Colungo Revisited

I’ve been spending a few days in Colungo, home of the Somontano Monkey. Since we got back from Mars, He’s been very excitable and quirky and I thought a day or two on His home ground would calm Him down a bit.


There are some people in Colungo who don’t take kindly to my being the reincarnation of the Monkey, so I took the precaution of checking into the Mesón de Colungo under a false name. I confess I quite enjoyed being called Wenceslao Mongrel and using the forged Chilean passport I bought in Miami a few years ago.


The Mesón de Colungo, by the way, is basic but perfectly satisfactory. I had the misfortune to coincide with a weird moon-worshiping sect who used to chant very night and bang gongs every so often but, on the whole, they were reasonably well-behaved. The food was all right – typical Aragonese no nonsense chunks of meat, mostly, and the wine was, needless to say, abundant and delicious. One day the wines of Somontano will be recognised as the most excellent wines in Europe; today they are definitely the “new Rioja”; I think the Ribera de Duero wines have had their day, and as for Toro and Priorat, well, they’ve made great strides but can never match the subtlety of anything from Somontano.


Anyway. I’m not here to sing the praises of Somontano wine, but rather, its Monkey. No sooner had I set foot in Colungo, I felt the Monkey sing within me. A contented hum, a melodious rumbling, if you like, call it what you will. I wandered round the old streets, deliberately pausing on every corner, just feeling the Somontano Monkey sort of purr inside me. I knew He felt at home and at ease. There are two old buildings of note, the Casa Broto and the Casa Avellana, and I expected the Monkey to burst into frenzy or something when we popped by, but it wasn’t until we visited the famous “Olivera de Nadal” that anything startling happened.


I must point out that the Olivera de Nadal is an ancient olive tree which has nothing at all to do with tennis star Rafa Nadal. It’s famous in the area for being hundreds of years old (nobody knows how old – I was told it was there before Columbus discovered America, but how would you know that?) and because of its size. It must be the most enormous olive tree I’ve ever seen – not enormously tall, but with an amazingly wide trunk and a veritable jungle of branches – and I couldn’t help thinking, “My God, this is the Somontano Monkey’s tree. We are here. This is it.”


The merry burbling of the Monkey became a wild rambling, punctuated with frenzied screams and guttural howls. A whirlwind of words poured out, in at least a dozen languages: Basque, Spanish and English, definitely, and I think I caught some Quechua, Danish, Arabic and Manx, maybe Farsi, plus a handful I couldn’t recognize, possibly Wolof was one of them. To make sense of what the Monkey was saying, I had to block out the languages I didn’t understand – it was impossible to make sense of what He was evidently desperate to express. I tried to calm Him down; I backed away from the tree but screams and groans replaced what were obviously words. I would have needed a whole team of United Nations translators to unravel his gibbering. I scribbled down in my notebook the bits that I understood and now, when I look at my notes, they make no sense whatsoever.


That night I sat at the bar in the Mesón de Colungo, attempting to fathom out what the Monkey had said. My head was spinning with His words. I must have been audibly muttering because people turned their heads to glance at me from time to time, but I was too busy with my notebook and the Monkey’s utterances to bother about things like that.


And of course that’s when it happened. Suddenly I felt a crippling blow in my stomach and everything went black as a sack was roughly pulled over my head. The baseball bat that had crushed my abdomen was now pummelling my back and arms, as I fell off my stool and was dragged out of the bar.


There were shouts and screams and most of them were mine. But no words were spoken until we were outside and a voice threatened me with these words: “Heen Martínez, get out of here and leave the Somontano Monkey alone.”


The voice was low, grim and menacing not fierce and loud. I was too winded to reply. The voice went on: “Colungo never forgets.”


I heard footsteps moving away and realised I had been abandoned, somewhere behind the Mesón. I struggled with the sack, wincing and groaning, and looked around but there was nobody in sight. I dragged myself back into the Mesón and I noticed how everyone looked away. For some reason, that didn’t surprise me.


I went to my room, half expecting to see the severed head of a racehorse on my pillow or something. No sooner had I locked the door behind me, the phone rang. “We don’t want you back in Colungo, understood?” said the same voice as before and immediately hung up.


I slept badly that night, bruised and anxious. The next morning I paid my bill, hardly speaking to the mesonero, and left the village as quickly as I could.


I’m sorry for the Monkey, but I know I’ll never be back.


I’ve said before that being the reincarnation of the Somontano Monkey is a burden. And it’s not going to go away, is it.


In a few days I’ll post some of the Monkey’s words, the ones He spoke in Colungo. And then I’m thinking of drawing a line under it all. I get the feeling sometimes that maybe the Somontano Monkey isn’t addressing the world, after all. Maybe He’s just addressing me.


I don’t feel too well.



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