By Sarah Askins
Jungle Boy crouched behind the palm tree in the zoo. He listened, as the two chimps snarled awake on the other side of the cage, watching as they approached the door where the man in the blue uniform jingled open the lock and pushed food inside. The chimps ate first. For his first feeding, Jungle Boy ran to the door when he heard the squeak of the lock. Tthen the man in blue shoved him back with his foot and whispered “savage” and proceeded to feed the chimps, while Jungle boy clung to his toes and rolled himself up like an armadillo. Jungle Boy learned to sit and wait.
The people outside the cage watched as he ate. In the mornings, Jungle Boy gnawed on a boiled turkey leg, the skin limp and sliding to the ground, the meat clinging to the bone, clear juice dribbling down as he tore at his food. When he finished, he threw the bone at the cage bars. The crowd of onlookers scurried away like birds being flushed by a prized spaniel, and Jungle Boy grunted and limped back to the shade of his tree until the next feeding. The chimps huddled around him and stroked his hair.
“I can’t see it,” yelled a small child at the front of cage. Jungle Boy stayed in the shadows, as a group of women in long skirts and high-buttoned up shirtwaists approached the African Jungle Enclosure. The child grabbed the cage and whistled. “I thought you said we’re going to see a real one,” the child said. “You think those are real human bones?” His mother shook her head. The child white-knuckled gripped the bars, and his mother pulled the child back, as Jungle Boy crawled toward the front. He cocked his head to the left and right before flopping on his thin hips bones. Jungle Boy stared out of his cage, as the two chimps came up behind him.
“Mama, he’s looking at me,” said the child. His mother pulled the small boy away from the bars and toward the metal sign, and Jungle Boy followed them as far as he could to the right. “Look, dear, he’s from this big place that looks like a horse’s head–that’s Africa.” The mother moved the child’s hands over the map, and the child looked at Jungle Boy and back at the sign. The child waved, and Jungle Boy smiled. The chimps scurried back to the shade.
“Hey, he looks just like me,” the child said. “No, he doesn’t,” his mother said, as she straightened her hat and opened her parasol. “He’s nothing like you. See right where he belongs, look at him, isn’t he funny playing with his monkey friends?” She snickered at the boy inside the cage. The child didn’t look away. Jungle Boy loped up to the cage bars and pressed his face against them, just as the child’s hand grasped the bar. Their fingers touched. Quickly, the mother yanked the child away from the cage, and Jungle Boy held out his hand through the bars, before retreating back to the shade of the palm trees. He lay down, and the chimps began picking dead flies out of his hair.