Our first, brief, encounter was whilst I was viewing the new house, when it wasn’t ours yet. I noticed one of the branches in the highest tree swaying gently. Squinting my eyes, I saw a dark shadow clambering up a thin branch, then quietly jumping out of sight.
We moved in, got unpacked, settled. A few days after, on a late afternoon, I heard the gate bell ring. It was an old-fashioned, copper affair. It did not toll firmly, but hesitantly, irregularly. I walked out to see who was there, and met a motley crowd at the gate. A few crouched on the floor, some spilled over the pillars. Two babies were swinging back and forth gently on the creaking gate door. I laughed, and called out the kids: ‘Come meet our new neighbours!’
Jasmijn pointed excitedly, ‘aap, aap,’ but Tijm and Linde could barely be pried away from the telly. They had plenty of those at their school.
The next morning we enjoyed breakfast together. We ate our toast on the patio; they munched on the seeds of the palm tree. Occasionally some husks or leaves dropped in the grass, or we heard the swishing of the leaves as they swung over to another tree. We admired their agility, their jumping skills. We even commented that their table manners did not seem too bad.
After we put the kids on the school bus I noticed a large hump hanging in the baby papaya tree. The one I had carefully cultivated on our old balcony, the one I was so happy it had survived the move. We ran over, shooing and shouting, and the brown creature ran off, taking with him the entire crown of the tree. He rushed into the high palm tree and chomped away happily. Annoyed, I examined the bare stump. ‘You monkey,’ I cried, shaking my fist at the fluttering palm fronds.
I went to brush my teeth. Then I heard screaming from the kitchen, and rushed over, toothbrush in mouth. On the worktop he sat, in the middle of a pile of banana peel. Roel rushed in too, screaming, and the creature scrammed out the window. He sat his bum on the concrete outside and bared his pointy teeth, angry to have his breakfast disturbed. We quickly closed the window and hid the remaining bananas in the bread tin.
Our new neighbours have bad manners. They poo on the lawn and our laundry. They steal our food. They wreck our garden. Yet I cannot help myself. I sit back and watch them play, jumping from branch to branch, as if they can fly. I watch the babies clinging to their mothers bellies, hugging them close, then running off, playfully chasing each other round the gate. Yes, they are a menace. But they are also darned cute.