Every inch of Humphrey J. Somerville’s height and girth shouted Big Business as he stepped out of the taxi onto the hot, sunny sidewalk, immaculate in a white suit and broad-brimmed hat. Passers-by nudged each other, seeing him there, an unfamiliar sight with his sunglasses and two-tone shoes, a freshly lit cigar, and his pigskin brief case, die-stamped in gold with his initials, H.J.S.
Mr. Somerville paid the driver with his customary twenty-five per cent tip, and strolled down Papastratis Street toward the harbor. The street was almost empty, but across the town wafted sounds of music and people singing, while above him rows of flags and streamers hung from the windows of the brightly painted houses and stores. It was Carnival Day in Kalothos.
A small boy, his head shorn like a brush, grinned toothily over a gaudily painted icebox on wheels.
“Good morning, boy,” Mr. Somerville said.
“You like nice boddle cola, mister?”
Mr. Somerville looked at the boy, and the boy looked back at Mr. Somerville.
“Not today, boy.”
Boy grinned, even wider. “Okay, mister. Tomorrow maybe, eh?”
Mr. Somerville passed on.
The harbor was deserted. Blue red and yellow boats floated on the clear water, with colored bunting festooned from their masts. How pleasant it would be, he thought, to take a quick dip in the sea before resuming his travels. He peered over the seaward side of the rocky wall.
He could undress there, and swim in his underwear. Not a soul would see him. He had no towel, but the hot sun would dry him and his boxer shorts in minutes. He smiled to himself. What a splendid idea! He undressed quickly behind the wall, peering over it cautiously to make sure he was unobserved, and folded each garment neatly on a clean rock.
A few minutes later, a large white figure loomed on the rocks, a classic male Aphrodite, in striped underwear, gazing into the blue Mediterranean. First, Mr. Somerville put in his big toe and then the rest of himself gently into the water. He was no stylist, but his ample figure gave him the greater advantage of buoyancy, and he wallowed happily out into the harbor.
He emerged, cheerful, but a little out of breath, and lay on a rock in the sun for a while. What was the time? He reached toward the pile of clothes for his solid gold watch. But . . . he sat up with a jerk, his eyes agog. There was no watch! Nor, which was worse in a sense, were there any clothes, and all his other belongings were miles away at the airport.
Then, across the harbor came the sound of people enjoying themselves. They played instruments, sang, jigged and bobbed in a noisy, colorful procession down the steep stone steps from the town to the harbor square. Some were dressed in national costume, some as skirted Greek soldiers, others as cowboys and spacemen.
For Mr. Somerville to miss the meeting in Dubai might strike a fatal blow for international trade. For a moment, considerations of pride fought a losing battle with finance. An astute business mind like his was used to making quick decisions, and it made one now. Mr. Somerville waded back into the sea, wrenching great armfuls of seaweed from the rocks.
The procession circled the harbor twice, and then moved off up the steep, winding steps to the town. Among the soldiers and cowboys and astronauts a new figure had taken its place. A hideous, green sea monster jigged and bobbed with the best of them.
Mr. Somerville peered frantically from under a heap of seaweed, searching for a taxi. Every so often he shouted, “Taxi!” at the top of his voice, and the crowd on the pavement cheered him on and waved flags in his face. It seemed he was the highlight of the parade.
The procession stopped suddenly, and everyone bumped into each other. Mr. Somerville stared anxiously through his dripping green wig. They were in front of the post office. On the top step stood a group of notable citizens of Kalothos, and in the middle a large, jovial man with big whiskers held up his hand. Silence fell on the crowd. The man with whiskers spoke, wind-milling the air with his arms. It was all Greek to Mr. Somerville, as indeed it was to everyone else.
Individuals from the crowd were being led to the front by laughing policemen, and Mr. Somerville was alarmed to discover that he was one of them. As they hustled him forward, the crowd cheered even louder, tossing their hats into the air.
He stood in front with four or five others. To his left was a gypsy girl, to his right, a sailor. There was a hush. The group, a committee of some sort, was in a huddle, its members talking excitedly with their hands. Finally they all nodded, and the man with whiskers stood up, beaming from ear to ear. In his hand, as he came down the steps, he held a gold laurel wreath. Mr. Somerville trembled, but he had no need. The big man was presenting the wreath to somebody else. Now the judge was in front of him with another, silver wreath. The crowd went mad with joy as he placed it on Mr. Somerville’s green-bedecked head, and handed him a fist full of drachma.
So he had won second prize, and doubtless the money for his taxi back to the airport, including his customary twenty-five per cent tip. Still buried under his disguise he stared round wildly for a space through which to dash for a cab. As though by a miracle, the surge suddenly parted and through it, down the narrow street, he saw the hood of a big yellow car with a taxi number plate and the driver in his shirtsleeves, asleep at the wheel.
Mr. Somerville ran, an involuntary pied piper, pursued by a crowd of excited children blowing whistles and waving flags, and hurled himself into the back seat of the cab, croaking his destination to the astonished driver. As the taxi jerked forward and nosed back up the hill, he glanced at the post office clock. If there was not the least delay, he would still catch his plane with minutes to spare.
And then it was that Mr. Somerville saw the winner of the first prize, who was grinning toothily under an overlarge white, broad-brimmed hat, round which lay a gold laurel wreath. He wore a white suit, which was hugely too big for him, and was pushing a gaudily painted ice box on wheels. On the ice box among the bottles, was a pigskin briefcase.
Mr. Somerville looked from Boy to the post office clock, and back to Boy again.
“Drive on!” He said.