Alan was a small and insignificant man. He worked as a cook in a small and insignificant restaurant, near a small and insignificant beach in Cornwall; In fact, every aspect of Alan’s life was very much small and insignificant. He wasn’t short, but he wasn’t very tall either. He wasn’t very fat, but he was by no means skinny. He was unshaven and had scruffy auburn hair, but he wasn’t a slob. He was a normal, middle of the road, no frills Englishman. It seemed as though there was absolutely nothing special about Alan at all, other than his bread and butter pudding, which he was very proud of.
One drizzly September afternoon, Alan decided to go for a stroll along the beach. He had just finished his shift at the restaurant, so he grabbed his coat and plodded off down the path towards the top of the beach, where there was a rather lonely looking ice cream van.
Alan walked across the beach to where the water was hugging the shore. It was a narrow beach with tall, dark cliffs on either side, making it feel quite secluded on a quiet day. On a busy day it was awful; every inch of the beach was taken up by obnoxious, sun bathing day-trippers and their umpteen bratty kids, so Alan favoured the grey days. The air was damp and the wind was chilly, so the beach was empty, which put a smile on Alan’s face. He carefully placed a plastic bag on the damp sand and sat quietly by the shore.
He hadn’t been there long, gazing pensively at the open sea, when a crab scuttled past a few feet in front of him. As it passed by, Alan could have sworn he saw it nod at him. He watched as the crab went up to the end of the beach, had a look around, then went back the other way. As the crab was passing by for a second time, it stopped in front of him. This time it definitely did nod at him, and that wasn’t all.
“Hello,” said the crab, holding its claw up as if waving to greet Alan. Alan pinched his arm tightly, then screeched with pain. It seemed he wasn’t dreaming after all. The crab sighed as if it had this communication problem often.
“I’m looking for some food,” it said after a short pause. Alan just stared at it; perhaps the tea bags he’d bought that morning had been a bad batch. The crab sighed for a second time, then continued.
“There used to be plenty of good food around here, but now there are so many paddlers, surfers and bodyboarders, all the decent grub has moved on to quieter places.”
Alan pinched his arm again, but this time he made no exclamation, he just nodded as though answering a question he’d asked himself in his head.
“Then why haven’t you moved with it?” he asked. The crab gave a third sigh, but this time it was a sigh of relief. Relief at the prospect of a proper conversation, no doubt.
“Why should I?” it said. “This is my home and I don’t want to move. This land has been my family’s home for many generations, I think you and your people should move, not me.”
“They’re not my people,” replied Alan, “I just look like them.” He had now fully accepted the fact that he was talking to a crab, which was smiling at him. It’s hard to describe how a crab can smile, but let’s just assume that they can, and it did.
“What’s your name?” the crab asked. “I think I’ve seen you before. You’re certainly no surfer, so what do you do?”
“My name is Alan. I work in the restaurant up the path as a cook. I like to come here when it’s quiet and watch the sea.”
“A cook!” the crab clunked its claws together in glee. “Wonderful!” it said. “Can I ask a favour of you? You will be well rewarded if you help me.” Alan could see no harm in agreeing; it wasn’t every day that a crab asked for his help.
“What do you want me to do?” he said.
“Oh, good!” squeaked the crab. “I want you to return here tomorrow, same time and place, and bring with you a tuna steak with some salad on the side. If you do that for me, I will offer you a reward.” Alan promptly agreed. He was wondering what a crab could possibly possess that he would want. The crab thanked him and scuttled back to the sea.
“Wait a minute!” shouted Alan, before it had disappeared into the water. The crab stopped and turned. “How can I call you? Do you have a name?”
The crab thought for a second. “Just call me Man,” it said, and dipped beneath the water and was gone.