When I was six, we had a pet female baboon, Archie, who we kept in the backyard of our house on Tenth Avenue in Nkana, a little copper mining town in Zambia. Tethered to a ten-foot-long chain by a belt around her waist, she lived in an old doghouse at the bottom of a yard big enough to get lost in, a yard sprinkled with mango, guava, loquat and avocado trees.
I wasn’t allowed to be alone with Archie. Baboons can be possessive and unpredictable. One bite and it would be curtains for Archie and rabies shots for me—two a day for seven days. In the stomach. But I wasn’t afraid. She was my best friend. I’d climb out of my bedroom window when I was supposed to be taking a nap and Archie and I would sit in the dirt behind her doghouse and she’d groom me. I can still feel her long black-tipped fingers scratching through my hair, the goose bumps marching up and down my arms and back as she searched for fleas. Those soothing clicking sounds she made, the frantic scratching when she thought she found one.
But then one day, Leffy, who worked for us, surprised her. Archie shrieked and shot to her full height, gripping me around the neck at the same time like she was going to drag me away. And then Leffy was brandishing a rake propped against the mango tree. I struggled to get away and Archie nipped me on the shoulder just as Leffy brought down the rake. She ducked and tore into her doghouse. I started after her only to see my dad’s Ford pulling into the driveway from work. I charged back to the house, scrambled through my bedroom window and dived into bed. My parents never found out. I didn’t get rabies and Archie got to live another day.