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The Pgymy, the Monkey Hunter & the German - 2

by MarkS 

Posted: 02 January 2006
Word Count: 4449
Summary: This is the second chapter - still very much work-in-progress, but tell me what you think regarding believability, voice, etc... Thanks!!! Mark
Related Works: The Pygmy, the Monkey Hunter and the German • 

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Chapter Two

I said my goodbyes early to Antoine and Yvonne and then walked out of their village following the rough, potted road and continued in the direction of Bandundu. I felt better after having met a friendly Teke and so walked confidently by the side of the dusty road, hugging the undergrowth, which curled in around me and pulled at my arms and sides as I walked. I was long since used to the tiny cuts and paid them no attention. The little streaks of red that faded to white with time. I thought a little less of my village and made an effort to think of what was to come, of which I had no idea. At one point I remembered a conversation I had had a few days before with Malima and then I felt a sadness grow inside me again. I had to stop for a while, sitting on a broken tree. I let the emotions fill me up and play with me before I milked them out like sap from the great dark Mungha tree, pasting myself in their sticky after effects.

When I was having something to eat around the high time of the sun, sitting under an Okoumé tree, I heard some people talking in the distance. They were on bikes and there were two of them. Both had enormous bulges of bananas on their backs and were obviously farmers taking it to be sold or maybe home to their tribe. I watched how they moved along without much effort and I wished I could have a bicycle to ride on as that would have made the trip quicker, though I had never rode on a bicycle before. As I watched the two men approaching from behind the tree I also heard a crumbling sound from the other direction like a jungle monster chewing stones. The sound reminded me of the Teke businessman in his white truck who had bought the fish from Antoine and his friends.
I looked in the direction of the noise, but the branches and roots of the tree made it difficult for me to see, so I ventured out from behind it. As soon as I had moved out from the tree one of the men on the bicycles saw me and shouted. His voice did not sound friendly. The men in the car, which I could now see, were also pointing in my direction. I saw a big man with a beard standing with his head out the roof. He pulled a pistol out and aimed it in my direction. I darted back behind the tree and started running into the jungle. I knew that those men were militia and wanted to kill me. I was scared, as I had been when the men came to set fire to our village. That time they had something to occupy themselves with, now I knew that they had no houses to burn and I just hoped that the jungle would be too thick for them to follow me. I kept my satchel close to me as I ran.
Behind me I heard the voices shouting and it seemed that the men on the bicycle were arguing with those in the car. Maybe they were deciding who would come to kill me. It was then that I saw an old fox nest in the buttress roots of a large tree and quickly squeezed into it. I knew that it would be a good place to hide and that the men behind me would not be able to find me and would probably give up and leave. I crawled inside like a baby fox searching blindly for its mother teat, afraid of every move I was making. I waited in that hole for a while listening to the sounds of men in the distance. Men that would kill me or so I believed. After a while I heard the car drive off. I dared not venture out as I did not know if the bicycle men where still around so I stayed there until the sun came down hours later. It was only in the darkness that I found strength and decided to sneak back to the road to check if anyone was waiting for me.
I kept as low as I could and finally made it to the side of the road. No one was there and at first I felt happy that they had gone but afterwards I felt silly as maybe they didn’t want to kill me after all. Then the more I thought about it the more I became convinced that they actually did want to kill me and that made me angry. The sun had long since gone down and it was getting colder. The sky was a dark maroon colour – the colour of death. I hadn’t any place to sleep and would not be able to prepare anything in the blackness around me.
I tried to look up the road in the star light and that was when I saw a banana shed about ten minutes walk. I could not see if it was abandoned, but I thought I might be able to slip inside and sleep there for the night. I heard nothing but the jungle heaving its nightly rhymes and so decided to go toward the banana shed.
The shed was empty and the area around it soft with the old skins of bananas. The door was slightly open. I was just able to slip inside. It was enough to give me some protection and I quickly fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up to someone whistling from outside. I panicked as I had told myself the night before to wake up as early as I could and get out the shed before the owner arrived. I tried to keep as still as possible as the door was still closed. I could make out a large shadow moving back and forth in front of the door. I had made up my mind that if the door was to open I would dash out and run as fast as I could into the jungle. I also hoped that the shadow would move to behind the shed to give me some time to escape. The shadow stopped as soon as I had thought this and before I could get up onto my knees the door opened and I was met by the dark face of an old grey-haired man. I think it was the shock of actually seeing him smile that made me forget to run and I just sat there in his shadow, the sun crawling out from behind his back like a shiny spider watching me.
He didn’t say anything at first. He just looked at me.
“What are you doing in my shop?” he said slowly in Teke.
I sat up straight and watched his hands holding onto the edges of the doorframe, the light curling around them in soft waves of orange and white.
“You hungry?” he asked and then added, “You understand Teke?”

I didn’t know what else to do. It didn’t seem like he was angry at me for sleeping in his shed, so I nodded. He smiled back at me.
“My name is Mbonto. I can offer you a banana if you’d like. Would you like that?”
I had already decided to answer him as I had figured that if he had been angry at me or if he wanted to hurt me he would have already done it.
“Thank you.” That was all I could think of saying and I immediately felt stupid at having said it. I was sure I could have come up with something better to greet someone who had just offered me some of his business.

Mbonto turned and I watched as he walked with some difficulty, holding his hands on his back. He stooped down in front of a big stack of bananas and carefully moved his hand amongst them.
“You have to know which ones are ripe. Squeezing them is no good as that will only damage them. It takes a long time to pick out the perfect one from all the yellow and green ones.”
He was talking out loud and it didn’t seem that he was speaking directly to me, so I was not sure if I should answer him. I just watched from inside the shadows of the shed as he sifted the large pile with his hands and eventually settled on one banana, which he removed and held up to me with both hands.
“Come on now. I am going to need to get inside some time. The men will start passing on their way to work.”
I stood up and straightened my satchel. He watched me like an old father does his grandson as I shuffled over to him and snatched the banana from his hands.
“Slowly now. I’m not going to hurt you. You are a pygmy?”
I nodded, watching him over my banana that tasted sweet as I squashed my mouth down over it, sucking at it.
He smiled and nodded, leaning down and shifting the pile of bananas onto his shoulder. I immediately rushed over to him and pushed the under-part of the pile to help him. It was heavy and the dust blew up into my face like a swarm of wasps. I closed my eyes and kept my mouth shut tight. I was not really sure why I had hurried to help him, but it just felt the right thing after he had given me a banana. The small tubes of fruit pushed down over me as I helped him shift them into the shed.
It took us a moment as we moved to our right and then twisted slightly to get the large clump through the door. Finally we both stepped out the shed and stared at the clump of yellow and green shapes lying in the shadows, a cloud of red sand swirling around.
Mbonto then did something funny. He asked me if I wanted to work for him for a few hours helping him sell his bananas. He told me that it hurt his back leaning down to pull a banana off the pile and since I was closer to the ground we would make a good team. He said he’d pay me 15 percent of whatever he made. I knew that the most someone could make was 100 percent and the least was 0 percent so I thought that 15 was better than 0 and I didn’t have a lot of money other than the dollars the Chief had given me. I introduced myself and told him I would accept his offer, but that I couldn’t stay for long as I was heading to Bandundu and I did not want to take too long to get there. When he asked why I was in a rush I did not know how to answer and thought about this for a while before telling him that I felt something important was waiting for me there. He did not ask me any more questions and showed me where I should stand and how I should remove the fruit from the branch to which they were attached.

I remember that the morning passed very quickly and it soon got quite hot in the little wooden shed and at times I was tempted to remove my satchel, but each time I thought better of it. The people who stopped to buy bananas always talked for a while with Mbonto and he seemed to know everyone by name. They all asked him what he was doing with a pygmy and each time he responded that we were now in business together. Everyone seemed to find this very amusing, except for me as I did not have the time to be in business and I had been clear that I was in a rush to get to Bandundu.
It was only afterwards, when the great rush of men on bikes and men walking had come and gone that I realised that Mbonto had just been joking about us being in business together. We had sold all of his bananas and he told me that he was off to his field to get some more for the evening, but that if I wanted to stay to help him I was welcome to it as good honest work is hard to come by and he said I seemed to be very polite. I thanked him and said I would think it over as I did enjoy working with him too. We agreed that if I was at the shed on his return we would work together that evening and if I decided to go that that was also okay. He gave me four notes and I slipped them into my satchel without looking at them. Then he left me with a decision to make. My hands dried of their coating – the tears of the bananas as I sat thinking.

It took me while to think about giving up a day of travel in order to earn some money. Finally after thinking about it while I walked through the trees behind the shed I decided it would be better to have some money as I did not know if I would need more than I already had when I got to Bandundu.
I then waited for Mbonto to return and we worked together again that evening. The men coming back all greeted me this time and a few of them tried to start a conversation with me. I was not sure if I should speak to them being that it was Mbonto who was the boss so I just pretended to be looking for bananas and they left me alone.

That night Mbonto invited me back to his house and he told me that he would ask around to see if any of his friends were going to Bandundu the next day to see if they would not mind travelling with me. I felt strange when he said that as I had already decided to travel the jungle routes and I knew that a Teke would prefer the road and I was not sure how safe I would be on the roads. The more I thought about it the more I realised that I would have to face the roads at some point as I guessed that in Bandundu the only way to get around would be by road and I couldn’t go around being too scared of everyone all the time. I had to learn to be more than just a pygmy. Mbonto went off and spoke to a group of people sitting around drinking beer next to a general shop in the road. He had told me he lived a little further away in the jungle with some family.
When he came back he said a friend of his had some business in Bandundu and would take the bus with me there. It would save me walking and I would be there the next evening. He said that the money I had earned would be enough to cover the trip and I should have some more left over for some yam soup. This got me very excited and it was all I could think about while we walked the path to his hut. I had never bought anything before and I felt like a boy about to be initiated as a man – the excitement watered like fresh fruit in my mouth.

Mbonto’s home was very similar to that of Antoine’s house, only a little smaller. Across a square patch of weeds and red sand his daughter lived with two granddaughters. Mbonto told me that his son-in-law had been killed by a bullet two years ago and they did not have any other men to help provide for them. His daughter helped him with his banana field. He put two seats outside next to his door from which we could see his granddaughters playing and offered me a glass of self brewed banana beer. I accepted and drank heavily from the first cup as I found the beer very sweet and to my liking. I told Mbonto the story of the fire and my books and he seemed to be very sad about it. I told him of my idea to leave the Congo and my plan. The beer had loosened up my tongue and I even cried for a short moment. Mbonto kept very quiet when I did this and he did not interrupt me. For a short time it was as if I was talking to my dead father. As if his spirit had come out from the stars and invaded the body of Mbonto to listen to me as a living man.
Soon afterwards we went to sleep.

Mbonto’s friend came by early the next morning when the ground was still sparkling with stars. He called himself Balinga and he was a not very talkative. Mbonto gave me three bananas wrapped up in some newspaper and told me to take care of myself and not get myself into trouble with anyone. He told me that if I wanted to come back and work with him, his offer was open. We shook hands and I gave him a big smile before I left with Balinga.
As soon as we had got to the main road Balinga told me he didn’t think it was a good idea to walk around with a spear. I told him my friend Malima had given it to me and I could not just throw it away. My response kept him quiet for several steps as he though it over. Then he seemed to have an idea and told me that he knew of a businessman in Bandundu that bought native weapons which he sold in South Africa to rich foreigners and if I agreed to it he could help me sell it to him. He was sure it would fetch a high price as pygmy spears are very rare. I did not answer for a while and when I finally did I told him I was not sure about giving away such a precious gift.
“Just think about it that’s all I am saying” he had said, “A train ticket to Nairobi is very expensive.”


Bandundu is a very loud village compared to Nko with lots of people doing their business everywhere. It reminded me of water boiling on a strong fire. It is full of Teke people and I even saw Bateke and Kuba men. There are street cars and men on bicycles that will drive over you if you are not looking. The street next to the bus stop is full of wooden shops where one can find anything you need and a great many things you do not need. I saw shops were a man was getting his hair cut by another man. I saw shops selling soaps and washing things and another that just sold tobacco and beer. There were lots of chickens and a few goats outside one shop and Balinga told me you could buy meat there.
A brownish cloud hung in the air about double head height and swayed with the bodies of men as they walked through it. The people all talked at once and the noise was so loud Balinga had to lean in close so that I could hear him. I did not expect the noise. The people were interesting to see and I remembered that the French woman had told me that Nko did not have great numbers when compared to other places. Balinga even told me that there was an airport in Bandundu. He asked me if I had seen a plane before and I told him I had. We often saw them high above the jungle sneaking in between the clouds while being chased by a crying noise.
Bandundu also smelled very different to Nko. I could not smell the jungle. I knew it was close by but it was as if the village had overcome it in some way – relegating it a memory of its self. I smelt lots of tobacco smoke and another smell of monkey urine and fire that attacked my nose. There was also a road made of a grey substance that felt soft to my feet. I asked Balinga and he said it was tar.
We had talked a bit on the bus, but it was mostly me asking questions about the things I saw and about Bandundu. I asked of the train and how to buy a ticket and Balinga said he would help me as he did not have anything else to do that day.
I kept very close to him as I was scared I might lose him in the crowds. People around us seemed to be interested to see a pygmy, but their interest was always quickly lost as they themselves were in the crowd. Nobody smiled in Bandundu.

The walk to the place from which I could catch a train was not very long and the evening was very hot. Balinga spoke to a man behind a glass window and he told me that the money I needed for a single ticket was 5000 francs. I told him I only had the 50 francs left over from the money Mbonto had given me. He shrugged and then we left. He had explained a bit about money to me on the bus. I did not tell him about the American money I had. I knew that there was two ways I could get the money I needed for the train and that one of them would take a long time while the other would be quick. I was unsure as I would not want someone selling a gift I had given them. I knew that the choice was difficult but that Malima would understand.

“We must sell my spear” I said,

Balinga looked down at me and he seemed to want to say something. Instead he just shrugged again and we continued walking. I did not know if we were going to see his friend or not.
After a short time we stopped in front of a big wooden door and Balinga knocked hard on it four times. The door sat still for a while and then it shuddered in its frame and swung open. A fat man with a stained white shirt leant out the door and hit Balinga on the shoulder. They seemed happy to see each other and they spoke for a moment, while I watched from below. Balinga then introduced me and the man gave me a big smile. I saw that he was only looking at the spear in my hand and he did not even look into my eyes. He told us to come inside with quick words that he spoke in a strange Teke accent. I was told his name was Grongha.

Grongha pointed to some chairs around a big wooden table. I could see immediately that he was a rich man as he had a lot of possessions. Some were piled one on top of each other or in big boxes around the walls. The room was very hot and the light low so I could not see much detail as to what he had in his boxes. The place was like a dream I had once had but could no longer remember. The floor was dusty red and the place smelled of cooked chicken. I let Balinga speak as I was not used to doing business. After a brief discussion Grongha looked over at me.
“Can I see the spear, please?” His voice was soft and he held onto the ends of his words liked he was scared to lose them.

He took the spear and examined it for a long time, even getting up and moving next to the window to examine it in the light. Malima had done a good job on it but it would probably not be very effective against anything other than wild pigs. I dared not say this. Grongha finally put the spear onto the table and lit a short cigarette.
“I’ll give you 3000 francs for it.”

I looked over at Balinga and he just shrugged as he always did. I guessed that he was not going to speak for me and I knew I had to learn business if I was to live in Nairobi.
“I want 5000 francs.”

Grongha laughed and then reached for the spear again, running his hand over the dark shaft, stroking it like an animal skin.

“4000 and that is as high as I will go.”
“I want 5000 francs.” I repeated, surprised that he had not understood me the first time.
Grongha tapped his hand on his knee and looked over at Balinga.
“Where did you find this one?” he asked to which Balinga did not reply.

He turned to face me and stared at me for a while which I found quite uncomfortable but I held his gaze as it is rude to look away.

“Okay. 5000 francs it is.”


I was not sure if I was happy to have so much money or if I was sad for selling a gift Malima had given me. I felt both at the same time. Balinga had walked me back to the train and bought my ticket for me before wishing me luck in Nairobi. He asked if I had my papers in order as the trip was very long and the police would be checking through the train at times. I removed the little ruby book from my back pocket and held it up for him to see. He told me to keep it safe and then said goodbye shaking my hand many times. I saw something that looked like sadness in his eyes and so I gave him a big smile.

I watched Balinga from the window as he merged into the shadows and the lines of the many people who had crowded around the train. I eventually lost sight of him. My seat was in a little room, which was about the size of my house and which was empty. I pulled my satchel around my shoulder to cover my stomach and closed my eyes as the train started to rock from side to side. The train to Nairobi was to take three days. I had never been so nervous in all my life.

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Comments by other Members

Nell at 15:25 on 03 January 2006  Report this post
Hi Mark,

I'm printing this out to read at leisure - I'll get back to you in the next day or so.


Nell at 18:51 on 04 January 2006  Report this post
Hi again Mark.

Even though this is the second chapter I'm still pretty bowled over by your courage in tackling a novel from the 1st person POV of a pygmy in the Congo! As this is a first draft I won't pick out repetitions, typos and places where I felt you'd said too much - I think you'll find them fairly easily with the second draft, and it's probably important not to lose momentum and get bogged down in editing at this stage.

The thing that struck me most about this section was Malonga's voice - more formal and childlike, more naive than I remembered from chapter one. I wondered if this was deliberate, if you're settling into that way of thinking, finding his voice and being comfortable with it. The writing itself is mostly exposition - telling rather than showing - and that seems to suit the voice and his seeming innocence but it makes for dangers. One of these is that you may get bogged down in told detail: I did this then I did that, then he said... etc., and this can slow the pace which could cause the reader to lose interest (having no work to do and nothing to contribute to the story other than reading the words). I wondered too about the naming of those he met and left so soon - I had the sense that most would not be encountered again, so perhaps we don't need the names of the ships that pass in the night.

I felt you could have made more of the incident where Malonga thought the men were trying to kill him - I wanted to feel, taste and smell his fear, rather than read ...I was scared...

I was surprised that he hadn't helped himself to some bananas, and read back to see where they were. I'd have taken some!

I think there's room for some judicious editing, but I wouldn't worry about that until the second draft.

Re believability: I haven't quite suspended all doubt, but I can actually see him as I read, so you're doing damned well so far.

A couple of slight oddities: ...while I watched from below... I wondered if he'd think like this - I can't remember ever doing so, even as a small child.

...My hands dried of their coating - the tears of the bananas... I'm not sure if this works or not - I stopped and thought awhile but couldn't decide.

...people doing their business everywhere... it could just be me, because my father always used this expression as a euphemism so I imagined the street full of squatting figures and bare bottoms.

Loved ...the excitement watered like fresh fruit in my mouth... if Malonga can come up with such a great simile, retelling the scary incident mentioned above should be easy!

Loved too ...His voice was soft and he held onto the ends of his words like(d) he was scared to lose them.

Hope the above isn't discouraging - I do want to read on and see what happens next - write on!


MarkS at 12:16 on 05 January 2006  Report this post
Thanks Nell! Far from being discouraging, you've motivated me to carry on. You are so right about editing etc - since what you're reading is just a straight first attempt with no read-through, I'm happy that it is sounding better and reading better.

My largest concern (apart from the fact I've never written anything like this) was trying to get the voices right and trying to describe places and situations from the point of view of the people involved.
The three main characters are very different and as such so too are their persepctives and ways of interpreting life around them.

As you noted, I'm sure when I get around to editing it, I'll work out the voices, typos, excess words, grammar errors etc.

A huge thanks for reading this, your comments that definitely do help and also for "seeing" Malonga - it is great knowing someone out there can see him too!! :)

I'm still busy editing and reviewing my finished novel, but I'm trying to find time to give Malonga and the two other main characters a bit more life to live..

Best wishes

lang-lad at 14:37 on 06 January 2006  Report this post
Heard the voice loud and clear. Loved some of the deft little observations like the one about being able to buy all the things you need - as well as things you don't need.
All works for me. Endorse Nell's comments on editing. Hope you get going on this one. Looking good.


MarkS at 15:57 on 09 January 2006  Report this post
Thanks Eliza,

I'll definitely get stuck back into this one as soon as I can.


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