3 + 4

3 + 4

Brone swung off the bars and landed amongst his many companions. One of them pulled his tail.

“Relax, you’ll all get your share,” reassured the big hairy guy as he handed out the nuts.

Everyone counted four nuts in their hands. “Just four?” – “C’mon, one more.” – “Yeah, don’t be tight.” – “Why can’t we have more?!” – “And we only got three this morning!”

The big guy’s face flashed, “It’s what the Master ordered,” then stomped off.

They huddled together. One of them suggested, “We gotta ask for more. I say we stage a protest.”

Most of the group cried and screeched in assent. “Yeah, we should demand more!” However, a few replied, “I doubt that guy cares. He just follows the Master’s orders.”

Brone listened and eyed his cohorts one-by-one.

Someone else then added, “Be careful, the Master might feed us to the lions. He’s probably feeding them right now… I mean, we hardly see him anyway.”

Brone, by that time, was feeling a little concerned. “Where did you hear that? The Master has never fed any of us to the lions, nor the tigers, not to anyone, not since I’ve been here. Besides, it’s not like we only get fed nuts. We do have other stuff to eat.”

“Don’t be a naysayer!”

“Well, why not try asking the Master’s daughter and ask nicely? She turns up regularly enough and is much more approachable than that fat walking roll of carpet.”

“Yeah but she answers to her father, doesn’t she?”

Brone sighed. “True, but who do you think the Master will more likely listen to? – an employee or his daughter?”

The group fell silent in thought. Finally, the energetic one declared, “No, I say we hijack the Master’s assistant tomorrow at dawn.”

When that hairy bulk rocked up the next morning, most of the group jumped him. Some even leapt straight from the trees high up. And then they bounced right off. Brone chuckled.

Nevertheless, the guy got the message. “Fine, you want one more? I’ll give you one more. I’ll give you four now and you can have three in the evening.”

All but Brone jumped up and down in victory as the guy distributed four nuts to each of them. After he left, Brone glared at his companions.

“What’s wrong now, Brone? We got more, didn’t we?”

Brone shook his head. “Three in the morning, four in the evening. Or four in the morning and three in the evening. What’s the difference? It’s still seven for the day.”

They hissed at him. Some even threw dirt at him. Brone didn’t bother to explain again but instead hobbled away to the corner and tried to enjoy his food alone. But he couldn’t for many in the tribe hurled insults at him from a distance for some minutes.

After several hours of being alone in the corner, a gentle voice sounded. “What is wrong, Brone?” He looked up to see the Master’s daughter and explained all that had happened.

She merely smiled, then walked away and Brone understood that he was to wait right there.

Sure enough, all saw her enter some building, then exited with a tranquilizer gun and promptly dropped the assistant. She then dragged that hairy lump all the way into their compound.

She motioned all to come near. “Are you stupid? Can’t you tell the difference between an ape and a real assistant? You believe everything he says? If you have a problem, come to me. Why go to him? You’re all supposed to get four in the morning and in the evening. He’s been stashing one that’s meant for each of you for himself. I’ll deal with him but you lot should have known better.”

As she turned to leave, dragging the unconscious ape behind her, she smiled again at Brone.


“3 + 4” was shortlisted for The Our Motives Are Benign Award at Needle In The Hay, June 2013.

This short story is inspired by and in some respects a re-telling of the Chinese proverb “Three in the Morning and Four in the Evening” (朝三暮四) even though the themes and moral lessons are not entirely the same.