“What am I supposed to say?”, whispered Johor, as they stood in front of his desk. The monkey remained on the bookshelf, muttering to himself.

“Just tell him you want to meet the Chairman without Form 16B”, said Mr Wable, softly, keeping his back to the door.

Johor cleared his throat nervously. The monkey eyed the banana in his hand. “May I meet the Chairman without Form 16B?”, he asked, feeling like Oliver Twist. He held out the banana. The monkey looked at him. Johor met his gaze respectfully. The monkey looked down at the banana. He looked back up at Johor. He bared his teeth. He snatched the banana from his hand and started beating him over the head with it, jumping up and down, screaming.

“I think he means no”, whispered Mr Wable. Long experience had made him an expert at reading his colleague’s behaviour patterns. Johor backed away slowly, holding on to his spectacles. The monkey flung the banana at him when he was almost out of range. It missed Johor and hit the wall. The monkey leaped off the bookshelf, bounced off the desk and scampered across the floor. He picked up the banana and cradled it to his breast, crooning, a strange little lullaby with faintly Carnatic overtones. He kissed it a couple of times, making smacking noises with his lips.

“Let’s get out now, while it’s distracted”, said Mr Wable, tugging at his elbow.

They slipped out quietly, taking care not to slip on any of the banana skins.

Mr Wable escorted Johor out of the building. As a rule, the staff at the New Job Commission was not very service-oriented. But this young man had just been assaulted by a monkey. He was owed some consideration.

They waited together at the bus stop. Mr Wable put a friendly arm around Johor’s shoulder. He had already slipped into his pocket a brochure entitled ‘Dos and Don’ts: When to write Not Applicable on your form’. It was a rare item. Very few copies had been printed. Mr Wable hoped very much that Johor would read it, and spare them all further awkwardness. It was hard not to be fond of the boy.

“I never thought monkeys would be involved”, said Johor, thoughtfully. “This must be that magic realism we keep hearing about.”

“You can make out the difference?” said Mr. Wable.

The bus came. Johor hopped on. The bus left.

Shovon Chowdhury is a novelist based in Delhi. His latest novel, Murder With Bengali Characteristics, is set in a Bengal occupied by China.