Published Short Stories


Hamadryas baboons and Lisa Lashes by James K Walker

I took my son to Windsor Safari park once. A baboon climbed on to the bonnet of my car and just sat there supinely, as if it was its rightful place. My son laughed whilst the baboon looked upwards, unaware. I lit up a cigarette and my son started to cough so I extinguished it. It was a clear stakeout and I had all the time in the world although it looked as if the Papio hamadryas was in no rush either. Given that the average life span of a baboon in captivity is around 37 years it could potentially be a long wait. I figured now was a good time to think of a more plausible reason for returning our son at potentially 45 years old, than the following morning as originally agreed.

My son asked me what the baboon was doing and I told him; sitting on my bonnet. He wasn’t happy with the answer and asked why he was sitting on the bonnet. I explained I didn’t know and that it was feasible it was simply a primate bred to sit. He didn’t seem too impressed with that either so I explained about its Ischial callosities, or leathery sitting pads, which allow the baboon to not only sit, but sleep upright as well. My son seemed sceptical of my parental omnipotence and so I applied simple logic, explaining that the average baboon weighed between 14- 40 kg and therefore was glad to rest its muscular frame. Typically he asked; if this was the case then why didn’t elephants sit down more often, before smugly looking upwards. Taking a momentary pause I explained that if elephants sat down they probably wouldn’t be able to get back up again. Returning his smug look it was finally my chance to look upwards, but he turned away. Probably trying to find another way to catch his father out, given as this was his favourite past time.

During this discussion the baboon had reclined on to my windscreen as if enjoying a rare British sun. Either that or it was trying to listen in on our conversation. I think the baboon had less to do in its life than I, and in a perverse way that made me feel slightly better. As it closed its eyes I considered switching on my windscreen wipers but I figured this would only serve as a fan and would hardly move it. Besides it wasn’t everyday you got to make eye contact with a Papio hamadryas and so was worth the study. I was struck by its dog like muzzle; you could see why they didn’t need knives and forks. It reminded me of the long slender barrel of a gun and I felt slightly relieved that if it fired, its bullets would only be seeds, roots and insects as for a primate it had a pretty unadventurous diet.

‘Dad he’s still there’

‘I know son. Everyone knows. Maybe that’s why he’s doing it’.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, perhaps he is showing off. Or maybe he likes the feel of cars. Stuck up in the trees with all those cutting branches and enveloping leaves of green must get pretty depressing. Maybe he’s bored of all that nature shit and wants a nice smoothly finished bonnet to perch his smoothly finished rump on for a change. Sound reasonable to you?’

‘I suppose so’ he replied.

‘Well now you know a bit more about Baboons son’. I felt proud that I had performed my parental duties by handing down some irrelevant knowledge I could convince him would be useful in future years. The day was turning out to be a success.

‘Can we see the lions? I’ve seen enough of the baboon. I’m glad my bum isn’t red.’

‘Maybe he’s not glad his bum is red and that’s why he’s sticking it in our faces. So we can feel his pain. He may be a protester baboon’.

‘I didn’t know there was such thing as protester baboons’

‘Well you do now son’

I revved the engine a bit to indicate that it was time to move but it merely rocked the baboon to a comforting sleep. I wondered what it was dreaming about and if it had nightmares did they involve its principle enemy, the leopard, or did such fears come symbolically disguised like our own?

‘Please move?’ I politely requested, taking greater care with tone of voice than with content of words.

‘He’s a stubborn bastard’

‘You swore’

‘I’m sorry’

‘It's alright. Mum swears as well’. I was glad our bad habits were equilateral.

‘How do you know it’s a he?’

‘Because females grow to roughly 25lbs which is half the weight of the male. Besides he has a silver grey mane running from his shoulders which means he is a mature male. Hey, that means he could be around 30, which means we might get out of here before you’re 15’.

My son scratched his nose, warning me of imminent confusion. Perhaps he had forgotten that baboons’ average age of death was 37 and hence the long wait to get him off the car, but it was something more specific that was working in his head.

‘Dad, don’t you ever get fat female baboons?’

I didn’t really want to get into this one and so I lit up a cigarette. He knew that always meant I was relaxing and didn’t want to be disturbed. Instead he coughed again, which was his way of conveying he enjoyed breathing, and so once more I extinguished the cigarette. You literally give up everything for your kids. I decided to hedge my frustration back at the baboon.

‘Come on there’s other cars to’ I reasoned, but he wasn’t listening. He obviously had a penchant for the Nissan Primera.
I started to laugh.

‘Why are you laughing dad?’

‘Because there’s a baboon on my car and he won’t get off’.

‘Maybe he doesn't want to get off like you said’.


I decided to put on a little music and selected hard house over chill-out. I pumped up the volume and my son started to laugh and the baboon made a funny noise and then another baboon came and sat on my bonnet. I started to become a little worried now as I knew

Baboon’s generally travelled in groups of 60 and these groups usually made up a troop of around 200. Fortunately rational kicked in and I realised that there were probably about ten Papio hamadryas in the safari. They could probably just about all fit on.

I took the Lashes tape out of the slot, as I didn’t want to encourage further conviviality especially as the tempo had quickened and was about to peak with the track ‘Luckin’ Good’. I replaced it with the chill-out one instead, something less evocative. Instantly the other baboon got off, smearing its arse across the windscreen before scurrying off on all fours.
‘I guess we can confirm that as a general rule, baboons prefer Lisa Lashes’.

My son did not look any more enlightened by the fact and seemed more preoccupied with whether the lions would like Lisa Lashes and so I gently started to move forward.

Now I never meant to kill the baboon I swear. But he just wouldn’t get down and we had gone past the stage of rational negotiation. I simply revved my engine and shook him about, but nothing happened. Its only function was to bob its arse up and down in front of my eyes like a hypnotic yo-yo. I thought of Camus in ‘The Outsider’ and how the sun had got to him, leading to murder. You can get used to anything in life. This baboon had clearly had enough of baboon life. It was sick of all the grooming that socially united the group. Picking nits and fleas out of each other’s hair was not relaxing and uniting as anthropologists had claimed, but boring! The lack of want was another casuistic misconception. It was sick of the pressure that came with being the dominant gender. It wasn’t such a Utopia having exclusive breeding rights to females and being able to monitor and control their every move. He just wanted to lie in the sun, on my bonnet, and this car was his ticket out of here.

Perhaps I should have given him the keys and traded places? I don’t think anybody would have noticed and as long as my son was returned home on time it wouldn’t bother his mother. Besides our cultures are synonymous; large dominant males rule the troops and are responsible for diffusing fractious members and protecting the colony from predators. By our system, size is replaced with suits.

I wasn’t going that fast, probably averaging 25 mph, just enough to send a small breeze blowing into the baboon’s face. I must admit he did look pretty cool and the females seemed impressed. It put equivalent mating rituals to shame. Suddenly my son shouted out ‘Dad it’s the lions, put on your Lisa Lashes tape’. The baboon must’ve heard because it jumped off the bonnet and got its tail caught in the grill. By the time I had braked it had already been decapitated.

My son started to cry and I started to smoke and this time he didn’t cough. I tried to explain to him that it was fate; that some species of baboon had evolved a stump rather than a tail and it was just the way things are. This did not placate him and I wondered which story his mother would prefer if she had a choice? That I didn’t return him until he was 45 because I had to wait for a baboon to die or that he had witnessed his father decapitate a Papio hamadryas? As with this particularly unlucky species of baboon, neither could I win. So I drove off from the scene of the crime and hoped the Lions would take their role in the evolutionary ladder and dispose of the evidence.

On my return to civilised society I was greeted by my own evolutionary king predator; the Police. They shook their heads from side to side and felt the need to lecture before my arrest, extracting morality at any given opportunity as if it was some preordained right. They told me that they personally detested cowards like me who fled from the scene of the crime instead of facing up to my responsibilities. They told me there were witnesses and I didn’t know if they were referring to the elephants or the giraffes or the car behind. It really had been one of those days and I just wish I had changed places. I could be surrounded by sixty friends all grooming my hair and offering up sex now.

In court the moral sermon left the Judge flustered. He squeezed every last drop of air out of his body as if keeping it would contaminate him in some way. It left his face red and for one small moment all I could see was the baboons arse. Then he showed a photograph of the decapitated animal to the jury. They sighed, and for a brisk moment it sounded comforting, like a wave crashing against sand. For such cruelty I was banned for life from zoos, and pet shops, and sentenced to a month’s hard labour. He did not believe in the concept of accident; a sentiment applauded by the jury. As they led me away I realised I had served twenty-eight years on this planet and never paid my council tax late, never had a fight, or tried to spin my gas meter the opposite way around. I kill one baboon that’s off his tree and I am a criminal.



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