Tata’s Tale, Nour Kabbara, Tripoli
Mention Energheia Lebanon Prize 2017
Once upon a time in Tripoli, a Mediterranean city by the sea, there lived an abandoned monkey that had escaped from a traveling circus several years ago. Tata, as her previous master used to call her, lived her days hiding in the few trees scattered among the city, and had taken a newfound liking to their citruses, which were well-known fruits that the old city used to be especially famous for.
Tata mainly revealed herself to the children of the city, who she loved to play with. However, the local townspeople had recently become more aware of the monkey’s presence and forbade their children from playing, let alone coming in contact with the supposedly rabid creature. As such,
Tata began to keep away from all humans and resorted to a more secluded life.
But monkeys are social creatures and cannot stay lonely for long. And so, Tata wandered the old town, always hidden in the trees or abandoned buildings, in search of any companionship, temporary as it might be.
It was not far from Tripoli that there was an adjacent city known for its waves and horizon. Mina, it was called and Tata couldn’t believe her eyes! There were a different kind of trees here, taller ones, palm trees, and the first thing Tata could think of doing was jumping over to the tallest one her eyes could see.
Tata spent her days basking in the sun on the high branches of the palm trees and eating the fruit that grow on them. She enjoyed the mornings, watching the fisherman loading their boats with fishing nets and rods, buckets of bait, and pull up the anchors before launching out to sea. She was fascinated by the sound of the boats, some with engines, some with only old-fashioned oars, all going out in the early morning.
From high up, she could see them all at a distance, waiting for their first catch. And in the early hours, they’d come back with bucket loads of fish, and carry them into the souks. After watching this ordeal for the first few days, curiosity got the best of Tata and she decided to follow the fisherman back into the city. There, she discovered where all the caught fish were kept, stored into plastic boxes filled with ice and sorted according to each type of sea creature there was. It was the most incredible thing she had seen! If only she could grab a bite…
But as soon as she got close, “Monkey!” one of the fisherman shouted and so the startled Tata scurried off before they could catch her, yet keeping it a point in her mind to come back when no one was looking.
Despite this little ordeal, the Mina seaport became Tata’s new favourite place, and ultimately, her home.
One day, Tata noticed an unusual splashing in the sea near one of the fishermen’s boats. Then there came some elevated voices. It seemed like they’d caught something big! Tata noticed a big fin rising from the water. Was it, a shark? She hopped on closer from tree to tree till she reached the closest one she could. But just as soon as she got there, the little fisher boat tipped over, throwing the fishermen overboard and whatever was caught in that in that net quickly swam away for dear life.
Torn between whether to follow the creature or watch the fisherman try to turn their boat back over, Tata tried to look for the supposed shark but the sea was as vast and as blue as ever, nothing could be seen but the stillness of the sea, and of course, the angry fishermen on the other side of the pier.
That night, Tata slept soundly after all the excitement of the day. She dreamt of that poor shark the fisherman had caught. The whimpering sound began to grow louder and louder, until Tata suddenly woke up from her dream to the dark and silent night, but the whimpering sound from her dream continued to be heard. Tata rubbed her eyes, what she really hearing its cry? Where was it coming from?
Climbing down cautiously from the tree trunk, Tata froze her stance as soon as she was on the ground. She listened closely, as the sound seemed to be coming from the far end of the pier. The little monkey quietly skipped forward in the direction of the sound. It was the first time she’s wandered out at night and the soft simmering of the pier lights over the water seemed to relax her. She’d never expected it to be so quiet, apart from the gentle whimpering that is.
At the end of the pier was a large pile of bulky rocks. The sound seem to be coming from behind there. So, being the little monkey that she is, Tata climbed up on top of them, a good two or three meters upwards, so she reached the top and looked down. There were no lights on this side of the pier and so all she could see was darkness. “Hello?” she called down, her voice echoing back.
She almost didn’t recognize the sound of it since it had been forever since she had last spoken to anyone. But nothing came back to her and the whimpering sound suddenly stopped.
“Hellooo?” Tata called again, this time for a little longer. But still, nothing came back to her.
Could she have imagined it? She decided to look a little further down below.
Lo and behold, Tata found herself looking into the big blue eyes of… a dolphin? At first all it did was stare back at her. So Tata decided to make the first move. “Hello,” she said, this time as gentle as she could. The dolphin just blinked back, soundless. “I’m Tata,” the monkey continued,
“who are you?”. After a moment, the dolphin replied. “Kaja,” said the dolphin, “I seem to be lost, can you help me?”. And that’s all it took to start an unlikely friendship between the two.
Kaja had torn the left side of his tail in the fishermen’s net earlier that day and was unable to properly swim. He then proceeded to tell Tata his tale. Like Tata, Kaja was also used for entertainment purposes in a dolphin show. But unlike Tata who used to be the master’s sole monkey, Kaja had two brothers who had passed away in an entertainment accident. When the local authorities rose to protest the show, his owners dumped him into the sea, where he swam for days without food until he was almost captured again by the fishermen.
“But you live in a sea full of fish,” Tata questioned, “how can u not eat fish for food?”. “Oh, I eat fish,” said Kaja timidly, “I just don’t know how to catch them. My master used to feed them to me”
It was then that Tata got an idea! She remembered seeing the fishermen taking their fish buckets into the souks, maybe she could get some for Kaja from there!
“I’ll be right back,” exclaimed Tata, “don’t move!” And with that, she scurried as fast as her feet could take her into the old souks. She had to hurry though, as there was less than an hour left before daybreak and before the city would start waking up.
Tata was easily able to find the fishery and got in through a small hole in the wall. Unfortunately, all the boxes were completely empty of fish, except for a few tiny leftovers scattered here and there. Tata picked up all the remainders she could find, a total of 5 small red mullet fish, and made her way back to the famished Kaja. He ate them all in a mouthful. “Thank You so much, Tata,” he exclaimed and for the first time, Tata could see a smile in his eyes.
Over the next few days, Tata helped Kaja regain his health by getting him more fish and taking care of his healing tail. Of course they stayed under the covered shelter of rocks so that no one would catch them and take them back into captivity. They took good care of one another and kept each other great company.
“What’s it like to live in the sea?” asked Tata, her eyes set on the horizon. The question took Kaja by surprise as it had been so long since he’d last seen his family. “Well,” said Kaja, “the only life I’ve known was underwater. Before my brothers and I got captured, we used to swim for hours on end with our family and friends, and all kinds of fish and cetaceans would whirl by us.
Though all you see is blue from here, it’s a colorful world down there, a vivid one of beauty. Of course I used to love jumping above the surface of the water to catch a glimpse of what lay above. I suppose that’s what got me caught by The Dolphin Show in the first place.” Kaja continued to talk to Tata about life under the big blue sea and she was as fascinated as ever.
“How about you?” Then asked Kaja, snapping Tata out of her reverie, “Tell me about your world before The Traveling Circus”.
Tata paused. She had never know a life outside the circus. She was born into it and her only family was her old master, who she had gotten separated from many, many nights ago. “I couldn’t really tell you, Kaja,” sighed Tata, “I don’t know”.
Over the next few days, Kaja’s tail was healed and he regained his ability to properly swim again.
He didn’t want to leave his new friend Tata behind but he also knew that there was no way to take her with him. Monkeys were not made for a life below seawater, and Tata knew this all too well.
“You should leave,” Tata finally said to her only friend. “Your tail is healed and you can swim again. Go, find your family and friends and be free again”. Kaja looked tearfully back at his only companion. He knew that she was right, he couldn’t stay hiding here forever. “I wish you could come with me…” sighed the dolphin, tears also beginning to well up in his eyes, “what will you do?” “Don’t you worry about me,” said Tata, “I’ve got the whole of this city left to discover”. The two looked at each other in a moment of silence. They had both grown to love each other more than anything, yet they knew that they couldn’t stay. With one last hug and kiss goodbye, Kaja dipped his head back under the sea and swam away as Tata watched him leave in sadness.
Days passed and Tata didn’t move from that spot under the boulders until nightfall to go back and eat and sleep in the shelter of the trees. But during the long days, all she did was sit and stare into the endless blue. She missed Kaja more than she thought she would, and a part of her always hoped that he’d come back.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into almost a month, Tata was getting lonelier and sadder than she’d ever been. All she could think about was her friend and the colorful life below the sea that she’d never get to experience.
Then, one sunny day, as Tata was staring out into the blue as she always does, she was startled by a nearby voice that exclaimed, “Hey! Monkey!”. Tata quickly turned around to see where the voice was coming from, and to her surprise, she saw a young boy looking down at her from the boulders above. In her nervousness, Tata accidently tripped and fell into the sea!
The first thing that Tata felt was the coolness of the water. It drenched her fur and she felt herself sinking. She frantically began to move her arms and legs, but she was going downwards. She was seeing a mixture of blue and green, and she could see live fish, swimming around her. She’d seen it! She’d finally seen the underwater world which was taking her further and further below, as she was beginning to lose consciousness.
Suddenly, she felt something grab her. Was she being eaten by a large fish? She began moving upwards again, she was seeing the blue sky again. When she finally opened her eyes, she was staring into the big blue eyes of… a boy? Tata was scared, and her heart began pounding. She’d been caught. What was he going to do to her? “Monkey, are you okay?” asked the boy, “don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you”.
Tata realized that this was the boy who’d called out to her just moments ago from on top of the boulders. He’d saved her life. The boy patted her forehead then picked her up and carried her with him. He passed through the old souk, passed the fishery, and took a right turn to an old house with a staircase. They went up.
When he opened the door, Tata saw the room was simply comprised of a small kitchenette, a couch in front of a television set, and a bed which the boy gently laid her on. Tata noticed there were several posters on the wall, two of the ocean and one of a dolphin that looked a lot like
Kaja. She smiled as she remembered him.
“I’ll take care of you,” said the boy, smiling back at her, “my name is Kaja”.