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  • Sudi missed sitting at the dining room table like a proper little girl and she missed her dresses and her toys. What Sudi really wanted was a cigarette, but all these things had been taken away from her and she was pissed. In their place was a straw bed, a large cage and two babies rescued from Africa.

    It was no surprise I was not allowed to play with Sudi. You see, I was living the life she wanted and her fierce jealousy could be dangerous. She had run off more than once to chug the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine and throw mother’s cigarettes all over the kitchen.

    Kijidudu, the youngest of the rescued babies, was sweet and loving. We could pick berries and play chase for hours. Njugu was the stuff tough little boys are made of. His bites could hurt, but were fairly harmless. He wanted to wrestle. Kiji and Njugu were my playmates for the summer, and all three of us gave Sudi a wide berth.

    All three of them were being transitioned to life in the zoo. Sudi was raised like a human child but had gotten too big and possessive, while Kiji and Njugu saw their mothers killed in front of them. Njugu had spent time in a ratty African circus. They had to learn a life in a different kind of captivity.

    I wandered under the trees one sunny day, where my mother planted her folding chair and let the chimps climb the trees and snack. As I sat next to her, Sudi made her way down the tree, filled with curiosity. I froze and asked my mother if I should go. My mother said this behavior looked harmless, so I sat very still. Sudi slid her rump over a little at a time until she could touch the laces of my sneakers. Gingerly, she began to unlace my shoes, examining each success carefully. She smelled like warm leaves and bark. Her nails were dirty but her fingers were long, thin and graceful. Sudi had never been so gentle and slow before and all of the sudden, I imagined her my new friend.

    Sudi sniffed her fingers after each unlacing of my shoe. She slowly bent her head down, licking my laces and softly brushing my ankles with her hairy black wrists. It tickled. Caught off guard, my mother and I laughed just when Sudi bit down on my leg so hard that blood began dripping down into my shoe very quickly. My mother zapped Sudi with her Chimp Shocker and Sudi screamed bloody murder and ran up a tree. She did not come down for hours.

    I was rushed to the bathtub and cleaned up. The house was far in the country, so we butterflied the wound and kept it clean without stitches. After that day, I had to give up my dream of having Sudi as my friend. I still have the scar.
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