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The Beijing of Possibilities

It’s been a while since the Monkey King set out on his Journey to the West. With his Fiery-Gaze Golden-Eyes he infallibly recognized Evil, and vowed to combat it in every form. He changed shape at will and leaped from cloud to cloud. It was in the spring of 2008 that the Gorillagram appeared in mainland China. (One of those fads, we believe, that snuck in from America or Europe.) A Taiwanese-owned company introduced the concept; they were in the business of couriering documents around Beijing, and they diversified, or call it a promotional gimmick. The way it works is that a man in a gorilla suit arrives in your building. He steps out of the elevator and jogs right up to the reception desk, banging his chest. He’s directed to the appropriate cubicle, where he sings, “Happy Birthday to You!” to the lucky and amazed recipient, or “Congratulations on your Promotion! Ten thousand Congratulations!” He accepts his tip, and off he goes. 

So who is he, this fellow in the furry disguise? His true name is unknown; no doubt he’s a migrant worker, not legally resident in the capital. The salary is pitiful, and the costume hot and itchy; he must be from the South. He’s not as tall as he looks: his real eyes are at the level of the Gorilla’s snout and he speaks through a veil around its throat. Six days a week, he cycles around Beijing, going wherever he’s told; sometimes he’s in a hell of a rush, pedaling like crazy, scarcely time to pant his song before he dashes to the next appointment; but there’s downtime too --- he un-Velcro’s his head and puffs a cigarette. There are worse ways to make a living. 

Now one afternoon in June he’d just finished a job singing the Retirement Song at a graphic design company on Qianmen Dajie, and he was about to mount his Forever bicycle which he’d parked in a nearby alley - not really a rough area, though you have to watch out for pickpockets. A businesswoman walked by, a red handbag swinging from her shoulder. Suddenly he heard a roar and a Honda moped was accelerating past, two men on it. The pillion man grabbed the handbag! The businesswoman screamed; she clung to her strap. For what can’t have been more than a few seconds the man and the woman struggled. She would not let go. Then the Honda sped down the end of the alley and made a sharp left. The Gorilla was shocked --- he’d heard about such things; he’d been warned by his boss to be careful and whenever he left his bicycle he always locked it to a railing - but he’d never witnessed such a blatant attempt. So the big city is as dangerous as they say. 

While he was thinking these thoughts, the familiar and ominous roar recurred. Once again the thieves were in the alley! They’d circled round, and were swooping in for another go! This time both crooks reached out to seize the prize; the driver kept one hand on his machine while with the other he pawed the woman’s strap, and his accomplice punched her on the breasts. As for the Gorilla - a timid man, normally - he couldn’t bear to see a woman treated like this. He let go of his Forever and he bounded along the alley beating his fists against the front of his costume and uttering a deep “Hoo-hoo!” The thieves had already taken possession of the handbag and were about to drive off. When the Gorilla pounced. With one hairy arm he practically choked the driver, with the other he twisted the handlebars, knocking the moped over, while his knee connected with the groin of the whimpering accomplice. He dusted down the handbag and returned it to the businesswoman. The thieves fled. The Gorilla made a little bow. 

He returned to his bicycle, and headed off to his next job. 

* * * 

That might have been the end of the matter, but it so happened that a student in a nearby teashop had heard the noise and stepped outside. He took photographs of the incident with his cell phone. He posted an account on his blog. 

The blog was linked to other blogs - and soon the pictures, along with cut-and-pastings of the text and re-tellings of the story, appeared on several online forums. There was much speculation as to who the Gorilla might have been along with approval of his actions, as well as more wide-ranging discussion of the growing problem of urban street crime. (Who is to blame? What should we do about it?) The story was picked up by a newspaper in Hebei Province, and from there it was copied by a news agency, and printed in further papers and magazines. BRAVE GORILLA RESCUES CITIZEN - IN HER PLIGHT, AN “ANIMAL” HELPS HER - SUPERMONKEY TO THE RESCUE! Given that there was only one Gorillagram company in Beijing, it wasn’t difficult for the media to locate the Gorilla - but the management turned down all requests for interviews on his behalf: it would draw attention away from their core business; the last thing they’d want is for the public to think they’re in the business of crime-fighting, not to speak of the potential liability suit. They handed the Gorilla his fan-mail --- letters and postcards from all across the nation, including a proposal of marriage from a young lady in Shaanxi Province, addressed simply to Hero Gorilla, Beijing --- and told him sternly to stick to his job in future. From the Gorilla’s point of view, he was more embarrassed than anything; all he’d done was what you or I might under the circumstances. And it made his work harder: when he went into an office to do his act, likely as not the middle managers would want to chat and the secretaries would flirt, and he didn’t get bigger tips either --- on the contrary, people seemed to assume now he was a celebrity he didn’t need the money. “Excuse me,” he’d mumble in his Southern accent, “it was over in a second, I don’t remember much.” And if they still kept pestering him he’d deny his involvement, “I guess you must be thinking of some other ape.”

Excerpted from The Beijing of Possibilities © Copyright 2012 by Jonathan Tel. Reprinted with permission by Other Press. All rights reserved.

The Beijing of Possibilities
by by Jonathan Tel

  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590513266
  • ISBN-13: 9781590513262