Ever since Monkey remembered he had lived in a cage. It was a small enclosure in the shape of a cube, whose diameter equalled two of his longest strides. The floor, laid out with white and blue tiles, cold, slippery, emitting a faint odour of excrement and stale food, was not too dirty and rather pleasant to sleep on. Directly above it hovered a grey, concrete ceiling; it hung over Monkey's head like an artificial sky on the support of fifty-six metal bars, fifteen on each side, making up together the steel walls of his prison; one by one in a row they prevented the animal's escape.
Not that he ever wished to break free. His cage - Monkey knew - was situated in a corner of some laboratory, and people in white robes visited him on a regular basis; but there his recognition ended, for he was little concerned with the outside world. He was never embarrassed when the scientists peeped between the metal bars into his life, large notepads in hands, in which they scribbled incessantly their observations and hypotheses. He never reciprocated the nearly offensive attention they paid him: he never ceased to do what he was doing on their arrival, whether it be scratching his back or gobbling up food. Being a healthy, well-fed, well-rested, a bit of a lazy animal, he found it unnecessary that he should bother with anything past the end of his nose. If happiness means the absence of pain, as some philosophers would have us believe, then Monkey was the happiest creature on earth and all his happiness was contained within the narrow boundaries of his cell; his was a self-contained, self-sufficient world.
If he had lived alone in his cage, perhaps he would have been less of a happy mammal, perhaps even a miserable one, for all scientists were in agreement that Monkey was a social animal. Fortunately, however, for better and for worse he had two companions with whom to share his living space: his dear friend called Yum-yum and his hated enemy Gzog.
At first glance it could appear to an untrained eye that Yum-yum was just a lever, a simple mechanism fixed in one corner of the cage, a mere stick protruding from the floor and waiting to be pulled. But in Monkey's mind Yum-yum acquired a whole new dimension of meaning, because whenever he manipulated his friend he received a reward: the tastiest porridge gushed down from a hole in the middle of the ceiling - namely, from a copper pipe hidden therein. All Monkey had to do was position himself quickly under the outpour and catch the sweet substance in his mouth. He gorged with his eyes closed, because the thick white soup often splashed against his face and all the time he had to lick it off himself, though he did so with great eagerness. The excess that escaped his tongue ended up in the drainage grate, located directly under. It prevented Monkey's cage from being overflooded with porridge; besides that, it functioned as a toilet into which he relieved his natural needs.
After thirty seconds precisely the outflow of porridge would reduce to a trickle and then stop altogether. If his belly wasn't yet full, he would pull Yum-yum again and swallow a second helping, and a third one - and so on until satiety. It seemed that this delicious pulpy mash, his nectar and ambrosia, contained all vitamins his organism needed for healthy development; he never ate or wanted to eat anything else, but had nonetheless grown to be a hearty beast. It was only natural that Monkey should be on the friendliest of terms with Yum-yum, the sponsor of this gormandizing.
With Gzog it was a different story. He was a button, a large red shiny circle flat on the floor in the corner opposite to Yum-yum's - and he was Monkey's worst enemy from the heart. In fact, his earliest childhood memory concerned Gzog. Monkey was a baby then, a young innocent puppy crawling curious on all fours in search for objects of interest. Gzog's fiery redness captured his attention in no time, and he scrambled to the thing in order to inspect it, as children are wont to do. He placed his both hands on the button, feeling it: it was bumpy; he spotted with a squeak of enthrallment a myriad silvery dots, tiny points pockmarking the red surface end-to-end. In a mood for exploration Monkey hauled up first his right leg, then his left, and clambered on. The balance tipped over, the button was pressed under the eight pounds of Monkey's weight. Shortly after, unimaginable pain, screaming, the agony of a 20-milliamp current thundering through his nervous system. The animal was at a loss to say what had happened.
Three more times Monkey approached the button and three more times he was shocked on touching it, so that finally he had to face the truth: Gzog simply hated him. He did not know what he had done to deserve such treatment. At first he refused to believe that anyone could be so mean without a reason, so purposefully cruel, but since Gzog persisted in hurting him, Monkey was forced to surrender his naive hopes and grow up. Slowly he learned to hate Gzog back, apart from fearing him, while the only explanation he contrived for the button's behaviour was that Gzog was simply evil, rotten to the core, beyond help or rescue. It showed especially in contrast to Yum-yum, who was a force of good, never failing to gratify Monkey's wishes.
Nowadays the animal seldom ventured into Gzog's half of the cage, choosing rather the nourishing company of his friend. In this way he had fled from all knowable evil; he achieved the state of equanimity. His only need, hunger, could be satisfied with a pull of the lever; and since he had no other aspirations, he idled his days on naps, daydreams and endless gossip with Yum-yum about the unthinkable nastiness of Gzog.
It did not worry Monkey that the shaft of the lever was covered from head to foot with the same tiny spots of silver as the electrifying button.
The above-depicted world was idyllic, but it didn't lie in its purpose to last forever without a change. On the contrary, it had been so designed that it should suddenly go to pieces, break down in the middle of a carefree road, transmute from lighthearted blitheness into a wretched and sombre feeling. This turn for the worse befell on a single day from Monkey's life. It was a day among the undistinguishable many, on which he awakened after a long nap feeling refreshened but hungry, desirous of a breakfast. Without giving it much thought, in performance of a habitual, automatic routine, the primate staggered towards his friend Yum-yum and pulled him lazily with one hand, rubbing a sleepy eye with the other. And while the logical connection between Yum-yum and food had been proven thousands of times before, proven, repeated, reinforced and fossilised into a fact, this once, exceptionally, Yum-yum chose to subject Monkey to a shock treatment instead.
He screamed like a tortured animal that he was. His muscles were clenched, for some terrifying seconds he was unable to lose his grip of the shaft, but even after the pain subdued he couldn't make sense of the disturbance. Looking about himself in confusion he ascertained that Yum-yum was indeed Yum-yum - that he had not accidentally intruded upon Gzog. It was clearly a lever that he saw before himself, his lifelong friend, benefactor and confidant. With that there existed no rational explanation for the shock of electricity. Defiantly Monkey reached for Yum-yum's handle again.
Skipping the second, the third and the fourth dose of pain, which were all one after another inflicted upon Monkey before he collapsed on the floor, rejected, the consequences of the struggle between himself and Yum-yum were as follows: the longtime friendship between the two was irrecoverably broken; Monkey slipped into a mood of self-pity, because he felt a dagger had been thrust in his back; and his hunger increased threefold, now that he despaired of a way in which to indulge it.
One additional side-effect of this unfortunate impasse was a wonder, an outright miracle. Out of Monkey's despondency and pain, out of his hopelessness and incomprehension, the poetry of mammals was born. A group of scientists with their notepads, peeking surreptitiously above the animal's cold shoulder, had the special occasion to witness the very beginning of art in intelligent species, as Monkey raised his head and recited a short primitive verse in his animal tongue, all the time looking at Yum-yum with teary, sorrowfully wide open eyes. His passionate squawks of distress were put on record by the experts, and here is an approximate translation:
Oh, Yum-yum, why did you betray me?
Why did you shock me and refuse me food?
Do you really desire my death of starvation?
Why did you become a Gzog to me?
I trusted you above everything in the cage
If you could fail me, nothing remains certain
It is a terrible world in which you are not my friend
Such was the lament of Monkey, such was his sorry song. But poetry did little in the way of replenishing his empty stomach. For the first time in life Monkey experienced real hunger and he feared the sensation; it was strange, unpleasant, weakening, and his belly kept rumbling like a menace regardless of his will. Only food could save him, only sustenance could alleviate the pain. As much as he hated to be hurt again, his instinct of survival forced him to action, put him on his feet, pushed across the cage and delivered him - not to Yum-yum but to the ill-natured Gzog.
It wasn't a decision he had consciously made, but after a brief reflection he saw why it had been made for him. Firstly, he felt a strong repulsion at the thought of reaching out to Yum-yum again; his wounded pride prevented him, the hurt was too fresh, too sore. Secondly, and more importantly, if the lever had it in him to degrade all the way from friendliness to malice, why should it be assumed that Gzog couldn't climb the moral ladder in the opposite direction - repent, improve and reform from a bully into a helpful and good-humoured button? Both symmetry and justice called vociferously for this to be true that if Yum-yum had become evil, then Gzog, for balance to be retained, must have become good.
Monkey certainly hoped for Gzog's conversion when he stepped, hesitantly, on the big red button, felt it give way under his weight and sink a few inches. His heart leapt up and he startled as porridge splashed loudly behind his back. But in his bewilderment and tension he mistook this outcome for a negative one; he emitted a plaintive cry of despair and only gradually realised that food, and not electricity, was grounds for celebration. He laughed at his own foolishness. Nothing bad had happened! Gzog had really become his friend, and Monkey was just about ready to let the past be past, the old enmities buried, small adjustments to his worldview made, Gzog replaced with Yum-yum, Yum-yum replaced with Gzog, and life continued much the way it had always been.
He wolfed his meal through tears, tears of relief, which mingled with porridge. His appetite was aflame, but he felt weak, and he managed to gulp down only a few mouthfuls before the thirty seconds lapsed. He needed to activate the flow again; he tottered back to the button.
What Gzog did, then, was atrocious beyond comprehension. Having presented Monkey with the gift of hope amidst the blackest despair, he now withdrew it, annihilated the last glimmer; he shocked Monkey without scruples. It was too much for the poor animal to bear. Everything was lost! The injured one fell into a screaming rage. He wanted to fight, to flee, to suffer, to hurt - to be killed; and he kept dashing madly between one corner to the other, between Yum-yum and Gzog, screaming, screaming, screaming wildly without ever pausing for breath.
Furiously he jerked the lever. He drew his hand back, hissing.
He stomped on the button with all his might. He got shocked in return.
He pulled the lever again. It released porridge, but Monkey rushed at the button already, throwing himself on it; he slapped, punched, drummed on it with his fists. In vain. No electricity. The porridge continued to flow.
Once more he pulled at the lever, forcefully, as if to tear it from the ground. The kick of thunder hurled him across the cage.
Panting, he gathered himself off the floor. He pounced onto the button, landed safely, then jumped again and recoiled leaping in anguish: the button had burned his feet.
Too exhausted to try the lever again, for the final time he crawled onto the button. On this occasion he was gruesomely shocked, jolted, stunned, smitten and paralysed -
At last the hand of every scientist jotted down words to this effect:
The animal rolls off the button and loses consciousness on account of too much pain.
He reawakened several hours later, but for what purpose? It would have been better if he had slept forevermore! He had been a fool to put trust in Gzog, ever! He saw everything clearly now, he saw through all his former self-deceptions and illusions, and although the sight was repulsive, he compelled himself to look on. By means of trying, testing and experimenting, by pressing, pulling and suffering Monkey established that it was neither he and Gzog against Yum-yum, nor he and Yum-yum against Gzog. Accursed world! No! it was Gzog and Yum-yum against himself, united in mocking and tormenting him.
His tummy ached, his throat was dry from thirst, but he wouldn't come anywhere near his two oppressors. He shuddered at the thought of yet another electric shock frying his insides through, and every time he shuddered a handful of his hair would fall out; his fur had lost its former brilliance, declining - so it seemed to him - into greyness.
Feebly he got up; groping with his oversized animal hands he dragged himself to an empty corner, one of the remaining two. There he settled down, in an equal distance from both Yum-yum and Gzog, unable to escape any further if he didn't want to fall into the hands of either one. But it was not far away enough, they were still only a few steps apart. Frightened, Monkey curled up in a ball. He was trapped like a deer on a hunt, with his back against the metal bars of the cage. There was nowhere to escape in the small and constrictive prison cell; he was pressured to seek shelter within, in introspection; he fled into the world of feverish thinking.
What was he to do? Was there anything? Overnight he had found himself inhabiting a world in which the question of either food or pain had lost its validity. It was food and pain now, porridge and electricity, one bound inseparably in the nature of the other. If there was any pattern in the sequence of punishment and reward to which his treacherous foes condemned him, Monkey's brain was too small to detect it. However, he perceived the intention behind their conspiracy: he was to become a toy to them, Yum-yum's plaything and a slave in the lunacy of Gzog - an interesting object of torture which would continually provide them with entertainment and outbursts of triumphant dark laughter. And whenever - he thought - whenever in pursuit of food he finds himself on the verge of giving up, shocked and shunned too many times, they will send down a trickle of porridge as an incentive. They will wave a carrot before his nose, make him come for more - and then smack him on the back with a long piece of hot iron, their foolish, servile donkey.
But he refused to swallow the bait. In this way, by means of indifference, he would get the better of them; he would ignore them, he would refrain from pulling or pressing; he would avoid any physical contact. Stripped off of their meaning the villains were sure to die shortly, lifeless and alone in their respective corners of the cage. He even planned to stop using their names; preferably forget them altogether. The pair would revert to being plain inanimate things, and the last laugh would belong to him. If he was to be forever unhappy, he would drag them down with himself.
Lest one of his wandering glances encourage them - for a drowning man will clutch at a straw - Monkey manoeuvred his gaze straight between the button and the lever, till their contours vanished in the corners of his vision; the two could no longer cherish illusions as to his inattention, while his eyes, fixed on a hypnotising track in the middle, kept sliding slowly up and down, up and down: up from the middle of the ceiling - where the feeding pipe was - and down to the middle of the floor - with its drainage grate.
Thereupon occurred yet another wonder, an outright miracle in this otherwise dismal story. Behind a thoughtful spark in Monkey's pupils - going up and down, up and down - the philosophy of primates was born. As the first one of his sort Monkey squeezed his fate into a metaphor, then took it out again, crumpled but complete.
He imagined ... in his delirium he fancied that the feeding pipe was discharging food: non-existent porridge poured down like a waterfall, only to disappear in the drainage grate below. He knew this to be unreal, but the image alone had set his thoughts on the bumpy road of self-questioning and self-examination. He asked himself: What significance could he claim for his existence? What meaning had it earned up to now? It didn't seem to be of much value ... for what had he been all his life if not a mere hindrance on the path of the mighty stream of porridge? He stood under and consumed it, true, but what difference did that make if a few hours later he would invariably stoop over the drainage grate and return almost everything in defecation? The course of nature continued unruffled - oblivious even - irrespective of his participation. Porridge would always find its way into the drains.
The gloom of this remembering attached itself to Monkey's memories, infecting them with a sense of futility. Not only was the present unbearable, with its hunger, pain and alienation, but the past had also been rendered trivial, lacking in purpose and less palatable than it had seemed at the time. What in the past would have drawn out an overjoyed, dreamy squeak from him - the vision, the mere idea of a world in which the lever and the button could love him simultaneously - now left him sneering blankly. There was no return to the light-hearted, unsuspecting yesterdays. He had been changed.
From this, in so short a time, another wonder engendered, the ultimate miracle. Monkey had realised that any kind of life in the cage, in whatever form, be it in fullness or starvation, be it in hatred or love, would be grossly inadequate, a laughable parody of what the true life was supposed to be. Whence had he learned this notion of the true life he couldn't tell. All he knew was that he longed to live truly in an infinitely blessed and happy world, of which he found within himself a vague hunch - half clue half wish - that it existed. It was this hunch that was the seed of religion, and thus the faith of mammals started to beat and blossom deeply in his breast. But where was this blissful land, where the paradise he believed in? Not in the cage, for sure; he had to look farther.
Suddenly, violently, with a dramatic effect, he swerved round; like a prisoner he clutched at the bars of his cage. He found himself standing face to face with the group of humans in white robes, looking at them properly for the first time since his birth.
The world did not end where his cage ended, as he had been telling himself for years, but stretched on into enormous areas with buzzing boxes, flashing screens, steaming mugs, chairs, desks, equipment and numerous doors to numerous other rooms, opening up numerous new possibilities. Monkey explored with his eyes this bright new world, so clean and sterile, and yet teeming with so many fascinating objects. How could he have lived in ignorance of all this wealth till now? For a nauseous second he felt his brain swooning with excitement.
He returned to the scientists. There were five of them, he had counted: one male with a grizzly beard, one wearing a trimmed moustache and three clean-shaven individuals, of whom two were obviously female. They eyed him back, scribbling notes without interruption, sometimes lowering and sometimes raising their heads. In order to see them better - for their silhouettes had started to blur in his eyes - and to breathe in the new fresh air from the world that was his only hope, Monkey stuck his head into the space between two adjacent metal bars and leaned forward. His face had assumed the expression of a desperate plea. Would they help him? Did they know of his distress? He felt too feeble to ask these questions aloud.
The bearded man looked up from his notebook, ceased writing and handed his pen and paper to one of the women for keeping. They exchanged meaningful nods, whereupon he produced a silver key from his pocket, approached the cage. Monkey had wondered sometimes why one part of the mental fencing was different from the rest, criss-crossed rather than parallel. Now he knew: a door opened with a screech; he slid gently into the soft arms of the scientist, where he cradled up and yawned, his struggle to stay awake notwithstanding, for he was instantly filled with snugness and security, and his panic had dissolved into bliss. Drowsily rocked up and down with the even steps of the bearded human Monkey was carried away to a veterinary unit.
The experiment was over.