‘No wonder you can’t get ahead,’ Old Minerva mumbled testily. She fiddled with the bulb of a rickety lamp, and the old cottage kitchen lit up with a yellowy-orange light, making it warm and inviting. ‘You’re like those monkeys those hunters used to stalk. Monkeys with peanuts can’t be trusted to think straight.’
Abigail frowned, but didn’t say anything. Having lumbered for a couple of hours along the bumpy forest floor in her Jeep to see the woman rumoured to be at least 120 years old, Abigail had not quite known what to expect. She was not in the habit of visiting strange people without giving them notice, and now that she was actually sitting in this woman’s kitchen, she couldn’t for the life of her think of one good reason why she was here. She’d heard talk of people’s visits to Old Minerva, but she’d never paid much attention to those conversations. What impulse had driven her to make the journey late this afternoon was a mystery to her. Old Minerva had responded to Abigail’s initial cheery greeting without so much as a smile or hello. The old woman had simply stared at her for what seemed a long moment and Abigail had felt a shiver run down her spine. Minerva had pointed at the door of the cottage and had followed Abigail in.
‘Oh,’ Old Minerva said looking up at Abigail. ‘You don’t know the old traditional story of the monkeys, the hunters and the jars of peanuts?’
Abigail shook her head. She felt as if her tongue were glued to the base of her mouth. Minerva shuffled about, preparing a tea that smelled highly fragrant and curiously delicious.
‘Way back when, in Africa, monkeys were sold to foreign merchants for a fair price,’ she continued. ‘They were delicacies in some countries you see, especially the brains of the poor creatures. The only trouble was, at first, the hunters found it difficult to catch monkeys. These creatures were too quick, too agile for these men. But then, thinking a little more carefully, the hunters devised a foolproof way to trap them. They placed heavy jars at the base of the trees where the monkeys could be found, and in these jars, they put a quantity of peanuts. The narrow neck of the jar was designed in such a way that the monkey was able to put his hand in to grab the nuts, but unable to pull it out with a fist full of the favoured goodies.’
Old Minerva placed a steaming mug in front of Abigail, who sipped the hot brew cautiously. ‘The hunters did well with that trick. Those monkeys were caught in their dozens.’
Abigail shifted in her seat. ‘It doesn’t make sense, the monkeys would have intuited the hunters’ presence as they always did, you know, smelled them, or whatever sense it is they use to detect danger. They could have taken themselves out of harm’s way really quickly.’
Old Minerva looked across the gnarled wooden table at Abigail. She cocked her head to one side. ‘You’re a trapped animal. I saw it as soon as you fell out of that vehicle. What thoughts are you holding onto? What thoughts are you grasping so hard, that they trap you?’
Shocked by this sudden turn of the conversation, Abigail took a sharp intake of breath. She felt a familiar constriction in her chest. Closing her eyes, she found herself overwhelmed by her crippling loneliness, and for a moment she felt herself drowning. She fought back the tears.
Old Minerva watched Abigail struggle with herself before speaking again.
‘What thoughts hold you in the darkness, unable to move into the light? Those monkeys trapped themselves because once they had a fistful of peanuts, they couldn’t pull their hands through the neck of the jar.’
Abigail was crying now. She was unable to do anything to stop the tears that had been bottled up since her split with the man she’d loved for fifteen years. The separation had taken place four years ago, and to this very day she was unable to let go.
Old Minerva went on relentlessly. ‘The only way they could have escaped, was to unclench their fists and let go of the peanuts. They had everything that it took to be free. They were fast, faster than the hunters, and clever. Monkeys are very hardy when it comes to their own survival.’
Abigail’s husband had left her with everything. She had wanted for nothing in life. She wanted nothing except him.
Minerva watched as Abigail cried into an old cloth she’d found on the large table. The old woman continued, her voice a little softer now.
‘But those monkeys were obsessed with grasping those peanuts. They wouldn’t let go. In those moments when freedom was an option, those peanuts became the monkeys’ jailer. This food held such power, power that was afforded them by the monkeys! In reality, peanuts are just peanuts! But to those crazy creatures, those peanuts took on a life of their own. Nothing but their grasping kept those monkeys prisoner until the hunters got hold of them’.
Abigail blew her nose into the cloth, and smiled apologetically at Old Minerva. They were both silent for a while, until Abigail cleared her throat and spoke.
‘I don’t know how to be alone. I need his love. I’m not good enough because he left me for someone else. He belongs to me. I have been cheated of a life. We should have been together forever. I’ll never find love like that again. I’ve lost everything that I had…’ She paused for a moment, then looked up at Minerva. ‘These are the peanuts I’m grasping.’
‘I see in your eyes, how you grasp the old life and an old relationship’ Minerva said. You can’t move forward because your hand is still stuck in the bottle. You’ve given your peanuts an illusory power. They endanger the quality of your life.’
Old Minerva got up from her seat and walked to the kitchen door. Opening it, she motioned to Abigail to get up. ‘You need to go home now,’ she said. ‘You either let go or you don’t. Life isn’t meant to be a tidy package. It is a journey of constant learning. Nothing and nobody belongs to us. Everything that we come to be familiar with eventually passes away. It is the nature of life. It is the purpose of life. To argue with it is to show your lack of observation of its subtle rhythm. If you have the courage to look, you will see that life does not pay heed to our sense of propriety, to our idea of justice, to the things that we think are so important. Life ends the most loving relationships at the most seemingly inappropriate times. It ends a way of life; perhaps a job or some spiritual calling, just when we feel ourselves to be in the middle of what we deem great contributions to humanity. It strips us of our self-importance, showing us that the human personality is deluded, and that it has no power, no significance, except that which it is afforded for a very specific purpose, by a greater intelligence.’
The early evening moon could be spotted through the trees. Abigail inhaled the air in deep gulps and then climbed into the Jeep. She thrust her hand out of the window, showing Old Minerva her empty palm. ‘I left my peanuts on your table,’ she smiled.
‘Good,’ the old lady said sharply. ‘Now get on with the rest of your life.’