There are names that have been passed down through thousands of years which have powerful and deep-rooted meaning to their bearers. Other names have been adopted from other languages, cultures and from the big screen. They all have one thing in common. They are with us from birth until the grave and they are how we are known to everyone that we meet.
Clive – The Debt
The boy stirred in his cot and waved his chubby fist in the air. The mid-afternoon sun was barred from his room by the rattan blinds at the window. The slowly moving blades of the fan above his cot sent a welcome and cooling breeze across his hot skin. The rest of the house was quiet, except for the gentle snoring of his amah as she dozed fitfully on the pallet on the other side of the room.
The boy was called Clive and was the fourth child and first son of a naval officer and his wife who were stationed here in Trincomalee. He was three years old and his curly blonde hair now lay slick against his scalp as he recovered from the fever. It had been a worrying few days with the doctor calling in every few hours to check on his condition. The household, including his three older sisters and his parents, were exhausted having had little sleep for the last few nights.
Measles in this climate could be very dangerous for a child Clive’s age and he had been restricted to his cot in the darkened room to prevent the risk of blindness. Thankfully his fever had now broken, and the family having enjoyed their Sunday curry lunch, had retired to their bedrooms to sleep the afternoon away beneath their ceiling fans.
Clive had been woken every hour or so to sip his favourite fruit juice and water from his beaker and the doctor was now happy he was past his crisis. But, the child was now hungry and the lingering smell of the chicken curry that the family had consumed at lunchtime drifted into the room.
Relieved that her charge was out of danger but extremely tired, his devoted amah had failed to latch the side of Clive’s cot securely. Seeing that there was a means of escape; he lifted his body up into a sitting position and swung his bare legs over the side of the mattress. It was easy enough to slide down onto the stone floor with its fibre matting where he held onto the side of the cot for a few minutes; his legs wobbling beneath him. But he was a strong little boy who spent hours on his tricycle and swam most days and this was evident in his recovery from this recent illness. Of course his growing hunger was a great motivator.
Carefully he moved across the matting intent on seeing if his friend the family cook had a special plate of his favourite mild curry and banana. He moved into the hall but was disappointed that the door to the kitchen was firmly closed and the handle was out of reach of his eager fingers.
The door to the long veranda however was much easier to open and Clive pushed his way through into the stifling heat and the raucous sound of the monkeys in the trees in the garden. He loved the little macaques and often sat on the veranda in the cooler mornings and watched them play fight over the ripened fruit. He drifted across the wooden floor and down the two steps onto the dusty path. He was now in uncharted territory.
There were many dangers for humans in these luscious surroundings. Clive was accompanied everywhere by his amah or his sisters when out of sight of his protective mother. Several times he had been scooped up and rushed indoors accompanied by shrieks and calls for the houseboy to bring a stick.
Cobras were common; as were the larger less playful monkeys that could be as big as dog. The first lesson that Clive had received after he had taken his first steps, was not to touch anything with fur, as rabies ravaged both the wild creatures and domesticated dogs.
With the fearlessness of a three year old, he toddled down the dry dusty path until he reached a line of ants that were busy carrying leaves several times the size of their bodies across the dry earth. Fascinated Clive sat down on the ground and followed their progress with one little plump finger.
Eyes were watching him from various vantage points in the overgrown garden. The small macaques ceased their play fights and spotted that the door to the house had been left ajar. This was as good as an invitation and a dozen of the petty thieves scampered down their favourite tree and darted along the edge of the dry lawn and through the bushes beneath the veranda. In seconds they were through the open door looking for food and mischief.
In the branches of a tall evergreen, a large male langur watched his smaller cousins disappear and waited to see if they would emerge with anything worth stealing from them. He had more sense than to risk the wrath of a house boy armed with a broom. Then something else caught his eye in the bushes to the side of the lawn. He stared for several moments trying to find the cause of his disquiet. His attention was then drawn to the chortling of the child as he played in the dry dust with the ants.
Something was wrong and the langur’s instincts caused him to move cautiously to the end of the branch that stretched out over the lawn. There was the movement again and this time he saw the hooded head standing tall surrounded by the red blossoms of the rose bush. Slowly the cobra slithered from its hiding place and moved gracefully across the bleached grass towards the oblivious child.
Clive became bored with watching the ants and his hunger reminded him that the cook might be in the kitchen. If so, then his favourite sweet treats that were slipped to him occasionally behind his mother’s back, might be on offer. Placing his hands firmly in front of him he pushed his bottom into the air and then stood unsteadily for a moment. A movement in the corner of his eye made him turn his head and he found himself just feet away from the swaying hood of the cobra. Without someone to sweep him up into safe arms and rush him inside the house he was minutes away from certain death.
In those precious seconds as the boy and snake stared at each other there was a sudden and violent interruption. The large langur launched himself from the branch of the tree landing a few feet from them. Without a moment’s hesitation the monkey raced across and grabbed the tail end of the cobra. With one sweep of his powerful arm he swung the snake around towards the bushes several feet away and let it go.
For one moment the child and the monkey looked into each other’s eyes and Clive raised his hand as if he understood that his saviour meant him no harm.
At that moment shrieks and angry shouts erupted from the open door to the house and the troop of macaques raced out with their trophies of chapatti and trifle filling their hands. Behind them with an agility that belied his age was the irate cook wielding a large kitchen knife. Under cover of the confusion the langur headed rapidly to his tree to resume his watch.
The cook seeing Clive still standing on the path called out for his amah to come quickly and within moments the child was safe in loving arms and being hugged and kissed.
Soon the whole family congregated on the veranda and reviewed the damages to house and the theft of the left overs with a welcome pot of tea. None the wiser about their youngest child’s close encounter with nature, they watched as Clive ate a bowl of home-made ice-cream.
The tall silver haired man drove up and parked at the back of the large manufacturing plant. He got out and opened the back of the van and approached the double steel doors and rang the bell to the side of them. A disjointed voice requested his name and after a moment the buzzer indicated that the door was open.
Inside in the dim cool the man walked up to a reception desk and was taken through to a holding area where six large wooden crates were waiting. Having lifted the lids of the boxes and checked contents, the man signed numerous pieces of paper. Two burly porters helped carry the crates out to the van where they were carefully placed and secured for the journey.
Four hours later the van arrived at a location deep in the countryside and having called ahead, several people stood clustered around the open security gates. Clive sighed with relief and drove through and backed the van close into a large wooden building.
The contents of the van were unloaded and the crates carefully carried inside. The markings were clear in the dim light from the outside lights at the entrance.
Clive and his team gently lifted the sleeping occupants of the boxes out and placed them in individual stalls lined with straw and soft bedding. They would be carefully watched by them in turns for the next few days around the clock. They would be fed and given water as well as checked out by the resident vet. It would take weeks, if not months, to rehabilitate these primates who had been born within a laboratory environment. However, with love and care; one day they would be enjoying their new and natural habitat.
As Clive laid the final animal in its bed of straw the chimpanzee stirred and for a moment he and the man looked into each other’s eyes. A flash of understanding passed between them and slowly the monkey’s eyelids closed as he was laid gently onto a welcoming blanket.
A child and his destiny had now come full circle and his debt would continue to be repaid as long as he lived.
I hope that you have enjoyed this story and as always look forward to your feedback. Thanks Sally
You can find recent reviews for my latest release and other books: Sally’s books and reviews 2019/2020