WHITE MONKEY DANCE FOR YOUR PLEASURE
by Andrew Johnston
I don’t know a damn thing about interior design and yet here I sit, an expert in the field, come across the ocean to share my techniques and learn of those of my hosts. That would be an issue if anyone was talking to me – if anyone in this room was capable of speaking with me, and I was capable of replying in turn. But monkey is seldom hired for his knowledge or wit. No, monkey is hired to dance when requested, sit quietly and look pretty when requested, and disappear when requested.
It’s all a matter of vending your dignity – that’s what everyone says, anyway. It’s what Vincent said when he pulled me into this, and he’d know. Vincent is a hustler, a do-anything grab-the-cash kind of guy, and his type excels at this sort of work. Dignity? A small price to pay for the lifestyle, the one where you end your day buying out the bar just because you have the money to do it. Spending like a rich idiot is part of the deal – gives you a reputation, makes you hungry for more, lets clients see that you’re the right kind of stock.
That’s not me and it never will be. I’m the kind of guy who likes to keep a reserve of dignity in case he needs it. I’m the kind of guy who likes to pay for a quiet evening with the proceeds of a quick job. Monkey lies for an hour, he makes enough money for pizza and a few drinks and a ride home – not such a bad setup. Monkey envies no one.
It’s easy work, being a prop, but there’s a lot of time with not much to do. The bigwig we’re trying to impress is taking his precious time – it’s the same wherever you go, waiting for that one person who knows full well he’s important enough that everyone will wait – and there’s not much for monkey to do. Poke around the back office, see who leaves their desk in disarray, look for evidence that the jet-haired amber goddess across the way is single, hope that she knows enough English to understand a request for a date – are you going to judge? Does monkey not have needs besides money?
The one thing I don’t do is talk, not this time. I’m a prop, a bit of stage dressing, part of an illusion to convince one man that there are movers and shakers in attendance. When he finally shows up, and the illusion begins, everyone talks around me. Monkey doesn’t say a thing unless someone tugs his leash (a metaphorical leash – it’s a much higher rate for a literal one). Monkey mainly wishes he was better with languages, and could at least understand what was being said about him. Only the occasional “laowai” as much as suggests that I’m here at all, that I’m being discussed.
Now, we proceed to the restaurant – not the end of the illusion, but the second act. Such is business here, that it is rarely confined to the office but instead moves to places where one party can show off his wealth. The occasional invitation to a dinner meeting is a fringe benefit, the complimentary food and drink – especially the drink. “Get the foreigner drunk” is a popular parlor game in these parts, but will monkey partake? One tug on the leash – monkey will drink his fill. One tiny glass of condensed fire, then another and another, one for everyone at the table. Will monkey dance tonight? No, but perhaps monkey will be permitted to speak.
Isn’t that what all Americans do – talk about themselves? Isn’t that the stereotype around here? Enough drinks and the words flow with ease, but what does one say to an audience that will only hear an exotic noise? How seriously should I take this moment when all eyes are on me but the ears are not following? Ah, but now I feel two tugs – monkey shall not speak tonight. Monkey’s dance is nearly over. Now he will bow and thank his audience, and depart with a few words in their tongue (it amuses them so, hearing a foreigner speak their language) and exaggerate a stumble on the way out to reassure them that they are yet superior. It is a simple routine, but one I have refined over many blurry evenings.
I’m in a cab now, counting up the proceeds from my performance. A lucrative evening all around – I think I only sold a smidge of dignity tonight, and at a highly favorable rate. This will cover the food and drinks and a bonus to save for a thin time besides. Vincent would laugh at the pittance, I’m sure, but whatever madness he’s tied up in tonight is not for me. For now, I have exactly what I need – enough money to forget what I do for a living, no more, no less. Monkey did well tonight, and he can rest now. The dance continues tomorrow.
About the author
ANDREW JOHNSTON is a teacher, writer and documentarian based out of China’s Anhui province. He has published short fiction in Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures and the Laughing at Shadows Anthology. He is also the producer of the documentary short A Crisis of Harmony, on the cultural gap between the United States and China. You can find more free, Creative Commons works available on his website, www.findthefabulist.com.