Chapter 11

Sarawak : 2003

Marin

The first time that Marin heard Captain Kirk’s long call, she was in bed. It was one in the morning. The O/URC campus was quiet, and it was dark. Marin had been asleep for three hours, dreaming that she was in an American supermarket in the Borneo jungle—trying to shop for food for the ex-caps, but everything had palm oil in it—and then one moment she wasn’t asleep anymore. As soon as she heard the call she knew what it was, even though she was still learning about the orangutans in fits and starts.

A deep wail sounded far off in the jungle—not human, but not purely animal. It sustained and then changed, the source moving lower into the loose, hung bag of a throat that it came from. Hearing this sound transformed something material within Marin, and then she had a thickening fear of and respect for its owner, without ever having laid eyes on him. The call echoed for a long time.

If Marin was to succeed in the task that she had been brought to the O/URC to accomplish, then she would have to effect a similar miracle of transformation in very distant, and far less receptive, creatures than herself. Wan had been on the right track when he had suggested coming up with a narrative, but that wasn’t enough. They needed people’s attention and trust as well. Otherwise, any narrative, no matter how compelling, was pretty easy to ignore.

Marin had one-and-a-half months left on her Soames Fellowship, and she’d spent all of her time in Borneo so far doing leg work: she’d assembled a large database of names and phone numbers; she’d researched all of the target individuals in-depth on the internet; she’d utilized her few good contacts from her Pac days to fill in the blanks here and there. Now it was time to do the real work: convincing (how many was enough, exactly?) these busy people that some apes and trees in a part of the world that they had never been to was a cause worth spending their time, resources, and professional reputations on, and that was before mentioning that this cause involved stalling or reversing the growth of a billion-dollar industry.

It sounded impossible most days, but it wasn’t as if there weren’t precedents.

Marin missed things: guacamole; pupating in a cocoon of three blankets during cold San Francisco nights; neighborhood coffee shops on weekday mornings, the mix of hurry and slumber, the menus written in chalk on the wall. On the other side of the scale, there was this place, the orangutans, and Will.

Will had irritated her that day he’d come to Pac—he was smart, impassioned, and articulate, and it had seemed to Marin at the time that he was wasting his talents on this orangutan business. She’d been under Ray Marcos’s influence at the time, and the influence of sneakily persistent mainstream notions about success.

In Borneo, however, knowing Will was like watching a magician whose every trick seems like his best trick. It was just a joy to watch Will be Will. He knew so much and did everything so well, whether switching cage assignments to suddenly solve an orangutan’s chronic diarrhea problem or clapping his hands in such a way as to make five macaques leave six cups of rice uneaten on the ground and disappear into the jungle.

In fact, everyone at the O/URC seemed endlessly informed and skillful. Marin had thought that she knew what it was like to be surrounded by intimidating people, but each of her new coworkers had a purity of purpose and an accumulation of practical accomplishment that had the potential to be far more damaging to a person’s self-confidence than either Stanford’s student body of sardonic over-achievers or Pac’s systematically overworked and underutilized braintrust; big ponds and small ponds notwithstanding. Wan, Will, Linda, Anwar, and Gandau were each brilliant about things that Marin hadn’t even known one could be brilliant about, but perhaps even more impressive was how every other staff member at the O/URC, from the canteen cook to the grounds staff, had made this place and the orangutans their life and their world so completely and with such ease.

Poor Marin had been spoiled into the most ordinary kinds of excellence by her middle-class suburban American upbringing. She could play Für Elise by memory and write an A-quality eight-page paper on Kantian ethics in one night, but when it came to walking three hours in the tropics without turning into a sweaty mess, fixing a leak in a bungalow roof, or improvising a cure for a sinus headache from a few herbs pulled from the jungle, Marin Choo was sorely behind the curve.

Marin and Will were supposed to go on a hike in Section A that morning, so Marin got up at five-thirty, showered in the women’s bathroom, and changed into hiking clothes. She massaged mosquito repellant and sunblock into her exposed skin. Her body seemed to change from morning to morning: one day it felt taut and strong and beautiful, as impenetrable to the perils of the tropics as Anwar’s or Gandau’s; at other times it seemed fussy and unreliable, capable of grotesque betrayals, another thing for her to be vigilant about.

She went to canteen. Breakfast was the most social meal at the O/URC. For lunch, people ate in the field or ran to canteen and shoveled some food into their mouths and went back to work. People got into strange schedules over the course of the day and dinners were staggered, with people eating as early as five and as late as ten. However, from six-thirty to eight o’clock in the morning each day, everyone converged upon canteen; drinking tea and coffee; eating toast, fried eggs, chicken congee, and fresh fruit; gossiping, joking around, and chatting optimistically about their plans for the day ahead.

Canteen was a large wood building, built in a traditional Malay style, with a peaked roof, a long porch in front, and full-length windows all along the three exterior walls of the dining room, which were left open most of the time. Sturdy hardwood tables filled the dining room, along with white plastic chairs and stools. Three large ceiling fans spun during breakfast and peak lunch and dinner hours. The clean and airy kitchen at the back was the domain of a busy staff of three: the cook, a Malaysian-Chinese woman named May, and her two nieces, Lee and Wen.

Will was eating with Anwar and the O/URC’s botanist Si-Chee. Anwar and Si-Chee were hiking together in Section B after breakfast. Marin put her backpack down by an empty seat at their table, and went to the buffet to get her food. She picked up a brown tray, ladled congee from the soup pot into a chipped bowl, grabbed a yellow banana from the pile of fruit, and selected a white mug with a drawing of a mountain and “I Climbed Kota Kinabalu!” printed on the side. She held it under the spout of the coffee thermos and pushed down on the big round plastic button on top. Brown instant coffee peed into the mug. Marin swatted some flies away from her congee and brought her tray over to Will’s table.

“I’ve got to get a new water bottle,” Si-Chee said, poking the scratched pink copolyester plastic of a 24-ounce sport drinking bottle.

Si-Chee was leaving the O/URC in a few weeks to finish and defend her Ph.D. dissertation in Singapore. She was getting married one week after graduation, to a fellow Singaporean who had gotten his Ph.D. in some kind of engineering from Rice University and was now working for a medical device manufacturer in Houston. Si-Chee was going to move to Houston with him after a brief honeymoon in Phuket.

“You’ll not drinking water anymore in Texas,” Anwar said. “In Texas, they only drinking beer and Coca-Cola.”

“And margaritas for breakfast,” Marin said. As soon as she said the word, she could almost taste the house margaritas at her favorite Mexican restaurant in San Francisco: the sweet limes, oaky tequila, syrupy Cointreau, melting ice, and chunky white salt.

Anwar laughed.

“I want to move to Texas,” Will said.

“No you don’t,” Si-Chee said. “Powell hates it there.” Powell was the name of her fiancé. “As soon as we get our green cards we’re moving to a coast.”

“You would love San Francisco,” Marin said.

Uh!” Si-Chee sighed with pleasure. “If I studied redwoods for the rest of my life I would be totally happy,” she said.

A wild and rocky river ran down the middle of Section A. After a two-hour hike from camp, Will and Marin’s trail would cross this river on a rope bridge, head west, loop around black peatland to a freshwater waterfall, and then come back and cross the river again, seven kilometers north of the first bridge. Then it would be a fairly simple flat trek home.

“Is it weird for you,” Will said, about forty-five minutes out from camp, “Si-Chee moving to the country you just left?”

“No, not really,” Marin said. “It might be if she was moving to San Francisco or Chicago, but not Texas. Texas is like a whole other country.”

Will agreed silently (as anyone in their demographic would) about the strangeness of Texas.

Marin asked, “No update on the Indo-Oil situation?” Indo-Oil was the oil palm firm that had received concessions for 20,000 hectares of jungle in the O/URC’s research area; it was the firm that had brought Will and Wan to San Francisco and Pac’s headquarters the previous year. Marin would probably still be an employee of Pac right now if not for the territory dispute with Indo-Oil.

“Nothing has been cleared yet still. It’s very strange,” Will said. “Part of why palm oil is so lucrative is all the profitable lumber that gets cleared at the outset. Maybe they’ve become ‘immune to the opportunity’ of easy profit.”

Marin had told Will about Wayan Wijaya and her (presumptuous) observation of Marin’s supposed presumption that she was “immune to opportunity,” and it had become an inside joke for Marin and Will. Although the phrase had been begging for parody since its inception, Marin always felt a little annoyed every time that Will made a joke of it. Marin didn’t feel that she owed anything to Dr. Wijaya, but it was clear that the story was just a joke to Will—just another ridiculous Pac ego run wild. Marin hadn’t come here because she resented Pac, its bloat or its power; she hadn’t come here because of Pac at all. However, laughing at such jokes in a gesture of friendship made Marin feel as if that would end up being her story anyhow.

Over the next hour, Will and Marin got into a good rhythm. Marin’s body found an equilibrium, the first hour’s sweat dried off, and sometimes under the shade of the canopy she actually felt cool. They passed trees, rocks, plants, bugs, butterflies, birds, and one small band of macaques. They talked about the dissertation thesis defense process; Marin’s undergraduate thesis presentation; Wan’s efforts to recruit a replacement for Si-Chee; Si-Chee’s upcoming goodbye party; the upcoming release, which Linda was leading and Marin was tagging along on; and the cook May’s background (she was from Kuching and had had a successful rojak stand in town; after her husband had died of lung cancer two years ago, Wan had convinced her to come work for the O/URC).

Will and Marin hiked into view of the river. Eight feet below where the jungle floor abruptly ended, brown water coursed to the right over weeds and rocks and tree roots. It searched for the sea. Eight extension ropes, three on each side and two above, were tied together at regular intervals to form the bridge, and a vast amount of rope had been crisscrossed and woven through itself and the bottom extension ropes. Carved and sanded planks of wood were tied into the bottom.

Marin crossed the bridge first, with Will one or two feet behind her. She could smell the ferrous mud of the riverbank and felt the river’s thin cool steam on her heels. The bridge planks wobbled beneath her. There was a trick to it: she stepped onto each plank flatly and then leaned her foot slowly with the plank as she stepped off. Soon they were on the other side.

“So what’s the deal with this Jo-Jo guy again?” Marin said. “You said there was something you wanted to tell me about him once we’d crossed the river.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m so dramatic,” Will said. He told Marin about the missing orangutan. “We’ve tried to find her—usually details about amateur deals come to us in some form, if not the orangutans themselves—but no one’s seen her.”

“Linda knows all this, though, right?” Marin said.

“Yes,” Will said. “I’m sure most people have heard rumors by now, too.”

“That poor orangutan,” Marin said. “So close to going home, only to be kidnapped again.”

“You sometimes have to just hope there’s a hell, working in this field,” Will said.

A bird screamed and flew out of a tree on their right.

“Linda’s the only really religious one at the O/URC, right?” Marin said.

“I suppose so,” Will said, “but when you’re raised Muslim, it’s a really difficult thing to ever turn back from completely. Like, Wan isn’t religious, but he would never eat pork. Plus, Malaysians are a pretty conservative bunch in general. Smoking is the one vice everyone can indulge in openly, and most people at the O/URC don’t even do that.”

“It’s strange how the commitment to science and nature doesn’t segue to a rationality and open-mindedness about relationships and sex,” Marin said. “I mean, not just with LGBT relationships, but even heterosexual dating. Everything seems so fraught here. People are either engaged, married, or chaste.”

“I think that flirting happens quite a lot, and it depends on where people are from and where they went to school how comfortable with the opposite sex they are. And it’s really difficult to judge homophobia here because very few Malaysians know an openly gay person. It’s like our grandparents’ generation. You don’t know what you don’t know.”

But they could know, Marin thought. They could know you.

Marin had been less than pleased when Will had told her that he’d said nothing after Linda had implied that he was interested in Marin romantically. Considering how quickly gossip spread through the O/URC, the story could have at least been given a degree of ambiguity if Will had said something, anything, to contradict Linda, but he was too paranoid about their Malaysian coworkers finding out about his orientation.

They heard it first: the rush of water splashing into itself. It was a six-meter-high freshwater fall that loped over mossy limestone into a deep bathing pool surrounded by sunny black rocks. The runoff funneled into a rocky jungle stream to one side. Shiny green dragonflies flew close to the water.

Will stripped to his boxers and hopped to a rock near the deep end. He jumped in, toes pointed down. Marin took off her shirt and shorts and stepped gingerly to the rock that Will had jumped off.

“How’s the water?” she asked, retying her hair into a tight new ponytail.

“Amazing,” Will said, treading water. “Come on, Cali girl. What are you waiting for?”

The water roared behind him, spraying and splashing a row of white surf. Marin jumped in, felt the shock of cold wet like a blow to the funny bone, and she surfaced laughing.

“Call me crazy,” Will said, “but I think that this is actually better than sex.”

Marin felt her muscles squeeze cleanly through the treads.

“Much, much better,” she said.

***

Release day was sunny and hot. After a quick breakfast in canteen, Linda, Si-Chee, Marin, and two O/URC assistants, Malik and Daru, met at O.Q. Malik arrived driving one of the mini flatbed trucks that they used at the O/URC to move cargo around. The cargo today was orangutans, seventeen total: Faiza, Riza, Juno, Sophia, Freida, Fanny, Kathy, April, Marta, Guinevere, Bea, Farish, Helmut, Khong, Gurney, Simon, and Monty.

Linda started taking the to-be-released orangutans out of their cages one-by-one and checking their vitals, and Marin recorded the numbers on the release chart. Malik came behind them with syringes of general anesthetic and sedated the checked orangutans. Daru and Si-Chee carried the sedated orangutans over to Malik’s truck and the two other trucks already parked at O.Q. They locked the orangutans into plastic crates. Malik and Si-Chee lifted the crates together and placed them on the truck beds, securing them with rope and carabiners.

Watching Si-Chee and Daru work, Marin said to Linda, “I guess I should be happy I flew here coach.”

“What?” Linda said.

Marin wasn’t sure if Linda truly didn’t get her jokes when she said “What?” or if that was her way of disapproving of Marin’s sense of humor.

Gia, the baby that Marin had observed in Level 5 quarantine in med on her first day, was now a little over one years old. She lived in a cage in O.Q. with six other female orangutans of different ages, including Freida, a seven-year-old being released that day. When Linda opened the door to their cage, Gia scurried out on all fours, climbing onto Marin and throwing her arms around Marin’s neck. Gia’s tiny feet grabbed at Marin’s chest for leverage.

Marin instinctively placed both hands at Gia’s back, supporting her, pressing Gia’s warm, fuzzy body into her own.

“Gia, baby, you’re not supposed to be out here,” Marin said, in a tone much closer to sweet-talk than scolding. She could feel Gia’s heartbeat against her shoulder, a tiny doll drum, thumping quickly after the animal’s daring Houdini escape.

Linda let Freida out and closed the cage behind her. Then, Linda put two fingers in her own mouth and whistled once authoritatively.

Gia looked up and loosened her grip slightly, and Linda picked her up off Marin with both hands and placed Gia back in the cage, locking it behind her.

Freida had stayed put just outside her cage, and Linda put the earbuds of her stethoscope back in her ears, bent down to Freida, and held the flat white “O” of the diaphragm to Freida’s chest. Linda’s auscultation face resembled exactly the expression on her face when she listened to Will or Marin speak.

The release team finished checking and sedating and packing and loading by nine-thirty a.m., and Linda, Malik, and Daru drove the trucks out to the dry clearing where Jo-Jo had the helicopter waiting. Si-Chee and Marin jogged to the med parking lot, where the jeep that they were driving to the release site was parked. They got into the jeep, and Si-Chee drove to the helicopter clearing.

Jo-Jo was a forty-something Chinese man, with a wide dumpling nose and huge pores dotting his oily face. He was wearing a faded Hawaiian shirt with the three top buttons unbuttoned, khaki pants, and a pair of bright-white and blue sneakers. He was pushing both thumbs rapidly into the keypad of his cellphone and pacing behind the butt of the chopper parked in the middle of the grassless clearing when Marin and Si-Chee pulled up in the jeep.

Marin’s mother Jinny had passed away of cancer when Marin was fifteen, so, when certain traits that Marin had inherited from her mother flared into the foreground, an amount of supernatural tinged the air. Surely nurture alone was not enough to explain Marin’s occasional Jinny-like ability to improvise her way into and out of the center of sitcom-like farces with an unreal sense of timing and poetic justice.

Linda directed Malik and Daru in loading the orangutan crates into the cabin of the helicopter. Si-Chee parked and got out to double-check the trunk of the jeep to make sure that everything that they needed at the release site had been packed there properly. The sun was close and hot all around them. It was difficult to look at anything directly. Everything reflected bright light. Only short, scattered thoughts could be thought in such bright light and thick, close heat. Short, slow, treading thoughts.

Marin watched as Jo-Jo locked his cellphone and placed it in his front right pocket. He reached in his back pocket and pulled out a smooshed box of American brand cigarettes. As he lit his cigarette and took a long drag, Marin opened her car door, stepped out onto the dark orange dirt of the clearing, and slammed the door shut behind her.

She made a beeline for Jo-Jo. As he turned to look at her with curiosity (they had never met), Marin saw that he was missing his upper right canine.

“Hi, you must be Jo-Jo,” Marin said in her most nasal Chicago accent, and reached out her hand and smiled. “I’m Marin Choo, the new communications director? I’m going to tag along on the release today?”

Jo-Jo grinned and shook her hand. “Hello,” he said. “Where do you come from?” he asked.

“America, I guess?” Marin said.

“American?” Jo-Jo said. The idea seemed difficult for him to accept. “Your parents?”

“Chinese,” Marin said.

“You don’t speak Chinese?” Jo-Jo said. He repeated the question in Amoy: “Do you understand how to speak Chinese?”

Marin waved the incomprehensible gibberish away. “Can I, like, borrow your cellphone?” she said. “I forgot to put on sunblock this morning. I need to call Dr. St. James to ask him to bring some here? Just two seconds with your phone is all I need.”

“You need my phone?” Jo-Jo said.

“I’ll totally burn in this sun without sunblock,” Marin said. “I feel so stupid that I forgot to put some on this morning, but you know when you get in that mindset of following other people you sort of stop thinking at all?”

Jo-Jo reached in his pocket, brought out his cellphone, and handed it to Marin.

She pushed the first digit of Will’s phone number, but the cellphone flashed a LOCKED message in Chinese.

“Oh, I think it’s locked?” Marin said, and held out the phone to him. “Can you open?” She tapped on the blank screen and mimed twisting a key in a lock.

Jo-Jo took his phone back, pressed the star and pound keys simultaneously, and the screen lit up with the date and time. He handed her back the phone with a tiny wave of his hand. “Open now, miss,” he said and smiled.

Marin stepped away from Jo-Jo into the sun’s glare. He only seemed comfortable eyeing her for a split-second every minute or so out of the corner of his eye. Marin quickly opened the menu, scrolled down and clicked to the text inbox, and opened it. She opened five texts before she got to one in Bahasa that she understood more than two words of. “Orangutan,” being a word of Bahasa Malaysia origin, was clear enough, as was “RM5000.”

Jo-Jo seemed to realize that some kind of subterfuge was happening as soon as Marin saw what she saw. He cursed in Amoy and threw his cigarette to the side. He walked over angrily, and Marin ran away from him around the helicopter counter-clockwise. Her sandals slipped on the uneven dirt, but she knew that she wouldn’t fall.

For some reason, she ran around the helicopter twice, as if in the extra loop she would lose Jo-Jo. He did break into a sloppy jog following her around the second time and was soon out of breath. Marin ran over to Linda.

“Linda, I’ve got Jo-Jo’s cellphone. Does this say what I think it says?” Marin said, thrusting the phone and the text on its screen into Linda’s sightline.

Jo-Jo stopped briefly in the shadow of the helicopter, then started shouting in Amoy: “What are you doing? That’s my phone! Give it back to me!”

Linda pulled the phone from Marin’s hand and read the text aloud in Bahasa, and Malik and Daru both stopped what they were doing.

Everyone started talking all at once.

“Those are my private messages! I get offers from people, but I’ve never done anything wrong!” Jo-Jo shouted in Chinese.

“Five thousand ringgit!” Malik said. “Bloody fucking stupid idiot.”

“What kind of man are you?” Daru said.

“What’s going on?” Si-Chee said, running over.

Linda put two fingers in her mouth and whistled the whistle that had halted Gia’s escape.

Everybody stopped and quieted.

“Jo-Jo, where is Preity?” Linda said, holding his phone straight above her head with her arm fully extended. “Tell me now, or, I swear, Forestry officials will be sent to your apartment every single day for the rest of your life.”

Jo-Jo muttered an address in Kuching. “That’s where you can send your dogs,” he said, spitting once to the side. He took a key out of his pocket and threw it on the ground. Linda threw him his phone, and he caught it with two hands. He marched away, in the direction of the highway.

Linda immediately called Wan and told him an abbreviated version of what had happened and the address that Jo-Jo had given.

“What about release?” Malik asked Linda when she had gotten off the phone. “Even if the new pilot leave from Kuching now we don’t have time.”

Si-Chee walked over to the helicopter, walked around it once clockwise, studied it as if it were an ancient cypress of note, and then came back. “I can fly this one,” she said.

“What?” Linda said.

“I got my pilot license,” Si-Chee said.

“You have a license to fly a helicopter?” Marin asked.

Si-Chee shrugged. “I only passed all the requirements last week. It’s useful for traveling to see plants I want to see sometimes.”

Two full seconds of silence and disbelief passed—it just didn’t seem real. Then, Linda burst out laughing, a rolling, moss-gathering stone of a laugh. “Our pilot is a kidnapper!” she cried out, in between laughs, “but our botanist is a pilot!” She was bent over and holding her straining belly now; it was just too much.

Linda’s laughter spread like a new virus introduced to a population with no immunity. They didn’t know what was funnier: the relief that Preity’s kidnapper had been identified and ousted, the shock that it had been someone that they had trusted, the amazing speed with which it all had happened, the secret helicopter pilot in their midst, or their aloof head vet being reduced to uncontrollable laughter.

A few moments later, the release was back in full swing. The key was picked up from where Jo-Jo had tossed it on the ground and dusted off. Si-Chee got into the pilot’s seat and looked confident checking her gauges and gears. Malik, Daru, and Marin piled into the jeep. Linda discussed the location of the release site with Malik and then climbed into the passenger’s seat of the helicopter. After a few seconds she got out again and shouted something at the jeep. Marin realized that it was her name. Linda scooped her hands into her chest—she wanted Marin to come in the chopper with them.

Marin hopped out of the jeep and jogged over to Linda.

“How much do you weigh? Fifty kilos?” Linda asked.

“Fifty-two,” Marin said.

“Okay, you should come with us then. Us Chinese girls should stick together,” Linda said. She put her arm on Marin’s back and gently pushed her once toward the chopper.

Marin hooked her foot onto the small metal step and hoisted herself up into the cabin of the helicopter. She turned and sat on a vinyl-covered seat, buckling the seat belt around her waist. The thick mammal musk of the orangutans filled the cabin. Si-Chee pressed something and the cabin doors, raised on both sides like gull wings, lowered and closed around Marin and the sleeping, crated animals. Si-Chee gassed up, and the helicopter’s metal rotor began to spin above them. Long, powerful torque waves shook the vehicle, and they rose. The ground receded, Marin saw a lemur scurrying through the dark branches of the nearby canopy, and then they were flying over the jungle, its mysteries reduced to a dense carpet of green treetops passing below them. Far, far off in the distance, Marin could see a blue one half-shade darker than the sky: the sea.

They landed the helicopter in a clearing in the northern end of the area of uninhabited (by wild orangutans) jungle reserve that was to be the new home of Faiza, Riza, Juno, Sophia, Freida, Fanny, Kathy, April, Marta, Guinevere, Bea, Farish, Helmut, Khong, Gurney, Simon, and Monty.

Linda, Si-Chee, and Marin unloaded the crates from the helicopter, unlocked and opened them, and pulled the unconscious orangutans out onto the grass. Half an hour into this process, Malik and Daru came hiking swarthily into the clearing—they’d had to leave the jeep seven hundred meters back. The men helped them unload the crates and pack the emptied crates back into the helicopter. At around two o’clock, the orangutans started to wake up. Linda checked their vitals as the others helped the apes walk off the sedation and communicated to them through gestures and the exaggerated inflections of their voices that they were free.

The sub-adult Helmut was the first to go. He scampered on all fours to a nearby tree and quickly climbed its trunk. He paused on a thick branch, squatted, holding himself up with one hand on a branch above him, and looked back at the crowd, the strange business, in the clearing. He grabbed another branch, farther away, and swung on it into the canopy. His swings picked up speed slowly, and he was gone.

Marin tried to avoid the sentimental anthropomorphizing so rampant in modern primatology, but the truth was that she was proud to work with the most independent-minded of the great apes. Orangutans weren’t joiners like gorillas, relentless slaves to society like chimps, or hippie bonobos with no sense of boundaries. In the jungle, they went for weeks on end on their own—passing other orangutans through the canopy with nothing more than an exchange of ambivalent glances.

Most of the O/URC’s seventeen ex-caps left the release site with a fairly steep absence of regard for both their human rehabilitators and their fellow ex-captives. They scattered one-by-one in different directions like Helmut: efficiently and without emotion.

One of the females, Bea, became agitated. She ran to the helicopter and jumped into the empty pilot seat. She screamed and clawed at the leather of the seat back. Then, calm suddenly, she turned around and sat properly in the seat, with her feet dangling over the edge. She reached behind herself, pulled the seat belt around and over her waist, and buckled it.

“Shit,” Malik said.

Linda went to her bag and pulled out a small black case. She opened it and removed a syringe.

One thing orangutans and humans have in common: we are our own worst enemies.

Or at least this is what Marin thought before she realized that she was rehearsing her description of the release for her inevitable conversation with Will about it that night at canteen. This realization worried her. Will wasn’t her boyfriend. Marin hadn’t dated since she’d broken up with Dave the philosophy TA a few days before spring break of her senior year of college, one year ago now. If Marin wasn’t careful, she would end up mistaking her relationship with Will for something that it could never be.

***

Two weeks later, a sweet, fat smell filled the area surrounding canteen as the O/URC’s cook May made steamed buns filled with yellow lotus seed paste and green pandan-flavored sugar cookies cut into the shape of leaves for Si-Chee’s goodbye party.

The mood all over camp had been extremely festive all day as Preity had finally been found, in a building half-a-mile down from the address that Jo-Jo had given them. That morning Preity had been rescued from captivity for the second time. She’d been starved, muffled, and chained to a pole in an empty rowhouse, but she was recuperating now in med and Linda said that she’d be fine.

A little before three in the afternoon, Will and Marin walked from office to the party in canteen together. It was a sunny day after three days of rain, and small birds were flying overhead in the trees, tweeting pleasantly.

“I will never forget seeing the helicopter land after release,” Will said, “and seeing you, Linda, and Si-Chee come out of there cool as cucumbers.”

“Yeah, we’re pretty badass,” Marin said.

There was a good crowd at canteen already. Si-Chee’s fiancé Powell had flown in to help her pack and ship her stuff. He was feeding Si-Chee a snow-white bun. She took a bite, nodded as she chewed and swallowed, and said something to him close to his ear. Wan and Dilip were talking and making several kettles of tea at a table in the corner. Linda was talking to a group of Iban and Bidayuh assistants about Preity: the condition she’d been found in, what Linda had found during her medical exam, and Preity’s prospects for a full and rapid recovery. May and her nieces had changed from their baking clothes into dresses and were sitting at one of the tables having tea and cookies.

Marin had given only five days’ notice when she’d left Pac, but if her former coworkers had been shocked or upset by her sudden exit, they’d played their cards very close to their chests. Ray Marcos had been particularly uninsulted.

“You’re going to work at that monkey farm, aren’t you?” he’d said, looking very excited to very soon be proven, once again, right about everyone and everything.

“Orangutan rehabilitation center,” Marin had said.

“I knew it! I knew as soon as I met those ape-ographers that you were going to run off with them,” Ray had said. “Marin, take some advice from me, okay? Are you listening?”

“Always, Ray,” Marin had said.

“Stay away from the true believers. There’s going to be opportunists and schemers there, but it’s the true believers you have to watch out for. They’re the ones who will be threatened by someone like you. They’ll try to warp you and disorient you, and not with any end goal in mind. They’re crazy people who are threatened by you—a very volatile combination.”

At the time, Marin had thought that Ray had described himself perfectly: he was crazy (obviously) and threatened, not by Marin herself, but by the thought that she could walk away from him and Pac intact. However, she’d also believed him a little.

Looking around canteen at her hardworking and dedicated coworkers now, Marin thought (with some self-congratulating) that Ray had been wrong for once. Her O/URC coworkers were not only neither crazy nor opportunistic, they were the most normal, uncomplicated bunch of people that she had ever met.

“Are you ‘immune to the opportunity’ of a steamed bun?” Will asked Marin.

He smiled. Such a handsome smile; such a handsome man. Surely some boy would find him, fall in love with him, and move to the jungle for him.

Marin was too paranoid. She still had too much Ray Marcos in her head. She’d been reading too much into Will’s fondness for the “immune to opportunity” joke. Of course Will found it funny—not because he needed to feel superior to Pac, but because Marin’s exchange with Dr. Wijaya had been absurd.

Still, Marin insisted that she get her food herself.

Back Next