A human palm

How to begin interpreting the geography of self?

Time.  It must be time first, and as I think this I am drawn into memory, to the wet black earth underneath the fig trees of an Equatorial forest in western Uganda.  I sit at the crest of a hill, in the quiet that follows afternoon rain.  Around me the patter of raindrops slows down, and water trickles down bark grooves and converges in the space between tree limbs.  On a nearby limb a kingfisher is perched, feathered in blue, and somewhere high above a hive of bees has come to life, their buzzing mixing with the musky-sweet smell of decay.

A little ways away along the contour of the hill an old chimpanzee sits as I do.  His elbow is perched on his knee.  His hair is matted wet, grey interspersed with black, and as we gaze out over the canopy and green, I forget he is there, my mind turning inward on itself, even while my eyes trace the forest.  Below us, at the foot of the hill, a stream meanders through footprints in the pebbled sand, and a dragonfly hovers over reed stems that bend in the current, rippling amber water.  In the distance, a group of colobus monkeys move through the canopy, the crashing of the branches shaking me from my mind as they leap and land, their white capes of hair flying behind them, and remembering my hillside companion I turn my head a little, gazing with sideways eyes.  He still stares at the forest, and as the evening sun finds its way through the clouds, I see a ray touch his hand.  His palm is aged, calloused, shaped by a lifetime of forest life.

Across the stream the rest of chimpanzee group has faded into the forest.  Being old, my companion seems to linger at the edge of the group and as the evening darkens he rises, stretches, and moves down across the hillside.  Though our genes share far more than they differ, it is the uncommon that mark us, and before slipping into the forest he pauses, holds onto a hanging branch, and looks back.

He sees me, he sees through me.  And then he is gone.

Rising, I walk to the edge of the clearing.  I place my palm on the branch where he placed his.

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