Saturday, 28 January 2017

Kolkolo's Experiment

[Media prompt] Scientists create the first ever autistic monkeys.

Kolkolo's Experiment

Kolkolo sat on a branch, reclining against the main trunk from which it forked, watching Molagh and Krarth crack nuts at a wooden anvil on the forest floor. The morning sun filtered through the canopy overhead, warming the white fur on her belly and inner thighs. In nearby trees, members of her family and troop gathered in pairs or small groups, chatting, eating, delousing; the things they liked to do together. Three other young males were also on the ground, working hard at another anvil close by the pair directly below. From her perch, Kolko could see everybody, even old Kathart in the uppermost branches watching for enemies.

Kolkolo was the only individual detached from the troop. She was often alone, which puzzled or infuriated the others. Even her mother, who loved her without reservation, fretted over Kolkolo’s preference for solitude. It wasn’t natural, she admitted to the other mothers when they gathered to gossip.

From behind her shoulder Kolkolo heard branches shaking, and the shrieks of a wild chase. It could only be Ferander and his gang, she thought, turning her head a second too late to avoid the threat.

“Retard,” said Ferander as he swept past, hissing and spitting at her. His thuggish followers threw damp mud at her, which splattered on her legs and the side of her face, already scarred from an attack by an older male when she was still clinging to her mother’s back. Kolkolo wiped the dirt from her fur, then leaned back on the trunk again. She had more important things on her mind than Ferander.

For several months now she had watched nut cracking work, and an idea had started to form in her head. In this part of the forest, there were two wooden anvils, each with depressions on the surface in which nuts could rest with a modicum of stability. From time immemorial, her troop had placed the nuts into these depressions, where they rested while being cracked open with a heavy rock. But as Kolkolo had noticed, this system was inefficient for several reasons. For one thing, it sometimes took over a hundred strikes to open a nut, and based on her observations, it took an average of fifteen. This was because when the stone hit the nut, it often flew off the anvil, meaning the striker must retrieve it. On one occasion, it had taken Ferander, she counted with satisfaction, 106 strikes to gain access to the nut inside. For another, there was no consistent way of placing the nut in the depression on the anvil. Yet she had noticed that the placement of nuts correlated strongly with the number of strikes required to crack them open. If what she referred to now as the ‘optimum meridian’ faced the correct way, then the average number of strikes decreased from fifteen to six. She was surprised that nobody had ever noticed this.

One day, as the troop rested high in the trees out of the midday sun, she crept down to one of the anvils and, using a sharp stone procured weeks earlier, started to chip away at the wood. It took longer than she thought, but slowly, using a nut to guide her gouging, the depression assumed the correct shape and size into which a nut could fit snugly. Putting one in correct position, 'optimum meridian' forward, she picked up the cracking rock, struggling with its weight, and rose it above her head.

When Ferander appeared in front of her, Kolkolo dropped the stone in fright. It thudded onto the ground. She had hoped to conduct her test without onlookers.

“What do you think you’re doing, retard?”

Sensing some sport, Ferander’s gang climbed down out of the trees, followed by others. Soon half the troop surrounded Kolkolo and the anvil. Kolkolo trembled. She was confident her idea was right, but she had never cracked a nut, and now she was frightened.

“I asked what you think you’re doing, retard,” said Ferander again. “Trying to crack a nut?”

Everyone laughed. Kolkolo could hardly raise the stone above her head, let alone lift it enough times to crack a nut.

“Go ahead,” said Ferander, squatting on his haunches. “Let's see you try.”

Kolkolo breathed deeply, like her mother told her to do when she felt scared. Summoning all her courage, she heaved the stone above her head. She knew that everyone else threw the rock with force at the nut, but if she had calculated correctly, then gravity should do the work for her. She let go of it. There was a sharp crack, and the rock toppled on to the ground.

Ferander laughed, not bothering to look at the anvil. “Pathetic,” he said, turning to look at the troop behind him for supporet. But nobody paid attention. The shell was cracked in half, revealing the nut inside. There was silence, then a chatter of voices as everyone surrounded the anvil to see what Kolkolo had done. But she had already gone back up to her favourite branch. They could work it out for themselves. 

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