Edited as per your comments/concerns. Grammatical errors mostly fixed, dialogue changed in the middle, ending completely new. Enjoy!
"These things, they have to be together."
He clasped his hands, interlocking his fingers. Veins popped and flexed, dilating and stretching.
He leaned forward, the oblong, three-legged coffee table groaning underneath his weight.
"It's like cobras."
Unclenching his fists, he placed them palm up. Motioning towards his right hand, he continued, his voice rising in volume.
"In one hand, we have the king cobra. It's the largest venomous snake in the world, death incarnate. An adult can reach lengths of over eighteen feet. In its jaws reside two half-inch hypodermic fangs capable of delivering a 600mg dose of woven and bonded polypeptide chains that decimate and scorch the central nervous system; death in fifteen minutes. It has no natural predators, no need for aggression."
He shifted his weight to the left, the scarred and pockmarked coffee table now screeching.
"In this hand, the mongoose. It's the squirrel of Southern Asia. Two to four feet long and omnivorous. It's eaten by just about everything: vultures, turtles, hawks and even humans. It's nothing, a footnote on a page in a travel guide describing the local flora and fauna of Asia."
He leaned back, picking at his teeth.
"So we have two separate species. They both eat, they sleep, they fuck and they die."
Pausing, his eyes wandered towards the barista behind the counter. She smiled coyly at him. He managed a dancing wave, the coffee table shifting once again. I tapped the table and, shaking his head like a drenched mutt, he locked eyes with me once again.
"She's cute, isn't she?"
I grunted, reaching behind my head and scratching nonchalantly. He cocked his head, a wry grin crossing his face.
"I need your help."
Tanzania is a strange place. Not because it sounds like some sort of tropic brain infection, rather, it's the plants. That lush, autumn blaze maple rooted outside of your sixth story studio apartment on East 94th street doesn't move. You notice it maybe four or five times every year. You see the tree's growth only intermittently, blocks of time sometimes spanning months. Maybe it's grown a foot since the last time you've acknowledged it. It's always there, though. In the summer, baked and brown, in the winter, grey and flaked. In the spring the wispy green shoots of new growth burrow their way out into the humid air, bursting through the base of severed limbs from seasons passed. Like tiny hands they reach for the sky, grasping at the sun. Its life is all very staggered, at least in your eyes; it's easy to understand, to accept.
Tanzania is different. It's not hermetically sealed for your wellness and protection. The plants in the jungle grow, and they goddamn mean it. They writhe and squirm, shoving and twisting to gain height advantages over one another. Sun is crucial, sun is life and they know it. Neon red spiked vines dig cruelly into established trees, sloughing off whole sheets of bark, bowling headfirst towards the promise of UV. Seeds germinate in a matter of hours, penetrating the soggy floor to begin their race to light. Through the random plops of rain accumulated high in the topmost branches, something else can be heard. Over the screeching of the red colobus monkeys swinging from tree to tree it pervades. Gasping and sighing, like a billion rubber bands stretching and retracting. It is growth, and it is what rules this place.
When everything's growing around you, it's impossible to walk in a straight line, let alone carve a path. The plants keep closing in, blocking exits behind you and thickening the trail ahead.
So what should you do if you want to venture into the jungle?
A better question is, "why the hell do you want to go into the jungle?"
I tousled my hair again, laughing. I eyed him up and down, a sarcastic grin on my face.
"It's been ten years. You're joking."
He smirked dryly, and then responded.
"You think this is one of those stupid coffee shop conversations, don't you? One of those times where you'll laugh, I'll laugh, we'll drink our double soy macchiatos, bow politely to each other and leave? Is that what you think this is? A social stanza, a way to pass the time?"
He was breathing heavily now, his nostrils flaring. I held up my hands, palm up, submissive to his seemingly unprovoked aggression.
I stammered, "So, so you're, you're serious?"
He slammed his fist down on the table. Double soy macchiato droplets rocketed into the air, falling to the unfinished cherry floor as dirty brown raindrops.
The patrons of Pizzaz Coffee shop looked up from their drinks and their books. Faces illuminated by computer screens and cell phones, like deer in headlights, they looked wildly around. Sensing no immediate danger, they returned to their activities.
He reached across the table, plucking a napkin from its holder. He spoke softly as he polished one of the corners of the table.
"When was the last time I spoke to you?"
I furrowed my brow, watching him cautiously. "About four months, if I remember correctly."
He threw the soiled napkin over his shoulder onto the floor. The barista scowled.
"It's been six months and seventeen days."
I chuckled, attempting to mask my uncertainty, and more so, my trepidation.
"Well, you know how it is, sometimes you just forget."
He sneered. "I don't forget about friends. Especially ones that I've know for over twenty five years."
I held up my palms again, as if warding off a physical blow.
"Look, David, I didn't forget about you, I've just been busy. This is the first time I've sat down and actually enjoyed my morning coffee."
I could see him softening up, the color returning to his face. He tapped his fingers on the table rhythmically, beating out a simple line. I continued.
"I know things have been rough, but I'm not going through this again. There's nothing you can say that will make me help you. Period. Drop it."
The tattoo of drumming fingers stopped as I asked my last question. He reached behind his chair, unceremoniously flopping a deflated backpack onto the table.
I stared at him as I unzipped the JanSport.
Machetes are useless; you need a fucking flamethrower.
I shouted through gasps.
"How much. Longer to the, the pool, Abasi?"
I couldn't see him. I hadn't seen him for hours, just heard his voice, seen the narrow path hacked from the undergrowth.
Over the sounds of the forest, the voice of our guide drifted.
"Not long. We close."
Sap and resin clung like hungry ticks to my clothes, my face. I stopped, resting against a partially uprooted Breonadia Salicina. The guidebook says that they're abundant in moist, low-lying humid areas. No shit.
David stumbled down the trail. I managed a weak, flippant wave from my tree. He grunted, tossing his pack to the ground with a loud squelch. Rummaging through the side pouches, he tossed me a water bottle, uncapping one for himself. We both drank heavily, draining the recycled plastic containers. David wiped his mouth, stuffing the empty back into the pack and motioning for mine.
He caught it between two fingers. He coughed wetly, pointing towards the direction of the newly born trail.
"How far ahead is he?"
I shrugged, swatting at a rather robust, iridescent beetle carousing between my legs.
"I have no idea, but I can still hear his voice. He said we were close."
David nodded, throwing his pack on his shoulders and offering me a hand up. I stared at his palm, black and oily slick with mud. The mud's distinctive to this area, something about rapid rotting of readily available plant matter.
I shook my head, chewing on my tongue.
"David, why are you doing this?"
He ran his hand through his hair, slicking it back. Glancing towards the trail, then back at me, he spoke softly.
"You remember what I said about the cobra and the mongoose?"
"Well, what do you think happens when they meet?"
I zipped the backpack up, thrusting it towards him.
He pushed it back, a crooked smile lighting up his face.
"Michael, either we go and do this my way, or I take this beautiful piece of molded steel and plastic back to my apartment and end it there."
I stood up violently, kicking my chair to the unfinished cherry floor. Snatching the backpack from the table, I flipped it onto my back and stalked out of the coffee shop. Turning into a side alley, I ran, the limp pack bouncing like an errant parachute.
David. Nope. Not doing this again. I'm not letting you play this card. Not this time. It's been ten years, ten years since you brought this up.
Between my ragged gasps and throbbing legs, a strange vibration. Tingling on the small of my back, like someone had strapped me with a handheld personal-use massager. You know, the ones sold at the mall. The ones with bright bold packaging: Deep muscle cleansing! Work away knots! Relieve stress! The ones that middle aged women pluck cautiously off the shelf, placed covertly underneath a box of granola bars, some cleaning supplies. What's that? Oh, it's just for my shoulder, I get tense sometimes. Grip shoulder, mime pain. Chuckle. Levity. Twenty, forty. Three twenty is your change. Bagged, car, home. Two double A's, that's all it takes to orgasm. Those ones.
I stopped running. Willed my legs and feet to halt, to turn my head.
David. He waved. He pointed towards something in his hand, cupping his hands to the sides of his mouth. The buzzing continued.
"Open the bag!"
JanSport unzipped, fingers trembling, bright pink with oxidation. Illuminated by a flashing screen, a Browning Hi Power MKIII 9mm pistol: the flashing screen, a cell-phone.
I fumbled with the phone, roughly pressing it to my ear.
Down the alley, his lips moved.
"Look, I know you don't want to hear this again, but it's going to happen. I'm asking, no, I'm begging for your help."
"David, I can't. You can't drag me into this. You said you'd do it ten years ago. You're still here."
He shook his head.
"It's different this time. It's more refined. Look, just come back and we'll talk about it."
Forehead tingling. Too much sweat. I've always had that problem. Like a leaky hose, palms, underarms, dark wet spots. Cross your forearms, pretend you're comfortable. Nonchalant, nonchalant.
I sighed into the phone, the receiver whirring.
"Abasi, jesus! Slow down!"
He crooned as David and I trudged into the clearing. Raising his hands above his head, the squat Tanzanian bounced on his heels. Through broken English and meaty burbles of mud underfoot, he spoke.
"Grand pool! See to the bottom! Fishes and eel, they everywhere!"
Abasi smacked his lips.
"The fish, the fish, they taste good; the eel, not so much. You followed and I lead and now we here."
I can't tell what's sweat and what's water. My cargos are drenched and hot and sticky and smelly. David holds up his hand, Abasi is quiet.
"I don't see a reflecting pool, Abasi. You told me there'd be chimps, lots of chimps. I see no chimps, Abasi."
Abasi nodded vigorously, chewing the inside of his mouth and pointing towards a clump of spindly trees a few hundred feet away.
"They are here, right over here. Do not worry, I was telling the truth."
David cocked his head slightly, easing himself to the ground and waved off Abasi. He motioned at me to follow suit. Abasi, still grinning wildly and now humming, loped off towards the slender trees.
I flipped through the pages of the guidebook I had purchased at the Kigoma airport. Well, not really an airport. More like a swatch of dirt carved out of the jungle.
Trees, trees, trees. Page 37. Keyword is elongated. Brachystegia Spcifiormis. Sweet smelling and grows in open areas. Seedpods explode, blasting tiny zygotes hundreds of feet. Trees grow, seeds explode. Rinse and repeat.
I nudged David.
"Did you know that those trees up ahead provide for the largest colonization of African killer bees known to man?
He arched his eyebrows, feigning interest. I closed the book, wiping at a smudge on the binding.
"David, this is one of those moments, right?"
"Where I ask you if there's any way that you'll stop. I'll tell you why you shouldn't. But no matter what I say, you're going to keep on going."
"Yeah, it's one of those."
I see no chimps.
Neither does David.
Abasi is unaffected. He dangles his feet in the glassy, spring fed pool. He counts the fish. Not aloud, but on his lips.
Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano.
Moja, mbili, tatu, nne, tano.
I think Abasi can only count to five.
There are still no chimps. There's mud. There's water. There's fish. There's Abasi.
The sun setting brings fresh new hell in the rainforest.
Bugs. Not the spiders that scurry underneath your couch when you flip on the light or the winding line of ants that navigate their way to the solitary fleck of macaroni and cheese on your kitchen floor.
These are monsters. Big as your palm and just as heavy, and they're just like the plants. It's all about light.
David insisted on setting up a portable kerosene lamp. We can't miss the chimps.
It's like we're covered in fucking honey.
"David! Just turn it off!"
A moth the size of a dinner plate smacks into my shin. In the pulsing light of the Coleman lamp, I watch as it stumbles along the forest floor, dazed. It's leaking some sort of yellow fluid from its ass.
I yell at David again.
"Do moths pee?"
This time he answers me.
"I don't know. Why?"
I prod the moth with my boot.
"This guy seems sick."
David walks over, kicking up moist sticks and leaves.
The moth is running in circles now.
David leans over.
"He's fine. He's going in exactly the right direction."
There were no chimps during the night.
That means we didn't need the lamp. It also means that we didn't need the bugs.
I let David know. He rolls his bloodshot eyes.
Abasi tells us that chimps come during the hottest part of the day. When it's a hundred degrees, can anything tell when the temperature rises?
David is getting impatient.
At the hottest part of the day, the chimps finally come.
David is lying underneath one of the Brachystegia Spcifiormis'.
They skirt the outer layers of the clearing, hooting and whispering softly, their brown and silver backs rising like molehills from the forest floor.
A large male finally breaks from the clearing, stepping forward into the sun. He walks towards the pool.
David rummages in his backpack, careful to make slow, exaggerated movements.
The male doesn't care. He just wants water. Cool, clear, spring fed water.
David has found what he is looking for. Casually, he tosses it at my feet. I pick it up, feeling the cool brushed aluminum.
As the male moves to the pool, David stands up slowly. The chimpanzee barely acknowledges him, lowering its head to the water to drink. Noisily, it gulps.
David inches closer. He is now about five feet away from the chimp. It is still drinking.
Soft pink fingers touch coarse brown hair. A deep sigh.
The chimp acknowledges David now. Screeching, its mouth stretches to an impossible angle.
Canines, canines, canines. Those flat teeth used for chewing plant matter and fruit, I can't see those.
Chimps don't normally eat meat. I read somewhere that they've been known to hunt and eat chimps from different factions. But David is not a chimp; he is not from a different faction. He is from a whole other world, separated by water and grass and rocks and waves and waves of humidity.
In one fluid, sinuous motion, the chimpanzee leaps onto David's back, digging and gnawing, gouging and howling.
And as the chimp screams, David screams.
Over the splatter of rending flesh, over the shrieking of chimp and man the Browning Hi Power MKIII 9mm pistol reports, smacking against my palm.
The cobra falls to the damp forest floor, the mongoose limply clutching its shoulders.