Here’s a story about an elephant. That’s about it, really.
Justin was surprised to come home from his night shift and find an elephant on his sofa.
‘Hello there,’ said the elephant, its trunk curled around a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive balanced on its foot. ‘I’m your new lodger.’
Justin looked around, baffled. He took off his glasses, then put them back on.
‘Your wife gave me a key,’ continued the elephant. ‘Oh, how rude of me. My name is Paul. You must be Justin. Julia,’ – Justin’s wife – ‘told me so much about you. Hey, would you mind if I tried out your model train set one day? I love trains.’
Paul, Justin noted dimly, had the TV on and was watching Homes Under The Hammer. ‘Hello,’ he managed. ‘It’s very… very nice to meet you. Er, how did you get through the door?’
‘It was a bit of a squeeze,’ smiled Paul, digestive crumbs around his mouth. ‘I must eat less of these.’ He indicated the biscuit with his tusk, which glimmered in the mid-morning light.
‘Right… would you excuse me, Paul? I just have to make a phone call.’
‘Of course,’ Paul nodded, and returned his attention to the TV.
In the kitchen, Justin took a second to gather his thoughts, then called Julia.
‘Hi, you,’ she said.
‘I’ve just met our new lodger,’ he said, abruptly.
‘Isn’t he lovely? He answered our ad yesterday. Sorry for not running it past you first, but he needed somewhere urgently, and he seems so nice. He loves trains, just like you do!’
‘He’s an elephant,’ said Justin.
‘And he’s promised to cook for us both on the weekend.’
‘He’s an elephant,’ said Justin again.
‘Yes? Why do you keep saying that? That’s not a problem, is it?’
‘He’s watching Homes Under The Hammer.’
‘I know you hate those property shows, love, but he’s new. Let him settle in before you start moaning.’
‘Look, I’ve got to go. The boss wants me. Oh, remember I’m bringing Laura round for dinner tonight. See you at home!’
The phone went dead.
Someone had gone mad, Justin thought, and maybe it was him. He called his sister, Georgie.
‘There’s an elephant on my sofa,’ he said.
‘Oh, the new lodger! Julia told me all about him, how is he?’
‘He’s an elephant,’ Justin said for the third time that day.
‘Yes, and he loves trains. And you love trains! You can both bore Julia senseless talking about signal boxes and diesel engines, you’ll have a brilliant time.’
Justin decided he definitely must be the mad one. Everyone else thought this whole thing was normal, therefore he must be the one who had gone round the twist. It was the only logical conclusion.
‘I’ve got to go,’ said Georgie. ‘I’ll talk to you later. Bye!’
‘Bye,’ mumbled Justin.
He hung up, and stumbled back to the living room.
Paul was still eating biscuits. Homes Under The Hammer had turned into Bargain Hunt. ‘Justin,’ boomed Paul. ‘Look at these fools, they’re paying fifty quid for an old shoe horn! Come, sit with me, let’s talk.’
Justin reluctantly squeezed himself next to Paul. ‘So, um, tell me about yourself,’ he said.
‘Are you chatting me up, Justin?’ laughed Paul.
Justin went pale.
‘I’m only pulling you leg, fella,’ chortled Paul. ‘There’s not much to say. I grew up in Chichester, went to uni in the midlands, then ended up here in Oxford. I work in car sales now.’
‘And… you’re an elephant…’
‘Not just an elephant – I’m also Area Salesman of the Year!’
‘Do people buy cars from elephants?’ Justin managed to say.
Paul looked as confused as an elephant can.
‘Yes?’ he said, uncertainly.
‘It’s just that… I mean… you’re an elephant...’ said Justin, timidly.
‘Oh. Oh, I see. It’s like that.’ Paul stood up. ‘I’ll go,’ he said.
The look on Justin’s face was the look of someone who knew he’d put his foot in it, but couldn’t quite work out why or what to do about it.
‘You’re obviously an elephobe,’ said Paul, his voice cracking. ‘I’ve heard it all before. ”Oh, he’s an elephant. Oh, how can he possibly be as good at selling cars as a human? Oh, look at his stupid big ears. Can you fly like Dumbo? Do you pack your luggage in a trunk? Do you have a sister called Nelly?” Her name is Sharon.’
‘Maybe this isn’t going to work,’ said Paul. ‘I guess you’re not that familiar with elephants. Not everyone is, I know. If you’re not comfortable, I’ll go. I’ll find somewhere else to live. You can keep the deposit.’
He shuffled quietly towards the door, which is tough for an elephant.
‘No, wait!’ said Justin.
‘Stay,’ Justin said.
‘Are you sure?’
‘Of course. Stay. Please.’
A few hours later, Julia came home, with Laura in tow as promised. Paul and Justin were still in the living room. They were watching a Discovery Channel documentary about the invention of the steam train, and Justin was showing Paul his trainspotting notebook.
‘Oooh,’ said Paul. ‘A DBS Class 60! I’ve never seen one of those before.’
‘You should join our trainspotters club,’ said Justin. ‘We’re heading up to Crewe station next weekend, it’ll be brilliant.’
‘I’m in, Justy!’ Paul slapped Justin on the back, nearly shattering his spine.
‘Have you boys had fun today?’ asked Julia.
‘We certainly have,’ beamed Justin, rubbing his back. He spotted Laura, who had a very strange look on her face. ‘Oh, sorry, Laura – meet our new lodger, Paul.’
‘He’s an elephant,’ said Laura.
And everyone looked at her as if she were mad.