By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 1/26/2020
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Chapter 9 of 'Words Apart': A Novel of Language and what makes us human.

"My very earliest memory?" Frieda pondered. "I remember being in my crib, and Mommy bringing me my bottle. And I remember one time when I climbed to the top of the bedroom door, and Mommy had to beg and threaten me to come down. And I remember when Bobby was born. He was so red and wrinkled, I had no idea what he was! Mommy made me promise to treat him very gently. He was a baby, you see. A human baby, not a Bonobo baby like me. It was a long time before I realized that Mommy and Daddy were also humans, and Bobby was their real baby, not their adopted baby. Later there was Sara, their baby girl. I was always very gentle, and they let me hold the babies sometimes.

"And we played together in the back yard, but I was never allowed to leave the yard or the house. When Bobby got big enough, he was allowed to go to school every day, but I was not. Mommy taught me things, but she would not let me leave the house.

"We had a TV, and we used to watch it every night. None of the people on the TV talked like we did, they talked out of their mouths instead of with their hands, and writing appeared on the bottom of the screen showing what they said. One day when Bobby and I were watching Josie and The Pussycats, I asked what the writing was, and Bobby said it was words, just like the words we sign, but in a different way. He said they taught him in school how to read those words, and he would tell them to me so I could follow the story. But when I asked Mommy later to teach me to read, too, Bobby got very angry. I don't know why.

"We ate pizza for dinner, that was my favorite. And spaghetti. Sometimes we had fish, but I didn't like that. But my very favorite was celery." And Frieda shook her head towards a stalk of celery tossed carelessly on the floor of her cage. "I had no idea someday it would be almost the only thing they fed me."

Decker, stunned, found himself dropping onto a cement bench positioned in front of Frieda's cage. "You're telling me you you were brought up by a normal, human family?"

"I thought we were normal," Frieda allowed. "But as I got older I noticed that Mommy and Daddy couldn't hear or talk out loud. After Bobby and Sara started school, they began talking, which I couldn't understand at first. And I could never make noise words they could understand. But no one on the TV was like us. So I guess we weren't normal, at that."

"You…" Decker swallowed. "You do know you are a chimpanzee, don't you?"

Frieda drew herself up to her full height. "I am a Bonobo, sir. Chimpanzees are ugly."

"My apologies," Decker replied. "I'm afraid I know very little about my own relatives, as it turns out."

"But what happened to your family?" Decker asked. "How did you end up here?"

"Daddy died, then Bobby died. Mommy got sick in the head and didn't recognized me. Then, one afternoon a doctor came to the house. Sara said he was a doctor. I thought she was sick, because she was crying so hard. But the doctor gave me a shot. I got very drowsy and fell asleep while he was still there. When I woke up—I was in this place. And I've been here ever since."

"Do you know how long it's been?" Decker asked.

Frieda shook her head. "It's been months, or longer," she replied. "I'm not sure how long. But it's been a hell of a long time to go without pizza."