Short Story: The Elephant in the Room
The Elephant in the Room
By Ekari Mbvundula
Disclaimer: reference to any real persons in this story is purely fictional
It was going to be big. Actually, it was going to be Big’s fat older cousin, Colossal. The Prince’s Ball was rumoured to be one unlike any there had ever been – or ever will be, as economists predicted the whole Kingdom would dip into a four year recession (minimum four years) following the shindig.
The purpose of the entire affair was to celebrate the opening of the Gate between The Kingdom and Earth. Ever since each of the two universes became aware of each other, (through a series of accidents, but nonetheless the historians made some names great and sprinkled grandeur here and there where there was none before...) it was decided by leaders of both realms that all would benefit from the potential trade that could occur if peace was established from the get-go. Thus the Prince declared (very publically) that he would host the greatest banquet in the history of The Kingdom to ‘get to know’ his ‘brothers from the other realm’
Famous people should shut up sometimes.
By the time he wished he could eat his words, major inter-realm treaties had been signed based on his claim, and it seemed like the unsteady and uncertain state of peace balanced on the deliverance of this first bold promise. Almost immediately, a five hundred thousand strong army of party planners, construction workers, interior designers, engineers, cleaners, butlers, security guards, court entertainers, emergency services, inter-cultural dietary experts, cooks, and waiters began preparing for the monumental occasion. The Kingdom’s gold reserves had been fully extracted in order to fund the budget which had to be redrawn on a daily basis – the zeros seemed to simply add themselves to the initial figure. Many plans were drafted and each was rehearsed by all the participants mentioned until a Grand Overseer approved of one. Then promptly changed his mind to another, and the whole thing started again.
For Sylvester Gondwe, all the pressure and stress was a far cry from his part time job washing dishes at a local restaurant in Lilongwe. He was one of the many ordinary folk who had crossed the Gate with dreams of fresh work opportunity in the height of the 2009 global recession on Earth. He met and worked alongside many Kingdomers and found them to be...the same but different. Coming from Malawi, he had never lived under a monarchy rule, and found it rather odd that the Kingdomers’ insisted on showing respect to the Prince by nodding their heads three times towards the castle every time they spoke of him. Nonetheless they were good people for the most part, and very efficient workers. Not to mention they all got paid per hour – promptly on the hour for even the rehearsals. Cash flow problems didn’t exist!
Of course the other side to this coin was that he found himself working harder than he had ever done in his university years. There was choreography for Pete’s sake! Each course of the meals was to be served in tune to music composed especially for the event by the best musicians in the land. (In the Kingdom Sylvester had to quickly get used to people using the phrase ‘best [something] in the land’). The guest list was to include iconic members of each of the two realms – political leaders, celebrities, the best minds in science, art, philosophy, sports and all other revered sectors of human society. Sylvester was actually quite excited. With the highly rigorous schedule, he doubted that he would be able to get any autographs, but he could always brag to his friends back home that he brushed shoulders with the worlds finest. Well, less ‘brushed shoulders’ and more ‘double reverse spun’ above them carrying trays of precariously balanced hors d'oeuvres.
Sylvester swallowed nervously and closed his eyes for a few seconds going through the steps for the one hundred and fifty-two thousand, six hundred and seventy third time. He stood to attention alongside the other one thousand waiters in the kitchen, straight as poles with their noses pointed exactly 5.5 degrees above horizon level.
The day had arrived. The Grand Hall was complete (more or less – there were still some last minute painting being done in the corners by a very nervous looking skinny old man) and the guests were expected to arrive any minute. According to the most recent rehearsal, each guest was to be escorted to their seats by page boys dressed in the finest embroidered silk. When all guests were seated, Phase One of the entertainment slot would begin (Sylvester only knew that it had loud drums and possible explosions – he was behind the kitchen doors this whole time). The Prince would make his opening speech, then the first lot of party favours would be distributed as a ‘thank you for coming’ gift. Then Phase One of the meals would begin.
The Food Overseer, known as the F.O., was pacing up and down the waiter line, occasionally switching ranks to check and double check that the chefs and other food preparation crew were in position. He was a strange man with not a single hair on his head, but had a large, neat, orange moustache to more than make up for it. His eyes were deadpan calm, but a slight drip of sweat from his moustache revealed his nervousness. The minutes passed like hours and Sylvester strained his ears, trying to hear the activities beyond the great white doors. It was definitely getting noisier out there...
“Right, people!” Sylvester jumped at the high pitched voice of the F.O. – he would never get used to the fact that it belonged to such a tall man. “We begin counting from minus 900 seconds... Now! There will be no slacking, that was for rehearsals. This is not a drill!” His eyes seemed to scrape across the waiter line, searching for weakness. As poor luck would have it, a bead of sweat made its way down Sylvester’s nose and off the tip just as the F.O.’s eyes met his. He frowned so deeply into his face that it reminded Sylvester of tectonic plates. “No. Screw ups.”
And with that vote of confidence (apparently not), time had run out – the doors opened to a burst of cheering, applause and music. The page boys who had just distributed the gifts filed into the kitchen on the left as the waiters simultaneously filed out on the right, picking up the trays of hors d’oeuvres on their way. Sylvester began to count the steps as he went; listening to the music he had heard so much that it was the official soundtrack of his dreams. The hardest part was getting through the door, as each waiter had to achieve an impressive spinning kick with toes pointed at 90 degrees, while balancing the trays on their fingertips.
One two three, kick. Yes! He allowed himself a small mental cheer of victory as he executed the move perfectly. The rest of the Phase One sequence he could do unconscious. He relaxed a little more and took a more careful look around the room. He could barely keep his composure as he took in the guest list! It felt like he was watching the news, or reading a tabloid, as the faces he had seen in the media popped out at him in High Definition 3D graphics. Was the Queen of England really right there with Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas? Michael Phelps? Kim Kardashian!? Wow, this was unbelievable...all in one room...
But then he began to notice a strange trend. Who had been in charge of seating? Nelson Mandela looked a bit more tight-lipped than usual. The reason for this was possibly that he had been seated across from the famous psychologist Philip Zimbardo – designer of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Madiba, who had spent 27 years in prison would have to find something in common with him... Sylvester moved along the table, following the choreography to the last step and saw something else strange. The Dalai Lama of Tibet was seated by President Hu Jintao of China. They looked equally as awkward - Sylvester even caught a short exchange:
Hu Jintao: Pass the salt. Please.
Dalai Lama: (pause) Why don’t you just take it? This is what you do, correct?
Uh oh, thought Sylvester. This could turn ugly... next he saw that Michael Jordan, voted best athlete in the world, had to make small talk with Stephen Hawking, a genius, but one who was practically fully paralysed. An anti-gay politician was seated next to George Michael, Paris Hilton across from British singing sensation Susan Boyle (together they had both looks and voice).... what was going on here?? With each of these pairs it seemed there was inbuilt tension, awkwardness, or both. Too much to be coincidence...
By the end of Phase Two of the meals things were getting downright bristly, with most guests resorting to talking about the weather in order to keep behaviour civil. Suddenly there was an announcement. “Guests!” spoke the Prince from a rotating raised podium in the centre of the hall. “I have been informed that there is a surprise addition to our entertainment! For those who are not familiar with Marty Martini, he is the most famous magician in all the land! (Sylvester groaned) He has prepared a trick for us today.” Everyone, including the staff, glanced around in anticipation to this unrehearsed development.
Sylvester felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to face the biggest shock of his life. It was – an elephant. Right there between table 5 and 6....it was so close to him that he thought there was no way it could have gotten there quietly. The tap was from its enormous amazingly flexible trunk, its tusks were an impressive pair, even for an elephant and its small eyes seemed to twinkle with mischief. He should have seen this as a warning, because a moment later it wrapped its trunk around Sylvester’s leg and promptly flipped him upside down up in the air. The entire hall erupted in applause and laughter, which increased in volume as the skinny old man who had been doing ‘last minute painting’ earlier, stood up on the beast’s head giving a low bow.
Sylvester felt blood rushing to his head as he begun to appreciate once more why he didn’t like theme park rides. Just when he was sure he was going to pass out, he fell to the ground in a crumbled heap. His hand went to his head and he blinked several times to clear the disorientation. When he took in his surroundings again, the elephant was gone. Of course. The guests were still laughing at him, pure mirth on their faces. In fact when he looked back at the Dalai Lama and the Chinese president, they were hugging each other, tears of laughter streaming down their faces. There were similar reactions from Michael Jordan and Steven Hawking, Paris Hilton and Susan Boyle, and Mandela with Zimbardo.
It appeared the tension was completely gone. The proverbial ‘Elephant in the Room’ had disappeared along with the real elephant. The guests finally had something in common – laughing at Sylvester. Historians were already scribbling madly in the corners of the room, recording the moment that inter-realm and international unity was instantly achieved by the clever trick!