The Christmas Fable

from “Forty Fables by Adam Acidophilus”

There was once a man who had underachieved so comprehensively in life that he openly conceded that he was a failure, didn’t mind if people called him a failure, and gave ‘Failure’ as his occupation on official documents.

And, having failed in business and failed in love, and failed to even keep a roof above his head, he took to the road and wandered the land in search of enlightenment – which he totally failed to discover.

He became disorientated, and helplessly lost, until late one Christmas Eve when – seeking new and interesting places – he inadvertently ambled into his old home town, which he had not visited since his youth.

Realising his mistake, the failure decided to scrounge a quick drink, and to beat a hasty retreat before he was recognised. But when he entered the nearest pub he was horribly surprised to be confronted by his childhood friends – many years older and full of curiosity.

“Evening,” they said. “And where have you been? And what have you been doing? And what have you accomplished in life?”

“Nowhere in particular, not much, and very little,” the failure replied. “For, though I am in good health and optimistic by nature – I regret to say that I am a total failure . . .

“And though I am delighted to see you after so many years, I’m afraid that I must admit that I have acquired neither job nor family, nor home, nor motor vehicle, nor even amusing anecdote with which to validate my existence. And as a matter of fact, I was wondering if you’d stand me a drink?”

“Stand you a drink?” gasped his childhood friends. “How very typical! Why, we were only just saying a few minutes ago what a terrible scrounger you always were, and how you were unlikely to have made much of life, and then you come in here feigning companionship and pleading poverty!

“Have you no pride? Why, we have all been rather successful in life, and have families and careers, mortgages and – yes! motor vehicles! – and we know literally thousands of amusing anecdotes, mostly involving pets.

“No, we will not stand you a drink! We expected greater things. Have you nothing of value to impress us with?”

“Ur, no,” shrugged the failure.

“Then sod off,” they replied. “We are people of taste and refinement. Be gone, you failure. Never darken our portals again!”

And with that the failure was chased from the pub and he left his old home town with dust at his heels and tears in his eyes.

Presently – when he was sure that his pursuers had given up – the failure stopped running, and paused to catch his breath by the side of the road. And as he sat there, gasping, out of the corner of his eye he noticed something glinting in a ditch.

It was an old lamp – abandoned, and in a poor state of repair. The bulb was blown, the plug was missing and the lampshade was full of holes. Even so, he thought, it might be worth a few quid to somebody. So he retrieved it, and began to dust it down with his sleeve.

But what the failure had failed to appreciate was that this was a magical lamp, and to his amazement a vast magic geni transmogrified before him in the night.

“I am the Geni of the lamp,” said the geni. “And you have won three wishes. Starting from now . . . ”

“Oh, vast magic Geni of the lamp,” sighed the failure, “I doubt if you can help me at all – for it is my past that is blighted, my reputation that is diminished, and my self that is forever cursed.”

“I see,” said the geni. “Is that a wish?”

“If only I had not been such a failure!” wailed the failure. “If only I had accomplished some of the expected great things. If only I could have just one amusing anecdote . . . ”

“I could do you a winged horse,” suggested the geni.

“Oh vast magic Geni of the lamp,” sobbed the failure, “if you could grant me three wishes they would be: to wind the clock back a couple of hours, to give me a glorious past, and to lend me a few quid to buy some drinks with.”

“That’s the most ridiculous three wishes I’ve ever heard,” said the geni. “But if you insist . . . ”

And in a puff of smoke the geni was gone, and the failure was back outside the pub – and his pockets were heavy with change.

And sure enough, as he entered, his childhood friends looked up as if they hadn’t set eyes on him for years.

“Evening,” they said. “And where have you been? And what have you been doing? And what have you accomplished in life?”

“Oh – here and there, this and that, I can’t say I’m disappointed,” said the failure. “I’ve a couple of movies lined up for next year, a new play opening in the spring, a new album . . . a new car! And my autobiography has just been published – can I get anyone a drink?”

“Get anyone a drink?” gasped his childhood friends. “How very typical! Why, we were only just saying a few minutes ago what a terrible show-off you always were, and how you were bound to turn out like you did – and then you walk in here bragging about your enormous success in life and throwing your money around!

“Have you no humility? Why, we have all had difficult lives – and all we have to show for our efforts are tedious jobs and miserable families – and our crippling debts, our crumbling homes, our rusty old bangers, and a few bleak stories about a goldfish.

“No! You cannot get us a drink! We expected you to remain one of us. Don’t you value the ordinary things in life?”

“Why of course I do,” the failure replied. “Indeed, my most treasured possession is this old lamp which I just found lying in a ditch.

“How materialistic!” spat his childhood friends. “Do you think we are interested in antiques? We are earthier than that. Get out you flash bastard – and don’t come back again!”

And with that the failure was chased from the pub; and he left his old home town pursued by his childhood friends – and the geni (who wished to remind him that the beer money had only been a loan).

Moral: Please yourselves.

© Adam Acidophilus 1995