Undeclared Cargo

a short fictional story by Andrei Pora

The scientists never showed up, so we were left with the monkeys in the cargo hold, and a month’s salary down the hole. The HMM was departing and there was no way we could leave them there without the inspector passing by the crates and realizing that there’s screeching cargo in front of him that’s not on the manifest. We picked the things up in Myanmar, nineteen of them, one to each man in the crew; they ate scraps, drank rainwater, scratched, fought, and fucked the whole trip back to Thessaloniki. If all had gone according to plan, which was impossible to screw up Elias had assured us, we would have already been half-way into spending our loot on the many bars and brothels of this good town.

There were solutions of course, but none of them felt right. Carlos wrung the neck of his monkey without hesitation, Gil dropped his off at the gates of the local zoo and Manpreet sold his monkey to the travelling circus—Manny’s selling point? He taught the beast how to smoke cigarettes.

We used to set cats on fire when we were kids, but the monkeys were different; they were savage, yes, but they were also childish; cruel and innocent in equal measure, it felt wrong to just drop it off and forget about it. Time was short and regardless how many excuses I made, they would never be enough to settle the accumulated debt of indecision.

They had grown accustomed to the box damp and dark so throwing my monkey into the trunk of my rental was a task, to reverse the familiar saying, easier done than said. The creature offered the lid three feeble thumps and settled in for the long haul. The drive back to my home town took the better part of a day, through which the sunny Mediterranean coast gradually transformed into the gloom of a Balkan winter.

I had convinced my mother to keep the ape in her apartment, it would stay chained to the radiator until I found a proper home for it. I warned her not to get too attached, but when my mother saw the emaciated thing, she couldn’t help herself.

Over the course of several weeks, she had nursed “Mickey” back to health with soups and vegetable mashes. It wore the clothes I used to wear when I was a child; my mother had kept them tucked neatly in her closet for the day I had children of my own. But as that day kept creeping off into the future, she figured she might as well put those clothes to good use now.

Mickey worshipped her, and my mother was happy for a while. After dad died, she had felt freedom for the first time, but that freedom soon turned into a void: my mother had grown accustomed to being depended upon. She was seventy and alone, with no one to provide for, what else was there to do?

As the days dragged on, Mickey grew restless. He stared out into the courtyard from the third floor window, when someone passed by, Mickey would fling his shit at them. He hissed at anyone who got too near, and my mother’s friends stopped visiting her because every time they showed up the monkey would start touching itself.

I started seeing my mother’s nurse. We weren’t passionate — we were functional: her fear of spinsterhood coupled with my bachelor’s resentment formed a strong bond. We didn’t talk about it, but there was an unspoken agreement between us that we would get married. In a way, it was good business, like two partners investing in a joint venture. Mother approved.

The apartment door was unlocked and I heard cookware clanging in the kitchen. Mickey was gone, the chain that had been bound to his ankle lay in a loose pile by the radiator; the only evidence that he had ever been there was the scratched parquet. For a moment, I suspected my mother had rendered Mickey into the contents of her stew. But that wasn’t the case, Mickey had escaped, my mother said, flung himself from the window. I scoffed, there was no way Mickey could wry that padlock off. Steam rose from the sauce pan, my suspicions about the stew renewed—the problem was I couldn’t formulate a way to ask her this without it coming off in bad taste. The truth was my mom was tired of dealing with my chimp. She had set Mickey free. I was angry, but relieved. It was time I stopped kidding myself, I never had any idea what I was going to do with that monkey.

Maria wanted to go for a walk in the park. It was winter, the snow was set on the ground in a thin, wispy layer still within the threshold of melting. It could go either way: stay, melt, stay—nobody knew what was going to happen next, least of all the weatherman. I saw Mickey perched on top of a drinking fountain staring right through me. The path ahead forked, I tried to redirect our course away from Mickey but instead we walked in lockstep towards the route that would bring him into full view. Now it wasn’t a matter of if Maria’d see Mickey, but when. And when that time comes, I don’t even know where I’d begin to explain it. ✻

Andrei Pora's Tip Jar ☕