We Stupid Apes

Entry by: Mac

26th August 2016

Marcia was greeted by Eileen Plum, assistant departmental administrator and tried to hide her smile as she instantly thought of a character in Cluedo. She sat in the waiting room alongside three other candidates and reviewed her answers mentally as she waited her turn. The panel chair was Professor Lace as the post was for a senior research administrator.

Miss Plum approached again and addressed them all, indicating the running order and checking who would like tea or coffee. She informed them that after the interview each candidate would be meeting Professor Sim, for whom he or she would be working for much of the time. The professor was too busy to sit on the panel but had insisted on every candidate coming to see him after their interview. Later, of course, he complained about the interruptions. He was an esteemed academic, now close to completing his major new book: Cultural Deficit in Modern Day Mourning. He was possibly more aware of his importance than anyone.

The interview went quite well and she then made her way to the professor’s office. As she reached it, two people were coming out, looking back at the person inside and laughing in that obsequious way people have when they acknowledge the dominance of the other. A deep, throaty bellowing laugh came from inside the room. The alpha male type, Marcia idly surmised as she approached.

The door had closed so Marcia gently knocked. And then knocked again. Finally, a low, rasping grunt came from the occupant and she took it as a sign to enter. Marcia took one long look at the professor and was shocked into silence. He was short, stocky – very stocky, in fact. Dressed in a suit that struggled to match his girth and a pink shirt that was unbuttoned quite a long way down his chest, he looked like an overweight disco dancer from a bygone age. One other factor stood out: he was extremely hairy. Everywhere. Everywhere that was visible, that is. Marcia looked more closely at the small, dead eyes and concluded that her own eyes were not deceiving her. Professor Sim was an ape. An actual ape, though she was unsure as to species. Biology had never been a strong point.

The professor held out a large, leathery hand with exceedingly small fingers in greeting and, at the same time, offered a bowl of bananas. He sat down, breathing heavily and noisily, and proceeded to eat three in rapid succession. Marcia looked around the room and then back at the door, amid a growing sense of unease bordering on panic. Was this an elaborate joke? Was it a test, part of the interview? Was the professor dangerous or was he tame? Had she strayed inadvertently into Zoology rather than Sociology?

More incomprehensible grunts and the professor pressed an intercom button on his desk. The door opened shortly after and Doctor Shirley Shaw, the head of department, entered, beaming at the professor as though he was a long lost friend. She ran around his desk, hugged him respectfully and sat in his chair, whereupon he sat on her knee while she cuddled and stroked him profusely. She placed an arm around him and put the other hand in his lap, proceeding to tickle and tease him dangerously close to his nether regions. The professor giggled, a low, rumbling, grunt of a giggle. Highly inappropriate, thought Marcia, hoping that such behaviour was not an expected part of the job.

As the professor grunted and growled, intermittently groping Doctor Shaw’s breast, she took notes on her i-Pad. Then she asked Marcia a series of questions that had largely been dealt with in the interview and she wondered why neither of them had been on the panel. Noting the meaty aroma that emanated from Professor Sim, she could appreciate that his presence in a warm, crowded room might result in some discomfort. As if in confirmation of this idle speculation, the professor leaned forward and emitted a loud, rasping fart. Marcia couldn’t help wondering if Doctor Shaw had felt the shock waves on her leg.

More grunts, more notes and more questions – then Doctor Shaw smiled benignly; Marcia noted a slight air of condescension, as she escorted Marcia from the room. Outside, Doctor Shaw shook her head and simply said, “He’s brilliant - unique. Our highest ranking academic.” She directed Marcia to the cafeteria, her luncheon voucher in hand, and she went to wait until opening time. Everything ran to rules and schedules in the university.

Marcia entered and queued to spend her voucher: it stretched to a sandwich and a cup of tea. She had to pay for the KitKat. Taking a seat to the side of the large cafeteria space she began to question the efficacy of staying around any longer. Have none of these people noticed the professor’s non-humanoid nature? All the while, she studied the influx of students and occasional staff, wondering what they actually thought of him. Was this all some elaborate joke? But how could so many people be in on it?

The refectory door swung open again and Professor Sim entered, accompanied by a small entourage of admirers, other academics she assumed. Social interaction between academics and administrators was quite rare, she knew, having worked in a university for the last eight years. They occupied a table and one of them went off to purchase lunch. The professor sat quietly, only a barely detectable rumbling emanating from him as he concentrated on studying a paper and scratching himself. If his body itched, she noted, he pushed his hand inside his shirt. When he thrust his hand inside his pants she looked away and shuddered.

A young student approached their table, assignment in hand hoping for some feedback before submitting it, but one of the professor’s colleagues began to push her away – “It’s lunch time”, he said angrily. Professor Sim leaned forward, took the assignment and began to look at it rapidly, before ripping some sheets from the folder it was in and chewing them. He threw it back, his colleague picked it up and wrote on it and the student took the remains and left in tears. The professor beat his chest while his colleagues chuckled with some degree of self-satisfaction.

At that point, Marcia recognised one of the administrative staff as he approached the table with a note for the professor. The young man was made to wait as Professor Sim grunted and snarled and his entourage listened in rapt attention, nodding and grinning. One even laughed and the professor leaned back in his chair triumphantly. He clearly loved being appreciated by his audience. Somewhat impatiently, he turned to the young man and took the note that was in his hand. He read it quickly, roared with fury and began to run around the refectory, leaping onto tables and scattering food, tearing at his shirt, beating his chest. People lurched back in their seats in terror; some jumped to their feet and ran towards the exit doors.

Doctor Shaw had entered, took in the scene and, summoning two of the professor’s acolytes, she approached with a handful of bananas snatched from the fruit section of the food display. Together they calmed him; the two colleagues tentatively took hold of his arms and led him back to his table, snorting and dribbling saliva as he went.

Clare Mabbutt, a senior and much loved academic in the department approached Marcia’s table, salad and coffee in hand. She sat down with a whispered, “Hope you don’t mind” and, smiling benignly, brought an immediate feeling of warmth and reassurance with her. Marcia liked her immediately, despite the growing misgivings she had about the place as a whole and everyone in it.

“His publisher has just rejected his book unless he revises some key sections,” she said, “So he’s rather upset. He hates being told no.”
“How long has he been here?” asked Marcia.
“About ten years.”
“And you?”
“Almost twenty.”
“And … has nobody noticed? Or said anything?” Marcia looked quizzically at Clare, trying to contain her growing sense of panic.
“Noticed what?”
“Well … erm … his appearance!”
“Oh! His dress sense. That’s just him.”
“No. I meant the fact that he’s … he’s an ape!” Marcia struggled to keep the shrill panic from her voice.
“A gorilla, dear … and we’re an equal opportunities employer.” Clare smiled philosophically, though there was a note of sad resignation in her voice.

In spite of herself, Marcia’s eyes filled with tears. Clare reached a hand across to her in an attempt to comfort her. “You mustn’t let it upset you. I used to struggle, I’ll admit, but … this is a university. You can expect cleverness but never assume common sense!” and she smiled again as she patted Marcia’s hand. It was at this moment that Marcia realised that, even in the most dismal and senseless situations it was possible to find a good person.

Doctor Shaw approached Marcia as she was leaving. “You’ll be pleased to know that Professor Sim really liked you and it’s very likely – off the record – that you’ll be appointed.”
Marcia let out a strangled squeal and her face showed the horror she was feeling. “No! I can’t. Sorry … I just – no.”
“Oh dear. Why?”
“Why?! Look at him. Can’t you see?! Any of you? I’d be terrified.” Marcia began to sob quietly, despite her best efforts to retain her composure.
“Marcia, dear … there’s no need to be terrified of genius.”