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The first of our three remaining chickens made its appearance at lunch, but our mood wasn't right for it. We pushed the scrawny bits of it listlessly round our plates and could find little to say.
In the afternoon we took the boat to Komodo village where we met a woman who was the only known survivor of a dragon attack. A giant lizard had gone for her while she was out working in the fields, and by the time her screams had brought her neighbours and their dogs to rescue her and beat the creature away, her leg was in tatters. Intensive surgery in Bali saved her from having it amputated and, miraculously, she fought off the infection and lived, though her leg was still a mangled ruin. On the neighbouring island of Rinca, we were told, a four-year-old boy had been snatched by a dragon as he lay playing on the steps of his home. The living build their houses on stilts, but on these islands not even the dead are safe, and they are buried with sharp rocks piled high on their graves.
For all my rational Western intellect and education, I was for the moment overwhelmed by a primitive sense of living in a world ordered by a malign and perverted god, and it coloured my view of everything that afternoon even the coconuts. The villagers sold us some and split them open for us. They are almost perfectly designed. You first make a hole and drink the milk, then you split open the nut with a machete and slice off a segment of the shell, which forms a perfect implement for scooping out the coconut flesh inside. What makes you wonder about the nature of this god character is that he creates something that is so perfectly designed to be of benefit to human beings and then hangs it twenty feet above their heads on a tree with no branches.
Here's a good trick, let's see how they cope with this. Oh, look! They've managed to find a way of climbing the tree. I didn't think they'd be able to do that. All right, let's see them get the thing open. Hmm, so they've found out how to temper steel now, have they? OK, no more Mr Nice Guy. Next time they go up that tree I'll have a dragon waiting for them at the bottom.
I can only think that the business with the apple must have upset him more than I realised.
I went and sat on the beach by a mangrove tree and gazed out at the quiet ripples of the sea. Some fish were jumping up the beach and into the tree, which struck me as an odd thing for a fish to do, but I tried not to be judgmental about it. I was feeling pretty raw about my own species, and not much inclined to raise a quizzical eyebrow at others. The fish could play about in trees as much as they liked if it gave them pleasure, so long as they didn't try and justify themselves or tell each other it was a malign god who made them want to play in trees.
I was feeling pretty raw about my own species because we presume to draw a distinction between what we call good and what we call evil. We find our images of what we call evil in things outside ourselves, in creatures that know nothing of such matters, so that we can feel revolted by them, and, by contrast, good about ourselves. And if they won't be revolting enough of their own accord, we stoke them up with a goat. They don't want the goat, they don't need it. If they wanted one they'd find it themselves. The only truly revolting thing that happens to the goat is in fact done by us.
So why didn't we say something? Like: "Don't kill the goat"?
Well, there are a number of possible reasons:

The great thing about being the only species that makes a distinction between right and wrong is that we can make up the rules for ourselves as we go along.

The fish were still hopping harmlessly up and down the tree. They were were about three inches long, brown and black, with little bobble eyes set very close together on the top of their heads. They hopped along using their fins as crutches.
"Mudskippers," said Mark, who happened along at that moment. He squatted down to look at them.
"What are they doing in the tree?" I asked.
"You could say they were experimenting," said Mark. "If they find they can make a better living on the land than in the water, then in the course of time and evolution they may come to stay on the land. They absorb a certain amount of oxygen through their skin at the moment, but they have to rush back to the sea from time to time for a mouthful of water which they process through their gills. But that can change. It's happened before."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's probable that life on this planet started in the oceans, and that marine creatures migrated on to the land in search of new habitats. There's one fish that existed about 350 million years ago which was very like a mudskipper. It came up on to the land using its fins as crutches. It's possible that it was the ancestor of all land-living vertebrates."
"Really? What was it called?"
"I don't think it had a name at the time."
"So this fish is what we were like 350 million years ago?"
"Quite possibly."
"So in 350 million years time one of its descendants could be sitting on the beach here with a camera round its neck watching other fish hopping out of the sea?"
"No idea. That's for science fiction novelists to think about. Zoologists can only say what we think has happened so far."
I suddenly felt, well, terribly old as I watched a mudskipper hopping along with what now seemed to me like a wonderful sense of hopeless, boundless, nave optimism. It had such a terribly, terribly, terribly long way to go. I hoped that if its descendant was sitting here on this beach in 350 million years time with a camera round its neck, it would feel that the journey had been worth it. I hoped that it might have a clearer understanding of itself in relation to the world it lived in. I hoped that it wouldn't be reduced to turning other creatures into horror circus shows in order to try and ensure them their survival. I hoped that if someone tried to feed the remote descendant of a goat to the remote descendant of a dragon for the sake of little more than a shudder of entertainment, that it would feel it was wrong.
I hoped it wouldn't be too chicken to say so.

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