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March 2, 2006

Che-An and Nufu

Che-An lived in a small hut in a forest in Thailand. Her home was made of bamboo which she had woven together with her own hands. One hot day she was looking for food in the forest when she came across an injured monkey. She took him home and nursed him back to health, and she named him Nufu. She made a cage for Nufu by tying together thick bars of bamboo, and this is where he lived. Che-An's life was very regimented and busy; she was always cooking, cleaning, or making something. She kept Nufu in the cage and fed him at the same time every day. She took him with her and he watched her work on all of her projects.

Then one day, a wise old man came to visit Che-An. He entered her hut and sat on the floor with her. He asked her some questions like, "What is the purpose of your life?" and "Who are you?" These questions were very disturbing to Che-An because she didn't know the answers, and she always knew the answers. Over the next few months, these questions kept bothering her. As she sat on the floor of her hut weaving a basket, the monkey looking on, she pondered them deeply.

Gradually Che-An started to realize that most of what she was doing was not necessary. One morning she woke up and just sat down and contemplated these questions. The first time she did this, she forgot to feed Nufu. When the normal feeding time passed, Nufu got very upset and started to bang on the bars. So Che-An went outside and unlocked the cage; she just left the door open. Then she went back inside and sat down again quietly.

Nufu was confused. He didn't know what to do. He could see the barrel of food across the small clearing in front of the hut, but he had never been outside his cage on his own before. Nufu felt very scared to go to the barrel, so he just sat in the cage and got very hungry. When Che-An finally came outside, Nufu was angry. He banged on the bars and screeched. When Che-An brought some food to Nufu, he grabbed it from her and turned his back. Che-An felt guilty and very sad.

Che-An continued to leave the cage open, and she moved the barrel so that it was right next to the cage door. That way, Nufu could reach out and get the food without leaving his cage. She went back inside and continued to think about the questions.

A few days later, Che-An was sitting quietly on the floor of her hut when she opened her eyes and saw Nufu standing in the little doorway. He was watching her and had a frustrated look on his face. As soon as he saw that she was looking he screeched and scampered back into his cage.

Che-An felt really confused and scared; she didn't know what to do with this little monkey. He didn't seem to be doing well with being free, but she didn't want to keep him locked up anymore, and she also didn't want to live the regimented and complex life that had kept Nufu interested.

She got up and walked outside to the cage where she was shocked to find that Nufu had tied himself to the bars and was writhing around, his skin being torn by the rope. Che-An went into the cage and untied him. Nufu screeched again and bit her arm. While she looked at the wound on her arm, Nufu ran out of the cage, shut the door, and locked it using the padlock that had been lying on the ground.

Che-An awoke under a layer of dew. The sun was rising and she had slept all night in the cage, her arm bandaged with a torn-off piece of her clothing. Nufu brought her a bowl of food and slid it into the cage. Confused and scared, she looked into Nufu's eyes. Nufu seemed happy again, but she realized that Nufu had never really been fully happy.

All day Che-An sat quietly in the cage as Nufu swept the floor of her hut and adjusted the straw on its roof. Regularly, Nufu returned and added water or food to one of the bowls. She wondered how long this insanity would last. As the sun began to set, she noticed a saw on the ground, just outside the cage. She waited until Nufu had gone to sleep, in her bed, before reaching out and grabbing the saw. And then, very carefully, she cut through the bars.

Che-An crept very quietly into the hut and picked up two old, copper pots from the cooking area. She held them above Nufu's head and then she started to shout at the top of her voice and bang the pots together. Nufu jumped out of the bed and ran from the hut. Che-An chased after him, shouting and banging. Nufu ran as fast as he could off into the forest, and after a while Che-An, exhausted from running and yelling, stopped and returned home.

Nufu never came back to the hut, or the cage. But one day, about a year later, Che-An was sitting quietly outside her hut, enjoying the sunshine and thinking of her old friend, when she heard a rustling of leaves. She looked up to see Nufu swinging freely from a branch high up in the canopy. Nufu looked so happy. And then she noticed that there were others with him and that there were two little baby monkeys holding onto his belly.

Tears came to Che-An's eyes. She looked down at the little bowl of rice in front of her, and, taking a mouthful between her fingers, she felt deeply grateful to the forest for giving her such a full life.


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