Jessica and Lando the Monkey
One day in the forest, Jessica made an unlikely new best friend... a monkey named Lando.
What if I told you that when I was ten my best friend was a monkey named Lando? Would you believe me? Probably not. But it's true! No one believes me when I tell them that. Then I get to pull out my phone and show them the picture of me and Lando sitting together on the old fence on the farm, my arm around him and his arm around me -- two old pals.
I know it sounds wild, and that's because it was wild. We were genuine best friends. We spent every day together, playing games, exploring the forest, sometimes just sitting together in silence and enjoying each other's company. I would read Alice in Wonderland to him, we'd play hide and seek around the house, and we would have thumb wars. Everything best friends do.
Now, I know it's all pretty hard to believe. I understand that. And that's why I'm going to give you the full story...
I grew up in Brazil on my grandmother's fruit farm. It was just me and her there and a bunch of workers who came and went throughout the day. I absolutely loved it there. The farm was enormous and we grew all sorts of different fruits. I would walk around during the day and just eat and eat until I felt like my belly was going to pop like a balloon.
The farm was also right next to a rainforest that I named Second Home, and it really was exactly that.
"Granny, I'm going to Second Home," I would say. "I'll be back around dinner time."
"Have fun," she'd say.
I know that letting your ten-year-old granddaughter go off into a forest on her own probably sounds ridiculous, but granny always believed that having adventures was the most important part about being a kid, that adventures were how kids learnt about the world. Plus, I would never go too far into the forest. There was a stream just a little bit into Second Home and that was as far as I was allowed to go.
Anyway, every day I would pick a bunch of fruit and then head into Second Home. My favourite spot was by the stream. I would sit by the water and eat my fruit and read my books. It was paradise.
It was by the stream that I first met Lando. I was waddling through the forest with an extra big pile of fruit which I had wrapped in a blanket and had slung over my shoulder like I was Santa Claus. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had some mangoes with me that I knew were going to be incredible. Once I got to the stream, though, I found that my spot had been taken.
There he was, Lando. He was only a young monkey at that point. He was running along the rock slab where I usually sat and he was jumping off into the water. He would then bob back up, instantly laughing hysterically, and swim back to shore to do it all over again. There was something about him -- a joyfulness and kindness. And he was adorable, of course. He was about the size of an infant and only had a tiny bit of hair on his head, but his smile was the size of a banana.
I was a silly kid and didn't realise monkeys could be dangerous. I just wanted to make a new friend. So I stepped out onto the shore. Lando was just about to dive into the stream when he saw me.
His smile briefly disappeared and he tilted his head to the side in confusion.
"Hello," I said. "My name's Jessica."
Suddenly, he dove into the water and swam as fast as he could to the other side. And then he was gone.
I ate my mango and had a swim, hoping he would come back. But he didn't, not that day anyway.
I went back the next day around the same time with some more mangoes. With no monkey to be found, I just sat down and read my book.
I was reading for about ten minutes until I decided to have one of my mangoes. I used my pocket knife to slice it up and that was when I heard a noise from the forest across the stream. I looked up and there was Lando standing on the shore staring at me. Or, I should say, staring at the mango.
I held it out towards him but he didn't move. So I decided to throw it over to him instead.
Sure enough, he caught it and started eating it straight away, a big smile on his face.
Once he finished, he looked up at me again. I waved him over.
"Come here," I said. "I won't hurt you."
It took him a moment to think it over, but then he started walking towards the water. He swam across and took a seat five or so feet away from me.
I held out another piece of mango and he very cautiously made his way towards me and took it from my hand. He ate it rapidly and then he took a seat beside me. We looked at each other, both smiling, and we knew in that moment that we could trust each other.
From then on we would meet every day by the stream and hang out. I would bring fruit and we would eat it and then run around the forest together. He taught me how to climb trees and I taught him how to skim rocks on the water.
One afternoon I brought Lando back to the house to introduce him to granny, which I probably could have handled more delicately...
I simply walked into the kitchen and said, "Hi, granny, this is my best friend, Lando."
She instantly squealed and grabbed a broom to hit him with.
I had to step in front of Lando and beg granny to calm down. Lando hid behind me, scared.
"What is a monkey doing in the house?" asked granny furiously.
"It's ok, granny," I said. "Lando wouldn't hurt a fly."
It took a moment for her to calm down a bit. She looked at Lando and saw his big gentle eyes. He slowly held out a mango that I had given him earlier.
"He wants you to have it," I said. "It's a gift."
Granny stepped forward cautiously and took the mango from his hand. Lando gave her a big smile and it didn't take long from there for them to become great friends too.
Lando was the third member of the family. He ate with us, watched TV with us, did everything with us. And it went on that way for months and months.
Gradually, though, Lando began to grow up. He got stronger and bigger. We couldn't have thumb wars anymore because he was too strong and we couldn't climb together because he was too fast and would climb too high. I remember granny sitting me down one day and telling me that Lando would have to leave soon so that he could go out and learn how to survive in the forest. I argued and argued with her. I was furious. I cried until my cheeks were sore.
The next day I went with Lando into the forest and watched him climb. He climbed massive trees in seconds, leaping from branch to branch. He had become so strong. He wasn't a kid like me anymore.
The next morning Lando, granny, and I went to the stream with a whole wheelbarrow full of fruit. We ate until we were bursting and then I read everyone the last few chapters of Alice in Wonderland.
I could tell that Lando knew that that day was different, that it was the end of something.
As the sun was setting, the three of us held hands and waded across the stream all together. We got to the other side and stood together on the shore in the purple light of sunset, still holding hands.
Lando then let go of each of us.
He gave granny a hug and then he looked at me with a big smile. He gave me a long hug, both of us squeezing tight.
Lando then turned away and walked off into the forest.
I cried for a long time that night, until granny had to come into my room to settle me. She sat on the edge of my bed and squeezed my hand.
"Lando has his own adventures to go on now," she told me.
And from then on, it was only happy tears.
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