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The Listener

By Alan Somerville All Rights Reserved ©


The Listener

The land rose majestically reaching skyward – its purple fields bright in the noonday sun which glinted off the azure sea which lapped around its coastline. The blue mountains rose dwarfing the houses which were lined up below and the red wobawoos flew across the skyline bleating as they passed.

This then was the land of Babaragagagal. Said to be so named as the discoverer many years past had had a bad stammer and had meant to call it Bagagal after the king of his country.

In the red bricked streets traders went about selling their wares and children played happily their favourite game which was called Shoobadoo. This consisted of one child throwing a stick which if it fell in-between the cracks of the pavement the others shouted shoobadoo meaning ‘You’re out’ as it had to land squarely on the pavement itself to score a point.

Schooling had been abolished as a waste of time long ago and instead children of a certain age were given a medicine which gave them all the knowledge they needed for life ahead. Yes a happy land – there had been no wars or disagreements for many centuries – the nearest land being Longstrip and that was a good month’s travel.

The land was wealthy too as they traded among themselves and the land was rich in the food they had and trees gave enough liquid refreshment so all had enough to eat and drink and entertainment was given by local musicians who played happy tunes on their strognitals – a sort of guitar come fiddle and clarinet all rolled into one.

Nothing could disturb this happy land – until – yes there’s always an until!

The ruler of this land for many years had been Farfar the flatulent – not a very good ruler but one that did not bother the people much as he only had to sit on his throne and rule. Not much else to do in a land of plenty and happiness.  Yes he ruled until one day he belched after an extra large meal of squigsquags and flingaflungs then promptly died.

He had no issue as no one wanted to marry him - he smelled so badly and was genuinely ugly so the question on everybody’s lips was who would succeed him. People normally lived to a good age in this land and it was not uncommon to reach 900 – Farfar had only been a sprightly 370 when he died so it was a problem. Who would take his place? Even though he did not do that much you had to have a ruler – that was how it went.

Soon it was narrowed down to three possible candidates – Balabal the ignorant who was the brother of Farfar, Wickkiwack the lame and Alabain the fierce.

To be honest there was not much to choose between them -  they were all of a reasonable age – about the 300 mark and all were declared competent enough to rule or a least sit on the throne.

How to choose? They all laid claim and none would give away to the other their right to the position.

It was decided that there was only one man who could decide – the magic man – Haraban the good. He was declared the wisest man in the land and he would know what to do.

A deputation went to see him that morning in his house on the hill where he lived overlooking the land.

The town’s clerk sat and looked at the others as Haraban stroked his long beard and seemed to be thinking of other things.

‘Haraban,’ he started, ‘you are very wise.’

Haraban nodded – ‘That is true – none are wiser than me.’

‘You are also very knowledgeable.’

‘That is also true – my knowledge transcends the globe.’

‘We need to appoint a new ruler soon and we ask if you have an idea on how we should proceed?’

Haraban again shook his head – ‘You want me to decide on some sort of a test?’

The other townsfolk did not know what a test was as this word was not contained in the knowledge medicine but nevertheless they nodded in unison.

‘Well now,’ Haraban declared, ‘we cannot send them to slay a dragon as there are none and we cannot have a duel as fighting like that was long ago stopped so we need to think.’

The townsfolk again looked at each other – all these words they did not know – maybe the medicine needed to be updated to include more.

‘I have it,’ the wise man said with a smile. ‘Oh yes – I will set them three questions. The first one to answer them will be our new ruler.’

The rest shook their heads in agreement and left it all to the wise one to work things out.

When they were on their way back down the hill one said to the other – ‘What’s a question?’

‘I do not know,’ said the other, ‘but it must be very wise.’

Very soon the whole town knew what had been arranged and that Haraban was to see each of the candidates in turn – no one else would know what the questions were.

The very next day Balabal the ignorant came to see Haraban.

‘I have been told that you would ask me some things,’ he said slowly – never the great thinker.

‘Yes,’ the wise one said, ‘firstly – are you ready?’

‘Yes – I only took three hoursets to get dressed this morning.’

‘I did not mean how long it took you to get dressed,’ the wise one replied. ‘I will assume that you are ready – so here we go – what colour is the sky when it refuses to be green?’

Balabal scratched his head – ‘The sky? Oh you mean that stuff that is above me – er – er – don’t know.’

‘Second – why do the birds fly?’

‘Don’t know.’

‘Lastly – what is your name?’

‘What,’ Balabal struggled to remember who he was, ‘Uh – Bilbong – no banadee no barbershop.’

Haraban shook his head – ‘Sorry but you have failed on all the answers – in fact you have given none – I’ll let you know.’

Shortly after Wickkiwack the lame came hobbling in and sat down – one leg shorter than the other he got his nickname quite obviously. He was a distant cousin of the old ruler however and as the ruler had only to know how to sit down without falling off the throne he was eligible.

Haraban looked at the lean features and again said – ‘Are you ready?’

Wickkiwack was more knowledgeable than Balabal and instantly said yes.

‘First – what colour is the sky when it refuses to be green?’

The other rubbed his chin and finally said –‘When it’s not the sky?’

‘Secondly – why do the birds fly?’

Wickkiwack again rubbed his chin – ‘Why shouldn’t they?’ he replied.

‘Thirdly – what is your name?’

The other was taken aback by this and took a moment before answering – ‘Wickkiwack the lame of course – all know that.’

‘Well,’ said Haraban,’ you may think that you managed at least one answer correctly – I’ll let you know.’

It was later in the day when the third candidate came to see Haraban. This was Alabain the fierce – he was another cousin to the late ruler and his temper gave him the name of fierce. Known as a hothead even now he sulked and his face was red as if a tantrum was about to surface at any minute.

‘Are you ready?’ Haraban said.

‘Why shouldn’t I be?’ Alabain answered with a grunt – ‘let’s get this silly game over.’

‘First – what colour is the sky when it refuses to be green?’

Alabain banged his fist on the table –‘What a stupid thing to ask?’

‘You do not know?’ asked Haraban.

‘Give me a minute – when it’s night I suppose.’

‘Secondly – why do the birds fly?’

Alabain again banged his fist –‘I hate birds,’ he shouted.

‘Your answer?’

‘Because they are too stupid to walk.’ The other now looked dangerously close to boiling over.

‘Thirdly – what is your name?’

Alabain the fierce erupted – ‘Everyone knows my damn name,’ he shouted. ‘All call it day and night – I am the one and only Alabain the Fierce.’

‘Yes – I suppose you are – I’ll let you know.’

Crowds gathered in the square of the town as they awaited Haraban to tell them of his decision – children and adults old and young gathered from all walks of life – in fact just about everyone in the land – this was the most important thing that had happened for many many years.

Traders set up their stalls selling Bogaburgers and blinkijuice and the children waved their shoobedoo sticks around – the atmosphere was almost carnival in fact with even a few amusements in place and the local musicians playing the latest hits to the crowd to keep them entertained.

The three contestants for the rulership were seated on a stand like Aunt Sallies for the public to throw things at and the local town dignitaries were clustered around waiting for the wise man and throwing out their chests so the rest of the people could see how important they were.

Finally the big time piece in the square boomed out the hoursets and all went quiet.

The figure of Haraban could be seen coming down the hill from his house - long beard waving in the wind – his staff picking its way over the stones as he came further into view.

‘Good Hourset to you all.’ He spoke as he reached the stand they had prepared for him.

‘Have you reached a decision wise one?’ the chief spokesman of the dignitaries said.

‘Oh yes – indeed I have,’ was the answer as Haraban climbed onto the stand and looked out at the crowd.

There was a moment’s silence while all the people waited and the three contestants sat in anticipation with Balabal sucking his thumb, Wickkiwack tapping his stick on the floor and Alabain clenching his fists.

Haraban cleared his throat.

‘I was asked to choose your new ruler from between the three men who you see before you tonight. Three worthy candidates I am sure, but none of them could give me the proper answers to what I asked of them  correctly.’

There was a gasp from the crowd.

‘Firstly I asked– what colour is the sky when it refuses to be green.’

The crowd scratched its head as a group and looked at each other. This was to complex for them.

‘This was simple,’ Haraban said. ‘The sky which as you should know is always green - in the night it is a darker shade of green but always green - except when the day is cloudy – when the clouds come they are pink. So the green is replaced by the colour pink – obvious really.’

A murmur came from around the crowd – why did we not think of that?

‘Secondly I asked– why do the birds fly?’

A number of people were talking now to give their opinion.

‘The answer to that is simply – because they can.’

A lot of talking now as people gave their opinions on this answer – the three candidates glared at each other but said nothing.

‘Lastly – I asked – what is your name?’

This time the crowd laughed – so easy – all must have got this one right. Well didn’t everyone know their name?

Haraban let the noise die down – ‘The answer is – your name is the name you were given when you were first born – the name that was whispered to you as a child – the name that sometimes we never use but which will always remain our name. None of the contestants gave me the right answer to this – Balabal could not answer, I know that Wickkiwack was christened Waber the fine before it was realised that he was lame and I also remember the birth of Alabain who was named Ulmar the calm before his fiery temper reared its head when he uttered his first cry. So I am afraid none of the candidates have answered good enough to be the ruler.’

Now there really was a riot as the contestants argued among each other and the crowd bickered over what Haraban had said. Finally one of the dignitaries shouted for calm and when the noise had died down he asked Haraban – ‘So we have no candidate at all for ruler.’  

‘On the contrary,’ Haraban replied, ‘you have a very good candidate who will rule you wisely and well, a candidate who can answer all these things correctly and who is really the only choice.’

‘Who might this person be?’ said the clerk of the dignitaries. 

Haraban lifted himself to his full height, ‘Why me of course – can you think of anyone better? I am getting a bit bored sitting in my house on the hill so it would be a nice change to sit on a comfortable throne.’

After a short silence – the people cheered and Haraban was given the position of ruler of Bararagagal which he was to rule well for the next 500 years keeping the land happy and prosperous.

When the crowd were dispersing the candidates sitting on the podium felt stunned and only Balabal spoke – ‘Did I win then?’ he said.


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