Two monkeys (a parable)

(This is a slightly revised repost of a Monkeytraps article originally published last year.

Some readers didn’t quite get it last time around.  But it’s a necessary story, we think, and we like telling it.  So we’re telling it again.

It is dedicated to all our friends out there currently suffering the pain of shame, self-rejection or self-doubt.)

Two monkeys meet in the mountains at sundown.

Each is alone, having been separated from his tribe. Both are tired from trudging for days through the rocks. 

Both are lonely.

But monkeys are wary beasts. So for a long time they stand motionless, eyeing each other suspiciously.

Finally the tireder of the pair gets tired of this too.

“Oh, screw it,” he says. 

He sits down in the dirt.

The other watches him for a moment, then sits down as well.

They look around at the dirt, the rocks, the huge sky, the sinking sun. Finally their eyes meet.

“What’s your name?” asks the first monkey.

The second monkey scowls.

“What’s yours?” he replies.

They fall silent.

The sun’s lower edge touches the horizon. The air chills.

The first monkey reaches into his knapsack and pulls out a cigarette lighter. He scratches together a tiny pile of twigs and pushes the lighter into the center of it. The twigs catch. A small flame appears.

“Got anything to burn?” he asks.

The second money is leaning towards the flame, but the question stops him.

“Do you?” he answers. He places a protective paw on his knapsack.

The first monkey sighs.

The sun sinks below the horizon.

Now it is dark. Dark in the mountains is especially dark.

“Oh, screw it again,” says the first monkey. He reaches into his knapsack and brings out a small lump wrapped in dirty cloth.

“This is a secret,” he tells the other. “I never show it to anyone. It’s pretty embarrassing. But I guess it’s better than freezing to death.”

He unwraps a stinky old fish head.

A rotten smell fills the clearing. First Monkey swallows hard, then lays the fish head carefully atop the pile of twigs like an offering.

It catches fire. Flames leap up.

The smell disappears.

Now Second Monkey looks embarrassed.

“That’s not so bad,” he says finally. “I can beat that.”

He reaches into his knapsack and comes out with a medium-sized lump, also wrapped in dirty cloth.

“Really?” First Monkey smiles.

Second Monkey nods, unwraps his fish head, swallows hard and lays it on the fire.

Again a bad smell fills the clearing. The second head catches fire. Again the smell goes away.

The monkeys inch closer to the flames. They reach out and warm their paws. Overhead the moon starts its climb across the sky.

“You’ve got more of those, I hope,” Second Monkey says.

First Monkey smiles.

“I do if you do,” he replies.

Both giggle.

And so the night passes, hour after hour, fish head after fish head, each one larger and more fragrant than the last, until both knapsacks are empty and the fire burns on without feeding and the sun peeks up over the mountains in the east.

“I’m Sid,” mutters Second Monkey suddenly.

“I’m Barry,” replies First Monkey. “Pleased to meet you.”


Nobody on this bus but us monkeys.


Want more?

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. ~ Dr. Seuss

Read more at Bert recommends: On being yourself.

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