The Monkey Buyers

By Zimkhite Mbulawa
Zimkhite Mbulawa's stories

The wake was almost over when two men in black suits drove up to the village of Muitire in a Mercedes-Benz.

“Gather everyone,” they told the village head.

The cooks, gravediggers, breastfeeding mothers, singers, village heads, and schoolchildren all rushed to sit under the mango tree by the entrance to the homestead. The two men in black suits were oddly unemotional about the funeral: their foreheads gleamed with lotion, their eyes were glassy, and their jaws were clenched. They seemed unmoved by the ceremony and the wailing.

“May we hear why you have called us?” asked Sokisi, the village head, prodding the men in black suits to address the mourners.

“We need monkeys,” said the shorter of the two men. “We pay $20 per monkey. On the spot. Today.”

This caused quite a commotion: the wailing turned into lively chatter about whether the offer was real or some sort of elaborate prank.

“You realize we weren’t born yesterday. We won’t let you make monkeys out of us!” Sokisi warned the men in black.

“Try us,” said the taller of the two men, flashing a wad of $20 notes. “The first monkey gets a bonus of $50.” Before he could even finish his sentence, dozens of villagers were already up on their feet and swarming out of the funeral home, dashing into fields, forests, and riverbeds to hunt for monkeys.

“It’s good if we capture and sell them—the monkeys are a menace to the corn crop anyway,” a local farmer was heard mumbling as he headed into the forest to capture his share of monkeys to sell.

For the next hour, the homestead was a hive of activity as forest monkeys—some in cages, some dangling from people’s arms—were handed over to the two men in black suits, who paid $20 on the spot. Monkeys exchanged hands at a brisk pace. Every one of them was paid for and loaded into a blue Nissan Navara sedan. In total, one hundred monkeys were sold.

“We are done,” said the men in black suits, revving up the car engine. “When we return in three weeks’ time, we promise to buy each monkey for $100.” They sped off into the sunset, trailing a cloud of dust.

“$2,000 for one hundred monkeys—this is some bloody good monkey business!” shouted Sokisi, who had sold five monkeys himself, as he commended his subjects for taking advantage of a rare business opportunity. The return of the men in black suits was the talk of the village and it was greatly anticipated.

Two weeks passed and a huge Scania lorry pulled up to the village one Sunday. There were three men in the lorry, but they were not the original men in black suits. This was a new group of strangers and they had a lucrative offer.

“We are selling live monkeys,” they announced to the villagers who’d rushed to Sokisi’s compound mistakenly thinking that the two men in black suits had returned. “$50 per monkey.” The lorry was packed with ninety live monkeys, jostling for maize cobs in their cages.

The villagers went into a trance on hearing this. Fifty dollars for a monkey. “This is a fantastic offer,” shouted Jengu, the village baker. “If we buy a monkey for $50 from these strangers and sell it for $100 to our two men in black suits—that’s a fantastic $50 profit.”

The lorry with ninety monkeys selling for $50 each was quickly emptied as the villagers eagerly paid for and took possession of the ninety monkeys, hoping to sell them in a week’s time for $100 each. “Monkey business has never been this highly paid!” a drunken Sokisi excitedly said.

Plans to purchase small cars, to send kids to private schools, to open a small village clinic were widely discussed, wagered on the expectation that the two men in black suits would return in a week’s time. The villagers’ kitchens, laundry rooms, and pantries were packed with monkeys while they waited for the monkey buyers to pitch up.

A week passed, and the two men in black suits didn’t show up. Another week passed. A third week passed, then two months. For a year, the monkeys were kept in captivity, fed daily on the hope of the two high-paying buyers in black suits arriving someday. They never showed up.

“Idiots!” screamed Sokisi the village chief one Sunday night, standing on the hill in the middle of the village. “Bloody scammers! Bought from us one hundred monkeys at $20 each. Send their friends with ninety monkeys for $50 each. Idiots!”

A week later, ninety monkeys were released into the forest, jumping and jostling for the fresh maize crop in the riverbed.

2 March, 2023