No Jewels in the Jungle | Olive Gale Mullet

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The heat enveloped like a storm of wet clouds. All around was strangely silent. Everyone was quiet, also because they were told to be – the whispers coming to an end while everyone craned heads upwards. They curled their feet into the buckling sand to gaze through the black lacework of branches full of dark swinging shapes.

Suddenly Mrs. Harper – Clara — screamed, then flung her hands to her neck, and the scream became a choking, coughing sound, like a child catching her breath between sobs. She swayed on her feet.

The tour guide, a young man tall, slender and gawky, swiveled his head to settle his eyes on her with frowns and shaking his head. But he rushed forward as well. A big brown wooly monkey was pulling the necklace as far as it would go. We all watched, waiting for the emeralds to fall.

Two monkey rescue workers ran to disentangle the monkey’s huge grip, one finger at a time from the necklace, gently but firmly. Our guide held out Brazil nuts, which eventually lured the monkey down to the ground. Suddenly unencumbered by man or beast, Mrs. Harper started swaying so much that some of us tour members took hold of her arms to lead her to the one bench where she stretched out, still grasping the necklace for “dear life.” She’d told us that all her jewelry had been from her husband– now deceased — and she never went anywhere without them.

The jungle let out a deep breath as the top branches fanned back and forth. It was feeding time, so the wooly monkeys swarmed around the tree trunks in their descent. On the ground it was hard to tell which one was the culprit with the crowd of mothers, each with her young’s tail twirled around hers like a braid while riding on her back. The humans were forgotten for the fruit that spilled in abundance into their feeding trough.

The tall frame of tour director Peter loomed over the bench and Mrs. Harper, whose eyes were fluttering open. “I told you NOT to bring jewelry in the jungle. Monkeys are attracted to shiny things. These are wild animals and even more dangerous because they’ve had rough treatment and are still being rehabilitated.” His fierce whisper in the still air vibrated every word. He had never chided anyone in the group before (and this was the last lap of the tour).  Everyone stood motionless, taking in breaths and holding them.

The next morning breakfast convened in the eco-lodge’s open-air pavilion with its views on all sides stretching out into the Amazon jungle. Clattering utensils drowned out any animal sounds. A huge multi-colored parrot held sway high above on a perch, and insects landed on the fruit if one was not vigilant.

Emmy was holding forth. Everyone had extended her hands to show no jewelry. One seasoned traveler Gitte, who’d been to every country except Surinam, just wore an inexpensive silver-colored, filigree Greek ring.

“Have you ever been robbed?” I asked, rubbing my fingers against my thigh. I was hiding my great grandmother’s ring and my own wedding ring, which felt all at once heavy and obvious bumps on my fingers.

Emmy, who’d traveled throughout South America and Asia, plunged in: “Yep, Miami Airport. I was mugged while I tried getting into my car. Everything was taken off my hands and around my neck. That’s when I lost my wedding ring.  I was still wearing it because he’d just died the year before. But the worst was being beaten up.”

Such confidences, opening wide women’s fears of traveling alone, were short-lived. Each traveler became a newborn on each trip.

When I leaned out from the deck to face the ocean, it was open, with no land in sight. The spray reached my face with its delicate fingers. The swish of the endless rolling and breaking, with frothy rims of white, kept up a mesmerizing rhythm. The blue color indicated no sea life would come to the surface. But the sway of wind and waves, ever changing and never the same, exactly because ultimately it offered no support, told me I could be — anywhere.

Olive Gale Mullet is a retired Ferris State University English professor, who taught composition and humanities for twenty-five years. Her work has appeared in Michigan State University’s Red Cedar Review, Sliverofstone, Dark Matter, The Cossack Review, Cigale Literary Magazine, Tour’s first issue and Emerge Literary Journal. She is a book reviewer for newpages.com and writes a quarterly column on current fiction trends for the Friends of the Big Rapids Community Library Newsletter, and for her local newspaper, The Big Rapids Pioneer. Previously she wrote book reviews for the Grand Rapids Press.

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