For every child who went to a zoo and saw the animals in their cages..
And wondered why
The Fancy Dress Party
Charlie had a problem. His friend Abbie was having a fancy dress birthday party on the last day of the school holidays and he couldn’t decide what he wanted to go as.
‘What about being a wizard with a cloak, a wand and a pointed hat?’ his mum suggested.
Charlie pulled a face. Wizards weren’t cool any more.
‘Well, perhaps you could go as a dragon?’ Mrs Adams tried next. ‘You could be a people-eating dragon, if you promised not to eat anyone or blow fire into Abbie’s hair.’
In her highchair, Charlie’s little sister, Ali, laughed and banged her spoon against her dish. She was only two, so she was allowed to do things like that.
But Charlie didn’t want to go as a dragon either, or a vampire with fangs, or as a creature from outer space. Nothing seemed quite right. So, on the morning of the party, his mum took him into town to a fancy dress shop.
‘We’ve got caveman costumes, hedgehog helmets and skeleton outfits,’ said the shopkeeper, a round man with a bald, speckled head like an egg. ‘Which would you like?’
Charlie shook his head. None of those. ‘I want to look real,’ he said. ‘What’s the real-est looking fancy dress costume you have?’
The shopkeeper tugged on his ear. ‘Well, there is one suit that’s so real no-one has ever wanted to wear it. I got it in Africa years ago.’
And, going downstairs to the cellar, he returned with a dirty old suitcase from which he pulled out a lump of smelly fur.
‘Ugh, a dead dog?’ Charlie’s mum cringed and stepped back.
But it wasn’t a dead dog. It was…
‘A monkey suit!‘ Charlie laughed with excitement.
‘Actually, a chimpanzee suit,’ corrected the shopkeeper, ‘made with real chimpanzee fur by a chimpanzee suit expert in the darkest rain forests of the Cameroon – which, as a clever young man like you will know, is the world capital for making chimpanzee suits.’ Then holding the furry mess up against Charlie’s body, he added. ‘It’s exactly your size, too.’
‘It has a rather strange smell,’ said Charlie’s mum, with a hand still covering her nose.
Sitting in her buggy, Ali sneezed.
‘That would be the jungle moth balls,’ the shopkeeper explained. ‘They have monster moths the size of rhubarb leaves in the Cameroon.’
‘Really,’ said Charlie’s mum, wishing the shopkeeper would put the chimpanzee suit back into the suitcase before they all caught something unpleasant. Charlie had got head lice just a few weeks ago simply by borrowing another boy’s hoodie after football. ‘Perhaps a Spiderman outfit would suit Charlie better,’ she suggested hopefully.
But Charlie’s mind was made up. ‘No, Mum, I’d like to wear a chimpanzee suit to Abbie’s party.’
When Charlie got home he hurried up to his bedroom and quickly undressed down to his underpants. Then, picking up the chimpanzee-suit, he examined the thick fur, looking for the way in. It was hard to find, but eventually he discovered an invisible zip down the back. Carefully, he then pulled on the suit, stuffing his feet into the hairy chimpanzee legs and his hands into the arms until his fingers reached the paws. Lastly he slipped the chimpanzee’s head over his own. It was a perfect fit.
‘Made to measure,’ he tried to say to himself, but all he heard was ‘Mkkt… tt…svy.‘
‘That’s funny,’ he thought. ‘I can’t talk properly.’ Then he realised why. The lips of the suit had been sewn together, making it impossible for this chimpanzee to open its mouth.
At that moment his mother came into his bedroom. ‘Oops! You nearly gave me a heart attack,” she gasped when she saw him. ‘You look just like a real chimpanzee. Doesn’t he, Ali!’
At the bedroom door, Ali giggled.
‘Oh dear, you’ve forgotten to zip yourself up,’ Mrs Adams said. And, with a swift zipping sound, she fastened the suit from top to bottom.
Charlie looked at himself in a mirror. With a pink face and big, sticking-out ears, and covered everywhere else in dark, thick hair with just two little holes where his eyes fitted, he was a chimp from head to toe. There was only one problem. It was itchy inside the suit, and he scratched under his arm where it tickled most.
‘Just look at him, Ali, having a good scratch, just like all the other chimps,’ their mum laughed.
It wasn’t far to Abbie’s house, which was out on the other side of the estate, and, as they walked there, Charlie helped push Ali in her buggy. Some of the neighbours stared, of course. They weren’t used to seeing a chimpanzee pushing a little girl in a buggy in Grasmere Road.
The fancy dress party was already in full uproar when they arrived, as up and down the stairs robots chased ghosts, while in the garden Abbie, dressed as a pirate, with a plastic hook and a patch over one eye, was looking for buried treasure.
‘Is that really you in there, Charlie?’ Abbie asked, peering at the chimpanzee face.
‘Mmm…mh,’ replied Charlie, this being the only sound he could make.
‘In that case, you can be my pet monkey,’ Abbie laughed. ‘All pirates have pet monkeys.’
Mrs Adams smiled. ‘I’ll come back for you after tea, Charlie,’ she said, and took Ali off to do some shopping.
At first Charlie enjoyed the party. Everyone laughed to see a chimpanzee walk the pirate’s plank, and it was even funnier when the children played football and Charlie became the goalkeeper. No-one had ever seen a chimpanzee keeping goal before.
Soon, however, Charlie began to realise that it wasn’t all fun being in a chimpanzee-suit. Because, although he could hear through his chimpanzee ears, the sewn-up lips meant he couldn’t answer when anyone spoke to him.
‘I know what it’s like to be dumb now, or to be foreign and unable to speak the language,’ he thought.
But it was when the children had tea that he discovered the biggest problem. Abbie’s mum had provided lots of pizza and cakes, but Charlie couldn’t open his mouth to eat them. In fact the only thing he could get into his mouth was a straw to sip his lemonade, through a tiny hole in the stitches at the corner of the chimpanzee-suit’s lips.
So, as soon as Abbie had blown out the candles on her birthday cake and the other children were busy eating it, Charlie went back outside to explore. Abbie’s garden was much bigger than his own on the estate.
‘It’s all very well being a chimpanzee for a day,’ he thought as he made his way into the bushes at the end of the long lawn, ‘but a mouth that opens would have been very useful, too.’
He didn’t hear a soft chattering sound in a tree above him as he looked around the bushes. But he did see a gap in the bottom of the garden fence, the sort of hole that foxes make.
‘I wonder what’s through there,’ he thought. And, kneeling down, he scuffed away some soil with his paws, and then, crawling on his tummy, wriggled into the hole.
When he came out on the other side of the fence he found that he was in a lane. But, just as he was about to go back into the garden, he saw a van approaching.
‘Perhaps the driver’s lost and wants directions,’ he thought as the van stopped.
But the van driver wasn’t lost. And, as Charlie waited, two men wearing uniforms jumped down and took a large net from the van. Then, without warning, they quickly threw it over him.
‘Got you! You cheeky chimp!’ shouted one of the men.
‘How do you like that!’ said the other. ‘Standing there as though he wanted to talk to us. You’re coming back with us. And don’t you escape again.’
‘But I’m not a chimp. I’m a boy,’ Charlie tried to shout, as he struggled to free himself from the net. But the only sounds that came from the stitched-up mouth were, ‘Bbb… mmm… cch…!’
‘Just listen to his chimp talk,’ said the first man. ‘See what it says here, Chatter.’ And he pointed to a sign on the van. ‘That’s where you’re going.’
‘Chatter can’t read,’ laughed the second man. ‘He’s only a chimpanzee.’
But Charlie could read. ‘Zoo,’ said the sign on the van. ‘Zoo!’
Then the two zoo-keepers carried the struggling Charlie to the back of the van, put him inside and locked the doors.
Charlie was now afraid. He’d wanted a suit that looked real. But this chimpanzee-suit was too real.
What he didn’t see as the van drove him away, was something sitting high in the tree at the bottom of Abbie’s garden. It had long arms and hairy paws, and it was eating a banana. And its name was Chatter.
Locked in a Cage
It was dark in the back of the van, and, no matter how hard Charlie tried, he couldn’t get his paws around his back to unzip the chimpanzee-suit that he was trapped in.
After several minutes, the van stopped and the doors were thrown open. ‘Out you get, Chatter, and none of your tricks,’ one of the men said. And, holding him tightly, the zoo-keepers pulled the net off Charlie, and lifted him from the van.
‘What’s this then?’ a voice shouted. It was the chief zoo-keeper, Mr Pratt.
Behind him, Sally, his assistant, smiled. ‘It’s Chatter. Welcome home, Chatter.’
‘Don’t be silly, Sally,’ snapped Mr Pratt. ‘The ape can’t understand you.’
‘Yes, I can. And I’m not Chatter, whoever he is,’ Charlie tried to say. But all that could be heard was ‘Nnn…mmm…ddd…bbb.’
The chief zoo keeper frowned. ‘I don’t know what to do with Chatter anymore. His anti-social behavior is making him very troublesome.’
‘But only since he was separated from his sister,’ said Sally. ‘He was no trouble when they were together.’
‘This zoo isn’t a holiday camp for animals,’ her boss scoffed. ‘His sister was needed at a wildlife park. His place is here entertaining the public in the Apes and Allsorts enclosure.’
‘I’m sure you didn’t mean to be naughty,’ said Sally kindly. ‘Did you, Chatter?’
‘Ugg…kkk…mmm…ttt,‘ gabbled Charlie.
The chief zoo keeper shook his head impatiently. ‘Take him away,’ he snapped.
And, with a zoo-keeper on either side, Charlie was marched to a large cage and pushed inside. Then the gate was locked behind him.
‘Oh no,’ Charlie thought. ‘I’m in prison. And an ape prison at that.’
The Wrong Chimpanzee
‘Where is that boy?’ Charlie’s mum wondered, when she and Ali returned at the end of the party.
‘I think he went into the garden,’ Abbie said, tickling Ali with the rubber hook on her pirate suit hand.
So, Mrs Adams and Ali went down the lawn. ‘Come on, Charlie. It’s time to go home,’ she called.
From the top of a tree came a chuckling sound.
‘Charlie! Where are you?’ Mrs Adams called again as she and Ali made their way into the bushes.
Suddenly, the sharp snapping of a breaking branch made her look up.
‘Look out, Ali,’ she shouted, as, at that moment, a large bundle of thick, brown fur fell out of the tree and landed at her feet.
Mrs Adams peered at the furry object. ‘That’s very naughty, Charlie, you could have hurt yourself. Now get up and go and thank Abbie’s mum for the party.’
Two chimpanzee eyes looked up at her.
‘Come on,’ she insisted, and reaching down took hold of what she thought was Charlie’s hand.
But it wasn’t Charlie’s hand. It was a chimpanzee’s paw. A real chimpanzee’s paw.
‘Who is this funny woman?’ the chimpanzee thought. ‘My name isn’t Charlie. I’m Chatter.’ But he let Charlie’s mum pull him to his feet.
At his side Ali put her tongue out at him. So Chatter put his out at her.
‘Don’t encourage her, Charlie,’ Mrs Adams scolded.
Chatter, of course, didn’t answer. He only knew two words in human talk. They were ‘Chatter‘, his name, and ‘bananas’, his favourite food. And he couldn’t say either.
But, having seen the zoo-keepers take that other chimpanzee away in their van, he knew that the best thing to do was to keep very, very quiet.
The Sad Gorilla
Sitting in the Apes and Allsorts enclosure, Charlie looked nervously around. In many ways it was like an adventure playground with ropes, hammocks and even an old tire to swing on. But it was also a dirty, miserable place, with puddles of water and hardly any leaves on the bushes.
And then there were the animals. Were they going to attack him, or would one of them pick a fight as a bigger boy in the school playground had once done?
At first they just watched him. Then, one by one, some braver ones moved closer. First came a baby chimpanzee, swinging from a tree trunk to land at his feet. A pack of baboons, with bare, red bottoms, like a gang of football hooligans, followed and stared menacingly at him, as though he was wearing the wrong coloured scarf. One of them sneezed.
It must be the mothballs, thought Charlie. If he could have apologized, he would have done, but just then the baboons looked away. Some schoolgirls had arrived outside the fence and were laughing at a huge gorilla that was sitting by itself on the far side of the cage, looking very sad.
He doesn’t like being laughed at, Charlie thought. Then he saw why the girls were laughing. Someone had stuck a notice on the gorilla’s back. It read ‘King Pong’.
That’s not funny, Charlie said to himself. It’s unkind to laugh at people – even gorillas.
And tip-toeing around the back of the gorilla, he put out his paw and tore the insult from the animal’s back.
Immediately the gorilla swung around, and raised a mighty arm in the air.
Charlie trembled, wondering if he was about to be crushed to death.
But the gorilla hesitated, and peered into the boy’s eyes as if puzzled by something. Then, pushing his great, black flat nose against Charlie’s chest, he sniffed him all over. Finally, he stood up on his hind legs and beat loudly on his chest, before, with a playful little pat on Charlie’s bottom, he ambled away across the cage, and began to suck on a bamboo shoot.
Now the rest of the animals came to say ‘hello’ to Charlie, too. There were cheeky marmosets swinging down from the trees, and then two posh looking orangutans. But best of all was a family of chimpanzees who began picking at Charlie’s chimpanzee fur, like the nit inspector at school.
‘That’s nice,’ thought Charlie, as they gave him a good scratch. ‘If they could just find the zip in my chimpanzee-suit, I could be out of here in no time.’
They didn’t, but it was good to be made welcome.
Chatter Catches A Snake. Or Does He?
‘You’re very quiet, Charlie,’ Mrs Adams said to the chimpanzee at her side as she pushed Ali home in the buggy. ‘Have you got tummy ache? Did you eat too much pizza at the party?’
Of course, Chatter didn’t reply. He couldn’t understand her. With one paw resting on the buggy, he was simply trying not to look out of place, and when Ali teased him by scratching under her arm, Chatter had a quick scratch under his arm, too.
As soon as they got home, Mrs Adams said: ‘Go into your bedroom and get undressed for your bath.’ And she pushed the chimpanzee towards Charlie’s room.
Inside the room, Chatter stared in amazement at Charlie’s toys – the football, the racing cars and the model castle.
‘This is a very odd place,’ he thought as he tried to eat a rubber soldier, and then spat it out because it tasted horrible. ‘What funny things humans do in private!’
Then he screamed!!!
‘What’s all the noise in here?’ Mrs Adams said, rushing into the bedroom. ‘Why are you hiding under the bed, Charlie?’
But Chatter wasn’t Charlie and he was staring at something on the opposite side of the room, something long and curvy, and green and yellow. It was, he was certain, some kind of snake. And snakes, he knew, could be very dangerous to chimpanzees.
He had to strike first. And, leaping across the bedroom, he grabbed his enemy by its neck.
‘What are you doing with your train set?’ Mrs Adams shouted in astonishment. ‘You’ve pulled the engine away from the carriages.’
Chatter grinned in relief. He didn’t know anything about train sets, but he did know that this metal snake wouldn’t bother him any more. And he threw its head, with its two little chimneys, on to the carpet.
‘You’re behaving very strangely, Charlie,’ Mrs Adams said. ‘And you haven’t begun to get out of that silly suit. Come here, I’ll unzip you.’
But, as she pushed her hand into the fur on the back of Chatter’s neck and began pulling at his skin as she looked for the zip, the chimpanzee leapt away, jabbering in terror.
‘She’s trying to skin me alive!’ he thought. Not even the worst keeper in the zoo had ever tried to do that. And, with one bound, he was on top of the wardrobe.
Mrs Adams gasped. She’d never seen Charlie jump like that. It was incredible. He must have been practising at school. Perhaps he was going to be a famous athlete one day and would become an Olympic gold medal star on the television.
But she’d never known him be so disobedient either. ‘Charlie, you’re being very naughty,’ she said as Chatter sat shaking by the ceiling. ‘You’re carrying this monkey business too far. Now come down this minute.’
Chatter didn’t move.
‘Did you hear what I said? Take off that silly suit and have your bath.’
Chatter just looked at her.
‘And answer me when I talk to you!’ Mrs Adams shouted.
Chatter scratched his bottom.
Mrs Adams was horrified. ‘Charlie! That’s very, very rude. Right! That’s it. No supper for you tonight. You’ll get nothing to eat until you apologise and learn some manners.’ And with that she marched out of the bedroom.
Chatter scratched his head. ‘I wonder what that was all about,’ he thought.
Banana Soup for Tea
Sitting on a log in the Apes and Allsorts enclosure and wondering how he could explain to the zoo-keepers that there’d been a terrible mistake, Charlie could hear someone talking about him on the other side of the fence
‘Look at that chimp,’ a boy was saying. ‘The way he’s sitting, he looks almost human.’
‘I am human,’ Charlie tried to say, but all he could get out was ‘Aaa…mmm….’
‘Let’s throw him a monkey-nut?’ a girl suggested.
‘You aren’t allowed to feed the animals,’ their father said. ‘Come on. The zoo is closing now.’ And he led the children away.
‘I couldn’t eat a monkey-nut even if you did throw me one,’ Charlie thought unhappily. ‘I can’t eat anything.’
And, as the zoo-keepers began bringing hay for the elephants, and throwing bunches of bananas to the baboons, he realised he was very hungry.
He wished now that he’d never wanted to go to Abbie’s fancy dress party dressed as a chimpanzee. And, imagining Ali cuddling up to him on the sofa, as she did every night, he felt a tear run down his face on the inside of his chimpanzee-suit.
In fact, he was so busy feeling sorry for himself he forgot about the other animals until, suddenly, the log he was sitting on rose up under him like a see-saw, as the gorilla sat down on the other end.
Shyly, Charlie looked towards the gorilla, but the huge animal was busy working his way through an entire bunch of bananas.
‘Look at Emile eating those bananas,’ a young zoo-keeper laughed. ‘He enjoys them all right.’
‘Emile!’ Charlie said to himself. ‘The gorilla is called Emile!’ Now, because the gorilla had a name, he didn’t seem so frightening any more.
Alongside him Emile munched away happily.
‘I wish I had something to eat,’ Charlie thought as he watched him.
Emile looked back at him. Then, as though he could read Charlie’s thoughts, he leant across and offered him a bite of his banana.
‘Thank you very much,’ thought Charlie, ‘but my lips are sealed.’ Which, of course, they were, and he put his paw to his lips to indicate the problem.
Emile peered at Charlie’s chimpanzee mouth. Obviously he’d never seen a chimpanzee with sewn-together lips before. For a moment he continued to hold the banana out to Charlie, then, giving up, he ate it himself.
Charlie blinked back another tear.
Emile must have noticed, because, leaning across to Charlie, he, very gently wiggled the little finger of his huge paw inside the gap in the stitches at the mouth of Charlie’s chimpanzee-suit.
It tickled and Charlie had to smile. Despite his size and power, Emile was obviously a very friendly gorilla. ‘If only he could help get me something to eat and drink,’ Charlie thought.
Emile must have had the same idea. Beause, getting off the log, he went across to where the chimpanzees were having their tea party, and, borrowing a cup, although he didn’t ask permission, he filled it with water from the drinking trough that all the animals used. Then, returning to Charlie, he passed him the cup.
‘That’s very kind of you,’ thought Charlie. ‘But how am I supposed to drink it?’
Emile knew how. Taking a stick of bamboo from his evening meal, he delicately bit first one end, then the other. Then, putting the bamboo into the cup of water, he held it close to Charlie’s face.
Now Charlie understood. Emile had made a drinking straw out of a bamboo shoot so that Charlie could sip the water through its hollow inside. And, slipping the tip of the bamboo through the broken stitches at the chimpanzee-suit’s mouth, he began to suck the water from the cup with noisy, thirsty slurps.
‘That’s better,’ he thought. ‘At least I’m not thirsty now.’
But he was still hungry.
Once again Emile came to the rescue. Unpeeling the last banana, he pushed it into the cup and squashed it flat. Then, refilling the cup with water, he stirred the mashed banana around with the bamboo shoot and passed the cup back to Charlie.
‘Banana soup!’ Charlie realised.
And, once again, Charlie began to suck on the bamboo shoot – a boy in a chimpanzee-suit, sitting on a log next to a real live gorilla in a zoo and sucking banana soup through a bamboo straw.
He wouldn’t be hungry tonight after all. What an extraordinary day he was having.
Chatter’s Midnight Feast
It looked as though Chatter would be very hungry, however, because he still wouldn’t come down from on top of the wardrobe in Charlie’s bedroom.
‘Charlie, this isn’t funny any more,’ Mrs Adams scolded when she and Ali peeped. ‘Just you wait till your dad gets home.’
Chatter, however, had found a large moth among Charlie’s old toys and was quietly eating it.
‘Ugghh!!’ said Ali, as she saw Chatter chew the moth’s fatty bit round its middle.
Mrs Adams turned green. ‘Charlie!’ she gasped. ‘How could you?’
Chatter didn’t mind at all. When you were really hungry you couldn’t beat a snack of juicy moth with a fresh salad of spider’s web, especially if your new zoo-keeper kept on nagging like this one. What was wrong with her? Was she nuts? Why didn’t she just bring him his usual bunch of bananas?
And, to remind her, he began to playfully pelt her with old toys – a red bus, two cars and a piece of line from Charlie’s model railway.
‘Charlie!’ His mum screamed, ducking from the flying toys. And, grabbing Ali, she dashed from the room.
‘Can’t she take a joke,’ thought Chatter. And, grinning happily, he jumped down on to Charlie’s bed.
This wasn’t such a bad cage after all, he thought, as he scribbled with a crayon on the wall. If only they’d hurry up with the bananas.
Mrs Adams was in the hall to meet Charlie’s dad when he got home from his job driving a taxi. ‘I think Charlie’s gone mad,’ she said. ‘Do you think we should call the doctor?’
‘What would we tell him?’ laughed Mr Adams. ‘That Charlie has got chimpanzee-itis? Don’t worry. He’ll be fine tomorrow. It’ll be just a craze he’s going through. Like that time he pretended to be a racing car, running round the house roaring and changing gear all the time.’
‘At least he would talk then. Now all he does is grunt and squeak and make very rude noises. Go and see for yourself.’
So, Mr Adams filled a glass with milk, made a tuna sandwich and went up to Charlie’s bedroom.
‘Hello, Charlie,’ he said, peeping into the room. ‘I’ve brought you a midnight feast.’
Chatter didn’t move. He was pretending to be asleep in Charlie’s bed, his head on the pillow and his paws poking out of the sheets.
Going closer, Mr Adams looked fondly at the chimpanzee. ‘You’re just playing a game, aren’t you,’ he said softly, ‘imagining yourself in some new adventure, just as I did at your age. You just get a good night’s sleep, because, remember, you’ve got school tomorrow. Good night. God bless.’ And, bending down, he kissed the chimpanzee on the forehead.
The moment the door was closed, Chatter opened his eyes. Unless he was very much mistaken, he’d just been kissed goodnight by a zoo-keeper. That had never happened before. This was a very strange zoo indeed.
Then, after eating the sandwich in one bite and drinking the milk in one gulp, he snuggled down in Charlie’s warm bed. This is the life, he thought, a nice, quiet, cozy cage all to myself.
And, with that, he fell fast asleep.
Night-time in the Zoo
Night-time in the zoo was neither quiet nor cozy, Charlie realised, as the animals ended their day with merry yelps and bloodcurdling howls. In fact, it was more like some lessons at school when a trainee teacher couldn’t control the class, as, from the safety of their cage, the baboons tormented the lions by throwing corn husks at them, while the elephants tried to see which of them could spray water highest up the side of the zoo’s office building. Charlie had seen some of the older boys doing that, too, in the toilets.
For a full two hours the zoo was a place of echoing cries, hoots, roars and private animal jokes that Charlie couldn’t understand. But, gradually, as the lights went out, the different animals began to curl up for the night. Soon heavy snores came from the lions’ compound, and softer purring sounds from the tiger cubs living next door.
Charlie looked around the Apes and Allsorts enclosure. It was getting cold and beginning to rain, and, even inside his chimpanzee-suit, he was shivering.
A quiet chattering made him turn. It was one of the chimpanzees. ‘Now what?’ he thought. But gently taking Charlie’s paw, the chimpanzee led him across the enclosure to where the other chimpanzees were huddling together under a tree. There, grunting quiet welcomes, they made space for the two of them.
They’re inviting me to be one of the family, Charlie realised, as the chimpanzees surrounded him. They’re adopting me. And he felt very grateful to them. They didn’t have much to offer, but they were giving him what they had.
So, curled up with the other chimpanzees, Charlie was sheltered from the cold night by the warmth of his new family. And before long he fell asleep.
Chatter Has A Dream
In the middle of the night, Chatter dreamed that he’d escaped from the zoo, and had hidden up a tree in a garden, where he’d been taken prisoner by a mad woman zoo-keeper who pushed a little human in a buggy.
He liked the little human. She pulled funny faces at him and put her tongue out. She reminded him of his little chimpanzee sister, Esmerelda, who’d been taken away one day. He missed Esmerelda and the games they’d played together, bouncing on the hammock and swinging from the ropes in the zoo’s family enclosure. Perhaps one day he would see her again.
He hoped so. He really did.
Wanted: An Escape Plan
Charlie woke with a jump at the sound of a lion’s roar. Then he remembered. He was in a cage and still trapped in his chimpanzee-suit.
‘Oh no,’ he worried. ‘I should be going to school today. Whatever will Miss Pretende-Sterne say?’ Miss Pretende-Sterne was his teacher.
And what would his parents be thinking? Would they be worrying that he’d run away, or maybe fallen down a sink hole into the middle of the earth, never to be seen again? He’d seen one of those on TV. They would probably have searched for him after Abbie’s party. Perhaps they’d stuck notices on telegraph poles, as people did when they lost a kitten, saying: ‘Missing, one boy who might easily be mistaken for a chimpanzee. Answers to the name of Charlie.’
But who would think of looking for him in a zoo? No-one.
He sighed to himself. If he was going to escape, it would be up to him. He would somehow have to make a plan.
‘Play Monkee,’ says Ali
Chatter was woken by a roar, too, a little human roar as Ali came into Charlie’s bedroom pretending to be a wild animal. Used to living with much wilder animals than anything Ali could imagine, Chatter closed his eyes again and turned over, hoping to get a few more minutes’ sleep before that bossy zoo-keeper turned up again.
But Ali had other plans. ‘Play monkee, Charlie,’ she said, and climbing on to the bed she sat on top of Chatter and pulled a monkey face.
‘Why can’t all humans be as friendly as this?’ thought Chatter and made a few funny human faces back to her.
This made her laugh, but even before he could have his first scratch of the day the zoo-keeper appeared.
‘Come on, Ali, you can’t play with Charlie. He has to go to school,’ said Mrs Adams, lifting Ali off the bed. ‘Up you get, Charlie. And get out of that chimpanzee-suit. Hurry up, or you’ll be late.’ And she went downstairs again.
Yawning, Chatter clambered out of bed and on to Charlie’s desk. This cage was a lot cleaner than the one he lived in at the zoo, and it was good to have his own rope to swing on. And, with a quick leap, he grabbed hold of the lampshade which hung down in the middle of the room and went sailing through the air.
‘Charlie!!!‘ The mad zoo-keeper was back.
Trying to be friendly, Chatter gave Mrs Adams a nice wave as he swung past her.
‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she shouted. ‘You’ll pull the light-fitting out of the ceiling.’ And grabbing hold of Chatter, she dragged him from the lampshade. ‘This has gone far enough. Now let’s get you out of this stupid suit.’
And holding Chatter by the scruff of his neck, she once again began to feel through the fur for the zip.
A quick pinch quickly stopped her.
‘Ow!‘ squealed Mrs Adams, letting go. ‘How dare you pinch my bottom! Say you’re sorry this minute!’ And she rubbed her bottom tenderly.
But Chatter couldn’t talk, so he couldn’t say he was sorry.
By the door Ali laughed. Charlie had become very naughty since he’d started wearing his chimpanzee-suit. But he was good fun, too.
Mrs Adams had had enough. ‘All right, don’t speak. And don’t take off your chimpanzee-suit. You can go to school in it, for all I care. Let’s see what Miss Pretende-Sterne has to say. She’ll make you sorry, all right!’
And, holding Chatter with one hand, she quickly dressed him in Charlie’s school trousers, socks, shoes, shirt and blazer. She even fastened his tie for him.
Ali giggled, but Chatter kept quiet. So long as this crazy zoo-keeper didn’t try to skin him alive he didn’t care what she dressed him in.
‘Don’t Be Silly, Sally’
Charlie was still wondering how he could escape when he saw the chief zoo-keeper, Mr Pratt, and his assistant, Sally, entering the enclosure with two zoo-keepers as guards. Mr Pratt was carrying a small case.
Quickly Charlie ran towards them. ‘Please let me out. I’m not a chimpanzee, I’m a boy,’ he tried to say. But the only sounds that could be heard were ‘Pshss…lll…ttt…’
Sally looked puzzled. ‘I think Chatter is trying to tell us something,’ she said.
‘Don’t be silly, Sally,’ said Mr Pratt. ‘It’s just another of his tricks.’
Behind him Charlie could hear the baboons and marmosets chattering together as they watched. Obviously, they didn’t like Mr Pratt, either.
‘So, is everyone present and well?’ Mr Pratt said, and, putting his case down just inside the cage, he took the register from Sally.
‘Yes, I think so…’ she was beginning to say, when suddenly a riot broke out as the marmosets began fighting over an apple core.
Leaving his case, Mr Pratt hurried towards the fighting. ‘Did you see that, Sally?’ he said. ‘Make a note for less sugar in their diets. They’re becoming too energetic.
‘Wouldn’t it be easier to give them an apple each?’ suggested Sally.
‘Don’t be silly, Sally…’ Mr Pratt began. Then, suddenly, he let out a shout. ‘No!’ Because, while he’d been watching the marmosets, a baboon had grabbed his case and run away with it across the enclosure.
‘Stop!’ wailed Mr Pratt.
But the baboon, still holding the case, was already climbing a tree, while the marmosets did cartwheels in celebration.
Charlie watched in fascination. The marmosets had obviously been a distraction. They must have been in on the plan.
‘Give that back this minute,’ howled Mr Pratt.
‘Oh dear, they’ve got your laptop computer,’ said Sally.
Charlie’s chimpanzee ears pricked up. ‘Computer!’ She’d said ‘Computer!’ But of course! It wasn’t just any old case the baboons had stolen. It was a case with a laptop inside, like the old one his dad had given him.
‘Quickly, we must get a ladder,’ Mr Pratt told the zoo-keepers. ‘We have to get the laptop back before those savages smash it.’ And off they all rushed to find a ladder.
Charlie looked up into the tree. The baboons had now taken the laptop from its case and were tossing it from one to the other. He had to smile. They didn’t look like savages to him.
And, what’s more, he’d just thought of an escape plan.
Chatter Goes To School
Miss Pretende-Sterne was not pleased to see a chimpanzee sitting in Charlie’s place in the classroom.
‘It’s Charlie,’ explained Abbie, who sat next to him. ‘His chimpanzee-suit’s very real looking, isn’t it?’
‘Very real,’ frowned the teacher. ‘But this is a school for children, Charlie, not chimpanzees. How do you think you’re going to write with paws instead of hands?’
Chatter looked around the room. All the children were laughing. So, joining in the joke, he leaned across to Abbie and gave her a kiss on the cheek. He’d seen humans do that in the zoo.
Abbie jumped in surprise. Charlie had never done that before.
Miss Pretend-Sterne was astonished. ‘Charlie, I think you’ve been watching too much television. That’s against the school rules. No kissing in class.’
Chatter stuck a crayon in his ear. Humans and their jabber-jabber! He’d heard more sense in the camels’ enclosure, and everyone knew camels had coconuts for brains.
Miss Pretende-Sterne took the crayon from his ear. ‘Don’t do that. It’s dangerous.’
So Chatter ate the crayon instead.
‘Oooohhh!’ cried the children.
‘Right!’ shouted the teacher. ‘You’re coming with me. And she led Chatter by his ear to a desk at the far side of the classroom. ‘Now, Charlie, you will sit here until you decide to re-enter the world of human beings.’
So, Chatter sat by himself all morning. He didn’t mind, although the book Miss Pretende-Sterne gave him to read tasted horrible.
And before long he dozed off and dreamed about his sister, Esmerelda, and the games they used to play.
Baboons To The Rescue
Baboons, Charlie could tell, were not the type to do favours. But, for his escape plan to work, he had to get that laptop off them before the chief zoo-keeper returned. Perhaps they wouldn’t mind if he joined in their game.
So, plucking up his courage, he stood underneath the tree where the baboons were throwing the laptop around, hoping one of them might drop it to him so that he could have a turn.
That didn’t happen. Instead they just pelted him with twigs and leaves. Baboons didn’t play piggy-in-the-middle, obviously.
Then Charlie had another idea. Might they like to swap the computer for something else? But what had he got to swap? If only he had his space gun. Baboons looked the sort who would love a space gun.
Carefully, Charlie searched the enclosure, but in the end all he could find to swap was a husk of corn. Timidly he held it up to the chief baboon, a grand fellow with sharp teeth and spiky hair.
At first, the plan seemed to be working as the chief baboon, still holding the laptop came scrambling down the tree for a closer look at the corn. Then, just as Charlie thought he was about to make the swap, the baboon snatched the husk and scampered back up another tree, with the laptop still under his arm.
The other baboons cackled. They thought that was very funny.
Charlie sighed sadly.
Just then, however, Emile, the gorilla, who’d been watching, got up from his log and walked casually across to the trees where the baboons were hanging out.
Then, standing tall, he pointed to the laptop, before beginning to beat his chest until it made a frightening drumming sound.
Every animal in the enclosure stopped what it was doing. No-one argued with a gorilla.
Meekly, the chief baboon slithered down the tree and laid the laptop at Emile’s enormous feet. Then he hurried away as quickly as possible.
Very carefully Emile picked up the laptop and passed it to Charlie.
‘Thank you very much, Emile,’ thought Charlie. Then, as they sat down together on their usual log, he opened it.
Usually he liked to look at the Fifa football games on his own laptop. But now he had something more important to do. He had a message to send, saying that he was a boy, not a chimpanzee, and that he should be set free immediately.
Well, yes, obviously.
But something else had to be said, something he’d never thought about before coming to the zoo.
Now all the animals in the enclosure came to watch him, standing just behind Emile. There were chimpanzees and marmosets, and the snooty orangutans. Even the baboons came. And, looking at them as they waited, Charlie felt a great fondness for them. They seemed so sad, locked up for life in this prison cage.
Then Charlie saw that two giraffes were gazing down at him from their enclosure, and he noticed that the lions had stopped roaring, and the tiger cubs were standing at the bars of their cage. While not far away two elephants stood watching, their huge ears flapped forward.
Across the entire zoo there was a great anticipation, even in the aviary where the birds usually squawked or sang and in the reptile house were the crocodiles pretended to be asleep.
And, as he looked around him, Charlie knew what he had to write. Slowly, because he was one of the worst spellers in his class, he began to tap at the keyboard. This is what he wrote:
‘The animels in this zoo, the grilla, the baboons, and the chimps and lions and tigers and even the grfaffes and elefants are fed up…’
At that moment, however, he was interrupted as the zoo-keepers, returned carrying a ladder. With them, marched Mr Pratt, followed by Sally, his assistant.
‘Well, look at that! A chimpanzee writing on a laptop,’ laughed one of the zoo-keepers.
‘He’s probably writing a play – like Shakespeare,’ joked the other.
‘That’s Chatter!’ said Sally, staring at Charlie in astonishment. ‘Isn’t he clever!’
‘Don’t be silly, Sally,’ said Mr Pratt. ‘It isn’t clever to type rubbish? He’s probably ruining my computer.’
‘I’ve never seen a chimpanzee use a computer before,’ said Sally.
‘He isn’t using it. He’s pretending to use it. Apes like to copy humans,’ Mr Pratt scoffed, and, as Charlie now had the laptop, he said to the zoo-keepers. ‘We won’t need the ladder after all. Just go and get the computer.’
The zoo-keepers moved closer to Charlie. ‘Come on, Chatter, give me the laptop,’ said one.
But Charlie hadn’t finished. He needed more time. Desperately he looked up to Emile.
The huge gorilla, like a proud parent, patted him gently on the head with his giant paw, Then, moving forward, he stood up in front of the zoo-keepers and beat his chest.
Immediately, all the other animals in the cage began arranging themselves like guards around Charlie. The zoo-keepers stepped back. And Charlie began to write again.
‘Peepel think zoos are just for making people laff and to stop animels becoming eggstinkt,’ he wrote.
‘Go on!’ shouted Mr Pratt to the zoo-keepers. ‘Get the laptop.’
‘Yes, well…’ said one of them, keeping an eye on the chief baboon, who was sharpening his teeth with a pointed stick. ‘If you want it that badly, perhaps you’d better get it yourself.’
‘Don’t be insolent,’ said Mr Pratt. ‘Get the computer.’
The zoo-keepers didn’t move.
‘I’ll get it,’ said Sally. ‘The animals won’t hurt me.’ And she walked bravely past Emile towards Charlie. ‘Please, Chatter…’ she asked, putting out her hand.
Sadly, Charlie gave her the laptop. He hadn’t even had time to do a spell check.
‘Thank you,’ she said, and left the cage.
‘So, let’s see what rubbish your friend Chatter has been writing,’ laughed Mr Pratt, and looked at the computer screen.
For a moment he didn’t speak. Then his eyes began to bulge and his mouth to fall open. ‘I don’t believe it,’ he gasped at last.
‘Don’t believe what?’ asked Sally.
‘This,’ said Mr Pratt, showing her the screen. ‘It’s impossible, I know. But we’ve got an ape who can…write.’
‘What?’ gasped Sally.
‘Look!’ said Mr Pratt and passed Sally the laptop.
But Charlie was no longer interested in what Mr Pratt thought. He was worried. He’d hardly got started. There was so much more he needed to write. And now he’d lost his chance.
Chatter Goes Shopping
Miss Pretende-Sterne was very cross when Mrs Adams arrived at the school at going home time. ‘If I’d wanted to work with a chimpanzee I would have joined a circus,’ she said.
‘It’s only a stage he’s going through,’ said Charlie’s mum, as, across the playground Chatter was chasing the little girls and making them laugh. ‘We’ll get him out of his chimpanzee-suit tonight. I’m sure he’ll be his normal self by tomorrow morning.’
‘I hope so,’ snapped Miss Pretende-Sterne. ‘He’s been a nuisance all day. I can’t tell you what he did in the dining hall at lunch time!’
Thinking that she would perhaps rather not know, Mrs Adams went across the playground to where Chatter was now walking on his hands.
‘I didn’t know Charlie could do that,’ Abbie said to her.
‘Neither did I,’ said Mrs Adams, and, grabbing Chatter by the paw, she led him quickly away.
‘We have to go back to the shops on the way home,’ she told him. ‘And, if you aren’t on your best behavior, you’ll be in for it. Do you understand?’
Of course, Chatter didn’t understand.
Ali just smiled.
To Chatter the shopping mall was a large, frightening building with hanging lights, indoor trees and too many humans. And when he found himself on an escalator, going up in the air without having to climb, he clutched on to Ali’s buggy for safety.
Only when they reached the top floor and they got off the moving staircase did he feel safe again, though he kept very close to Ali in this dangerous place. For such a little human she was very brave.
Mrs Adams had come to the mall to return the trainers she’d bought the day before, and it took a very long time before she found the right ones that fitted her in the right colour and style.
At least I don’t need shoes for my paws, Chatter thought, as he and Ali waited. Human paws obviously weren’t as good as the ones chimps had. Not surprisingly, Chatter got some funny looks from other shoppers when he tried on a pair of fluffy slippers, but generally he was so well behaved that when they left the shop Mrs Adams headed straight for the ice cream counter.
‘Now what kind of ice cream would you like?’ Mrs Adams asked Ali.
‘Nana,’ said Ali.
‘You mean a banana split. And what about you, Charlie? Are you going to tell us what you’d like?’
Chatter just scratched his head.
‘Charlie, if you don’t tell us what you want, how will I know what to ask for?’ Mrs Adams said, as, alongside her, some teenage schoolboys began to laugh.
‘Doesn’t your monkey like ice cream?’ asked a roly-poly boy with a shaved head.
‘He isn’t a monkey, he’s a boy in a chimpanzee-suit,’ replied Mrs Adams.
That made the schoolboys laugh even more.
Chatter watched, his nose twitching, as Mrs Adams passed Ali the ice-cream. ‘Banana! My favourite!’ he thought.
Mrs Adams smiled. ‘So, Charlie. Have you made your mind up yet?’
‘Go on monkey-face, tell the lady what you want,’ shouted the roly-poly boy, and began jumping around like a chimpanzee.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t looking where he was going. Because, suddenly, he slipped on an ice cream that someone had dropped, and, barging into Ali’s buggy, sent it, with Ali still in it, hurtling across the shopping mall.
‘Ali!’ gasped Mrs Adams, and chased after the little girl.
She was too late. The buggy whizzed on to the top of the escalator and disappeared from view.
‘Ali! Ali!’ screamed Mrs Adams.
The roly-poly boy stopped jumping around. ‘It was only a joke,’ he said and hurried off to hide in the ladies underwear department.
But it wasn’t a joke to Chatter. ‘Oh, no!’ he thought. ‘There goes my chance of a lick of that banana split.’ And he ran to the escalator.
Below him, the runaway buggy was bouncing down the steps.
‘Stop it’ cried Mrs Adams.
But the other shoppers just jumped for their lives as the buggy hurtled towards them.
Ali should have been frightened, but she was loving it, as bump, bump, bump, she went.
‘Save her!’ sobbed her mother.
But no-one did.
Chatter didn’t understand what Mrs Adams was saying, but he could see the danger that his banana split ice cream was in.
‘Hang on to the ice cream, Ali,’ he said to himself. ‘I’m coming.’ And, with one huge jump, he hurled himself on to a basket of plants that was hanging over the escalator. Then, swinging high above the mall, he leapt across to a chandelier before dropping down to the floor below.
Ali was still racing on. ‘Yaaaay!’ she laughed as the buggy continued down the moving staircase. This was the best buggy ride she’d ever had.
‘Wait for me,’ Chatter was thinking, sliding down the banisters after her.
But the buggy just kept on going – right down to the ground floor, where it raced towards the open doors of the supermarket.
‘Stop!’ ordered a guard, then jumped to safety behind the toilet roll counter.
A second later Chatter followed, now riding a supermarket trolley as though it was a motorbike.
Right across the supermarket, shoppers stared as the buggy and supermarket trolley rocketed past them.
Ali just giggled, while a long way behind, Mrs Adams hurried in her new trainers. Surely the buggy would have to stop somewhere in the supermarket. There was nowhere else for it to go.
But, just as it was reaching the frozen fish at the back of the store, a large door slid open, beyond which was a slope leading down to the busy road outside.
‘Ooo-ee!’ sang Ali, as she raced out of the door.
Chatter was worried. If Ali got to that road, there was a good chance he’d never see the banana-split again. He had to do something.
He did. With a desperate leap, he threw himself from his trolley on to the back of the buggy.
Ali squealed with delight to see him, but Chatter had the ice cream to think about. And, twisting the buggy, he steered it away from the road and oncoming traffic, and crashed it smack into a mountain of strawberries which were being unloaded from a van.
And, at last, the buggy came to a stop.
‘Mmm,’ smiled Ali happily, and, biting into a strawberry, offered Chatter a lick of her ice cream.
‘Yummy,’ he thought as he tasted the banana split.
‘Charlie, you hero!’ cried Mrs Adams as she ran to them. ‘You saved Ali’s life. I’m sorry I shouted at you because of the chimpanzee-suit.’ And kneeling in the middle of the strawberries she put her arms around Ali and Chatter and kissed them both.
Chatter didn’t notice. He was finishing off Ali’s banana split ice-cream.
‘Something’s wrong,’ says Sally
‘A chimpanzee that can write!‘ Mr Pratt beamed as he sat in his office. ‘We must put Chatter on television. We’ll be the most famous zoo in the world.’
Sitting, facing him, Charlie was worried. ‘It wasn’t a chimpanzee who wrote on your computer it was a boy,’ he tried to say. But the only sound was, ‘Www… mmm… kkk…ttt…‘
‘He’s trying to talk to us now,’ laughed Mr Pratt. ‘Whatever will he do next?’
Sally frowned. She knew that Chatter was a clever chimpanzee. His sister, Esmerelda, had been clever, too, and it had been a sad day when the two had been separated. But nothing Chatter had done since Sally had nursed him as a baby suggested that one day he would make chimpanzee history. ‘Something’s wrong,’ she said.
‘Don’t be silly, Sally. We both saw it. This chimp can write, even if his spelling and punctuation are atrocious. Now I have an announcement to make.’
And, picking up the telephone, he invited television and newspaper reporters to come immediately to the zoo to see ‘Chatter, the genius chimpanzee’.
Important News From The Zoo
Mrs Adams took Ali and Chatter home on the bus after their adventure, and sat them down in front of the television while she toasted some buttered crumpets for a treat.
‘Oh look, Charlie, there’s an important announcement coming from the zoo,’ she said as a news flash came on the TV. ‘I wonder what it can be.’
Charlie on TV
Very soon TV cameramen and reporters began arriving at the zoo. Could it be true, they asked each other, that there was a chimpanzee that could write on a computer?
Charlie, meanwhile, was being given last minute instructions. ‘I don’t know how much of this you understand, Chatter,’ said Mr Pratt, ‘ but if you show the TV people how you can write you’ll get an extra banana tonight.’
Sally frowned and shook her head, as the TV people set up their cameras.
Charlie fidgeted nervously. He’d never been on television before.
‘Ready when you are, Mr Pratt,’ said one of the reporters, and, puffing out his chest, Mr Pratt began to talk to the cameras. ‘Today this zoo is proud to show you something amazing. Our star, Chatter, is the world’s first chimpanzee that can write…’ he boasted.
Inside his chimpanzee-suit Charlie hoped Miss Pretende-Sterne wouldn’t be watching. She was very critical about his spelling. Then feeling itchy, he had a little scratch.
A lady TV reporter moved a little further away from him, not wanting to catch fleas. ‘Let’s see him write then,’ she said. ‘The nation’s viewers are waiting.’
Mr Pratt turned to Charlie. ‘All right, Chatter, show them what you can do. But remember, you’re on TV. Don’t write anything rude or there’ll be no banana. Ha-ha!’
Sally closed her eyes in embarrassment.
Chatter Rubbed His Eyes…
Chatter rubbed his eyes with astonishment. He’d never watched TV before, but wasn’t that another chimpanzee sitting there?
Mrs Adams was laughing. ‘Look, Ali, that chimpanzee on television is just like Charlie in his chimpanzee-suit, isn’t he!’
‘Everyone knows chimps are full of tricks’
Carefully Charlie stretched his fingers inside the paws of his chimpanzee-suit. ‘All right, I’ll show you,’ he said to himself as he stared at the TV cameras. Then he began to type.
‘TO EVERYONE WOCHING ON THE TELE, we, the animals in this zoo, want to protest about the condishens. Our cages are too small, espeshly for the bigger animels, and they are very dirty and smelly.’
A gasp of amazement filled the room as the cameramen and reporters read what Charlie was writing.
Mr Pratt looked worried. ‘Chatter! Remember, if you aren’t good you won’t get the banana I promised,’ he snapped.
But Charlie was still writing.
‘Its nice to visit the zoo, but evryone fergets that animels need space to run around. They havent done any crimes so why are they in prison…?’
‘Prison!’ Mr Pratt gasped angrily, and tried to pull the computer away from Charlie. ‘That ends our demonstration. As you can see, Chatter is clever at writing, but has some strange ideas. But then he’s only an ape. What does he know about running a zoo?’
That was too much for Charlie. Grabbing back the laptop back, he began to type again.
‘Im not an ape. Im a boy in a chimp-soot. I’ve been kidnapped, and if someone would feel in the fur on my back theyd find the zip which has made me a prisner in this place.’
With that the room went into uproar. Mr Pratt went pale. ‘Don’t believe him,’ he shouted. ‘Everyone knows chimps are full of tricks.’
But Sally was already feeling in the fur at the back of Charlie’s suit. And there it was… a metal zip. With one quick movement she pulled the zip open. With great relief, Charlie pulled his arms and hands out of the suit, and lastly lifted the chimpanzee’s head off his own.
The television reporters and cameramen stared as Charlie’s face appeared. ‘Who on earth are you?’ they asked.
Charlie looked at the television camera. ‘I’m Charlie Adams from 24 Grasmere Road, and I’d like to go home now, please.’
‘Look Out, Ali…It’s a Wild Animal’
Mrs Adams stared in bewilderment at the television. The boy on the TV was, without doubt, Charlie. But he couldn’t be. Because Charlie was here in his chimpanzee-suit, sitting on the sofa alongside Ali.
‘Charlie!’ said Ali, and pointed at the TV.
‘Charlie? Yes,’ said her mother. ‘But if that’s Charlie on the TV…who…is…?’
And she looked at Chatter, who, understanding none of this, was licking butter from a paw. Then she realised.
‘Oh, no,’ she exclaimed. Now she understood why Charlie hadn’t spoken since the fancy dress party. ‘Look out, Ali,’ she screamed. ‘That isn’t Charlie. It’s a wild animal!’
But Ali didn’t think so. Cuddling up to Chatter, she kissed him on his hairy cheek. He was her hero, whatever else he was.
‘So, You’re The Famous Chatter…’
Sally took Charlie home in her car, Mr Pratt having been taken down to the police station to explain that the zoo hadn’t really kidnapped Charlie.
Mr and Mrs Adams were waiting at the door when Charlie got home. Naturally, his mum covered Charlie in kisses, when, now carrying his chimpanzee-suit, he walked up the garden path in his underpants.
‘Sorry if you were worried, Mum,’ Charlie said.
‘Oh, we weren’t worried,’ said his dad, who’d just got home from driving his taxi. ‘We hadn’t even missed you.’ Which was true, but embarrassing.
Taking Charlie’s hand, Ali led her brother into the house. Still sitting on the sofa, but now watching the football on TV, was Chatter.
‘So you’re the famous Chatter,’ said Charlie looking at the chimpanzee. ‘You nearly became the most famous chimp the world has ever known.’
But Chatter just scratched his bottom, and then clapped his hands as he saw someone score a goal.
‘Come on, Chatter. It’s time I took you home, too,’ said Sally. And she slipped a collar with a lead around his neck.
‘I’m sorry I can’t help you,’ Charlie said, shaking the chimpanzee’s paw.
Chatter looked at the boy. Whoever this fellow was, he was very friendly. But then, seeing Charlie’s mum coming towards him with tears in her eyes, he hurried towards the door. The last thing he wanted was that soppy human woman kissing him again.
The Wildlife Park
The following Saturday, Charlie’s dad had a day off work, so he took the family in his taxi to the zoo to visit Charlie’s friends among the animals. The gates, however, were locked. The animals had gone. The zoo had been closed down as not being fit for animal habitation.
And, as the months passed, Charlie began to forget about his extraordinary time in the chimpanzee-suit. Then, one afternoon, when the family was having a day-out in the country, he saw a sign for a wildlife park.
‘Could we go and have a look, please?’ he asked.
Of course, they could.
It was warm and sunny and Charlie and Ali sucked ice lollies as they watched the elephants wandering through the trees, and saw the kangaroos hopping across the fields. Even the lions and tigers had large enclosures.
‘It isn’t perfect,’ Charlie thought. ‘It’s still only a wildlife park with fences to keep the animals in. But there’s lots of grass to run on. It has to be better than being locked up in a cage all your life.’
Because he was worried that it might bring back unhappy memories, he left the apes enclosure until the end of the visit. But on seeing it, he was relieved to find that it was a much bigger place than the one he’d been locked up in, with more ropes and hammocks for the animals to play on, and lots more trees and bushes for them to hide in.
Together he and Ali watched the animals for a long time, laughing at the baboons as they played tricks on each other. They even saw a gorilla in the distance. ‘I wonder if he knows Emile,’ thought Charlie.
At first, they didn’t see the chimpanzees. But, as they were about to leave, Charlie noticed two that were playing together, happily chasing one another up and down the trees. They looked so happy together, and he remembered fondly how the chimpanzee family had taken care of him in the zoo.
But it was getting late. ‘Come on, Ali, we have to go,’ he said. And, taking the little girl’s hand, he walked with her back to their parents.
In the apes enclosure the bigger of the two chimpanzees stopped playing. ‘That little female human looks familiar,’ he thought, as he watched them go. And he tried to remember an adventure he’d once had when, for nearly two whole days, he’d been treated just like a human…even going to school.
Or had he dreamed it all?
Then, he went back to playing with his sister…Esmeralda.
© Ray Connolly 2021