The definition of Behavioural Ecology according to Karen B. Strier:
1. The study of behaviour from an evolutionary and ecological perspective;
2. Behaviours evolved through natural selection in association with their direct environments;
3. Social behaviours.
The moment Harry stepped off the plane he was greeted with a blast of humid air. He sucked in a lungful with the hopes of erasing the smells of the two planes and airports from the last twenty hours or so fumigating within his body. The flight itself from Heathrow had only been about eleven hours, but Harry had to do a transfer in Ethiopia with a two hour wait in-between.
Harry reached up to finger the cross necklace around his neck before drawing his hand down to undo another button of his blouse. It was hot. He yawned before reaching an arm upwards towards the sky and arching his back in a full body stretch. He shook his head and gave his cheek a little pat to try and wake up before re-adjusting the wide brimmed black hat perched on top of his head and pushing the pair of aviators that had slid down during his movements, back up the bridge of his nose. He heard from behind him someone say, ‘hey’ and Harry turned around to address the person before realizing he had held up the queue of people waiting to exit the plane.
“Oops.” Harry shifted the duffle bag in his hand before grabbing the railing of the steps and beginning his descent. The plane was parked on a strip that was surrounded by open fields of lush, green grass. Far off in the distance he could see tinges of red in what looked to be the beginning of suburbs, and if he squinted hard enough, the outline of some office buildings even further.
The airport seemed to be located on the outskirts of the city, Pointe-Noire. Harry didn’t know anything about the Republic of the Congo, only that it was not to be confused with The Democratic Republic of Congo. Which, in itself was actually very confusing. He knew that Central Africa consisted of two different Congos which were separated by the Zaire River. Before The Democratic Republic of Congo was colonized by Belgium in the late 19th century it was called ‘Zaire’ prior to gaining its independence in 1960.
The Republic of the Congo, where Harry currently was, was also originally colonized in the late 19th century, but instead by France and similarly, had also gained its independence in 1960. Harry tried to keep the facts straight that he had learned from doing a quick google search after David had deposited the task on him last night, but honestly, who could remember this kind of confusing information this fast? It didn’t help that Harry was still awaiting another email with more notes to accompany the onslaught of information David had given him only twenty hours before.
David’s voice through the receiver brought Harry back from his musings. He’d been looking around his apartment, dwelling on its inhabited state. He didn’t understand why it seemed so unfamiliar, as some of his photographs were tacked in a collage on the largest wall, while others were in frames placed sporadically throughout the apartment. Knick knacks from every destination he had ever been to were littered over the remaining spaces on desks and shelves. Well, he knew why, it was because he was never situated long within its walls. He had already begun to dread this past week of being ‘home’ again in London. Harry wasn’t entirely sure that this was home—
“Styles!” His mentor’s voice startled Harry out of his thinking for the second time.
“Yes, yes, sorry David, how are you?” Harry scratched the side of his head while straightening the jostled laptop that had slipped down his thighs towards his knees at David’s bark. The phone luckily remained cradled between his ear and shoulder during his movements.
“Not well, I’m afraid.”
Harry sat up straighter from his slouched position on the couch and closed the lid of his computer, shoving it off to the side. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“My mother’s sister passed away this morning, and my mother is beside herself. She called me this morning hysterical, she needs someone to help with all of the funeral planning, you know of her poor nerves, she won’t be able to handle it all by herself.”
Harry did indeed understand the fragility of her poor nerves. He could remember the number of phone calls Jeanette O’Grady made to her only son David whilst they were out trooping through the wild. Her worried phone calls always somehow managed to come through on the crackling speakers, as if she herself had willed telecommunications through long distances to never fail. While Harry’s mother Anne on the other hand, was content to receive weekly emails from Harry stating his whereabouts and wellness.
Harry gave a noise of assent, and David continued, “Gonna be driving down soon, hopefully get her calmed down while I deal with all of the legal stuff.”
“Are Claire and the little one going with?”
Harry actually hadn’t seen Claire in a few months now, not since their last job as the three amigos in Canada, before she had the baby. The three of them had been working on the piece about Franklin’s Lost Expedition of 1845. One of the missing ships had been found in the Canadian Arctic.
Franklin’s Lost Expedition was the last trip that David, Claire, and Harry would take together as a threesome.
Harry zoned back into the conversation, realizing David had carried on talking and he’d missed some of it again, dammit. “—Claire just left with Bryden while I called the director to get a replacement for me to go see the chimps.”
“Harry, focus, the Jane Goodall Institute, they’ve got a new place, I was supposed to be leaving tonight to go do a piece—”
“What why? I thought you and Claire had decided to call it quits for now until Bryden was older?”
“I know, I was just going to go for the week. The director begged me to go down and do it as he couldn’t find any other available photojournalist. But now that I can’t go, I told him to send you in my place.”
“But David, you know I’m more of the photo-part than the journalist-part. The director knows this too, why do you think I haven’t been assigned to a solo project yet?” Harry rose from the couch to make his way into the kitchen.
“Harry, you know you’re more than capable of the writing portion as well and that you’re just avoiding doing the solo projects that the director wants you to do,” David reproached.
Harry winced, thankful that David wasn’t in the room with him. He puttered around the kitchen and fiddled with the random items that were scattered on the counter: an empty box of coffee, a pair of sunglasses, old mail…
“But,” David’s voice carried on knowingly, “the director’s done with you putting it off, so he’s making you go in my place. So I need you to pack, the flight’s tomorrow evening at 4:00 pm…”
Which was basically how Harry reluctantly wound up in Central West Africa.
Upon stepping off of the plane’s external stairs, Harry followed the flight attendant who was waiting at the bottom to lead the plane’s passengers to the airport’s terminal, where a cool blast from the building’s air conditioning pleasantly greeted them.
He stopped at the customs booth where luckily all that was required of him was to present his passport to the awaiting hand. The customs officer verified Harry’s identity and then began flipping through the pages, raising his eyebrows at the number of country stamps Harry already had in his collection. Harry smiled tentatively, ready to talk about the numerous places he’d visited, but the officer finally found a free page, inked up a rubber stamp, and loudly slammed a stamp down, glaring at Harry through the glass divider.
Harry jolted at the action and upon accepting his passport back mumbled, “Have a good day too.” The officer shouted out for the next person to come forward which startled Harry, so he quickly shuffled away through the gate.
There were signs written in multiple languages and Harry stopped to try and understand them. Recognizing the French, he struggled to remember the language from his school days.
“Des bagages…” he muttered to himself, scratching a phantom itch on his tummy.
Luckily, images accompanied the words to depict what they meant, so he followed the signs leading towards the baggage claim. He wasn’t worried, he’d been in enough airports, large and small, to see they had a pattern of how they were organized inside. He ended up following the majority of crowd anyways to the circling conveyor belt.
Harry stood at the back of the waiting crowd, his height providing a vantage point to easily spot his bag. He drew his gaze to the people surrounding him. There seemed to be a lot of individual people like himself, as well as a few couples who were entwined with one another, wrapped up in their own world. Some parents tried to contain their children’s exuberance of being off the plane, as they were flitting in between others waiting for their luggage.
He stood for what seemed to be a long time, his hand beginning to cramp from holding onto his camera and equipment bag tightly. The usual paranoia over traveling to an unknown place stilled ingrained into his mind.
He watched as the crowd dwindled in numbers, then finally, he spotted the well worn, only slightly fading in colour, rainbow tag attached to the handle of his suitcase. Of course it was in the trail end of remaining bags to come out through the flap. Figures.
Harry stepped up to the conveyor and pulled his suitcase up and over the edge a little too quickly, for it suddenly landed on his foot with a thud. He yelped before yanking his foot out from underneath and shrugging his shoulder upwards to jostle back up the fallen strap of the camera bag. He could feel his forehead tightening as he frowned. This didn’t seem to be a good start.
He grabbed the handle and began walking away from the conveyor belt through to the main section of the terminal where parties awaiting their respective arriving passengers were located. David had mentioned yesterday that someone would arrive at the airport to pick him up and would be waiting in the terminal with David’s name on a sign.
Harry scanned the area, noticing that most of the single people he watched earlier were now being reunited with someone, or were meeting someone for business. A number of people held up signs with all kinds of business and people names on them. Harry finally saw a white poster with DAVID O’GRADY written in a dark, blocky font.
Harry walked towards to the man holding the sign. He was taller than Harry, with dark skin, and his head was shaved down smooth in contrast to Harry’s long curls. His lips turned upwards to reveal a large, pearly white grin when he saw Harry point at him to indicate he was his charge.
The man was wearing a forest green polo t-shirt with a golden-yellow logo on the upper left hand side of his chest. It was a series of four silhouettes: a woman with a ponytail, a chimp walking on its knuckles, a leaf, and finally a hand imprint. Underneath was a stitched acronym ‘JGI.’
“Bonjour Monsieur!” The man emphatically waved the sign in Harry’s face before swinging it down and taking a hold of the suitcase from Harry’s hand. Harry subtly swung his camera bag tighter on his shoulder when he had reached to take a hold of that as well. Luckily, he didn’t seem offended at Harry’s movement.
“Ehm…bonjour.” Harry winced at his poor attempt of an accent.
The man laughed before transitioning to English with a thick accent, “You don’t speak any French then?”
“Not well,” Harry admitted before smiling ruefully.
The man let out a booming laugh. “Well that’s quite alright. You’ll probably pick up some French and maybe even a bit of the two dialects here, Lingala or Kituba, during your stay. Most people here know English anyways, and everyone on the islands speaks most of all four languages. I’m Patrick by the way.”
“Oh?” Patrick glanced down at the sign, then asked, “Not David O’Grady then? What happened to him?”
“Family emergency,” Harry supplied. “I just got the call last night that I was coming in his place, so I’m afraid I don’t know a whole lot about where we are, or where we’re going.”
“Ahh, not to worry, I will fill you in!” Patrick lead them away from the hustle and bustle of the waiting area and outside towards the parking lot.
The heat hit Harry once again as they walked through the doors and a taxi beeped indignantly at him as he stumbled off the curb in his haste to follow Patrick’s quick steps. His luggage was jostled by Patrick’s large strides and the uneven pavement. Harry silently thanked himself for being particular about who was allowed to carry his camera and subsequent equipment.
The sun shone down on the pavement, reflecting back up off the black surface hotter than it seemed to be. Harry felt the cooled down sweat on the back of his neck beginning to trickle down again.
Patrick finally drew to a stop at a beige jeep, the same logo etched onto his shirt was painted onto the door. Patrick opened the passenger side, lifted Harry’s suitcase, and somewhat carelessly tossed it into the back seat, all in one motion.
Harry stepped up into the seat when Patrick turned around and walked to the driver’s side. The jeep started up with a loud rumble, its age noticeable in the sputtering and coughing sounds emanating from the engine.
Harry cocked an eyebrow, looking at Patrick and asking, “Will it make it?”
“Ahh,” he petted the dashboard, “ten years old, acquired from a dealer in town, been off roading a few times since I got it, and let me tell you, those paths in the rainforest aren’t for the lighthearted, but it hasn’t failed me yet!”
Harry remained skeptical as Patrick put the car in motion and began navigating through the airport’s parking lot to the main road. He noticed something hanging from the rearview mirror swinging back and forth to accompany Patrick’s haphazard driving. Harry reached up to still the object, fingering the beads that looped around the mirror which connected to a two-dimensional, carved, wooden figurine. It was a woman. Long, dark wavy hair was painted onto the wood and her upper body was nude. Her lower body resembled that of a mermaid’s tail.
“Pardon me?” Harry let go of the talisman and it resumed swinging in time to Patrick’s chaotic driving.
“There are those who believe that Mami Water is a water spirit who may bring wealth or death. The images of her are kept as a good luck charm.”
“And what do you believe?”
“I believe,” Patrick held up his index finger as he paused, “that we make our own luck.” Each word was accompanied with an accentuated shake of his finger.
Harry pursed his lips in thought. He wasn’t entirely sure that he agreed, but he nonetheless nodded. He tried to settle back into his seat, his body disagreeing with sitting down again so soon after the long flight. There unfortunately wasn’t much room to stretch out his long legs either. He raised a hand up to grip the handle that was attached to the top of the door near his head to help steady his body against the inertia of the movements of the car.
Patrick must have seen his actions because he turned his head to grin at Harry, teasing, “You are too posh, with the hat, and the—the fancy glasses.” He gestured towards Harry’s head.
Harry frowned, staring back at Patrick. “‘M not,” he insisted, drawing his other hand down the front of his blouse in an attempt to smooth out the wrinkles. Realizing the contradiction, he pulled his hand back, slightly unsure of himself. “I can rough it if we need to.”
Patrick laughed, “Don’t worry Posh, the facility is brand new with modern technology. And Pointe-Noire is a safe, ehh safe-ish”—he wobbled a hand—“enough city to walk in at nighttime. The only time you’ll have to rough it is if you go out into the rainforest, but I don’t think you’ll have a need to.”
“Now, time for your lesson.” And so Patrick described the city by pointing out various buildings as they drove past them. The city was alive with activity, with merchants wandering down the street and stopping at various vendors to haggle prices, while vehicles honked their horns in irritation at other drivers and pedestrians.
Harry learned that Pointe-Noire was the second largest city in the Republic of the Congo, it was apparently a theme, for their intended destination was known to be in the second largest rainforest in the world.
The scenery gradually changed from the cityscape to a single road, lined by trees with wide open fields peeking through the branches. As they drove further north, the number of trees began to increase as the landscape became denser. Signs of human life diminished along their journey as the amount of visible people slimmed down to a few, and then none.
Harry noticed that the further they drove, the more the road narrowed, as flora steadily took over the sides. Patrick hadn’t bothered slowing down to accommodate this, so Harry’s hand squeezed tighter on the handle.
His attention was divided between listening to Patrick ramble on about the city and watching the world outside the windows. He had been to numerous places around the world with David and Claire, but this was his first foray into Africa.
Harry’s focus was forced forwards suddenly as Patrick slammed on the brakes and honked the horn. In front of them was another jeep, with the same logo as theirs. The two vehicles slowly drove up and past one another, Harry’s side of their jeep veering slightly off the road and angling down as the wheels bumped over the edge. Patrick yelled something out of his window to the other driver, laughter in his voice. It didn’t sound like French this time, Harry guessed it was one of the other two languages Patrick had mentioned. He sped up the vehicle again, barrelling around the corner and leaving a wake of dirt in the air.
“We are almost there.” Patrick glanced at Harry out of the corner of his eyes as finally slowed down the jeep to a crawl. Harry was grateful for the reprieve, and let his tense body relax for a moment. He peered to the dashboard, noticing that it had taken them almost an hour to get to the Kouilou-Niari River.
The river, as Patrick had described, was the end point of the road, and ultimately their destination. Patrick had told Harry that the main building of the entire facility was located on the bank of the river, with an island directly in front of the building in the middle of the river. The remaining two islands were on either side of the main one, upstream and downstream. Harry had learned that the islands were indeed also part of the facility, and required taking a boat across the river to reach each one.
Patrick turned around the corner to reveal a wide expanse of land with a white, modern looking building standing proudly in the midst of all the trees. The murky blue and green of the river was only just visible to the right hand side of the building, where a small speed boat was tied up to the dock. A flash of something bright reflecting from the top of the building drew Harry’s gaze upwards. He saw that the entire rooftop space was covered with angled, black solar panels.
Patrick drew the jeep to a stop in front of the building and said, “Welcome to the expansion project, all of the construction is fine, so you don’t have to worry about any falling beams, or loose wires.” Patrick grinned at Harry before jumping out of the vehicle, turning to pull Harry’s suitcase along with him. Harry opened the door and was hit with the sounds of their surroundings. He could hear chimpanzees hooting somewhere off in the distance. He cocked his head, listening to the repetitive hoo hoo, and the answering screech in return from somewhere else. His lips turned upwards at the end of the call. It sounded almost indignant, ‘no you, come over to where I am!’
Harry followed Patrick up to the front of the building, trailing behind him through the open door. The foyer of the building was open and spacious, most of the back wall made entirely out of glass windows, giving a view of the island behind the building. There was a single wall directly in the centre, a desk with a rounded counter stationed in front of it.
On the wall behind the desk was a stunning photograph of a chimpanzee seemingly gazing directly into the viewer’s eyes with the initials JGI inked beside the chimp’s head. The photograph took up the entire expanse of the wall, and was the only decoration in the entire foyer save for some black lounge chairs off to the side of the front entrance.
Harry finally noticed a man and woman behind the desk. The woman was sitting down and the man was leaning over her shoulder, a hand steadying himself on the back of her chair as he pointed down at something on the desk.
Patrick lead Harry up to the desk where he could better make out the duo’s features. The man was wearing a pair of blue jeans and the same T-shirt as Patrick. His hair was dyed blonde, darker roots visible as it had been gelled upwards. He had piercing blue eyes that lit up upon seeing the two men stop at the desk. The woman was dressed a little more formally than the man, wearing a plum coloured dress matched with a cream blazer. Hazel eyes glanced up behind thick framed glasses perched upon a pert nose. She shifted her gaze to Patrick and smiled warmly up at him in a greeting.
The man abruptly left her side, his hand pushing the chair slightly in his eagerness to walk around the counter. She glared at his back and Harry’s lips quirked upwards. The contrast between the two individuals was stark.
“Patrick! Welcome back, I trust the drive went well? No sudden animals darting out in front of your jeep?” Niall’s lips twitched in amusement in what Harry guessed was a past memory. Harry didn't expect the Irish accent to lilt out of the man's mouth and he blinked in surprise.
Patrick coughed lightly, “No Sir, I drove cautiously this time.”
Niall’s eyebrows raised as he looked to Harry for confirmation. “Why do I somehow doubt that?”
Harry shook his head in response, widening his eyes dramatically. Cautious was not exactly the word he would have used. The man laughed and walked forwards, raising a hand up to shake.
“You must be Harry. David sent me an email explaining his situation and that you were his replacement.” Niall shook his hand enthusiastically, clapping his other hand on Harry’s shoulder in a friendly greeting.
“Yes, I’m Harry Styles, I’ve been summoned last minute to do the piece about the facility.”
“And I’m Niall Horan, I guess you can call me the director. It seems like such a formal title though, I’m really more relaxed than that. I like to call myself the captain.” Niall dropped his hand from Harry’s shoulder, clapping it against his other palm and grinning widely as the lady behind the desk rolled her eyes behind Niall’s back.
“I have to admit, I don’t exactly know all the details about the facility.” Harry frowned, pushing back the curls that had fallen in front of his face. “I hate to be unprofessional that way. I’m waiting for David to email me his notes, which he might’ve already done, I haven’t checked yet.”
“Don’t worry about it lad, we're pretty laid back here. Well. Except for Lynn here, she'll keep you on your toes with a tight schedule," Niall whispered conspiratorially, gesturing a thumb over his shoulder towards the desk. Harry peeked over his shoulder to see that she now had her arms crossed, lips pursed, and narrowed eyes directed at the back of Niall's head.
Lynn cleared her throat noisily, standing up to place some paper on top of the counter. “Mr. Styles, I'll need you to fill out some paperwork for your stay. I’ll also give you a pass to come and go through the buildings. Some areas will be off limits to you, you'll learn which ones as you go.”
Harry stepped up to the counter, widening his eyes dramatically to Niall about her punctuality and sternness. Niall just laughed in response, offering him no help whatsoever.
Harry dutifully dotted every I and crossed each T at the areas Lynn pointed to with a perfectly manicured finger. JGI wasn’t liable for any injuries caused by provoking any of the primates, curfew was mandatory, signing in and out of each building was required...
"This is quite the operation you run here," he murmured upon signing his name at the bottom of the last document.
"Yes, well. We can never be too careful. You never know who's going to walk through these doors," Lynn answered, her hands were clasped together in a tight grip resting on top of the counter, her gaze flickering towards Niall's briefly.
Niall let out what seemed to be an uneasy chuckle. Harry avoided the seemingly awkward moment by taking the time to clip the pass halfway down his shirt, next to the first button he’d done up, and leaving most of his chest exposed. He let it hang down on an angle before nodding sagely at it and looking up at Niall.
“What now?” he inquired.
Niall clapped his hands and said, “So you basically have free reign during your stay here except for some of the areas like Lynn mentioned. Straight upstairs are the main sleeping quarters.” Niall pointed an index finger upwards to accommodate his words. “I’ll get Patrick to drop your bag off there and you can see it later.” He waved his hand at Harry’s suitcase, and Harry finally reluctantly handed over his camera bag to Patrick as Niall continued, “The cafeteria is down the hall here to the left, breakfast is from 6:30am-8:30am, lunch is kind of wishy-washy”—Niall wobbled his hand—“they have some snack stuff to grab basically from 11:30am-3:30pm, and dinner is from 6:30pm-8:30pm.
“Most of the employees stay here in the main building, but each island has its own building as well, so some of the researchers who spend all their time on the island have basically migrated there instead. Some like Patrick live in Pointe-Noire and travel back and forth every day. So you might end up seeing different faces each day.”
Niall started walking backwards down the hallway with a wave of his hand for Harry to follow. “When you want to go over to one of the other islands, just go see Lynn and she’ll call for someone to take you. Most likely it’ll be Patrick, but the absolute last time for a ride over is just before it gets dark, so 7:00pm. And vice versa, they’ll do a PA call in each building for last call for a ride over.” He shrugged his shoulders. “If you miss it, it’s not a big deal. Like I said, there’s accommodations on each island now.”
Harry nodded his head in affirmation as he caught up to Niall and began walking beside him towards an elevator. A door opened at the end of the corridor to reveal a man entering the building. Niall continued the conversation, not yet noticing that Harry’s attention was diverted.
The man was wearing a white, unbuttoned lab coat that seemed a little too large for his smaller frame. He was wearing a simple black T-shirt with slacks and a pair of converse. Harry quirked an eyebrow upwards, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth at the contrasting outfit. His gaze continued to rake over the man’s form up to his tanned face, and Harry glimpsed taunt muscles in his neck when the man suddenly shook his head to tousle his hair out of his eyes. Dainty, long fingers swept aside the fringe that wasn’t cooperating. Harry glimpsed a black digital watch and an olive coloured, corded bracelet wrapped around his delicate wrist, before it was hidden from his view by the pocket of the lab coat.
“Mr. Tomlinson!” Niall’s voice drew Harry back to reality, and he watched as the man approached them.
“How many times have I told ye not to call me that?” Mr. Tomlinson barked, his accent evidently prominent. His face pulled into a mock serious frown, but changed into a quizzical look when he glanced over to Harry, the newcomer. Harry shifted his feet as he watched Mr. Tomlinson take his turn giving Harry a quick once over.
“Sorry Mr. Tomlinson,” Niall said, grinning and not looking sorry at all. “I have to maintain my professionalism while we’re still in the presence of Lynn.”
Harry sneaked a peek backwards towards Lynn who was staring impassively at the men down the hall.
“So we can’t have all visitors know you and I are on friendly relations now can we?” Niall continued.
“I’ll show you friendly relations…” Mr. Tomlinson muttered before finally walking over to stand in front of Harry. “Hi.” He held up a hand to shake with Harry.
Harry gripped the warm hand firmly, trying not to stare as Mr. Tomlinson’s hand was almost completely engulfed by his.
“Hi, I’m Harry Styles from National Geographic.” He held his gaze with the blue ones peering inquisitively back at him. There was a guarded edge which kept the man’s facial features carefully composed despite the seemingly welcoming tone.
“I’m Louis Tomlinson but please, just call me Louis.” Louis side-eyed Niall in a reprimand. Niall held his hands up in surrender.
“To what do we owe the pleasure of another Englishman? Niall, you’re officially outnumbered.”
“Harry’s here to do the write up I was telling you about? Remember? And nah, I’m the unique one, you plus the other two are now just average.” Niall crossed his arms and adopted a haughty expression. His grin however took away from the overall intended effect.
“Did your mum tell you that you were special every night before bed?” Harry quipped.
“Cheeky! I like him, he can stay.” Louis gave Harry a smirk at Niall’s indignant ‘hey!’
Niall changed the subject by asking, “What are you doing out of your habitat?” He seemed chuffed with his word choice.
Louis glanced witheringly at Niall. “If you must know, Zayn kicked me out, he’s brooding again.”
“What else?” Louis retorted, throwing his hands up.
“Well Louis, since I am an important person and have many things to do, I’m going to leave Mr.Styles in your care, make sure he gets dinner and show him the floors upstairs.” He gave Harry a last clap on the back before retreating back down the hall back to Lynn.
Louis opened his mouth, possibly to protest but then thought better of it. “Well alright, not like I had other important things to do,” he stated, seemingly affronted.
“Sorry, I can go…wander?” Harry gestured to nowhere in particular over his shoulder.
“Harry,” Louis laughed. “I’m just kidding, the most important thing I have left to do today is eat, and then take the boat back before curfew. I came to stock up on food for my kitchen.”
Louis began walking down the corridor, but suddenly stopped and spun around on his heel, nearly crashing into Harry.
“On second thought, let’s go upstairs first, then eat.”
Louis drew the pair to a stop at the elevator and pressed the button. Upon hearing the ding of the lift, the door opened to reveal a man with a stocky build wearing construction boots with blue jeans rolled up at the cuffs. Harry noticed his arms were rather defined, showcased via a white muscle T-shirt, with a flannel shirt tied around his waist. His entire demeanour was topped with a scowl that graced his otherwise handsome face. What was most startling however, was the rather large shotgun that was slung across his broad shoulders, the base sat behind his head and the tip of the gun peeked out from behind his thighs.
Harry tried his best not to startle but couldn’t stop his eyes from widening and his eyebrows shooting upwards.
“Tommo,” the man practically barked.
“Payno…” Louis trailed off uncertainly.
“Who’s this?” ‘Payno’ asked, uncrossing his arms and gesturing towards Harry. He stepped off the elevator and walked directly up to Harry. Determined not to be intimidated, Harry raised a hand to shake with him.
“I’m Harry Styles from National Geographic.”
Payno glanced down at Harry’s outstretched hand, seemingly indecisive on whether or not to shake his hand, but Louis’ slight cough startled him into a decision, and Payno reached up to firmly grasp Harry’s hand.
“Liam Payne. I’m the liaison who frequents between the African Wildlife Foundation and the Sanctuary Islands.”
Harry didn’t entirely understand what Liam’s position was, but he nonetheless nodded and shook Liam’s hand.
“Pleasure to meet you.” Once he released Liam’s hand he dropped his own behind his back and clasped them together, rocking forward on his feet, and looking towards Louis for some instruction.
Liam hadn’t moved, but twisted his body slightly to address Louis, “Where are you headed?”
“To the observation deck. I’ve been told to give Harry the basic lowdown of how we operate here. Why, what’s happened?”
“They’ve moved,” Liam answered simply.
Louis made a noise in the back of his throat before huffing out a breath. “Alright, I’ll come find you when I’m done with Mr.Styles here,” he said, gesturing with his thumb in Harry’s direction.
“I can wander around to my room and find you after to finish the rest of the tour if you would like?” Harry offered to the two men.
His offer must’ve registered something in Liam, as his harsh facial expression relaxed somewhat and he acquiesced, “No that’s alright, I’ll go wash up and find some food and Niall.” He waved a hand at the two of them before walking down the hallway.
Louis requested the elevator doors again and Harry followed him in, attempting to quell his curiosity by waiting for Louis to speak. Louis had a brooding look upon his face as he reached into the pocket of the lab coat to withdraw a ring full of keys. Once he located a specific key, he inserted it into the slot next to button at the top of the panel, twisting the key and pressing the button for the top floor. Harry noticed that it was the only level in the building that had this security feature.
The elevator began its ascent with pull and Louis withdrew the key and pocketed the ring before turning to address Harry, “So, I assume that you know who Jane Goodall is?” When Harry nodded his confirmation that he did indeed know who she was, Louis continued, “The Jane Goodall Institute, I’m just going to refer to it as the Institute from now on, was working for a long time to find a new location as a sanctuary for chimpanzees. Most of the chimps here are the ones that were transferred from the other sanctuary, you passed it on your drive in, it’s about twenty kilometers from here.”
Louis continued speaking as the doors opened and the two stepped directly into a wide room full of computers and monitors. One wall was an entire glass panel where all Harry could see from their vantage point was lush green and blue sky. He hadn’t been listening to Louis but was brought back into the conversation by hearing,
“—baby chimps that have been rescued from the hunters who kill their parents.”
“But why?” Harry blurted out before Louis could continue.
“Because humans are despicable,” Louis stated with a steely gaze directly at Harry. There was a look of determination beneath the blue eyes which bore into Harry’s own. He didn’t know exactly how to address the blunt honesty, but he figured a reply wasn’t exactly needed. Nonetheless he never let his gaze waver, but rather returned it with his own look of determination.
Louis was the one who broke the gaze eventually by walking towards a large monitor and sitting down at the desk. He pulled up a website’s homepage which had a green header with a chimpanzee staring off to the side and the word Tchimpounga was outlined in yellow.
“What’s the-T-chimp-” Harry tried to ask, mumbling and mispronouncing the word by harshly enunciating the ’T’.
“Shim-poun-ga,” Louis stressed. “The ‘T’ is silent,” he chuckled lightly.
Harry muttered, “Hey, don’t make fun of me.” He pouted and pulled his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger.
“I’m allowed to, you’re new, and you gotta learn all the lingo around here, otherwise you’re gonna fall flat, fast. Anyways, Tchimpounga,” he stressed, staring at Harry obviously, “is the name of the other sanctuary I just mentioned. It’s essentially a rehabilitation centre that was established in 1992 by the Institute through a cooperative agreement with the government of Congo to care for orphaned chimpanzees. A number of them have just been transferred over to us because they were running out of space.
“Hunters kill thousands of chimpanzees for the illegal bushmeat trade. They target the adult chimps for their larger size to yield more meat. They tend to spare the lives of the babies and sell them as pets despite the laws forbidding them. The orphans that have been rescued by government officials from the black market are sent to the rehab centre where they can be raised in an non-violent environment and they can receive care and attention they need on free ranging sites.”
Louis rolled his chair away from the computer over to another one with a large map displayed on the monitor. Harry was able to recognize the labelled Kouilou-Niari River as Louis tapped the monitor, and the map suddenly zoomed in closer to three islands situated on the river.
“Liam’s taken to calling them The Sanctuary Islands, Niall hasn’t confirmed if they’re going to be called that or not. But. The first is one hundred hectare Tchindzoulou; then there’s forty hectare Ngombe; and finally seventeen hectare Tchibebe. You may need to have a lesson on how to pronounce them.” Louis gave Harry a wry grin, to which Harry returned with a small harumph.
Louis pointed at the largest island. “We are currently located in front of this one, the largest of the three islands, Tchindzoulou, it’s where all the rehab chimps from Tchimpounga are. My usual island is the smallest of the three, the one to the right.” Louis dragged his finger across the map towards Tchibebe “‘Bebe’ as I like to call her.”
Harry opened his mouth to inquire what Louis did on his island, but Louis carried on talking, “The Institute works in order to eventually end the bushmeat treachery through a number of initiatives. One is through what Liam does, he is our…‘liaison’ as he’s dubbed himself.” Louis drew finger quotes in the air as he stated the title.
“He works with the African Wildlife Foundation to try and prevent the other chimps from being targeted in the wild. He’s in charge of the safety and protection of some of the local groups that are on the mainland. We try our best to track the groups, as well as any hunters that may be following them. And before you ask, no Liam does not kill the hunters, the gun is for his own protection. The hunters are ruthless, and will do anything to get what they want,” he bit out, shaking his head reproachfully.
“The second initiative is to try and create community centred conservation activities. This is where we try to develop alternative sources of protein, as well as policy efforts. This of course can be problematic, how do you tell someone who eats cow to stop eating cow? It’s one of those tricky, political discussions. Who says that your way of doing things is better than someone else’s? The problem is that the chimpanzees are becoming endangered. Being our closest relative, there’s still so much that can be discovered by examining them. Obviously, this can’t be done if there are none left to study.”
Louis waved a flippant hand as he said, “I mean, most of the focus has shifted anyways to creating free-range spaces for primates and lessening the amount of research being done. The research environments of the past left a mindset of horribly small cages and treatments that range from all kinds of terrible ideas. Mind you, not everyone is like that, but it’s difficult to shake the stigma. The Sanctuary Islands are meant to offer the chimps a much larger, more natural setting where they can be in a secure environment to learn, and of course build their relationships. Chimps are naturally social primates and develop bonds with one another within their communities.
“The third initiative is to try and provide education and awareness programs to individuals around the world about the bushmeat trade with the hopes of ending it. And this is mainly why you are here I’m guessing, to write an article about the Institute and all the work we do here and to teach others that getting involved is the best way to help end the trade once and for all.”
Louis paused his monologue as he walked towards the glass wall where he folded his arms and glanced down at the river below. Harry followed him and gazed out the window to see Tchindzoulou covered with trees, the lush green hiding any evidence of life existing on the island. He couldn’t even see the Island’s building, so he asked Louis about it.
“The building’s in the centre of the island and it’s really inconspicuous,” Louis explained. “We try to keep human interference to a minimum, there are fences around the island for protection, but then that’s about it.”
He pointed and Harry followed his gaze to the lonely dock at the bank.
“The boat drops you off and then it’s a short walk down the dirt road, or you can do go to the shed and take one of the golf carts and ride down.”
“Is each island structured the same way?” Harry inquired.
“More or less. Since my island is smaller, the building is about half the size.”
“What goes on, on your island?”
“I also have rescue chimps, but they come from all around the world. Some were rescued from trainers who misused them in circuses, others from cosmetic testing laboratories. It takes a lot longer to rehabilitate these primates because most of them don’t know anything else. They were raised in captivity and need close attention to reintroduce them into a natural habitat. I’m the leader of the team on Bebe Island that works to accomplish this.”
“And the third island?” Harry asked.
“It isn’t operational yet, and from what I hear, it may end up housing some other primates instead of chimpanzees. Too many other subfamilies of primates are going extinct,” Louis tsked, turning away from the window.
“Come on, I’ll show you the rest of the building.”
The rest of the building consisted of four other levels, including a basement for food storage. Louis walked Harry through each level, describing the functions of the various rooms. The only inaccessible areas of the building seemed to be the control room on the top floor and the basement. The third and second floor consisted of office space for the staff, some research laboratories, and finally researcher and visitor housing, where each room was equipped with their own bathroom. Louis found Harry’s room for him, as he was apparently the only visitor staying in the building right now. Louis let Harry quickly splash some water on his face and drop off this hat and sunglasses before continuing with the tour.
“So how did you get stuck here?” The two men were slowly making their way down a flight of stairs back to the main level when Louis took advantage of their silence to question Harry.
“David, the initial correspondent had a death in the family and sent little unsuspecting me down in his place,” He answered, rolling his eyes.
“You don’t want to be here?”
Harry scrambled to reply, “It’s not that, it’s just that I uh, I don’t normally write the articles. That was always David’s job. He’s always been the best writer out of the three of us. His wife, Claire and I, were the photographers in our little trio. The three of us worked together for five years, I’ve known them even longer, as we went to school together”—he flipped a hand—“well, they were my TAs in my undergrad, then I did a master’s in photojournalism. David and Claire were employed at National Geographic during this time and since I had just sort of kept following them around, they got me a job.” Harry fiddled with the elastic tied around his wrist, snapping it lightly against his skin.
“You said ‘worked’ together? You don’t anymore?” Louis stuffed his hands in the lab coat’s pockets, billowing the fabric out with splayed hands, his nose wrinkling in a phantom itch. Harry tore his gaze from the sight.
“Well, after they got married a couple of years ago, it was only a matter of time before they wanted a kid right?” He shrugged his shoulders. “Claire just had baby Bryden a few months ago, and they both decided to take some time off from working and travelling around, of course. Our director was apparently trying to find someone to come here because most of everyone else is away on assignments, so David initially agreed under the pressure.”
Louis tilted his head and asked, “Why didn’t the director just ask you in the first place?”
“I’ve never done a solo trip by myself,” he mumbled, shifting his gaze away from Louis. “I’d gotten used to working with other people, so when David and Claire left, I just tagged along with other groups.”
“Ahh.” Louis nodded. “So you found a new crew then?”
Harry thought carefully. “Well, every trip since then, I’ve worked with a different group of people. It’s fine, I mean, David and Claire aren’t easily replaceable ya know?” Harry tried to grin, but it felt more like a grimace.
Louis didn’t say anything further. He looked up at Harry, something akin to pity lurking in his eyes. Harry felt a knot tighten in his chest. He cleared his throat.
“So, where to now?”
Louis’ eyes flickered as he answered, “Cafeteria, I called Renee, our head cook, earlier to let her know I was coming by to pick up food for my kitchen on Bebe. Plus, I reckon it’s close dinner time.” He tapped the face of his watch.
The cafeteria was a wide room, with long tables taking up the majority of the space in the centre of the room with fold up benches attached to them instead of chairs. There were a few people eating dinner already, and a short, middle aged woman was standing behind a steam table at the far end of the room.
“Louis!” She waved a hand, the white apron tied around her waist that was covered in a variety of food stains jostled in her erratic movements.
“Renee!” Louis’ shout echoed across the room, causing a few heads to turn questioningly in their direction.
Louis walked around the steam table to hug the woman, squishing her face into his chest, as the top of her head didn’t quite reach Louis’ shoulders. He rubbed his hands up and down her shoulders soothingly. “This is Renee, the love of my life, apple of my eye—”
She elbowed Louis in the ribs. “You charmer.”
“Only for you!” he said, smacking a kiss to her cheek. “Do you have the food I ordered?”
“You forgot.” Louis’ pursed lips were threatened by the grin breaking through and the sudden small slits of his eyes as he finally let out a laugh.
She placed her hands on her hips. “Do you know how hard it is to keep track of all you?”
“There’s not many of us ‘ere!” Louis jumped out of the way of her sudden swat to his arm.
“Oosh, I’ll have none of your sass Tomlinson, now who’s your friend luv?”
“Oh, this here is Mr. Harry Styles from National Geographic.”
“Ohh! I love those magazines, especially the beautiful photographs in them, and the little pull out maps inside of them.” She imitated the actions of flipping through pages as she rambled on, “What do you do there?”
“I’m a photographer.” Harry smiled softly at the compliment given to him before her realization, puffing up slightly in pride.
“Oh how wonderful! You are going to take some pictures of the islands then, yes?” She adjusted the hair net wrapped around thick black hair tied up in a bun before crossing her arms and resting them down on the counter in front of her.
“Yes that’s the plan.” He imitated a gun and pointed his finger at her, clicking his tongue. “I’ll be doing a write up about the facility as well.” He continued, nodding his head and scrunching up his lips at the thought of the task ahead of him.
Louis rocked forward on his toes, tilting his head towards Harry. “It’ll be Harry’s first article written by himself actually.”
Her eyebrows raised up. “Will it now? Well that’s just darn exciting. If you need any help, I’ve read tons of articles in the magazines over the years, I can help you from a reader’s perspective.” Her golden hoops bounced excitedly with her enthusiastic head nod.
Harry let out a laugh, before schooling his features and stating seriously, “Well then you’re the perfect person for the job.”
She beamed pearly white teeth at him. “I like you, Harry, you got a good head underneath all those curls. Now, I’ve got some smoked fish, yam, rice, kwanga, and cassava cake, what do you want on your plate?”
“Kwanga? What’s that.” Harry stepped forward, saying eagerly, “I love trying new foods.”
Louis’ mouth opened with a little indignant, “Hey!” followed by, “what about my order?”
“Shhhh.” She swatted a hand at Louis, looking up at Harry with a wink. “I’ll make it up for you after. Kwanga is just a bread. Cassava is a root, that can be made into a flour, and then you use that to make the cake. Here, I’ll put a little bit of everything on a plate for you, how’s that?”
“Yes please.” Harry eagerly rubbed a hand over his belly. “I‘m actually starving, this looks amazing.”
Harry shifted his gaze to Louis to see him narrow his eyes at him, to which Harry just grinned and crossed his hands behind his lower back, swaying his torso in innocence.
Louis mouthed, suck up to him, and Harry raised an eyebrow and shrugged his shoulder as if to say, well it can’t hurt right? The two men quickly looked back to Renee at the clearing of her throat and the presentation of a steaming plate of food with a raised eyebrow.
Harry accepted the plate, murmuring his thanks before grabbing utensils to settle down onto one of the benches. Louis joined him shortly after with his own plate of food.
Harry let them eat in silence for a couple of minutes before asking, “So, the African Wildlife Foundation that you mentioned earlier, with Liam? What’s that all about exactly.” He opened his mouth to catch the piece of fish dropping off his fork with his tongue, bringing the rest up into his mouth and humming in pleasure while he chewed and nodded his head. He looked back up to Louis when his question went unanswered for more than a few seconds.
Louis was staring intently at Harry’s mouth, “Uhh…wildlife…” He cleared his throat and blinked, his attention down towards his plate. “Liam works with the foundation to protect the chimps out in the wild,” he answered.
“Yes you mentioned that earlier, I guess what I’m wondering is how exactly can the chimps be helped?”
Louis rested his elbow on the table, twirling his fork in his other hand, spearing a piece of fish on the end of it. “Well, the species itself is endangered, and not just from the bushmeat trade. Obviously that isn’t doing the species any favours by killing off the mothers, leaving it to be a male based population with less opportunities for repopulation,” he rambled. “But there’s also the increasing amount of land becoming ravaged by deforestation. Chimpanzees are losing their habitats rapidly.”
Louis set down his fork and interlocked his fingers together. “So the combination of the two devastations are dwindling down the population. The African Wildlife Foundation has their own initiatives to try and provide communities with agricultural training and teach them that instead of just clear cutting”—he made the motions of a saw with his hand—“which is cutting down everything in their path, that there’s better alternatives.” He picked his fork back up, eating a piece of fish, and continuing to talk around it, “And then the Foundation has enlisted us to try and handle the bushmeat hunting end of the situation.”
“By having Liam track the wild chimps,” Harry interjected.
Louis nodded. “There’s one big social group of about fifty chimpanzees that we, sort of follow, or at least follow with our technology, GPS, trackers, aerial photography. Liam will also occasionally go out into the forest with a team for a few days, where he camps and tries to make sure there’s no hunter groups stalking the chimps. We’ve had issues of that in the past, it never used to be so pervasive, but there was an…incident.” Louis cocked his head, his lips thinning before he continued, “So Liam’s taken to upping our security, as well as searching for the hunter groups lingering near the chimpanzee’s group.”
Harry frowned, “What was the security brea—”
“Louis luv, here you go,” Renee interrupted Harry’s question by setting a bag down on the table beside Louis. She placed a hand upon his shoulder, looking towards Harry and asking, “How do you like it dear?” She gestured to the kwanga and the cassava.
“Ohh, it’s delicious,” Harry replied, holding up the ‘okay’ symbol with his index finger and thumb. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome dear.” She tapped Louis’ shoulder, “Louis, you best hurry along so you can catch a ride with Patrick over to Bebe.”
“Yes mum, I need to talk to Liam too anyways before I head back.” Louis rolled his eyes as he stood up. “Alright on your own then?” He gestured with his chin towards Harry.
“Yeah, thank you for the tour and all of the insider info.” Harry wiped his hands on his jeans, bringing one up in a fist to cough lightly into it.
“No worries. I’ll see you ‘round.” Louis nodded his head at him and took his tray over to the garbage station, along with his food parcel, leaving the room behind and taking with him most of the energy.
Harry remained at the table for a while longer, finishing his meal slowly while watching the others in the room eating in pairs or larger groups, as he sat alone in thought.
The hallways were littered with more people than he had seen all day, as researchers and security personnel began retiring to their rooms for the evening.
No one spoke to him as he wandered back up to the floor his room was on, walking past a window which reflected his image from the light in the ceiling. The blackness outside the window swallowed up any view of the first island, Tchindzoulou, or the river. Harry stepped up to it, pressing his face and hands against it to try and get a glimpse. His breath fogged up the glass, so he wiped it away and was able to make out a brief outline of the island because the moon was only a sliver in the night sky, providing a barely-there soft glow to reflect on the water. He drew his gaze upwards, the stars beginning to peek out as the night grew. The clarity of the stars was already more prominent than any night in London, but nothing beat the visibility of a nighttime sky in the Canadian Arctic.
The three of them had been summoned to join an expedition in the Canadian Arctic, where a crew of archaeologists had been searching for the lost ships of an ill fated trip of Sir John Franklin back in 1845. Franklin’s third trip from England had been to find the Northwest Passage, but his ships had disappeared, leaving behind scattered clues all over the arctic of fragmented bones from the crew members, and various pieces of the ships. For over 170 years, searches for the lost ships from the expedition had all been in vain.
The most recent crew to go out there now, were so convinced of their newfound evidence, a metal stamp from one of the ships that was found on an island, which could indicate that a ship was possibly nearby, sunken underneath the ice. They had called National Geographic, claiming that this was going to be the year where the found something. That this time they had better technology, better exploration techniques, a better crew, and a new location, all to try and track down one of two ships described in Sir John Franklin’s last letters, the HMS Erebus, or HMS Terror.
David, Claire, and Harry had been sent from National Geographic to follow the story of the hopeful crew, with the potential uncovering of the next big archaeological find.
The three of them had only been home from their last trip for a few days when they were sent out again, finishing up the final touches of their article, a ten page spread in the latest issue of National Geographic.
Harry hadn’t even bothered unpacking, instead swapping out some clothes for warmer ones and investing in a parka, a pair of thermal boots, and gloves before the three were off to the Canadian Arctic.
He’d never been anywhere northern before and being on the boat for days on end had etched a permanent chill deep within his bones that couldn’t be rectified. He stole his way into Claire and David’s room, looking to leech warmth by cuddling with them.
He stood in the doorway to the small room, a bunk bed built up in the corner, and a small dresser in the other. His teeth chattered uncontrollably, his hands were stuffed deep into his pockets, and his was hood drawn up, the faux fur tickling his cheeks.
Claire took one look at him from her position lying on the bed in David’s embrace, and opened her arms wide. “C’mere Haz.”
“Why are we on this god forsaken, frozen boat, in the middle of nowhere?” he mumbled grumpily into Claire’s stomach. She pushed down his hood to run her fingers soothingly through his curls. Her fingers were warm against his scalp as she scratched behind his ears, her ring occasionally catching a tendril of hair, which she gently pulled free.
Something had felt off with the three of them since the beginning the trip. Ever since the initial phone call from David about the job, he and Claire just hadn’t seemed quite enthusiastic about it as they had for previous trips. Harry wasn’t sure what it was that kept Claire and David’s excitement to a minimum, but he was glad to see that whatever it was, it didn’t change the amount of affection he was able to receive from them. Harry was happy to be on the road again with the two of them, no matter how short of a break they had gotten. He had to admit, he could do with an increase in temperature though.
The tremors in his body began to simmer down, the combination of Claire’s soft fingers and David’s soothing voice retelling the words written by Sir John Franklin in his last letters finally allowed Harry’s body to relax.
Harry dozed in and out of a half conscious state, the past few nights had been a restless sleep for him he was unable to get used to the swell of the ship on the water, nor the cold.
David’s voice ceased as he finished the last letter, and the sudden quiet was somehow too loud in the small room.
Harry muttered dryly, “I don’t know that I can handle all the excitement happening on board right now. When do you think they’ll find something?”
“Alright, up you both get, c’mere. Let’s go up”. David’s movements broke the cocoon of warmth as he started getting up. Harry mumbled nonsensically in the disturbance before realizing what David meant.
“Up on the deck? Now?” he sputtered as he rose to stand up, pulling Claire up with him.
Upon arriving on board three days ago, Harry hadn’t bothered lingering above deck after the sun had set, as it took with it the little warmth it had. He had taken to retiring early for the night, playing cards with crew members underneath, as he was unwilling to stand outside on deck when the temperatures dropped even lower. Harry didn’t want to go up there right now.
“Yes, yes, now.” David left the room, leaving a confused Harry to follow, with Claire taking up the rear.
They climbed the steep ladder and pushed open the wooden door entering the frigid air. Harry’s puffs of hot air were frosted upon each breath before being swallowed up by the night sky. He pulled the hood up over his head in the hopes of recapturing the heat trying to escape off the top of his head.
David walked over to the railing, leaning his elbows over the edge.
“What do you see?” he intoned, turning his head to look at Harry. Claire came up to the other side of David, linking her arm through his and resting her head against his shoulder, strands of her blonde hair falling out of her ponytail and dancing in the wind.
“Is this another one of your lessons?” Harry scoffed. “No matter how many times I seem to tell you that I haven’t been a student of yours for a long time now, you always do this.”
He made a noise in the back of his throat, blowing out a harsh puff of air which steamed up in his face. “Fine, fine, I’ll bite. I see nothing. The land is barren, filled with rocks, and there’s barely any snow cover. We haven’t even really seen any icebergs, nothing remotely big enough to make this trip interesting. We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
David grabbed Harry’s chin and tilted it upwards towards the night sky. “Look again Harry, there are stars, you’ve probably never seen them like this before. A totally unaltered, clean, and clear atmosphere, with a view of millions upon millions of scattered stars. Bursts of energy with the promise of something else existing.”
Harry feasted his eyes upwards, he felt David’s hand drop away from his chin. Pebbles of silver sparkled at him in clusters all throughout the black canvas. There were no city lights obstructing the view, no light pollution to cover up the brilliance of the natural light. His breath hitched, and he suddenly felt dizzy at the enormity of the sky. Even in the countryside away from London, nothing had ever been quite like this. He had never known that the number of stars up there almost cancelled out the blackness. You could never see this much down in the city, you were perhaps lucky if you could spot a constellation or two. You almost didn’t need the moonlight, as the stars here were overpowering, with light radiating off of them onto the landscape below.
Harry suddenly felt small, standing there on the dock of boat that was gliding its way through arctic waters to location rumoured to be a spot where a sunken ship could be hidden down below the ice.
“And then. Not only can you get a glimpse of the black and silver sky, the Arctic has more to offer. A phenomenon unique to the North pole, the Aurora Borealis,” David whispered the name like an enchantment.
“The Northern Lights,” Harry murmured, his gaze raking the sky for any signs of bright colour.
“Also called ‘Dawn of the North.’ Where gas particles in the Earth’s atmosphere collide with charged particles from the sun’s atmosphere resulting in variations of different colours.” David mimicked the explosion by knocking his balled up fists together, his small ponytail shook at the vibration that ran through his upper body at the impact. “The result is something spectacular.”
The trio fell silent, watching the stars flicker, the sounds of the waves lapping against the bow of the boat was a steady whoosh, steam rising from their mouths as they each breathed heavily and gazed outwards.
A sudden flicker of something out of the corner of Harry’s eye caught his attention. He looked upwards to see a flash of green hue. It’s eerie iridescent form created a wave in the night sky that materialized right before his eyes. A hue of blue accompanied it, weaving in and out of the green, and extending for quite some distance.
His mouth dropped open. He whipped his head towards David, accusing, “How the hell did you know it was going to do that?”
David’s mouth was also dropped open, but it closed into a smirk. He leaned his torso forward into Harry’s space, his mouth opening wide into a grin. “I didn’t, I just really fucking hoped it was going to!” He let out a booming laugh, opening his arms wide open and hooting into the sky, his cry echoing into the flickering colours.
Claire smacked his arm and reprimanded, “David! Language!” Her scolding trailed off into a shriek when David suddenly lifted her up underneath his arms and swung her around in circles, eliciting giggles. He set her down gently afterwards and kissed her slowly, his hands cupping her rosy cheeks.
Harry turned away from the moment, giving them their privacy, but he shook his head in amazement and looked up past the river of green and blue, and towards the hundreds of bundles of stars that shone brightly behind it.
He was brought of out the memory with a quick shake of his head, and he turned away from the window, no Aurora Borealis was present here, nor a David to give him a life lesson.
He wandered back to his room, swiping his pass to enter it and locking it behind him for the night. The room had a simple set up, the bathroom situated right beside the front door and a double bed with a navy coloured duvet stuck out from the middle of the wall, taking up most of the space in the room. A desk and a dresser were stationed in the far corner in front of the window which overlooked the parking area in front of the building. He walked up to the window, pulling the blinds closed and toeing off his shoes, kicking them underneath the chair at the desk. He began methodically unpacking his clothing, fluffing out the items to remove any lingering creases, and placing them gently inside the drawers.
He plucked his toiletry bag out of the suitcase and went to the bathroom, unpacking and organising its contents . Once that was finished, he switched on the faucet of the shower, letting the water warm up as he began removing his clothing, then pulling the shampoo and conditioner he had brought with him into the stall and closing the door behind him. He let the hot water erase the grime from travelling which lingered on his body. His teeth felt fuzzy, he ran his tongue over them, and grimaced. He then lathered the soap in his hands and scratched away at his hair, digging the soap deep into the roots. The familiar scent of the coconut body wash wafted over him when he flicked open the cap, pouring a generous amount on his palm, disbelieving that a small dollop would be enough to wash away the sweat from the day. He lathered the soap all over his body, reaching around to the tops of his shoulders, digging his thumb into the knots deep in the muscles, releasing a groan at the impact to the tense muscle. He dropped his hands, suddenly too tired to carry on holding them up. The hot water was making him sleepy and lethargic, so he quickly finished up, rinsing himself off and turning the water off.
He squeezed excess water from his curls, then pulled off a towel from the bar and unfolded it. The towels were soft he noticed, as he rubbed the material up and down his arms and over his pink torso. He gently glided it over his cock, which was nestled in curls, he ran the fingers of his other hand through the sparse hair and downwards, contemplating. A flash of tousled hair and blue eyes in his mind nearly tempted him, but he decided against it, too tired to want to put the effort into it. Instead he dragged the towel over his wiry legs and in between each toe. He tousled the towel over his head to wring out the water seeped into the curls, ending the routine by draping the towel around his hips and brushing his teeth.
He padded softly back into the room, pulling his laptop and charger from the suitcase and plopping himself down at the desk. He smacked his lips sleepily as he waited for the computer to boost up. He eyelids were dropping, the muscles in his body pliant from the warm water. He sat hunched over at the desk, waiting for the tell tale ping of the startup screen loading.
There was a sheet located on the corner of the desk with the wifi name and password, so he entered it perfunctory into the settings and opened the browser to his email. He had a few new messages, one from his mother, David, some coupons from his favourite camera store, and other spam messages from websites he had signed up to. He deleted some and replied to his mother with a simple, I’ve arrived and I’m tired so I’ll provide you with a more detailed message tomorrow, Love H.
David had attached a number of documents to his email which stated information Harry had already picked up today. He read over them lazily anyways, making a note on the desktop to re- read it in the morning.
He powered down the laptop and threw the towel over the back of the chair in a lump, falling face first and naked into the bed. He squirmed around to roll underneath the covers without lifting his body up off the bed, and finally huddled underneath, falling into a fitful sleep.
Harry rose the next morning with a crick in his back and heavy dark circles underneath his eyes. Lingering dreams of unidentified images drifted from his mind quickly. He remembered waking up each time he rolled over. The unfamiliarity of a new bed always gave him issues on the first night of sleep.
His shower from last night had left his hair in a state of dishevelled knots so he stuck his head under the tap quickly to wet it again. This time, he blowed it dry and left it down naturally.
He puttered around on the computer for a few minutes, re-reading the email from David. However, his growling stomach demanded his attention, so he ensured that he had all of his provisions for the day in a small knapsack (mainly his camera, a notebook and pencil to jot down notes, as well as an extra camera battery) and lumbered stiffly down to the cafeteria.
The buffet consisted of a wide arrange of fresh fruit, strong black coffee, and more kwanga with salty butter. Harry stopped to have a chat with Renee, and she gave him a couple bottles of water and an apple to take with him to the island.
“You make sure to stay hydrated okay? And don’t eat near the chimps, they’ll steal your food.” She gave him a pat on the bum and waved him off to the front desk.
Lynn was perched in her chair with her back ramrod straight. Her hair was down in a side swept braid this morning.
“Hi, good morning, how are you?” Harry drawled with a small wave of his hand.
Lynn peered up at him over her glasses. “Good morning Mr. Styles. Have you decided what you’re going to do today?”
“Yes, I think I’ll head over to Tchindzoulou Island.” After spending time this morning on a pronunciation website, he pronounced the name slowly and carefully.
Lynn was nonplussed at his efforts. “Very well Mr. Styles. Let me call for Patrick to take you over.”
“Please, just Harry.” He pulled the ring on his finger slightly loose and began twisting it around, the steely gaze of the woman bore into his.
She inclined her head in acquiesce and picked up a walkie talkie which sat resting on the desk, summoning Patrick.
Harry wandered over to the sleek chairs, sitting down for only a moment before Patrick appeared in the hall.
“Harry!” he greeted him jovially. “Where are we headed to today?”
He mentioned the island and Patrick clapped him on the back and lead the two out the side door towards the dock.
Harry was still shocked by the blast of heat that greeted him upon exiting the building. The hot sun was glaring down upon them, stuffy upon each intake of breath. Patrick had no qualms about it, rambling on about how they just got a new boat, only that it wasn’t entirely new, but he had gotten it for cheap down in Pointe-Noire. Harry realized what that meant, and he groaned softly to himself.
The dock bounced with their footsteps as they walked across, and Harry wobbled slightly in his quest to gain balance against the motion. It was a simple wooden dock, ten feet in length with two posts at the end where the boat was tied up. The water was relatively calm, a slight breeze wafted off and rumpled through Harry’s curls and his loose shirt. The boat swayed gently, the water trying to lap up onto the edge of the dock.
Patrick knelt down to untie an end of the rope, handing it off to Harry while he did the other one. The boat had paint chipping off the sides, as well as a few indents pushed into the metal. Harry stepped precariously into it, sitting down gently on the bench in the middle. There were a couple life jackets tucked in the front end to which he briefly considered strapping on, but Patrick started up the engine and Harry was left to just hold on to the bench as the boat rocked forwards in motion.
Tchindzoulou island was located almost directly in front of them on the river and was close enough that the lowest powered speed got them there in only a couple of minutes. There wasn’t much to gaze at on the river, save for the walls of green that hugged the bank in every direction.
The dock on Tchindzoulou loomed closer until the edge of the boat finally hit it with a thunk and jolted Harry sideways. Patrick didn’t bother turning the engine off. “Here you go my boy! Just have them inside call me again when you’re ready to come back, or if you end up staying there all day I’ll pick you up at curfew.”
“Okay, thanks Patrick.” Harry began to ungracefully crawl up onto the dock by placing a hand down to balance himself. Only his foot caught on the lip of the boat at the last second and nearly threatened to yank him backwards. Patrick let out a throaty chuckle to which Harry turned around and pointed an accusing finger at him and gave him a stern look.
“That’s not very nice.”
Patrick held his hands up in surrender, grinning and revving the engine, before he turned the boat away back to the mainland.
Harry followed the dock up to a dirt road with a wooden shed stationed off to the side. He opened the door to reveal a line of three golf carts parked in a row. He took one glance at them, wrinkling his nose in contemplation for only a split second before deciding against them and turning around to walk out of the shed. He didn't think he should be trusted to drive the cart by himself.
He set off down the dirt path, turning his camera on to capture shots of his surroundings. He could hear the various chatter of different animals all around him, it seemed to mostly be an assortment of different amphibians, insects, and birds. There was also the distant hoot of chimpanzees off somewhere to the north of the island.
He walked down the road, getting lost in viewing the brush. He stooped for a moment to stand in the middle of the path, taking artistic, angled snapshots of the landscape, the road veering off deeper into the island and narrowing in width. He thought it was a cool shot. He shifted his body ninety degrees to face a wall of green. The combination of the tree’s branches and the leaves of the shrubbery on the ground gave a look of ominous green claws leeching out onto the road and climbing further away from its home base, as if stretching out from its body. He took a step backwards to capture the entire wall in the frame of his camera, leaving a strip of brown from the road at the bottom of the frame.
Click click. His camera whirred with noise, filling up the memory rapidly. Harry saw movement through the lens and pulled the camera down to gain a better look. There was a butterfly floating in the wind, heading for a brightly coloured flower nestled in the green. The black edges of the butterfly made a sharp contrast against the lavender colour of the flower. He stepped up slowly so not to disturb the scene, raised his camera up and clicked away. He smiled at the resulting picture shown on the panel, the simple beauty was a always a reminder to him to appreciate the smaller things in life. A sudden croak near his foot drew his attention down to a tiny frog sitting on a rock, motionless save for the billowing up of its throat to release sound.
This was good. Starting off with something familiar was always a sure way to gain confidence. He had his reservations about writing an article about a topic he felt he didn’t have an attachment to yet. Being hidden behind the lens of his camera eased up some of the nervousness ebbed in his chest.
He must have been sufficiently distracted by his thoughts for quite some time to miss the approaching sound of something crunching against the dirt. Harry had only a split second to hear a ‘Whoop! Watch it Styles!’ Before a golf cart came careening down the path. Harry fell over from his crouched position onto his butt from the shock of it, the frog leaping away from all the commotion.
Harry heard Louis’ laughter before he even had a chance to look up to see him. Louis had a grin on his face, his eyes wide with mirth. He sped up right past Harry shouting out, “Come on! I’ll race ya!”
Harry sputtered out a laugh. “You’re in a motorized vehicle! This is hardly fair.” he shouted, scrambling to stand up amidst the cloud of dirt left behind from the wheels. He gripped his camera tightly and took after Louis, his heart thrumming in his chest in excitement. He however lost sight of the Louis and golf cart quickly.
He finally reached the end of the road, huffing and trying to catch his breath. Louis was a picture of innocence, leaning against the stopped golf cart and inspecting his nails. Harry blew out a harsh breath through his nostrils, leaning over to place his hands on his knees to calm his racing heart.
Louis raised an eyebrow at him and said, “I think you may need to get some more exercise mate.”
“Says—says the one—who rode the golf cart down here.” His words were broken up with heavy pants.
Harry stood up straight, arching his back with a satisfying crack. “I didn’t think this was your island?”
“I don’t need to have a reason to be here.” Louis sniffed.
Harry rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean.”
“I like to know what’s happening.” He grinned, turning away from Harry to walk inside the building.
The building on Tchindzoulou was smaller than the one on the mainland, only two stories high, but was constructed in the same layout with solar panels on the roof. Louis explained that the second floor was fit with rooms and a kitchen for the researchers, while the main level was comprised of storage areas with food for the chimpanzees and a smaller room for a veterinary clinic.
“How is it that I’m stuck giving you a tour once again?” Louis pulled up his pass to swipe at the lock, which was on a retractable wire attached to his belt. The lock beeped and flashed green so he pushed through the door with his back and walked backwards into the building while looking at Harry.
Harry held a hand up to catch the door and followed Louis into what he determined was the clinic. He shrugged sheepishly. “Because you’re a decent lad?”
“Lad? Oh we’re lads now?” Louis looked almost incredulous, a disbelieving frown forming at the corners of his mouth and his eyebrows raised. Louis had stopped walking to address Harry.
“Sure,” Harry quipped. “Also, this is your best way to ensure that I stay out of trouble.”
“Why? Are you a trouble maker Mr. Styles?”
Harry crossed his arms but brought one hand up to his chin as if to ponder the question carefully. “Only if the situation calls for a bit of excitement.”
Louis mouth pulled into a smirk, preparing to reply but was cut off by the sound of his name being called. Louis turned around. “Yes?” His hand flew up to his chest to rest his palm against it.
“Motambo ripped out his stitches, we just brought him in and lightly sedated him. You wanna keep him calm?” A woman similarly dressed to Louis but with an added surgical mask draped around her neck spoke. When Louis nodded his assent, she pulled the mask up over her mouth and pulled on a pair latex gloves while pushing through a swing through door which led into a room that was visible to outsiders through plexi glass. Harry could see a rather small chimpanzee lying on a surgical table, it's mostly limp body spasming every moment or so.
Louis walked over to the far side of the room to a sink and began lathering his hands. “In case you haven’t figured it out, we’re in the vet section of the floor.”
“What’s happened to M-Motambo?” he asked, pronouncing the name uncertainly.
“It means ‘snare’ in the local language, Lingala. Which is fitting, seeing as that’s the cause for some of his injuries.” Louis shook his head in disgust. He had prompted Harry to follow his actions, and get ‘suited’ up. After Harry washed his hands, he took a lab coat Louis handed him and buttoned it all the way up to his neck after placing his camera and knapsack on the counter.
“Can you tie your hair up, or do you need a hair net?” Louis asked.
“I have a band,” Harry replied, reaching up to gather his hair away from his face with one hand and pull over the elastic from his other hand. His lips were pursed and he caught Louis watching his movements.
“You have to wash your hands again. I should have told you to do your hair first, sorry,” He supplied.
“S’okay.” Harry did what he was told and followed Louis over to the station where supplies were located. There were three different boxes labelled with different sizes of latex gloves. Harry stifled his smirk when he saw Louis reach in for the M size after Harry had gone for the XL size.
“Shut it.” Louis thwacked him in the shoulder with a glove. “Not everyone can be a what? Six foot giant with gangly limbs. Though I guess you do fit in here with the long limbs part, hmm?”
“Listen, why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Harry retaliated, flippantly waving his hand at Louis while walking away towards the room that contained the small chimpanzee and the female veterinarian.
“Oii!” Louis called. “What do you think yer doing, walking around like you own the place?”
Louis followed after Harry, ensuring to resume his position as leader and brush past Harry to walk through the door first, leading to the chimp. Harry chuckled at the antics of the other man and followed after him.
The veterinarian seemed to be in the midst of getting supplies ready and sterilizing various pieces of equipment. Harry was able to identify some gauze, a pair of scissors, rubbing alcohol, and what looked to be the material that was going to close Motambo’s wound.
“Bethy, this is Mr. Harry Styles, he’s the representative from National Geographic coming to do the piece on the Sanctuary Islands. He knows basically nothing of our operations here.” Louis completely threw Harry under the bus to the veterinarian, who didn’t look amused at the revelation.
Harry tried his best not to flinch as he looked at Bethy. “I’d shake your hand, but protocol dictates I shouldn’t.” He gestured over to Louis. “I wasn’t the initial correspondent that was coming to do the piece, but my co-worker had a death in the family the day before he was scheduled to fly down, and called me last minute in a panic. I was given a one way ticket to Pointe-Noire and instructed to take my laptop and camera and that was about it. I just received his notes last night, as he was otherwise occupied dealing with the funeral arrangements.”
Bethy’s features relaxed and she scolded Louis for making Harry sound inept. Louis stepped out of harm’s way when he realize that Bethy was holding the pair of scissors and turned to Harry.
“Harry, this is Bethy, she's one of the main veterinarians that we have for the Islands, I wouldn’t put it past you to sleep with one eye open, she knows how to wield an array of tools, and if anyone messes with her chimps…well let’s just say she’s got a nasty right hook.”
“You know this from experience?”
“Nah…but Niall does.” Louis grinned.
Harry heard a loud groan come from the woman. “He was hitting, on my wife!”
“How was he supposed to know that you two lovely ladies had just been hired here at the Islands? And had just flown into Pointe-Noire,decided to stay at a hotel, and then went out drinking?” Louis gave Bethy a pointed look.
Bethy looked sheepishly at Harry. “So I might have over reacted, but I was drunk, and really tired from the flight.”
Harry looked bemusedly between the two. “So there’s no animosity now though?”
Harry looked between the pair awkwardly.
“Lewis, I like Niall just fine. We get along great now. My wife Lynn works as the director of communications, so her and Niall work together.” Harry’s eyes widened in the realization that Bethy was married to the stern woman at the front desk.
“Bethy’s jealous that Niall sees Lynn more than she does some days.”
“But at the end of the day…” Bethy trailed off wordlessly, raising her hands and eyebrows upwards, and pointed her index fingers towards herself with a self-satisfied smirk.
Both men laughed at the implication.
“Okay, enough dawdling, the anaesthesia should be working just fine on Motambo.”
The trio walked towards the table that held the resting chimp. “What happened to him?” Harry wondered aloud.
“Motambo was rescued off a trading boat by Mr.Payne and his crew. He was brought back here and found to be critically ill with tetanus, which makes the muscles seize up and the body to convulse. We also found a deep wound on his wrist from where he had been caught in a snare.”
Bethy explained the chimp’s story to Harry and Louis’ voice carried over the tail end of her sentence to point out that, “He’s missing a few important features.” He pried Motambo’s lips part to reveal that he had several missing teeth.
“Some of his canines are gone. We believe he pulled them out when he was trying to free himself. Part of primates main communication system is through their facial expressions right? Chimps have a few universal expressions with their mouths. The wide spread, open mouth can be a fear grimace, a come-hither, or a yawn threat. The canines are the most visible teeth during these expressions and are what make the display impressive. So socially, Motambo may have a few issues." Louis close his mouth gently, and the chimp’s head jerked involuntarily to the side.
Harry glanced down at the little chimp. “Will Motambo be able to eat?”
“He should be okay, he still has most of his back rows of molars intact, and those are used to grind and mash up fruits and leaves, which is the majority of a chimpanzee’s diet. He might end up avoiding meat. We’ll have to see.” Harry noticed that Louis liked to incorporate hand gestures while he told stories and explained concepts. He had imitated the gesture of mashing and grinding by repeatedly clenching and unclenching his fist—which, realistically wasn't actually an accurate way to depict grinding, but Harry appreciated the theatrics.
“And what happened to his stomach?” Harry gestured to where Bethy had begun wiping down an area on Motambo’s stomach where blood had dried in his hair, Harry could see a gash that was mainly shallow, but there was a section along the right side that was gaping open.
“The wound was caused by whatever the hunters used to tie him up on the boat. Possibly a wire of some sort that was too tight.”
“Okay, I’m going to start threading the stitches. Keep him relaxed, I don’t want to administer any more anaesthesia if we don’t have to,” Bethy addressed Louis as he pulled his hands up to brush the backs of his fingers down the side of Motambo’s face. Louis began cooing soft ‘ou ou’ noises to the young chimp.
Bethy paused in her movements and looked up at Louis. “You are a small child,” Bethy remarked.
“I am not. I am a professional. I am a grown man,” he whispered conspiratorially to Motambo. “I speak your language, don’t I hmm?” Louis began stroking the side of Motambo’s face whilst Bethy set to work on lacing the stitches through the wound.
It was quiet in the room save for the humming noises Louis was making and the occasional involuntary jerking motions from Motambo which caused his limbs to clatter nosily against the metal table. Bethy stitched him up quickly with practiced motions, the snip of the scissors cut the string, and then Motambo’s released from her grip. Louis hoisted Motambo up into his arms and began walking out of the clinic. Harry looked to Bethy, hesitant on whether or not he should follow.
“You coming or what?”
Luckily, his predicament was solved, so he removed the lab coat and tossed the gloves into the garbage pail.
“Where should I put this?” He held up the lab coat.
“Just leave it here, I’ll dispose of it when I get rid of mine.” Bethy pulled down her mask and yanked off her gloves, throwing them into the garbage.
“Okay, thank you.” He turned to follow Louis out a door leading to the yard behind the building.
Harry was immediately greeted with a chaotic sight. A rather large group of chimpanzees were huddled around a handful of caretakers in front of a wooden structure. The structure was built like barracks, presumably dormitories for the chimps.
Harry followed Louis timidly into the clearing, most of the chimps ignored the newcomers but a couple approached Louis’ legs, raising their hands up to grip at his pants and waddle beside him as he attempted to walk through the crowd. Harry’s mouth quirked upwards at the sight. It was similar to the way a toddler would cling to their parent’s legs and trail after them. Louis continued past them and walked inside the dormitory, coming back empty handed and closing the door securely behind him.
On his way back, Louis reached down to pick up another small chimpanzee, scooping them up to straddle his hip. Louis looked backwards to Harry. “Well, c’mon, we’re just in time for lunch.”
Harry weaved his way through the crowd of chimps to take a spot beside a table with a number of containers on top. He felt a number of curious hands upon his feet and legs. One chimpanzee stood up on its legs and waddled up to the table, swinging themselves upwards in an effortless motion to land on top. One of the caretakers pushed aside the grabbing hand that reached for something inside one of the buckets.
“No, hold on, wait your turn.” She leaned down to talk to the eager chimp. Once she was satisfied the chimp woudln’t reach for it again, she turned to face Louis and Harry, her brow furrowing.
“Hi, Louis, who’s your friend?”
“This is Harry Styles from National Geographic, he’ll be here for a bit writing a piece about The Sanctuary Islands.”
“Hello, it’s nice to meet you.” Harry smiled at the woman.
She transitioned from English to another language, not French, Harry noticed. She said something to Louis to which he replied, and then turned back to Harry with a smile. “I’m Izzy. Do you want to feed one of the chimps?”
Harry’s eyes widened. “I don’t know if I’m qualified for that.”
Louis laughed, “It’s not rocket science. No different really than feeding a baby.” He reached into the nearest bucket to remove a baby bottle filled with what looked to be milk. The small chimp clinging to his torso is suddenly transferred into Harry’s arms. The chimp stared up at him, seemingly unbothered by the transition, looping an arm around Harry’s back. The chimp had coarse black hair which tickled the back of his neck as the arm brushed underneath his hair. He placed a palm flat against the chimp’s back, hoisting the chimp’s bum upwards.
Louis stepped up to Harry to adjust the chimps leg properly around his waist. He felt Louis’ hand press into his back momentarily before being removed when he was satisfied with the chimp’s position. The heat lingered for longer than the hand was actually there.
Louis handed him the bottle and the chimp raised an arm to help Harry steady the nipple against the its mouth. He made eye contact with Louis when the harsh sucking sounds from the pressure of the chimp drinking against reached his ears. He felt the tips of his ears heat up, and he glanced away in embarrassment. The chimp was clumsy in its motions, eager to get their fill of the milk and causing it to drip down the corners of its mouth.
Louis noticed anyways. “Somebody’s eager to get her fill.” Louis tickled the chimp in the ribs, causing her to jerk and burrow herself deeper into Harry’s chest. The chimp rocked her body forwards and made a happy little noise in the back of her throat.
Louis smiled and turned to help Izzy and some of the other caretakers hand out bottles to the larger chimps. They’re all crowded in close around their feet, and they dutifully accept the bottles in practiced motions. Some chimps wandered further away upon receiving their gift, while others lingered and nudged at the caretakers feet. Smaller chimps were picked up by extra hands and were aided in receiving their drink.
The sounds of a motor creeped up into the clearing and Harry turned to see a wagon pull up from around the side of the building. He laughed when he saw the giant clusters of green bananas hanging over the sides. Along with the bananas, there were other wooden barrels containing an assortment of brightly coloured fruit. A few of the chimps began chattering excitedly, throwing down their empty bottles and wandering over to the wagon. The driver, mindful of the crowd, slowed to a crawl to avoid running over any hands or feet.
Harry noticed that some of the chimps actually handed back their empty bottles to the caretakers, who then thanked them. It’s a scene that he never thought he’d have the privilege to witness. How remarkable the chimpanzees were in their actions, so similar to a human’s. Upon watching the interactions with not only one another, but also with the caretakers and Louis, Harry realized that they were very tactile beings. It seemed that they preferred to always be in touch with another body, whether it was human or primate.
The driver exiting the wagon was laughing at the chimps that began climbing up his legs, he hoisted one up onto his shoulders, and picked up another that reached up for his torso.
“C’mon.” Harry felt Louis’ fingers pull at the fabric of his shirt, so he followed with the chimp still drinking from the bottle in his arms over to the back of the wagon where most of the others had congregated.
Louis leapt up onto the back of the wagon, the wood creaking in protest to the otherwise graceful jump. He began pulling apart bunches of bananas and tossing them down to the outstretched and grabbing hands.
Feeding time turned out to be a frenzy, as the amount of fruit in the back of the wagon began dwindling down in numbers. Harry grabbed a couple of bananas from Louis to hand to the chimp in his arms. She didn’t do anything with them except stare up at Harry, the now empty bottle falling from her lose grip.
“What s’matter?” he murmured. “Don’t tell me you don’t like bananas?”
He made sure that she clung to him securely before plucking the bananas from her hands to peel himself.
“Oh my god.”
Harry looked up. “What?”
Louis was staring at him while he unravelled the fruit and handed her the first banana. The chimp was still looking up at him, but glanced down at the gift, immediately taking it from him and shoving it in her mouth.
“What?” he repeated. “Do I have something on my face?”
“Do you realize that you peel bananas the same way chimpanzees do?” Louis cocked his head and shook it lightly. “Unbelievable,” he muttered under his breath.
“What?” Harry repeated again. “What’s it matter how I peel em?”
Louis leaned over to snatch up a banana and jumped down from the wagon directly in front of him. Harry subconsciously took a step backwards but Louis followed with his own step. “Exhibit A.” He held up the banana from the base and peeled down each flap slowly.
Harry felt a frisson run through his abdomen. He was not somehow aroused by the motion. He didn’t know why he would be. He was not. He blinked. “So?”
Louis laughed, “Harry, humans don’t normally eat them that way.” He handed the newly peeled banana to the chimp in Harry’s arms and turned around to pluck another. “We do it this way.” He snapped the neck at the top in demonstration, peeled it and gave it to a chimp that eagerly sat on its haunches on the ground waiting. “How did you not know that you peeled bananas differently from the rest of the population?”
Harry shrugged. “I mean. I might have known. I don’t know. I didn’t think it was anything significant.”
“Mr. Styles, you are a prime example of showing the bridge between pan troglodytes and homo sapiens,” Louis teased.
“Pan troglodytes, is the scientific name for primates in the classification system of all mammals. But really, you’re avoiding the subject, we should be doing studies on you. See how you compare to the species that shares most of our DNA. Who knows, maybe you share more of theirs on the spectrum, than ours?” Louis held up his fingers to make a square, pretending that it was a camera, the peel dangling from fingers.
“Ha.” Harry deadpanned. He took the the banana peel from Louis and tossed it at him.
Louis’ mouth dropped open. The chimp in Harry’s arms took the stilled moment to raise her arm and point at Louis, letting out a shriek which sounded a lot like laughter.
Louis flicked off a string of banana that stuck to his shirt, then poked at the chimp’s hand and leaned down to pick up the thrown peel, presumably to throw back at Harry. Harry angled his body so that the chimp was between them.
“Ohh, very mature, using the poor unsuspecting primate as a shield.”
“You started it,” Harry tattled.
“Are you offended at the thought of being compared to a primate? We all originally descended from them ya know.”
“No,” he insisted. “I’m offended at the thought of being placed under scrutiny for observational purposes. I am not a specimen.”
Louis demeanour changed. “Yeah, well, tell that to the laboratories that still test on primates,” Louis stated bluntly. It was like a bucket of cold water splashed on the atmosphere.
Harry blanched, “I didn’t mean to—”
Louis waved a hand. “No, I know. My fault, sorry, I got a little melodramatic.”
“Well, I mean, you’re not wrong.” He shrugged his shoulders, rocking the chimp back and forth in his arms. “At least there are plenty more pharmaceutical and beauty product companies that are switching to cruelty free products,” he added helpfully, thinking of his coconut body wash, the brand used all natural products and was free from any harmful chemicals.
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.” Louis clapped his hands. “Alright, now that feeding time’s over, I think we need to clean up.”
Harry let the subject be changed, looking to see that Izzy had begun going around with a wicker basket, holding it out in front of the chimps for them to toss their peels in. They did so dutifully, most of them lining up to throw their peel in the basket before wandering off away from the wagon. Some chimpanzees had begun grooming one another, while a couple were sat on a fallen log where one chimp had its eyes closed dreamily while the one behind it skillfully picked through the hair.
Harry moved to lift the chimp from his torso, but she clung reluctantly and began snuffling into the crease of his arm and shoulder. “Hey little one, don’t you wanna go join your friends?”
Louis walked up to Harry and not so surreptitiously sniffed him. Harry startled and lifted his head up to stare questioningly at Louis.
“Yeah, I thought I got a whiff of coconut earlier. Scented body wash? The chimps go crazy for that kind of stuff. If you ever go out into the rainforest, make sure you’re not using anything scented.”
“It’s coconut and vanilla,” Harry pointed out unnecessarily. “You standing close enough to smell me huh?”
It was Louis’ turn to look awkward, he stammered out, “I mean, no—”
“Sure,” Harry drawled, pleased upon seeing this usually confident man stammer. Harry switched out his arm from underneath the chimp with the other to give it a bit of a break. The tingling sensation intensifying as he stretched it out, and he inadvertently flexed his arm which drew Louis’ gaze.
Louis coughed and tripped over a banana peel, like a scene out of a cartoon, only he managed to catch himself before falling flat on his arse. Harry bit his bottom lip to avoid laughing out loud and finally transferred the chimp from his arms to the top of the table. She went willingly this time, albeit held an outstretched arm towards him and pursed her lips in a kiss at him. Harry made the motion back at her and turned around to still see Louis watching him.
He decided to test a theory. He rolled up the sleeves of his black T-shirt into a makeshift sleeveless top to accommodate the heat as he helped to pick up discarded fruit peelings. He glanced up slyly at Louis to see if he was watching, curious to explore the interest Louis was possibly projecting.
True enough, he caught Louis staring a second later. He quickly ducked his head down to look at the peelings he was picking up. Harry tried not to grin too widely in triumph, instead focusing his attention on cleaning up the now littered yard.
“Right.” Louis placed the last bottle into the bucket. “I’m heading over to Bebe now.”
Harry tried not to let his disappointment show, but he nonetheless nodded and turned to Izzy for some direction.
Just as he was walking back to the building, Louis turned back around and addressed Izzy, “It’s Tuesday, is game night happening?”
“Game night?” Harry perked up. “What’s that?”
“Yeah, during dinner, everyone comes together from all the islands to eat, and then play a mini tournament of different games. It’s cool because those who aren’t originally from around here have brought games they play in their hometown, and people native to the Republic of the Congo have taught others their games.”
“Yeah, Louis, as far as I’m aware, game night’s happening,” Izzy answered.
Louis whooped, jutting a fist into the air. “I’m still the undefeated champion of ping pong.”
“But not at Mangala.” Izzy crossed her arms and smirked.
“Blegh. Nobody's got time for chess.”
“It’s not chess!”
“It’s very similar to how we play chess in the UK.” Louis sniffed.
Izzy rolled her eyes. “Go back to Bebe, I’ll take care of the photographer here, give him something to do.” She gestured with a thumb at Harry.
Harry displayed his teeth in a dopey grin at his mention.
“Prepare to lose at ping pong later Mr.Styles.” Louis saluted him.
“Don’t bet on it Mr.Tomlinson.”
Louis breathed an airy laugh, turning away to leave the yard.
Harry let a smile of his own sneak onto his face. He thought to himself that coming here was already turning out to be better than he originally expected.
It was later in the day when Harry finally met the last Englishman here at the facility. He stopped in the doorway of the cafeteria, unsure of where to go, but was suddenly yanked from standing awkwardly and made to follow Niall over to a group standing by the makeshift ping pong table.
There was about twenty people all together in the room, all sat with plates of food off to the side of their games. He saw one group playing with a deck of cards, a duo was in the corner with a beautiful wooden board with shallow holes carved throughout. Small stones placed in groups of twos or fours in each hole. The pair sat in intense concentration, hands stuffed underneath their chins in thought. It was very similar to how a game of chess would look.
When he asked, Niall replied with, “Mangala.” This confirmed Harry’s thought, as he’d remembered the comments from Izzy and Louis earlier.
Niall deposited Harry at the ping pong table and said, “I’ll go get you some food.”
Harry was left with Louis and another man. The man was a stark contrast to Niall’s light features, instead of blonde, he had long, jet black hair that was tied up into a small ponytail. He sported some scruff along his jaw, and an earring dangled from his ear. He wore similar clothing to Louis: simple white T-shirts, and loose, navy scrub pants.
Louis broke the quiet, “This is Harry Styles.”
“Ahh yes, Louis mentioned you,” the man answered, staring impassively at Harry. Harry tried not to hunch into himself at the steely gaze. He shook the hand of tall, dark and handsome, keeping a firm grip and saying brightly, “All good things I hope.”
Louis coughed, “This is Zayn Malik, he works with me on Bebe island.”
Zayn shifted his gaze over at the interruption. “Yes, I keep Louis in line,” he stated.
“You’re excused,” Zayn interrupted. “Now, Harry, are you good at ping pong?”
Harry looked between the two men, hesitating. It felt like a test. “I’d say I’m quite…proficient.”
“Excellent, you’re on my team then.” Zayn relaxed his steely features and grinned at him, handing him a paddle and taking up his place at one side of the table.
Niall came back bearing food, gesturing at it to Harry before placing it down on the bench, but not before stealing what looks to be a chip of some sort. Harry pulled his hair up into a bun, and jumped in place, making a show of rolling his shoulders back and tilting his head as if to stretch.
“Ohhh, he’s tying the hair back for this, they’ve both pulled it all back now,” Louis scoffed at Zayn and Harry. He turned to fist bump Niall as they took their positions, bending over slightly and raising their paddles into the ‘ready’ position.
Zayn handed him the ball. “Since you’re new, you get to do the honours.”
Harry placed a hand up to his chest and batted his eyelashes. “You’re too kind.”
“Just serve,” Zayn said with a roll of his eyes.
As so, the game began. The three men met Harry’s talents equally. Louis was quick and snappy, able to pick up the the shots that careened wildly off the side of the table, while Niall had a wicked stroke with topspin. Zayn was calculative in his movements, able to predict where the next shot would land, and Harry tried his best to make himself a worthy partner.
They were playing the best of twenty-one points, and the score was currently nineteen-eighteen for Louis and Niall.
Louis went to serve, but paused. “So what are the stakes? What do the winners get?”
“You can’t just make up stakes in the middle of the game now, it has to be beforehand.” Harry flapped his paddle at Louis in disgruntlement.
“Nah, you don’t know the rules here mate,” Niall said, grinning deviously.
Zayn clicked his tongue and rested his hands down on the table in front of him. He hung his head down between his shoulders in silence for a moment. A moment passed before he slowly raised his head, a positively devious grin laced through his features. Harry saw Louis swallow his throat thickly.
“If we win,” Zayn paused for dramatic effect by lifting a finger up. “You have to eat a mopane.”
Louis’ shudder was visible, he turned to Niall and said, “Aw hell no. Okay mate, I really don’t wanna lose.”
Niall just threw his head back and laughed. Harry turned to Zayn and asked, “What’s a mopane?”
“It’s a bloody caterpillar!” Louis shouted across the table. “Honestly Zayn, you’re a terrible person. Where’s Liam? He always keeps you in line.”
Zayn scoffed, “Excuse me, you’re way worse than I am. I don’t need to be…managed by Liam, thank you very much.” He crossed his arms and sent a withering stare.
“Fine,” Louis agreed. “If we win. Sorry, when we win, you have to skinny dip in the river.” Louis’ grin was smug.
Harry blinked. That didn’t seem so difficult…sure, the water had looked really murky when he saw it this morning, but it was just a simple jump. He looked over at Zayn to see that his arms had fallen from their crossed position and he was openly glaring at Louis.
“Just know that I won’t forget about this for a long time if you end up winning.” Zayn held up his paddle at and waved it at Louis. “Serve you twat.”
“Wait, what’s so bad about the river?” Harry asked.
Zayn’s jawline tightened. “Nothing. Louis just knows that I don’t like swimming, especially in water that’s not in a pool. Aka fresh or salt water.”
“Well. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly say there’s nothing, in the river,” Louis taunted, picking an invisible fluff off his shirt.
Harry’s voice caught in his throat. “Li—like…what exactly? ”
“Ohh you know, all kinds of amphibians and reptiles.”
“Yeah nice try, the amphibians are mostly frogs,” Zayn spat back.
“And the reptiles Zaynie?” Louis raised his eyebrows and blinked innocently at him.
Zayn pursed his lips and didn’t say anything.
“Okay, well is this even a safe bet then?” Harry inquired, turning to Niall for some guidance.
Louis spoke instead, “No less safe than me eating a damn caterpillar!”
Niall ignored the man huffing beside him, addressing Harry, “It’ll just be off the dock right outside, you won’t have to go too far.”
“Let’s get on with it.” Zayn clapped his hand against his paddle to draw everyone’s attention.
The four men resumed their positions, and the game continued with Louis’ serve. It was fairly quiet in the cafeteria, most of the people in it watching the last few points of their game, the only loud noise was the clacking sound of the ball hitting the table and paddles repeatedly.
Harry was playing it safe with his movements, he wasn’t aiming for any special trick shots. Instead focusing on dutifully hitting the ball back over the net and onto the other side, not too far, and not too short.
The rallies were lasting a long time, and with the increasing length, the men were becoming rowdier. Louis and Niall managed to score another point, bringing it to twenty to eighteen, needing one final point to win.
Harry could tell they were getting excited, and they dropped the ball so to speak, and became over eager in their next shot, hitting the ball too far, causing it to soar past the length of the table. Harry dodged out of the way at the last second to avoid touching the ball, earning him and Zayn a point: twenty to nineteen.
Louis looked to each man before nodding and throwing the next serve. Harry returned it to Niall who bumped it back to him, and feeling optimistic, Harry’s tongue peeked through his lips in concentration, and he wound up his hand to smash it diagonally to Louis with the hopes of him being unable to return it. Harry dumped the ball directly into the net, and his lips fell open, “Shit.”
Louis’ and Niall’s ecstatic shouts were dramatic and lengthy, epically bumping chests before slamming their paddles down onto the table and raising their fists into the air.
Harry looked at Zayn and shrugged sheepishly. “Oops?”
Zayn hung his head in defeat. “No worries man.” He pointed a finger at him and said, “But if you’re coming to my island tomorrow, you can most definitely have the task of giving one of my chimps medicine, he always gets mad at me for it. So, you can have that role.”
“Yeah it’s disguised in a bottle of milk.”
“Alright boys! Eat up, then it’s time for you to uphold your end of the bet.” Louis clapped his hands and rubbed them delightedly.
Zayn grumbled nonsensically under his breath, before blurting out, “Niall, as director, don’t you think that you shouldn’t be condoning these actions?”
“Give it a rest Zayn!” Louis punched him in the arm.
Niall waved a hand in a flippant manner. “As long as it doesn’t affect the budget, then I don’t care. Just don’t break the dock when you jump off, then I’ll be mad.” He pointed two fingers at his eyes and then at Harry and Zayn in an I’m watching you gesture.
Harry saluted him and nodded his head. He offered up his plate to Zayn to eat in consolation. “Here, I’ll go get another one for myself.”
“Hey, don’t worry, it’ll be quick jump in and then we’ll climb right back out right?”
Zayn just nodded his head at him, Harry made a face at Louis when he walked past him. “Are you sure Zayn’s going to be able to carry out his end of the bet?” he murmured.
Louis scoffed, “He’s just playing the role to try and get out of it. He’ll be fine.”
“Alright, if you say so.”
Renee greeted him jovially and gave him a heaping plate of food. He wasn’t able to finish it all, but he asked her if she could at least wrap up the kwanga so he could snack on it later.
Louis led the foursome out of the cafeteria and towards the dock, chattering excitedly, “I don’t think I’ve seen Zayn in the water since he got pushed into a pool at a party during undergrad. That’s a long time ago now, what, seven years ago?”
Zayn just continued to grumble and looked up towards the darkening sky as he pushed through the door. Harry held it open for Niall and their feet crunched on the scattered rocks that littered the path towards the dock.
Patrick was waiting at the end of the dock by the boat, but came onto the shore at Louis’ beckoning. “Zaynie and Harry here lost a bet during game night, they have to jump into the river.”
“Ohhh ho ho ho. Good luck with that fellas. I think I saw a snake slither by earlier.” He grinned widely, wiggling his hand like a snake.
Harry’s heart fluttered nervously and he glanced towards the murky water, swallowing the lump in his throat. He took a deep breath before grabbing Zayn’s upper arm and dragging him onto the dock, leaving the other men standing on the sand.
“Wh—what are you doing.” Zayn stumbled along after him, wrenching his arm from Harry’s grip but nonetheless following him.
“Don’t think about it, just do it. We have to do it quickly so we don’t let the fear fester in our minds and cause it to swell up like a hot air balloon.”
He raised his arms up to pull off his shirt over his head, the movement yanking the hair tie out from the bun. He shook out the rest of his hair as he continued to speak. He heard a cat call come from the shore.
“You know, how the balloon takes forever to rise up off the ground, but then once you get momentum, you shoot upwards? Following the wind in the sky? That’s exactly what fear is like, once the little seed is planted into your mind.” He prodded at the side of his head harshly. “Then it just, grows like a weed,” he finished, running out of breath just as he finished removing all of his clothing except for his briefs.
Zayn was staring at him with a look somewhere between amusement and disgust. “What?” he repeated.
Harry rolled his hand in a hurry up motion. “Let’s go, let’s go.” He clapped his hands at Zayn, who frantically tore off his shirt at Harry’s urgency, his necklace bouncing against his chest and swaying when he tipped his body to toe off his boots and stumbled. Harry kept clapping until they were both left in their briefs and he grappled for Zayn’s hand, clasping it firmly as he began tearing down the length of the dock.
“Hey!” He heard a shout out from somewhere behind them, causing Zayn to try and stop to turn around, but Harry’s movement forward threatened to pull his arm out of his socket, so he acquiesced and stumbled with Harry off the dock with a giant leap into the water.
Harry let out a hoot just before letting go of Zayn’s hand to plunge into the river. He kicked his feet and brought his hands up to swim to the surface. His eyes were squeezed shut and the fizz of the bubbles tickled his face when he swam up through them to the surface, wiping a hand across his face to remove some of the water.
He whipped his head around, seeking out the head of dark hair. He treaded water, breathing in deeply through his nose, the faint smell of dirt and musky water filled his nostrils, and he shook his head to prevent the water from his curls dripping into his eyes.
Zayn finally popped up above the water beside him, gasping deeply and sputtering lightly. He immediately began swimming to the edge of the dock, and Harry followed behind after him.
“Ugh,” Zayn moaned, his arm swooped through the water in a forearm stroke. “I haven’t swam in so long.”
Harry moved leisurely through the water, forgetting about the mention of the snakes possibly in the water until Louis’ voice was suddenly speaking from above, “Feel anything slithering between your ankles?” His voice sounded smug.
Zayn pushed a hand against the water to splash up onto the dock, but Louis saw his movement and stepped backwards just out of reach.
Zayn gripped the handle of the ladder and hauled himself up onto the dock, taking with him a large swoosh of water that soaked the wood. Harry himself headed up afterwards just in time to hear Louis shriek out Zayn’s name and he looked up to see that Zayn had engulfed Louis in his arms and was smothering him into his chest.
Louis shoved him off and flicked out his hands to remove the excess water. “You two didn’t follow the rules by the way.”
“What’s that?” Zayn said.
“You were supposed to go skinny dipping. As in nude. I wanted a snake to have access to your dick.”
Zayn rolled his eyes and bent low to scoop up his clothing, clapping Niall on the back and depositing himself into the boat tied up at the dock. “Ready when you are Patrick, let’s leave Louis here for the night.”
Harry flipped his head over and mussed up his hair, flipping back upright and flinging water droplets in Louis’ direction.
Harry knelt down to pick up his clothing, straightening up and saying to Louis, “I know you want to see the goods, but this leaves more to the imagination now doesn’t it?” He winked at Louis, who began sputtering in reply.
Harry slowed his speed as he walked past him, making sure his wet body brushed up against Louis’ bare arm. He gripped his crumpled up clothing in a ball against his chest at the heat he felt transferred between them.
He felt Louis flinch away from him and Harry smiled to himself, continuing his journey back to the building. He could feel the pounding of his heart echoing in his ears.
Harry spent the next couple of mornings sitting down in the cafeteria with a mug of steaming, bitter coffee, and a plate filled to the brim with a variety of fresh fruit placed in front of him. Today was no different, the steam from the coffee rose in small wisps, the sunlight filtering in through the glass windows created a soft, warm glow.
He always seemed to be one of the first to arrive down to the cafeteria for breakfast. Despite the now familiarity of his surroundings, his habit of being an early riser in new countries hadn’t seemed to break. He had therefore taken to shuffling downstairs with his laptop and camera to upload the previous day’s photos and edit them to his satisfaction while he drank his coffee and watched the cafeteria fill up with sleepy individuals.
Renee would leave her post to come and sit with Harry for a couple of minutes each morning, leaning over his shoulder to compliment Harry for the, ‘Just absolutely stunning photographs!’
Harry in return would allow her to pack up some sort of new and intriguing food as a snack to take with him for the day. He had a bad habit of forgetting to bring water with him for his day trips to the islands, but Renee had seemed to take it upon herself to become Harry’s mother hen during his stay here.
“How’s the article coming along?” Renee had her head resting in the palms of her hands, but turned it slightly to address Harry.
Harry ducked his head down. “I haven’t started it yet.”
Renee’s face changed to one looking reproachful.
“‘M sorry, I’ve been distracted by going to Tchindzoulou the past few days, I like the chimps there!”
“Well yeah, they’re quite a rowdy bunch and a hoot. But you’ve been here for a couple of days now, don’t you have enough information to write?” Renee hummed.
Harry scrambled for an excuse, “Well technically no, I haven’t been over to Bebe Island yet, I can’t exactly begin writing without gathering all the info about each island now can I?”
Renee pursed her lips and glared at him. She opened her mouth to retort back, “I think—”
“Good morning Renee! And...Harry Styles right?” Liam’s voice suddenly cut off whatever she had been about to reprimand him for. “Can I steal one of these?” Liam gestured to the couple of water bottles Renee had placed down beside Harry earlier.
Harry nodded and handed him one of the bottles. Liam tilted his head in thanks and made to turn back in the direction he came, but Harry stood up and addressed him, “I’ll walk out with you, I’m going to head over to Bebe.” He quickly closed his laptop and stuffed his equipment into his knapsack, shooting Renee a-not-so apologetic smile and gave her a quick one-armed hug before walking briskly to follow Liam out the door.
The two men were silent walking down the hall until Harry broke it to ask, “What does today’s schedule consist of for the Liaison for the African Wildlife Foundation?”
Liam chuckled, “Nothing too exciting today I’m afraid. I’m actually going to join you over on Bebe shortly I think. I just want to go for a quick run, gotta change first.”
Harry looked shocked. “In this heat? How can you stand it,” he asked.
“You kinda get used to it mate.” Liam grinned wryly.
“Fair enough.” Harry nodded sagely. “I think I would need to wear one of those hats with drinks attached to the sides with long tubes to the mouth. Know what I mean?” Harry drew a line from his ear to his mouth, pursing his lips as if to drink.
Liam looked at him with something akin to a mixture of hesitation and amusement plastered on his face. He finally laughed out loud, “I think that would just rock back and forth on your head and give you a headache, yeah?”
“Ohh, hmm, yeah maybe,” Harry acquiesced. “You look all official in your uniform, mind if I take a picture?” Harry raised his camera up in question.
Liam looked taken aback. “Me? What for. Isn’t it the chimps you should be taking pictures of?”
“Well yeah, I will. But it’s also the people who are protecting and rehabilitating them that make this facility worthwhile right?”
Liam smiled softly, and tilted his head. “Yeah, I guess it is. How should I pose?”
Harry shrugged. “It’s up to you. Do you want to look posed, or normal and relaxed?”
Liam hummed, “I could pretend to be all stern like.” He crossed his arms and furrowed his eyebrows. His muscles bulged against the edge of the T-shirt on his arms, creating the effect of looking like it was about to rip open like the Hulk.
Harry quirked a eyebrow at him and Liam’s facial features relaxed as a laugh bubbled out of him. Harry took the opportune moment to raise his camera up and snap a picture quickly.
He looked down to the screen to see the still of Liam had transformed from the angry man to a one that was approachable and kind. He had hunched over forward slightly when he had laughed, but his arms remained folded over and his eyes were crinkled with his mouth open in laughter. It automatically made Harry smile and he nodded his head, curls bouncing. “That’s a good one, thanks.”
“No problem mate. Alright, I’m off.” He gave Harry a pat on the shoulder and walked off down the hallway.
Harry turned to the door, pushing through with his back out into the heat. He wasn’t paying attention to where he was walking, still focused on the camera, and tripped over a branch lying on the ground. He yelped as he careened towards the ground but was suddenly yanked back upwards by a strong grip on his elbow. He looked up into the bright face of Niall, who deposited him right side up, steadying him with a firm grip upon his shoulders.
“Whew, thanks. That could have been disastrous.” Harry widened his eyes dramatically, and blew a breath out through his lips, before he smiled sheepishly.
Niall smiled at him. “You headed out again?”
“Yeah I think I’ll go over to Bebe Island today.”
“Cool, Lynn’s making me sit down to make decisions.” Niall fake pouted.
“Oh? Not important ones I hope. It’s too early for those kinds of decisions. I could barely decide what to eat this morning,” Harry said.
Niall waved a hand. “Nahh I think it has to do with choosing schemes for the page on the website about the Sanctuary Islands. She’s been emailing back and forth with a web designer. Hey, actually, do you have a minute? I know you’re a photographer, but you’ve got an eye for aesthetic dontcha?”
“I mean, I have an idea of things looking good.” Harry smiled abashedly. “I can come take a look if you want.”
Niall nodded enthusiastically. “I do want.”
Harry followed him back inside to the front desk. Lynn had disappeared somewhere so Niall took her seat and brought up a website page that was clearly under construction. The page was mostly blank, save the title at the top which was a simple black font stating ‘Sanctuary Islands.’
Niall then brought up another page which was an open email with a list of choices of different themes for a website.
Harry leaned over Niall’s shoulder to take over the mouse and clicked open each preview of the possible themes. He hummed in thought, his lips pursed and he made a noise of disagreement for almost every option, stating various thoughts like, ‘No, not enough room for content,’ or ‘too boring.’
Prior to clicking open the last option, Harry suggested, “I feel like you need something modern looking with a lot of colour, like the rainforest. Pictures as headers at the top with navigational dropbox options along the bottom of the picture, linking to the different pages, and each page with a different photo at the top. Do you know what I mean? Then along the right hand side, you can have a standard info box that appears the same on each page. And then the centre and the left hand side will be the content that you want on each page.”
He clicked open the last open, tsking, before clicking reply to the email and scooting Niall out of the way. “Can I write them my suggestion? I can take some photos to use as the headers, edit them and send it all over to the designer to work with and mock up what I was saying?”
Niall looked flabbergasted. “You would do that?” he asked.
Harry shrugged. “Yeah why not? It’s not like it’s difficult for me, or even a burden. It’ll give me something to do at nighttime.”
“Well then yes please,” Niall blurted out. “Lynn’s gonna kill me for agreeing to it, but honestly mate, I don’t even know where to begin putting together a stylish website.”
Harry chuckled, “It can be hard if you don’t have a vision in your mind. But I think you can capture the viewer’s attention with a bold webpage and lots of pictures.”
Harry typed out the requests to the designer before standing back and letting Niall read it over. “Oh, find out how many pages you want to have, so I know how many pictures I need to take.”
Niall looked away from Harry’s face, nodding, and adding it to the bottom of the email, pressing send with a click of the mouse button. “Well! That was easy!” Niall looked up at him and grinned.
Harry laughed, “Okay, I’m going to head over now, let me know when you get a reply. Or actually, just forward the email to me.” He bent over and scribbled down his email address on the notepad that was beside the computer.
He threw the pen down and walked back outside into the heat. He had only been inside for a few minutes, but the sun was making its way higher into the sky, the rays already hotter than yesterday.
It wasn’t until about half hour later that he finally stepped off the boat onto Bebe Island. Patrick apparently wasn’t around, so Harry had to go back inside to ask Lynn, who had returned to the desk, for another driver over to the island.
Bebe Island was further along down the river and was noticeably smaller than Tchindzoulou, the main building almost directly in front of him on the shoreline.
Harry walked up the short path and swiped his pass against the pad on the door. The lock clicked open and he entered the cool building, walking into a foyer with a number of doors and windows beside them. He spotted a head of dark hair in the room directly in front of him, so he went up to the window and knocked on the pane.
Zayn’s head swivelled around, the lines on his face were furrowed in intense concentration, but relaxed upon recognition of Harry. He got up from his seat, taking the Ipad in his hands and opened the door for Harry.
“Morning,” he mumbled. His voice was hoarse in the back of his throat.
“Morning! I hope I’m not interrupting anything too important?”
“Mmm, nah, I’m just looking at some charts of Elsie’s behavioural patterns. She seems to be changing them drastically from day to day and I can’t figure out why…” Zayn trailed off as he walked back to his seat.
Harry wandered further into the room, taking in the atmosphere. It was less clinical looking than some of the rooms on Tchindzoulou, a bunch of photographs were tacked up on a bulletin board. Harry spotted both Zayn and Louis posed with some chimpanzees, some individually, some together. They had smiles plastered on their faces each time, looking genuinely happy.
There was another smaller photo, a clearly younger Zayn and Louis standing together with their arms around each other’s shoulders, lab coats unbuttoned, and graduation caps half falling off their heads. Harry smiled at the tassels waving in the wind of the picture, they had their thumbs up and eager grins on their faces, ready to take on the world.
Harry’s attention was drawn away from the wall at the sound of Zayn’s voice.
“If you were unhappy about something you would communicate it right? We as humans communicate with language, and when there’s a barrier, we use gestures, or emotions.”
Harry wasn’t sure if Zayn was directly addressing him, so he waited a minute before he said, “I would do something to change it.”
Zayn turned towards Harry as if he had forgotten that he wasn’t alone in the room. He blinked blankly at him, before standing up to walk over to the other side of the room to plug in the iPad. “The thing that’s so incredible about primates is their communication skills,” Zayn spoke off in a different tangent.
He walked over towards Harry and picked up a folder that was placed on the desk behind him, opening it up to reveal a profile picture of a chimpanzee. He tapped the chimp’s face. “We have a mother, Elsie, who’s been having these incredible mood swings. I get the feeling she thinks we’re being dumb by not being able to understand what it is that’s bothering her. So, by your theory, she’s at least got us to at least notice that something’s wrong. The next question would be to figure out what why she’s changed her habits.” Zayn scrambled to write something down in the folder, his thinking out loud must’ve warranted some sort of solution for him.
Harry stood patiently while Zayn jotted down some notes.
Zayn finally looked up. “Sorry, I tend to go off in different directions when I’m thinking out loud. Louis hates it. Says I need a tape recorder on at all times to try and keep up with me.” The corner of Zayn’s mouth turned upwards. “Do you need anything specific from me today?”
“No, I just wanted to come see what you guys do here. What you’re talking about sounds really interesting though. Tell me more?”
Zayn nodded his head enthusiastically. “What sets primates apart from other species is the similarity of their communicative language to that of humans. It’s what’s made them so obviously fascinating to study over the past hundred years or so. I mean, most animals have a number of different ways of communicating, but primates are neat because they have both non vocal and vocal sounds as part of their auditory communication. As an example, a non vocal sound is like a male silverback gorilla beating its chest.”
Zayn began beating his clenched up fists against his chest as he spoke, “It’s a visual aspect of communication, meaning ‘warning, back off, I am superior to you!’
“Then for vocalizations, you have long range calls, which allows primates to communicate with other groups who are physically distant from one another. Say the first social group is gathered up in the trees while the second group is down by the river drinking." Zayn spread his hands wide apart to indicate distance. He then brought them closer together. “There’s short range calls, which is the opposite of long range obviously.” He stared at Harry pointedly. “Mainly used to maintain group cohesion such as indicating dominance and such.”
“You have lost calls, for the wandering primate; there’s copulatory calls.” Zayn waggled his eyebrows up and down, and Harry rolled his eyes in response. Zayn continued, “Infant specific calls, which they usually grow out of.”
“They have alarm calls to indicate when there is a predator nearby, which is actually very fascinating because this is part of what makes primates unique.” Harry noticed that Zayn’s voice was changing the more excited he got explaining to Harry, it was different than his usual drawl.
“We as humans, have language that’s referential right? Meaning we can refer to things outside of ourselves. Animal’s communication was once upon a time thought to only be representative of their internal state. So they can vocalize a state, such as being about to attack, but can’t reference objects.”
“And then we began studying primates, particularly their referential calls, because it was found that they had certain alarm calls for specific predators,” Zayn enunciated.
“For example”—Zayn held up three fingers—“the vervet, an Old World Monkey, has three classes of alarm calls. One for snakes, leopards, and eagles.” He counted the animals down off his fingers. “The receiver of the alarm call would perform a different action in response to whichever alarm call they heard.”
Zayn walked over to a filing cabinet and pulled open a drawer that rattled with its contents. From a brief glance, Harry saw that it was filled with an organized row of tape recorders. Zayn wiggled his fingers as he flipped through the stacks. He gave a triumphant ‘ha!’ upon discovering what he was looking for.
“If it was a snake alarm call, the receiver will stand up on their hind legs when they hear this.”
Harry heard a click of the recorder button before a series of extremely high pitched, fast paced chatter calls began emanating from the player.
Harry looked up at Zayn when the call ended, and Zayn paused the recorder. “Upon hearing the warning call about an eagle—” he pressed play again to release a lower pitched grunt. Zayn spoke over the trail end of the alarm call, his voice raised so Harry could hear him, “Vervet’s will run down from the trees and hide in the bushes.”
He paused the recorder again. “The leopard alarm call is a series of short inhalations and exhalations in rapid succession. Then they'll run up a tree and hide from the leopard.” Zayn played the last of the calls on the recorder before clicking it off and placing it back in its spot in the drawer.
“It’s difficult to truly determine whether or not the alarm calls are referential because upon hearing the sound”—Zayn pointed at his ears—“does it then create the image of the predator in the vervet’s mind?” His hands followed the words to gesture up to his head. “Or does it just startle them, causing them to run up the tree?” His fingers made little flitting motions mimicking the act of running. Zayn finally lifted his hands up and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s not my area of expertise exactly, I don’t sit in the trees waiting and recording data to try and determine which could be true.” He grinned at Harry before wandering over to a door that lead out to the enclosure. Harry followed him without a word, trying to process the onslaught of information. He was learning a lot.
Zayn pushed through the door and held it open for Harry on his way out. They were greeted with a waft of humid air mixed with the smell of wet grass and dirt from the rain the night before.
The enclosure consisted of a wide expanse littered with trees, tire swings strung up by thick cord-like rope hung down from the branches. Harry spotted what looked to be a mother chimpanzee and her baby curled up together, slowly swinging back and forth in one of the tires. The mother looked at the two intruders as the door shut behind them. Multiple wooden climbing structures were constructed with mesh nets connecting them together to form a playground. A small chimpanzee was seen playing with a tetherball by themselves, but finally grew bored and walked away on its knuckles when it decided that it wasn’t as fun with no one around to hit the ball back.
“So, if you don't hang about in trees with the chimps”—he grinned wryly at Zayn—“what exactly do you do here?”
“I work with Louis rehabilitating chimps that were rescued from around the world from either cosmetic laboratories, or circuses, which is where they usually come from. The ones we have in here right now are about halfway through their rehabilitation program. They aren’t nearly as skittish around humans as they were when they first arrived, and their wounds are all healed, but they’re not quite ready to go join a larger group.”
Other than the three chimps already noticed, Harry saw two more chimpanzees hunched over on a fallen long. The smaller of the two was sitting behind the larger one picking something off its back with long nimble digits.
Zayn pointed at the pair. “The one being groomed seems to have taken the role as the dominant male of this group, his name is George. The group that we have in here doesn’t really resemble the typical social structure of chimpanzees, which is multi male and multi female, fission fusion. Meaning that the entire large group will break up into smaller groups, but come back together at the end of the day. It’s kind of difficult to do that when there’s only six of them here.”
Harry glanced around the enclosure, counting out only five that he could immediately see.
Zayn continued, “There’s only one female here in this group.” Zayn pointed at the mother swinging in the tire. “Elsie and her infant Joe. The one that was playing with the ball is Hank, and the chimp grooming George is Hunter.”
Zayn crossed his arms. “Hunter must have challenged George again, there tends to always be another male who will occasionally challenge the dominant male for his spot, and when he fails, their way of apologizing is to groom them. We’re actually quite lucky that this group is doing this well, George and Hunter are the most ‘normal’”—he held up fingers as air quotes—“chimps, and acting this way is a good thing. Elsie’s pretty protective of Joe, and Hank is a bit of a loner. He’s pretty small for a fully grown male chimp, his living conditions were terrible, being inside cages 24/7 really stunted his growth.”
Harry frowned, an unpleasant image created in his mind at Zayn’s words.
Zayn must have noticed Harry’s displeasure for he reassured him, “Don’t worry.” He reached out to clasp a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “He’s recovering quite well despite his treatment. He responds well to us here and is slowly making Elsie like him. I think she’ll adopt him as her own as well soon.” Zayn smiled before indicating with a nod of his head for Harry to look at Hank.
Hank had waddled over on two feet over to where Elsie still sat swinging with Joe. Elsie seemed to be eying him warily but made no immediate movements when Hank raised an arm up to rest his palm against Joe’s head. Hank pursed his lips and and leaned his head forward.
Harry quietly swung his camera bag down to zip it open and retrieve his camera. He squatted down and quickly turned it on to take some shots. They were far away enough that the clicking wouldn’t disturb the scene.
Zayn had a smile on his face as he watched the interaction. Joe finally woke up from his perch in Elsie’s arms and sat up to better address Hank. Joe was making chattering sounds at Hank and Hank cooed in response to him before releasing a hoot and suddenly turning around and knuckle walking—running, towards the mesh net attached to the playground. Joe let out a series of squeals before jumping down and following him. Harry slowly moved forward as Elsie stayed motionless, but she finally drew her attention to the clicking and whirring of Harry’s camera.
Harry continued taking snapshots of the two chimps running and then drew the lens back to look at Elsie, his face still hidden behind the camera and looking through the viewfinder. He froze as he realized that Elsie had got up off the swing and was slowly walking towards him on her knuckles, her expression unreadable, she didn’t seem as friendly as the chimps he had already met. The lightbulb went off a second later in his head as he realized that it must be because she was still in the rehabilitation stage.
“What do I do,” he whispered to Zayn.
“Just let her meet you. She’s probably more interested in the camera than you.”
“Oh, thanks,” Harry replied dryly.
“You’re welcome,” Zayn chirped back. He moved to stand closer beside Harry, evidently unconcerned, so Harry attempted to relax his tense shoulders. He took a couple more photos of Elsie looking directly into the camera before stopping altogether.
Upon reaching him, Harry watched through the viewfinder as Elsie raised a hairy arm up to the front and prodded at the lens with her digits. Harry slowly moved the camera down from his face so he could get a proper look at her.
She gazed directly into his eyes, her lips fallen open in a soft pant. Her eyes were bronze coloured, and lines of wrinkles adorned her face. The hair surrounding her face was a shade lighter than black, her face and protruding ears bare of hair, her skin tan in colour. There was a scar above her upper lip that accentuated her already large jaw.
Elsie snuffed against the side of his face, her lips tickling his ears. Harry closed his eyes and ducked his head a bit to avoid the tickling. She moved more to the side of him and Harry peeked through his eyes just in time to feel her promptly poke him in the ear. Harry squawked, reeling backwards and laughing. Elsie wasn’t a big fan of his motions, for she turned around and bounded in the other direction.
Harry blinked at her actions, turning to Zayn for an explanation, but all he received in reply was a shrug.
“Like I said, unpredictable mood swings.”
“It’s too bad she can’t communicate it with you better,” Harry murmured.
"I mean, I've only been examining primate communication for seven years now, I should be able to figure it out," Zayn grumbled, mostly to himself, but Harry heard him.
“Didn’t you say that you didn’t study primate communication?" Harry stood up from his crouched position and kicked out his legs to stretch the tight muscles.
"Not on paper exactly, studying primate communication was just always an intriguing aspect to me. My absolute favourite thing however, is the great language debate.”
“Which is?” Harry inquired.
“Ever since humans started studying primates, there’s been the topic of debate about whether or not they have the capacity for language. Because it was originally thought that language was a uniquely human trait. So with their already interesting vocal and nonvocal communicative traits, it raised the question about whether or not they have the ability to understand human language. More so...than say a dog. Who can learn to comprehend basic phrases."
Zayn walked away from Harry over to the far side of the yard. Harry's brows furrowed, wondering where he was headed, but he glimpsed a flash of brown hair and he looked past Zayn to see Louis sitting on the grass with his legs crossed, a blue pair of jean shorts showcasing muscles in his toned and slightly hairy legs. His lab coat was absent, and he’d ditched his usual converse for bare feet. He was tickling a chimp that sat in the crease of his legs, grinning at the series of squeals released by the chimp in reaction to the fingers probing into the coarse hair. He wasn't sure how he had initially missed seeing Louis when they first entered the yard, but his placement in the back corner had concealed him from the main areas of the grounds.
Louis still hadn't seen them yet, and Harry smiled at the sight of the chimpanzee in Louis' lap squirming at the prodding fingers. Harry tapped Zayn and held up his camera, indicating his wishes. Zayn stopped walking, so he quietly brought his camera up to freeze the image. The click of the camera button startled the little chimp and Harry was suddenly faced with wide eyes peering inquisitively at him. Louis glanced up when the chimp stilled, his eyes making contact with Harry's. Louis leaned forward and said something quietly into the chimp's ear.
The chimp made a soft cooing noise in response before facing Louis again and making a gesture with its long fingers. Harry’s hands froze in mid air, the camera still in his hands. The chimp was performing sign language.
Harry quickly began taking a series of snapshots as he heard Louis say, ‘friend,’ out loud to the chimp. Harry saw Louis do a series of hands motions back to the chimp.
Harry whipped his head around to find Zayn, who was standing only a couple of feet behind him, “How…?” Harry trailed off.
Zayn grinned. “Harry, I’d like you to meet Eli. Eli came from Los Angeles and was raised in captivity in a circus. We believe his previous owners taught him a series of simple signs as part of his performance in the show. We’ve since expanded some of his vocabulary.”
“Was he treated very badly?” Harry frowned at the thought. His immediate perception of animals and circus rings was that of poor treatment and terrible living conditions.
“We’re not entirely sure, he has less than the average amount of scars on his body that chimps in the wild would usually have, so that's a plus. But the question begs as to where his existing scars originated from. The reason he’s here with us now is that someone put an anonymous tip in that Eli was depressed. We think it was one of the caretakers at the circus. So when we went in to investigate, we declared that it was time for Eli to retire.”
Zayn walked over slowly to Eli who grinned in response upon seeing Zayn, lips pulling back to display large canines. He reached up a long arm to which Zayn clasped his own fingers around Eli’s palm to rest it upon fuzzy hair on the back of his hand. Eli stood up on two legs and began waddling with Zayn over to a bench, his free arm dragging along the ground beside him.
Harry walked over to Louis and settled himself beside him on the ground as Louis unfolded his legs and placed his hands behind his back on the grass and leant backwards to rest on them. He also raised a knee up, his toes splaying apart to catch grass in between them and pull.
"You have questions don't you?" Louis asked, shaking his head haphazardly to move fringe out of his face.
"Of course I do!" Harry exclaimed. "How is it possible that Eli knows sign language?"
Louis reached a hand up to deal with his uncooperative hair. “Upon discovering that primates were our closest relatives and that humans—or hominodae, evolved from them, primatologists began wondering whether or not it was culture or biology that could allow non-human primates to learn language like communication systems. Since the 60s, there’s been many, unfortunately, controversial experiments performed, where a primate would live for many years with humans and be taught some aspects of their language.
“There’s a lot of famous chimps to come out of this, Washoe the chimp who learned almost two hundred signs where she could actually string together sentences, could identify other animals, and even passed on her knowledge to her adopted infant. Sarah the chimp used plastic pieces as a substitute for words. Lana could use symbols to refer to objects.
“There was Kanzi the bonobo, and Koko the gorilla. Thank god the experiments have mostly stopped today," Louis mumbled, irritation flashed across his features. "Or rather, they’re only conducted to pick up the pieces so to speak,” he continued.
“What do you mean?”
Louis gestured with his chin towards Eli with Zayn at the bench. “Eli for example, already knew a bunch of signs, so we worked to figure out what signs he knew to determine whether or not he was abused. If he recognized the words for certain actions, or pain inducing objects, then we were able to better determine the proper rehabilitation program for him. Since he was raised in captivity, there was the question about whether or not he was ever around other chimps. So assimilating him into a chimpanzee social group took more time.
“Also, we don’t start from the beginning to teach a chimp signs anymore, we only do it if they’ve already been exposed to it, because that is how they’ll communicate with humans, if that’s what they were taught.”
"So this is the great language debate then?" Harry looked to Zayn, who had walked back over with Eli, for confirmation.
Zayn nodded. "Yes. It's all part of the fact that humans descended from primates and they are our closest living relative. It only makes sense that they have some capability to understanding human language. Even if our brains are a tad bit more evolved than theirs." Zayn grinned wryly just as Eli reached out to snag his fingers in a hole in Zayn's sweater.
Zayn laughed, "You totally understood that didn't you?” Eli’s answer was to bound off in the opposite direction towards the tire swing.
Harry thought about the comment about Eli's captivity and the unlikelihood of him interacting much with others of his species. “So how is he doing in this social group then?” He shifted his legs and raised them up to rest his forearms on his knees and clasp his hands.
Louis sighed, “He's doing alright. Better than expected. We’ve noticed that he doesn’t like to be alone though.” His eyes flickered up to Harry’s.
He darted his gaze downwards, swallowing thickly at the realness of the statement. Harry could relate to that so much.
They had been in the Arctic for about a week exploring the Northwest passage when David and Claire broke the news to him.
(About the baby). (About them deciding to quit National Geographic for a while). (About them leaving Harry).
Harry always thought it was lucky to have your partner be in the same field as you, especially one that had so much traveling involved. There was no guilt for leaving your partner behind, or having to go long periods of time without seeing one another. Working together eliminated all of these kinds of problems that so many other couples faced.
But what Harry hadn't realized was that there was no room in a couple for a third wheel, for someone like him. He should have known that their time together was going to come to an end. He guessed that he had taken their good situation for granted. He hadn't ever sat down to think about the future. He’d always just lived in the moment, trying not to plan out things, or stress about things that hadn't happened yet.
He heard the rustling of a coat, a sudden warm voice in his ear, “Harry. You’re pouting.” Claire sat down beside him on the bench.
“‘M not,” he muttered, refusing to meet her gaze.
“Harry.” Her voice was sterner than before, he turned his head to gaze at her, noticing that she was chewing on her chapped lips. Harry automatically lifted a hand up to draw her lip from out underneath of her teeth. She let him willingly, linking her arm through his.
"You didn't really think this would last forever did you?"
"That's the problem I guess. I didn't think. I've never actually considered the possibility of you and David not working for National."
"It'll only be temporary," Claire insisted.
But Harry knew, he didn't want to be drawn in on a false hope. They could say now that they’d come back to work with him and be the Three Amigos once again, but Harry knew that such a big, life changing event had a way of changing perspectives, and that life happened. It got in the way of the things that you wanted.
He wasn't even upset at the fact that they had hidden the pregnancy from Harry for three months. He understood why. He knew that they knew he would take it badly. He was only upset at the fact that they had waited until they were on the expedition to tell him that this would be their last one together. He felt guilty now of not taking advantage of their close quarters to spend more time with them, instead he had been semi avoiding them only because he hadn't initially understood why they had been acting strangely.
Harry heaved a sigh and decided to mend the bridge.
"Do you have a name picked out?"
Claire smiled, her eyes transforming into pure happiness. "Laurel for a girl, and Bryden for a boy."
Harry's dimple popped as he grinned. "I love it. I'm gonna be the best uncle."
"Of course you are, Uncle Haz." Claire rested her head upon his shoulders and sniffled. He suspected that she was relieved upon finally having the courage to tell him about the baby, and for him to be mostly accepting. He was happy of course, God, of course he was. There was almost nothing more he loved than babies. Especially one to be created from some of his favourite people on the entire planet.
As he sat in contemplation, he tried not to feel sorry for himself. Harry just needed to accept that sudden changes to something that had been consistent in your life for so long were always difficult to overcome. But as time passed, so to would the ache that filled your heart.
A sudden commotion at the back of the boat evaporated all moroseness from his mind as someone began ecstatically shouting, “We found it!”
As they stood up to run to the back, and as he watched Claire's hair bounce in the wind, Harry knew that things were going to change drastically for him.
He was drawn out of his musings by a kick to his foot and a questioning voice, “Where were you just now?”
Harry glanced up to Louis. “The Canadian Arctic,” Harry admitted.
“I didn’t think there was actually anything there.”
“There isn’t,” Harry admitted. “Well, not really. This was under the ice.”
Louis’ eyebrows raised. “Really?” He scratched at his nose absentmindedly and shuffled slightly closer towards Harry. "Tell me about it.”
So he did.
He didn’t mention the scene that was just played in his mind, or rather, he didn’t tell Louis about the revelation and his subsequent descent into misery. He instead told him about how Sir John Franklin’s ships were lost in 1845, and that archaeologists had been searching for them for over 170 years. How he was there for the exact moment when they found the location of one the ships, and how the lead archaeologist had cried.
He mentioned the stark difference in the temperatures between here and there, how he now thinks he much prefers the extreme heat over the extreme cold. He talked about using underwater radiography to track the exact location of one of the ships, and the extremely small piece of evidence that lead the team to the discovery.
While he talked about writing the article for the expedition, Eli wandered back over to the group. Once he made sure Eli was okay, Zayn turned to walk back inside the building.
Eli initially had landed in front of Louis, but he turned his attention to Harry and climbed up into his lap, poking and prodding at his face and hair. Louis laughed delightedly at the look on Harry's face. Harry felt his chest constrict at the sound.
His lips turned upwards in amusement, thinking to himself about the sheer happiness that the primate was generating amongst the two of them. That there were far worse things in life than losing your working partners.
How a small chimpanzee who was in a bad place, but was now showing almost no signs of initial abuse, instead just simply craving the presence of others. Eli’s feelings weren’t all that different from how most humans felt. Perhaps especially Harry.
With the easiness of the past couple of days, and the comfortability of the people working here at the Sanctuary Islands and their willingness to tell him all about the primates, Harry came to the conclusion that he felt more at home here than any of the other jobs he’d worked since Claire and David left. He wondered if that maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t as alone as he initially thought he was.