My prankster friend Barney is of the opinion that there is indeed a ‘wheel of life’ we are all chained to, and this wheel does, indeed, turn. At least, it is doing so for him. It’s hard to envisage Barney in this semi-retrospective mood. He is forever forward-looking and scheming, taking delight in ‘putting one over some unsuspecting person’.
Today, however, he’s gazing glumly into his coffee. He has the air of a man who’d dearly like to offload a burden, beat something off his chest, but is at the same time reluctant to do so for whatever fear it is that holds such confessions back (embarrassment, perhaps, in Barney’s case? Or a fear of being laughed at, given how much laughing he does at others’ expense?)
Now, I do know that his other-half (who, when they are together, you could tell who holds the whip and the reins) well his other-half (as he likes to refer to Mrs Barney) was celebrating a birthday not so long ago, one of those secret milestones some women pass that have no number on them.
Anyway, to shake Barney out of this dour mood, and also to get going on some chat, any chat, I ask how the birthday went off? I expect him to reply wittily, “Like a firecracker!” or something to that effect. His response, however, catches me offguard. Too late I realise that this is the one question I perhaps shouldn’t have opened with. Too late, because it has now been asked.
“I wish you didn’t have to go there, Kev. Ah, well, it’s going to come out sooner or later,” he replies, sitting up with the resoluteness of a confessor whose mind is finally made up to come clean. This is usually accompanied by a great deal of sighing, as a sort of a prelude. Then finally the words come pouring out.
“It’s to do with that blinking perfume I bought. You know, the package that came as a deal, remember?”
I do recall. Four A-list celebrity brand perfumes, all in one package, for the very reasonable price of a hundred dollars. The whole package exquisitely gift-wrapped, too. It turns out that on the morning of Mrs Barney’s mystery ‘milestone’ when the package, lovingly presented with a bunch of long stemmed red roses, was unwrapped, the four bottles inside contained no reference whatsoever to any of the aforementioned celebrities.
One of the bottles as a matter of fact was not for her at all but distinctly ‘pour homme’. And the dispensers, when depressed, emitted sprays so cheap and revolting that it left both partners stunned for words. “She, I could tell couldn’t possibly believe that I’d buy her such rubbish! And as for me, I was completely hit for a six,” said Barney.
Anyhow, back he marched the very same day with the package and the receipt which he’d fortunately kept. Back to the store (“I wouldn’t like to call it a discount store, Kev.”) Sure, who would? That’s not something one divulges to his better half, especially if he finds it hard revealing it to a friend. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, Barney after putting forward his well-rehearsed, eloquently-worded protest had his gaze pointed, by the store dealer, in the direction of a small signboard on which, written in a very tiny hand, was the legend stating that the contents of the package were ‘based’ on four world-renowned brands.
“Imagine that, Kev. Me, with a nose that can sniff out a scam taken in by a scamster! Totally defeated by the small print.”
“Remember Tom Waits song Step Right Up,” I ask him? “Yeah,” he nods ruefully, “What the large print giveth the small print taketh away.”
Well they’re saying something similar now about the Indian cricket team, I tell him, “What the batsmen taketh, the bowlers giveth away.”
Somehow, that helps crack the gloom and he ends up laughing hilariously, perhaps even hysterically.
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.