Sunday, August 29, 2010

Help Wanted

Going around the bend, I saw the train limping the last few kilometres to the M’Botoan Royal National Transportation Hub. Even from a distance, I could tell the engine was a LMS four-cylinder Coronation Class. My tutor Mr Patel would have been proud of me. I could almost hear his ghostly praise: “Well done, Prince Tshepo.” Mr Patel would still be with us if it had not been for an unfortunate incident when, during a history lesson, he insisted on re-enacting William Tell’s shooting of the apple off his son’s head with a crossbow. “Let us switch roles – you play William Tell,” he had said. His last words.

Unfortunately for both Mr Patel and my lesson about the 14th Century Swiss Confederacy, I could barely lift the crossbow, let alone aim straight. I may be heir to the throne of Africa’s 17th most economically advanced country by GDP and seven-and-a-half years old, but I am small for my age. Nevertheless, as my former au pair Birgitta said: “You are beautifully proportioned – just like your father.” Birgitta left hurriedly after I heard my mother shout at her what sounded like: “You ditch.” Although why my mother would describe a Swedish staff member as a long, narrow excavation made by digging is rather strange.

However, as my ageing Phantom 1 Rolls Royce wound through the foothills towards the station, I was not alone. With chauffeur Mmusa Ohilwe at the wheel and enough fuel to get us back to the Palace, I felt confident it would be a successful trip.

The train not so much stopped as expired at the station. The driver, having made the sign of the Cross, took a swig from a bottle in a brown paper bag.

“Medicine,” commented Mr Ohilwe.

“Really?” I said. “I would have thought it was some form of alcohol.”

From the 3rd Class carriage at the rear of train, we heard a voice. A man, wearing a crushed safari suit that had once been light blue, yelled at Mr Ohilwe: “Get our bags, Ali! Chop, chop or I’ll flay your heathen hide.”

Mr Ohilwe told the stranger where he could shove the bags. I am no student of anatomy, but even I doubted the luggage would fit.

I recognised the man from the photo attached to his emailed response to my “Help Wanted” advertisement. “Harry Briggs, Tutor to the Gentry”, was how he styled himself. Behind him at the carriage door, stood the woman I knew to be his wife, Mavis “Putting the Oh in Au Pair” Briggs.

Mrs Briggs was not making the most of herself. The cigarette behind her ear was partially concealed by hair that, frankly, needed a good conditioner.

Introductions concluded, the pair climbed into the Rolls’ rear seat with me.

Forty minutes later, outside the village of Ramatlhkwane, two men sprung from behind a tree, pointed rifles at our car and shouted “Bang! Bang!”, before diving from sight.

As Mr and Mrs Briggs crouched on the floor in terror, I explained that the men were from the M’Botoan Peoples Liberation Front. Unfortunately, a shortage of funds meant the MPLF rebels could not afford bullets.

With the evening light flattering the Palace and its peeling paintwork, I felt a tug of sadness as I walked the silent halls with Mr and Mrs Briggs. My parents had passed away. Well, “passed away” to nearby Bophuthatswana to visit the casino. I expected them back by the New Year.

Thanks to our country’s National Broadband Network – installed at no cost by Chinese Government engineers under the mistaken impression that M’Boto was the iron ore rich country of Mauritania – I could follow my parents’ adventures on Twitter.

 “What’s this?” Mr Briggs asked, picking up a wooden box trimmed with purple velvet.

“My grandfather’s family jewels.”

Mr Briggs smiled. It was last time I saw him smile. Indeed, it was the last time I saw him and his good lady wife. Stealing the wooden box, they slipped out at midnight, leaving a note saying: “Follow us and your grandfather’s Family Jewels on Twitter.”

Perhaps they didn’t understand the M’Botoan custom of keeping a deceased King’s testicles as a memento mori.

Two days later, Mr and Mrs B tweeted: Help! We’re being held captive by MPLF rebels. They’ll kill us tonight unless you pay big ransom. No joke. Wire money to bank account number
What could I do without the account number? The curse of Twitter’s 140-character limit had struck.

Personally, I would have recommended the flexibility of Facebook.

# # #

Copyright © 2010 GREG FLYNN

No comments:

Post a Comment