© 2012 David Jasmin-Green
This piece was totally engrossing for me during its creation, and if someone, somewhere enjoys reading it a fraction as much as I enjoyed writing it I will be happy.
“Greetings, traveller,” the mahogany hippopotamus said to the creature that appeared at the open flap of his large, exceedingly well furnished wigwam and stood there open-mouthed, no doubt admiring the unexpected opulence within. “Come on in, don't be shy,” he continued, placing his empty teacup on an expensive yew coffee table. “I'm the only mahogany hippopotamus in the whole, wide world, or as far as I know I am. I'm the only one in these parts, anyhow.
Do you like my wigwam? I have a confession to make - it's not entirely fashioned from wigs in the traditional manner; there are a few scraps of canvas and Hessian sacking woven into the structure, plus a couple of pairs of my old underpants, all waterproofed with candle wax and bituminous paint. I ran out of rain resistant wigs in the winter of 2003 a year or so after I arrived here, you see. And before you ask I found the wigs next to a couple of bleached skeletons in a ravine several miles from here. They were in a large crate stamped 'Made in England', which, as you may appreciate, tickled me somewhat, as we're in China.....”
“How can you be a mahogany hippopotamus?” the creature said. “That doesn't make sense. OK, you certainly look like a mahogany hippopotamus, and a finely decorated one at that, but you can't possibly be made of wood. Especially a dense timber like mahogany, because timber is rigid and inflexible and you wouldn't be able to move or blink or breathe, and you can clearly do all of those things.”
“I accept my unlikely existence as one of the countless perplexing mysteries of life,” the mahogany hippopotamus replied, “and I can't see any point in questioning it. I'd prefer not to know why the sun shines, why farts invariably smell nasty, why milk curdles in the presence of Almas or why bears shit in the woods, thank you very much. Not because I'm not curious about my origin, you understand, but because I have no other choice. I don't know why I'm made of mahogany, and I don't know who or maybe what carried out the fine craftsmanship on the surface of my delectable bod. Usually, but by no means always it comforts me to lay the blame at God's feet. Every evening before I go to bed I thank the Lord above for my predicament, for my loveliness, even, though I'm not always absolutely sure if He exists..... I am what I am, and I prefer to regard my state of being as a blessing rather than a curse.”
“Hmmm,” the stranger mumbled.
“You don't look very impressed with my undeniable magnificence,” the hippo said. “Do you not find me beautiful? I know I do. Many years ago I took myself to the Antiques Roadshow in Cricklewood, and Arthur Negus said I was bloody priceless.
Have a butchers at the maple, rosewood, cherry and ebony veneers exquisitely inlaid into my skin, not to mention the wafer thin slices of ivory and even leaner slivers of gold leaf. How can you fail to marvel at the different hues, colours and textures cunningly arranged by some maestro in the art of marquetry into pretty roses, bluebells and peonies, gaudy butterflies, sweet little dicky birds, obsequious giraffe, nauseous mongeese, tiny vagrant nuisance armadillos, majestic pentagrams and moons and stars, pedal steamers, dirigibles and pencil sharpeners all scrupulously depicted on my well-sanded, professionally French polished hide? Hmmm? At least I think those latter items are pedal steamers, dirigibles and pencil sharpeners, but they're somewhat ambiguous, don't you think? Never mind..... Go on, take a long, hard look. Squeeeeeal! I'm so shiny! I'm so shiny! I'm so splendidly bloody shiny, OK?”
“Riiiiight,” the creature mumbled.
“As well as being a unique example of my species I'm also a very helpful individual,” the hippo continued. “Or at least I try to be – I'd bend over backwards to help my worst enemy, honestly I would. How exactly may I help you?”
“You can't help me, you sad, misguided, rather portly river dwelling fool,” the creature said, suspiciously eyeing the hand woven Berber carpet under its feet as if it had never seen a carpet before. “I'm looooong past helping. Can't see why you'd want to help me, can't see why you'd want to help anyone. Bloody two-faced Samaritans, expecting damaged, vulnerable individuals like myself to believe that they're offering assistance out of the kindness of their hearts and they have no slimy ulterior motive. By the way, how do you manage without a river to bathe in and mud to roll in in an arid desert like this?”
“Do you mind me asking what sort of creature you are?” the hippo said, his curiosity rendering him more or less oblivious to his visitor's remarks. “Only I've never seen an animal quite like you before. Mind you, that's probably because I live in an isolated location, I don't get out much, I only rarely have visitors and I don't have any books or access to the internet, I suppose. I could have those things if such was my desire, but I've sort of chosen to distance myself from the rest of the world; I'm sure you understand.
As you probably noticed on your way in, I have lots of outdated baths and kitchen sinks, broken toilets, leaky rowing boats, knackered fridges and freezers, an excess of burned out cars, a handful of discarded mannequins and even a crashed Messerschmitt complete with its long-dead pilot. My collection isn't all that educational to tell the truth, and sometimes I feel like swapping the whole, sorry lot for a refuse recycling pamphlet or a newspaper or a book about toads of the world or piston engines of the mid twentieth century or warts or bus drivers or crippled water buffalo. On second thoughts, maybe I'll give the refuse recycling pamphlet a miss.”
“I couldn't help noticing the vast, teetering heaps of junk outside your tent,” the visitor said. “I could hardly miss all that crap, could I? What a bloody mess, bloody, bleeding hell! I reckon the council ought to evict you unless you agree to get rid of your rubbish and cut your grass. Oh, you haven't got any grass, have you? But you know what I mean. I do like the way you've dressed your mannequins up as Traffic Wardens and politicians and harlots and the like and sat them around your property in lieu of friends, perhaps. I have no friends myself, but I have the solace of self-harm to fall back on when the going gets tough. I don't think you're in much danger of falling into that trap, mind - you'd be too frightened of ruining your fancy polish.....
Anyway, you wanted to know what sort of animal I am. If you must know, I'm a moose. A slightly bemused and rather depressed one. I'm a lady moose, actually, but don't spread it around, because nowadays a lady never knows who might be lurking in the shadows waiting for a chance to take advantage of her. All right, drop the 'lady' bit and replace it with the word 'female.' That's better..... So, I'm a very, very depressed, slightly bemused female moose, but I don't know why anyone would bother asking. Oh, and I'm bloody lost.
I was supposed to be backpacking in the Outer Hebrides or somewhere similarly cold, wet and miserable, but I got pissed off with that malarkey so I stowed away on a Norwegian fishing boat. After a number of gripping, rather time consuming and mostly unbelievable adventures I eventually ended up here, wherever here is. China, did you say it was? What about the date? The last time I looked at a calender it was 2001, or maybe 2002 – after the millennium celebrations I went into a bit of a mental decline, I guess you'd call it, and I lost all track of time.”
Judging by the thoughtful look on his face the mahogany hippopotamus either felt sorry for the slightly bemused moose or he was desperately trying to figure out the best way to get rid of her.
“It's 2012,” he said after a moment of thought. “It's late July, the 25th or so, I believe. It's almost my birthday, in fact. I'm probably not the best person to ask about the date, mind, because like yourself I don't pay too much attention to time. It's a Wednesday, I'm pretty sure of that because the local Almas usually drop by with fresh meat and wild gathered nuts, roots and berries to barter on Wednesdays. And it's very nearly teatime – that at least is an undeniable fact, because my rumbling tummy is never wrong. And yes, we are in China. The locals are fine, or at least the few poor travellers that pass through this back of beyond place are, and so are the nomadic Mongolian herdsmen that wander back and forth across the border with their goats, probably illegally – they're very hospitable folk. But I'm afraid I don't have much respect for the Tibet invading bastards in charge of this country.”
“You're not an evangelistic exquisitely inlaid mahogany hippopotamus by any chance, are you?” the moose said. “Because if you are, this conversation is over, it's finished, it's through, and you can fuck right off, because I'm slinging my hook after I've had an ice-cold bottle of Fanta or something, desert or no bleeding desert. I don't trust Jesus freaks, 'cos I had a decidedly nasty experience with a bunch of 'em in 1989.....
It happened in the back of a rusting, multicoloured Volkswagen camper van that had seen better days. We were on our way home from a day trip to Bangor, and I'll never forget it for as long as I live. The bible-bashers were drinking lager and vodka and smoking endless joints, and they were completely shit-faced. They were telling increasingly filthy, racist, sexist, anti-religious jokes and they kept playing that crapulous but strangely catchy Fiddler's Dram folk song on the cassette player over and over again. I don't know if you remember it - 'Didn't We Have A Lovely Time The Day We Went To Bangor ,' it was called.
Maybe the constant repetition of the ditty had an unfortunate hypnotic effect on their bible-bashing brains, or maybe they were born satyrs and they took too much notice of the fact that the Old Testament forbids bishop-bashing in a roundabout sort of a way, I dunno. Anyway, all of a sudden they started to take the title of the song a bit too literally, if you know what I mean. They parked the van in a little wood beside a narrow country lane, supposedly for a wee-wee break, and as soon as I dropped my knickers they were all over me, the dirty bastards. I managed to get away eventually, but not until, you know - until they'd all been through me.”
For once in his life the hippo was lost for words. “I see,” he whispered. “I'm so sorry. You poor thing..... It's disgraceful, the behaviour of a small percentage of this planet's population. I don't know how such people sleep at night. Are you sure they were religious folk? They don't sound very religious to me.”
“Oh, I forgot,” the moose said. “You know what they say – 'once a liar, always a liar.' You can safely disregard certain details of that report, because I was lying my tits off. Let me put the record straight. Mathew, Mark, Luke and John weren't bible-bashers, they were hippies, but I rather liked hippies up until that point so I guess I unconsciously found it necessary to blame someone else, and once my lips started blurting untruths it was hellishly difficult to stop.
There was a Welsh born-again Christian male bonding group camping close to the spot where I was violated over and over again - I know that because I could hear them singing 'Kumbaya' in the distance during the assault. I screamed for help as loudly as I could, but despite the fact that the singing abruptly stopped and I was convinced that the Taffs could hear me no one came to my aid. They just argued amongst themselves in their loud, stupid Welsh accents. 'We have to help a damsel in distress,' one of them said. 'It's our Christian duty.' 'It's none of our bloody business, boyo,' a lesser Christian replied. 'We'd best keep out of it, or we might get hurt.'
Unfortunately for the bible-bashers it was their Welshness that sealed their fate rather than their creed or their unforgivable cowardice. My granddad was Welsh, and I hated the sight of him, you see. The poor sods were dragged away from their camp fire by the local pigs, their fingers were prised from their tambourines and acoustic guitars and they were locked up pronto. I'm not proud to say that when I was shown their photographs I sewed them up like kippers. 'Yeah, that was the sick Welsh fucks,' I cried. This was way before the introduction of DNA profiling, you understand. I had a shower in a bed and breakfast before I phoned the police – I couldn't help it, I felt so soiled - so apart from a little bruising there was no physical evidence, but nevertheless my word was enough to seal the fates of those innocent if lily-livered Taffies. The judge sentenced the Pontypridd four to ten years apiece for a crime they didn't commit.
The astonishing thing is that I never felt a single twinge of guilt or remorse. Not until recently, anyway, but I guess I'm paying the price of my wickedness now..... Christians make excellent scapegoats, though, don't you think? You can accuse them of anything you like, and they blithely turn the other cheek and smile inanely back at you, the silly fuckers. You can call me a bastard if you like. Heavens, I deserve it. ”
“Oh my,” the hippo replied. “Unfortunately we all do things we're ashamed of at some point in our lives, my dear, but I have to admit that I find your case an extreme and deeply disturbing one. I suppose the only thing you could possibly do to make yourself feel better is search your soul and wonder how you could possibly recompense the victims of your callousness..... Oh dear, I'm not being very hospitable, am I? Would you like some tea and maybe a bite to eat?”
“I thought you'd never ask,” the moose said. “Cor blimey, I'm bloody parched, I must've walked nearly two hundred miles from the last water hole. I thought maybe your kettle had busted or there was an international tea shortage or you were a tight fucker or something. I'm absolutely ravenous too, now I come to think about it.”
The hippo pressed a button on the fancy Bose stereo system arranged in a purpose built teak cabinet beside a carved oak sideboard and the wigwam was suddenly filled with delicious music. No. No! We need to rephrase that, as the words 'delicious' and 'music' are highly misleading and they ought to be replaced with more fitting alternatives – for some reason the words 'god-awful' and 'crap' come to mind. In actual fact the moose's delicate ears were assailed by Barry Manilow gargling Bermuda Triangle. The hippo drew back a red and gold antique Flemish arras and walked into the kitchen, which was contained in a cunningly fashioned extension of the main structure of the wigwam. He filled the kettle from the mixer tap over the sink and switched it on, and then he opened the huge stainless steel fridge freezer and pulled out a carton of milk and a large Tupperware box packed with fresh cream cakes.
“Riddles within riddles,” the moose mumbled, eyeing the fancy dough machine and the top of the range Moulinex food processor sitting on the black granite kitchen worktop amidst a host of gadgetry she couldn't even begin to identify. “What the fuck's going down here? This is madness! How come you've got every single advantage of modern Western upper middle class suburban living in a tent woven from wigs and bits of crap in the middle of one of the poorest, driest, most remote wildernesses on the planet? Have you got solar panels to generate electricity? Have you dug down several hundred metres and gained access to a hitherto undiscovered subterranean reservoir? And where did you get the milk and other goodies? There are no shops for miles, and I don't recall seeing any sign of livestock or crops in the scrapyard outside. I suppose you've got a brand new red sports caaar parked in the garage too, a private jet on the runway and a turbocharged solid gold sky rocket.”
The hippo pulled a set of keys from a hook at the back of the kitchen unit and pressed a button on the key ring, which was promptly answered by a high pitched beep from outside. “I have an electric blue Humvee with military grade tyres,” he said. “It copes with the local terrain far better than any sports caaar I'm aware of regardless of colour. And I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I don't own a private jet or a sky rocket.”
“You capitalist bastard!” the moose cried. “How come you've got all this fancy stuff and I've got bugger all? That's so unfair! What are you, a reclusive multi-millionaire, a big time fraudster, a bank robber, a banker or some other fugitive from justice living the life of Riley on the cream of your ill-gotten gains?”
“I know my fancy accessories might arouse suspicion, but you're sooooo wrong,” the hippo replied. “You've obviously made your mind up without pausing to consider every conceivable possibility, so I suppose I'd better enlighten you.”
“Go ahead,” the moose said, sitting on a chaise lounge and accepting a vanilla slice and a mug of tea without so much as a thank you. “I'm listening.”
“This will probably sound highly unlikely, but it's the truth,” the hippo began, parking his enormous bottom in a plump black leather armchair with garish green paisley print cushions and pausing to sip his tea and take a surprisingly delicate nibble from a chocolate éclair. “Believe or disbelieve, I don't really care.
Let's start with the milk and other victuals. Tesco deliver them for free. 'Distance no object,' that's what is says in the advert - end of story.
I have a friend in Lanzhou, Gansu province, which is where my water and electricity come from. I found a rather long extension lead abandoned in the desert, just over 293 miles long, to be precise, which is the exact distance from here to Lanzhou. Now wasn't that a fortunate coincidence? Yo Chin Lao, that's my friend, allows me to tap his utility mains in exchange for a somewhat overgenerous contribution to his bills. I forgot to say, I also stumbled upon a vast amount of copper piping in an abandoned Chinese military facility, and you can probably guess the rest.....
My water pipes and electricity cables trailed untidily across the surface of the desert until a couple or three years back when a massive entourage of ridiculously helpful Irish navvies who got bored with their skiing holiday kindly concealed them in a deep trench for me, which swiftly stopped the nomads' unruly kids from tampering with them; they were especially fond of pulling my plug out, the little scamps. Oh, obviously it goes without saying that this desert isn't exactly ideal skiing country - my Irish friends were sent here by a bent travel agent, but I'm sure you don't want to hear about that. Some people go on and on and insist on including even the most insignificant details in their blathering, don't you think?”
“You've conveniently forgotten to explain how you finance your opulent lifestyle,” the moose grumbled. “I've sat in yurts belonging to the piss-poor nomads that wander around this hell hole on many an occasion sipping bitter tea that smells of mouse urine, busting my fillings on stale unleavened bread and gnawing on mutton so tough you could make a pair of boots out of it that'd last you a lifetime. The people that live in these parts are most hospitable, I agree with you there, but their pathetic hovels are invariably plastered with dried animal dung and riddled with lice and fleas and ticks the size of gerbils. They have nothing but the bare necessities of life - and that's the fortunate ones. Even the local Almas struggle to feed themselves, and they know this place like the palms of their hairy hands..... Spill the beans, buster - where do you get your sodding money from?”
“I've earned every penny of it with my own blood, sweat and tears, young lady!” the hippo roared, losing his temper. “Every single penny,” he added, his voice lowering a few decibels. “If you must know I'm a retired porn star, and a very successful one at that.”
“A porn star? You?” the moose cried. “You've gotta be fucking kidding, mate. Look, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but I feel a need to be truthful at this point in my sorry existence despite being a lifelong lying bitch up to now, and my first impression is that you're attractive in a furniturey sort of a way, not in a sexual way. Not really..... What exactly qualifies a mahogany hippopotamus to be a bloody porn star?”
“This does,” the hippo said with a sigh, standing up and dropping the orange and green lycra cycling shorts that the moose had somehow failed to notice to reveal his impossibly huge, highly polished member. “It's resin-coated mahogany to avoid splinters in delicate feminine places, it's more or less permanently erect and it's curiously pliable, just like the real McCoy. What more could a girl ask for?”
“Oh, shit,” the moose said. “Oh, holy mother of what's-His-name? God. Oh, God! Fuck, I think I love you, Mr. Hip-hip-hippo. No, perhaps not. Not yet, anyway. I'm not easy, you know. I'm not that sort of girl, I'm a good girl, a nice girl..... It is impressive, though.”
“Isn't it just?” the hippo said, putting his magnificent tool away. “And I never said you weren't a nice girl. Actually I think you're a very nice girl indeed. More tea, m'dear, or do you want to come to my bedroom and play hide the sausage? I'm not suggesting a one-off, you understand - maybe we could get married and raise a sizeable brood of moosapotami.”
“Errrrrrrm, go on then, seeing as you put it so romantically,” the moose replied. “You've talked me into it, you smooth talking, moonwalking, bemused moose balking, silver tongued bastard.....”