Once upon a time, there was a little monkey called Zoey. She was born at the zoo where her mother, father and brothers lived. They were a normal family, doing stuff together inside their cage, eating their bananas and getting their tongue out at the visitors. The father knew a few tricks. He learned from an old chimp that if he can the visitors smile he will get special treats like biscuits and candies.
At first, it was fun. He enjoyed it and he got to ate a lot of sweets. But with time he grew tired of it and become bored and dull. It seemed meaningless anyway. He still did it mechanically, from time to time. The visitors were somehow pleased but the treats became less and less frequent.
One day he decided that it’s time to give Zoey an education. He was sure that she’s going to follow the family tradition and became a caged monkey. After the family dinner he asked her:
– Zoey, you’re 3rd years old now. It’s time to start thinking about your future. What do you want to be when you grow up?
– I want to be free. I want to travel around the world, to experience amazing adventures, to meet new monkeys, to write and draw my stories and inspire other monkeys.
– That’s insane, said the father, outraged. There is not one monkey in the zoo that tried this before!
– No, there was one, said the mother. Do you remember Zack? Zack was an old and grumpy gorilla* that lived 2 cages down the block. He once tried to leave the zoo and make his way as a stand-up comedian. But he got turned down by the major circuses. And he didn’t want to perform in the public squares. He believed he had an amazing talent and he deserves respect so this was below his dignity. For a month he lived on the streets, feeding himself with garbage. He learned a terrible lesson: out there, nobody gives you 3 meals, like you get at the Zoo. The world is cruel and scary. So he decided to turn back. The management was kind enough to have him back, told the mother. But they are not so kind with you. You have just one shot. Don’t waste your life with childish dreams. Think about it: zoo life is everything you need. You get food, water and you can sleep how long you want.
– Yes, but I don’t get any fun and excitement. Here, all days are the same. You’re all bored. Admit it. And poor Zack is depressed and angry. He showed me some pictures from his youth. He looked so happy and excited. I don’t want to end up like him!
– You mean you don’t want to end up like us? The whole family was sad and somehow distant. They felt betrayed. Zoey had some nerve! Ok, have it your way. But we’re not going to support your madness. You’re on your own!
– I know what I want in my soul, said Zoe with sadness in her eyes. And I’m going to work for it.
She made a vow that day. It was time to get started. So she started to push ups and pull ups around the cage early in the morning. In the evening, she would take grammar lesson from Carla, the funny antelope that lived across the alley. The first week was great. She could see herself traveling across the world, passing high mountains, saying stories around the fire camps and connect with the great, free African monkeys. But then something happens. She started to miss the candies. Out of principle, she stopped performing for the visitors. Her brother was getting better and better. Sometimes, large groups of Japanese tourist would watch him mesmerized for minutes and minutes. He started to get applause. And more and more candies. Sometimes the family would get a box of chocolate with a big ribbon from the Zoo manager, Rick. He was happy that the monkeys were attracting more and more visitors. Even the local TV station decided to make a special show about them. They were making more money than ever.
Zoe started to get jealous. She refused to beg for candies. Yet the desire was there. It will be a long time before I could afford a lot of candies from my writing and drawing.
Years and years. What if I’m not good enough? What if the other monkeys would laugh about my thoughts? What if I’m the only one interested in those things? What if they’re right?
One day a stork came by. She brought bad news. There were a lot of other animals getting into writing. The competition was fierce. Some of them had years and years of study with great masters, at famous academies. Zoe started to doubt her dreams. One day she asked for a private meeting with the manager of the Zoo.
– You can do whatever you want, he said. Sure, there will be a loss, but hey, the world would move one. You’re not the only one to do a stupid thing. Remember Zack. But times have changed. I have the upper management busting my ass. I can’t have you back if you will fail. With Zack, there were different times.
– What do you think I should do, asked Zoey?
– It’s your call. You have to think a lot about this. You’re on your own.
She took his advice and start thinking about it. Some days there would be hours and hours of thinking. She started to make plans, to calculate things, to study the competition. The situation looked hopeless. Sure, some of the other animals were having a lot of success. But they were different, more interesting, at the top of their games. She was just a scared monkey with no special ability. Who would follow her?
Little by little she started to look like Zack. Some days she would only eat half of banana. Her eyes were in the back of her head. She barely slept. The family started to get concerned. Enough is enough. It’s clear that this stupid dream was killing Zoey on the inside. So they arranged for an intervention. They even invited Zack.
– It’s not too late they said. You still have a couple of months to get back to entertaining the visitors. But you’re not getting any younger. Look at your brother! We’re so proud of him.
– Yeah, he is doing an amazing job, nodded the manager. And he’s famous too. With that special show, the whole town knows him. Isn’t that something that you wanted, to be recognized? Here’s a safe way to do it.
– What about your dreams Zack, asked Zoey. You were so happy to do stand up when you were young.
– Yeah, I was. But the crowds were stupid. They didn’t get my jokes. Gigs were hard to find. There was a lot of work and stress. Fuck that! Too much hustle. I may not be happy but my belly is full. I can sleep all day and watch TV. I’m even doing some scrapbooking on a side. All is well.
Maybe they were right. Maybe it was just a stupid dream. Maybe performing was her greatest talent. She started to do it again, for a couple of minutes per day. That extra chocolate helped her to get back the lost weight. She felt a lot of energy from the visitors. She started to feel appreciated. She was doing something with her life. Everything went well.
So the years went by. Her parents passed away. She got fat. Her brother was transferred to a big circus. She would still do her daily tricks. I owe my good life to Zack, she thought.
He made me listen to reason when I was just a stupid little monkey.
But then something strange happened. The manager announced everybody that he was quitting. There were rumors that he found his wife in bed with a Swedish bodybuilder and he was getting a divorce. But those stupid tales were told by Daisy, the crazy gossiping hyena. Zoe knew she can’t be trusted with everything she says.
So she asked the manager directly:
– Why are you quitting?
– I am rich. I have three beautiful kids. I made the right thing in my life. But I am unhappy. I always wanted to be a rodeo rider. And now it’s time to do it.
– But you are 60 something. Aren’t you too old to ride wild horses? It sounds kind of silly to me.
– I remember there was a time when you had dreams too. You stirred up the whole Zoo with your crazy plans of traveling the world. I always knew that you’re going to be successful if you leave. But it would have been a big loss to the business. So I encouraged you to stay. I’m sorry about that.
– I’m sad to hear that. But now it’s too late for me. You have a lot of cash. But I’m trapped inside this cage.
– How are you trapped?
– Can’t you see that big lock in the front of the cage?
– But that’s just for the impression, don’t you remember? We removed the locks 20 years ago after those hippie activists rallied everyone against us on Facebook. No, no.
– Oh, right. But how about those six bananas I get every day?
– Hmm, the bananas. I learned that from a management consultant. A Russian fucker. Ex-KGB. Top notch. He told us something so simple that it seemed stupid. If you gave the monkey bananas every day at a fixed hour they would place themselves in the cage, just to wait for the next meal.
– That seems stupid. I know the stories. The first monkey was brought here by force. There was this secret organization, the black skulls that hunted my ancestors in the jungle and locked them down in this stupid cages.
– Ah, the black skulls. Old Zack read a comic book about the “black skulls” and aliens, back in the 90s. His brain invented that story one night and he believed that much in it that he convinced all the other monkeys that it was real. I leave him to spread the story.
– That KGB consultant taught me one more lesson. If the animals believe in a cruel force that has the responsibility for their miserable lives they will become hopeless. And a hopeless animal never tries anything new. What’s the point? Yeah, the black skulls. Good one. It’s more like the yellow bananas. They are guiding your life.
– What if I leave and I don’t get any bananas? I remember when I was young, I could go on for a full day with a half of banana. But now my body is different. I have needs. I can’t live on promises.
– Yeah, I guess bananas are more important than listening to your heart. Don’t worry, one monkey life doesn’t matter that much. Who cares if you end up a schizophrenic old monkey in a cage or a passionate monkey who follows her dreams?
– I do!
– Then do something about it. Anyway, the Zoo won’t suffer a loss. You were a good juggler on your days but that’s about it. Now we have those Chinese monkeys that are doing double backflips. They’re all the rage.
– I heard they got a contract with a Russian zoo. They are going to entertain Putin.
– Nope, we renegotiated their contract. I offered them two extra bananas and they agreed to stay. I’m sorry Zoey, but I have to go. My plane leaves in 2 hours.
– Where are you going?
– Brazil. They have some special rodeo camps, deep in the jungle.
– Bye Mr. Manager!
– Bye Zoey!
– Oh, can I ask you one more thing?
– It’s true that your wife cheated you with a Swedish bodybuilder?
– No! He was from Norway.
Zoey got back to her cage. Only she could sleep in it that night. It was too small and dark. She wondered how she could spend her entire life so far between those stupid walls. At 2 AM she kicked the door and started to walk towards the exit.
– Hey, Zoey, where are you leaving asked Daisy (the hyena).
– Out in the world!
– How about the bananas?
– Fuck them, I’m switching to grass.
She didn’t have any clothes, food or money on her. But she didn’t care. She knew that somehow everything will come around to support this journey. The air was strong and fresh. She took a deep breath. Tears start to roll on her face. She felt free. She felt alive. She felt young, she felt powerful.
So it’s not about the age, the fame or the money she thought? Is it just about doing your thing in this moment? It’s about following your heart step by step no matter how crazy it seems? Is it just about living?
Yeah, she thought. Maybe, after all, life is just about living.