those creatures looked so happy. What were they?  Ratanak wanted to join them. He scanned his head about only to find that he was alone. Just bananas. Towering mountains of bananas. He reached down for another banana, and pulled up an empty peel. He had eaten so many bananas that the mound on which he sat had now turned into a crater. He wanted to go to the top to find the creatures that enjoyed bananas as much as he did.

             He put a hand on the pile of bananas beneath him and began to push himself up. He didn’t move. He pushed with all his might. He pushed with Herculean banana-filled strength, but he would not budge. Oh no! Bananas and complacency have turned me fat and weak, he thought.

            It would be a long time before he could leave his bodily prison, and his escape route was patience. Ratanak knew what he had to do. He would stop eating bananas until he became skinny enough to move again. Ratanak curled up in his crater, shut his eyes, and waited. He waited for a long time.

            The monkey sat on his pile of bananas in stillness. He focused on purging the plumpness and complacency out of him. As he focused, he began to remember. He remembered the tree he climbed up to get in the window and the fence under which he snuck. He remembered the gate with the sign of a lady wearing fruit on her head. He remembered the pavement of the western road and the dirt streets of Rathput. He remembered the markets, the dogs, the goats, and the cows who joined him in the cleaning processions. He remembered monkeys. Yes, that’s what those creatures were. Monkeys. But they were not like the monkeys in his dream. No, he remembered them as tired, malnourished and starving. He remembered their lice, infection and exhaustion, their poverty and their oppression. He remembered hunger and he remembered pain. He remembered who was responsible for the terrible lives of the monkeys of Rathput. He remembered humans.

            Ratanak opened his eyes. He pinched his cheek and pulled an elastic flap of skin. He looked at his fingers. No longer were they stubs, but wiggly sticks that could close into an entire fist. He smashed his fist into the banana pile and flung himself to his feet. He scampered to the tallest mound nearby the window draped with plastic.  Triumphantly wagging his tail, he looked over his kingdom and let out a screech so shrill that mountains of bananas crashed into the valleys.  “Brothers, sisters… I will bring you home!”

            Ratanak leaped out the window and was no sooner under the fence and on the road, racing back to Rathput. He made his way to the market place. Once he reached his destination, he climbed up the sandalwood tree that towered over the entrance. Atop his perch, he staked out the market. Monkeys wandered aimlessly holding out their palms to the vendors. Towards the entrance, tourists tossed them apple bananas and giggled and took pictures while the starving monkeys scrambled to eat them.  Further back, children ambushed a group of monkeys and whacked them with sticks. This was indeed the same Rathput that Ratanak had once called home. He felt a pang of remorse for leaving his brethren, but he knew that their suffering would not last for much longer.

            Once the market closed and the cleaning procession began, Ratanak jumped down from his perch. He hid at the front of the gate until all of the vendors had passed, and then he climbed up the top of the gate and stood on a sign that hung directly over the entrance. From ahead came the parade of animals. Ratanak stood resolutely. He let out a curdling screech that caught the attention of his fellow monkeys. They dropped their scraps of food and turned their heads to Ratanak.

            “Brother Monkeys, I call to you. Please stop your procession and gather round. I see your hunger and misery. Look at Ratanak. I’m strong and have energy. Why so? Because I have returned from a land of plenty and fortune. A land of bananas and a land free from humans. I have a dream that you will all live in happiness inside the banana kingdom. I know the path, and I can take you there if you are willing to join me.“ He paced back and forth along the sign, stopping to hop up and down at emphatic moments.

             Ratanak talked of the past. A past when monkeys lived in jungles around human villages.  He talked of the first time monkey and humans met. How the villagers lived happily and fed monkeys and let them live in comfort. He talked of when the villagers betrayed the monkeys. When they saw the extravagance other humans lived in.  When they withheld the fruits they used to share. When they enslaved the monkeys to entertain the tourists.

            The monkeys gathered at the entrance of market. They listened to Ratanak’s captivating voice. The monkey with the black tuft was right. Too long had they suffered in the hands of humans. Too long had they waited before considering leaving.  He told them that in this banana paradise there would be enough for all monkeys to live in sanctuary and happiness. He told them “It is time to come home.” And with that he hopped down from his pulpit and took the first steps back to Bananahallah.

            A procession of monkeys is quite a marvel, even in Rathput. But Ratanak’s words had continued long into the night, to that time when last of the street people fell asleep and before the first fisherman woke up for his long hike to the River. Nobody was awake to impede their march. In high spirits they paraded with Ratanak, their Bananuddha, through the streets of Rathput to the paved road of the fruit lady sign. They followed Ratanak one by one through the hole in the fence. Once the last of the monkeys crawled beneath the fence, he led them up the tree and into the window of the warehouse.

            By the time the monkeys made it inside, morning began to peek in through the window, exposing the banana sea in a golden glory. “Monkeys,” Ratanak said, “We are finally home.”

             The festivities were in full swing. Ratanak took a seat atop a pile of bananas and watched over the fruits of his ambitions. Monkeys jumped around and danced and sang among the bananas. It was just like his dream, he thought. A land of monkeys and bananas. Nothing more. They all now could finally live in bliss and safety from the human world. 

***

            Two men, a banana farmer and an import agent stood outside of Warehouse 45, just slightly northeast of the gate to the Chiquita Bengal banana plantation. The agent checked his clipboard. “Looks like these babies are headed to the supermarkets of Alabama.” 

            “Ahh yes, Mr. Robinson. One hundred thousand bananas. Pesticide free and naturally fertilized.”

            “Fantastic. That should be enough to last them through the entire winter. No shortages this year. We’re done operating out of Hawaii. It’s just too expensive.”

            “Well, as they say… You can always get it cheaper in India.”

             “True.”  Mr. Robinson made a brief grin, unsure if the farmer implied a jest behind the comment. He tapped the clipboard with his pen.  “Let us just do the final inspection, and then we’ll get these babies up on trucks and on their way. It’s a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. Hanuman.”

            “As always.”

            Mr. Hanuman opened the door to the warehouse. The two men stepped in and looked out into the mountains of bananas. A foreign chatter filled the air.

            “Mr. Hanuman, what are those brown things?” Asked Robinson.

            “What brown things?” The farmer replied.

            “Those brown blobs on the banana piles. There one just moved. Did you see it?”

            “No.”

            “Look there’s another. And another. They’re all over. What are… are they monkeys?”

            “A monkey in my warehouse? Never. We have a razor fence to keep monkeys out of our farm.”

            “You can’t deny that there are monkeys in here. O Jesus, just look there are tons of them.”

            Mr. Robinson stepped outside. How could this lazy farmer not take care of his stores, at the price that these Americans offered? “Indian madness,” he muttered under his breath.

            Mr. Hanuman tapped him on the shoulder. He had a cell phone in hand. “Do not worry Mr. Robinson. I will talk to some people, and we will solve the problem.”

            “Better do it fast, we’re scheduled to have these bananas out at sea by sunset. And I see a lot of bananas in there.”

            Phone by his ear and without looking Mr. Robinson in the eye, Mr. Hanuman gave a little nod of acknowledgement.  He connected to the other line and began to rattle off a conversation in a language incomprehensible to the agent.

            The farmer closed his phone. “Mr. Robinson. Just give me fifteen minutes and we will have the problem solved.”

            So they sat and waited. Neither of the two men said a word to each other. The Indian engaged in his cell phone and the American stared at an ant mound situated in a crack in the pavement at the entrance of the warehouse.  Nearly after an hour’s endurement, a rumble of motor bikes filled the air. On each bike rode a brown man dressed in a full button down shirt and khaki pants with a machete hanging at the waist.  

            The men pulled to a stop outside the entrance and filed in hastily. The last man nodded at Mr. Robinson, smiled and pulled the heavy door shut.  

            Inside, the monkeys were busy celebrating their new home. They did not notice the men kill the first monkey or even the second monkey. Only when they heard the third monkey shriek, “Help, I am being killed!” did they realize what was happening. The monkeys panicked. They had nowhere to go. One by one, the men cut the heads off each of the monkeys until none of them stood inside the warehouse.

            By the end of the massacre, only one monkey made it out alive. Unsurprisingly it was Ratanak, who was sitting nearest the only exit. Ratanak ran back to the village. He did not want to go there, but he could not go anywhere else. He ran through the market until he came face to face with the Varun the banana dealer.

            “Well, well, you little devil, Ratanak. It has been a while since I’ve seen you. You come to beg today? I don’t see any of your friends. Should I be waiting for an ambush?” He laughed.

            Defeated, Ratanak bent his head down and dragged himself to Varun. The vendor grabbed a rope and tied it around the monkey’s neck.

            “Ratanank, from today on you will be my pet. You will make sure that I sell the most bananas at this market.  You will dance and do tricks and in exchange I will give you bananas. You will work hard, but I will make sure that you live. I don’t know where these other monkeys are, but I’m sure you had something to do with it. Thank you, Ratanak, for ridding us of the monkey problem once and for all.“

            And with those words, Ratanak lived the rest of his life performing tricks for Varun and eating all the bananas he could desire.

***

            If you go to Rathput today, the monkeys you will see have a tuft of black hair on top of their heads. This is because they are all descendants of Ratanak, the Bananuddha, failed savior of the monkeys.