By Lynn Abramson
The one they called Kumbuka—Remember—reclined against a rock. Opened her eyes, closed them. Let sun in, shut it out. Chewed straw, let it dangle, let it drop.
The air hung thick. Punctuated by the gnish, gnash of insects. The pitter! pitter! pitter! of birds. The humf of the gorillas. The waaarl eeeheee waarl waaaaaarl from the other side.
On the other side, the humans fussed. Mothers shushed sons, snatched at hands that tapped the glass. Fathers hoisted daughters onto their shoulders. One mother ran about looking for her son, a mischievous boy who had slipped away.
To the gorilla, they were smells and sounds. Flower? Food? Fauna? Always there, except at night, they retreated. In the space they left behind she’d recall something. Not quite a memory, an imprint. Motion. Trees rustling … birds fluttering … water gushing, frogs springing, wind rushing, leopards leaping, her blood pulsing thick and strong. And then the sun would rise, and she’d sink back into the hazy day.
Several paces away, her son, the one called Karibu—Welcome—dug holes in the earth with a stick. Found insects, ate them. Kumbuka roused herself from the rock. Lumbered through the clearing, collecting kale, bananas, beets. Satiated, she settled in the shade. Squinted at light oozing through the trees. Karibu came to her. Nuzzled. Picked at her fur.
And then, a scent. Familiar but foreign. She looked up.
If the mother’s screams had resonated with the gorilla, perhaps they would have triggered some shared maternal instinct.
To Kumbuka, the creature above was too close. A threat. Something left behind inside her was stirred.
She stood. The others stood. Moved inwards. Thumped their chests. Grunted. Humf! Humf!
The boy reached for them. Fell from his perch, smacked through tree limbs onto the packed earth. Lay unmoving. The mother crumpled, an animal moan escaping from her.
The gorillas paused. An energy passed among them.
Karibu bounded to meet the creature.
Humf, humf! Kumbuka tried to warn him, her blood pulsing. But Karibu was up-up-up! And then—collapsed.
Kumbuka went. Green rush, swish, snap, humf, up-up-up! Pain.
The humans rushed in, tranquilizer guns drawn.
Kumbuka dreamt of trees rustling.
– Lynn Abramson lives with her husband and son in the Washington, D.C. metro region, where she works in energy policy. In past lives, she has wrestled sediment traps in the Mediterranean Sea and floor charts in Senate hearings. This is her first published work of fiction.