The Last Straw
Camels Frederick and Tristan had been rivals almost since birth. Tug-of-war, eating competitions, competitive ironing, you name it - anything that provided an opportunity for oneupcamelship was enthusiastically participated in by the humpbacked brothers. So when the Annual National Straw Carrying Event was to be held in their home village, they signed up immediately.
“I bet I can carry more straws than you,” said Frederick.
“I bet you can’t,” said Tristan.
“We’ll see,” said Frederick.
“Yes, we will,” said Tristan.
On the days and weeks leading up to the event, they consumed vast quantities of protein shakes, did yoga, spent several days at a Buddhist retreat, wrapped themselves in seaweed, watched Batman movies, wrestled with llamas, took part in a unicycle marathon, brushed up their circus skills, fired themselves out of cannons, parkoured the length and breadth of Worcester, picked fleas out of their ears and danced the night away.
On the morning of the event, they folded towels till their hooves were sore.
“This is it,” said Frederick.
“It certainly is,” said Tristan.
“Prepare for a trouncing,” said Frederick.
“Yes, yours,” said Tristan.
All competitors were called to the arena.
There were monkeys, elephants, llamas, hippos, alligators, tamarinds, a troupe of pigeons, a brace of pheasants, a marvellously muscled mastodon, a family of meerkats, a slovenly school of sloths and a lizard. And Frederick and Tristan.
They all took their positions and were approached by humans with big bags of straws. Drinking straws, that is. Of all types. Straight ones, bendy ones, annoying paper ones, the ones that go round novelty spectacles and the tiny ones you have to stab into juice cartons. There was much stretching and huffing and puffing, as well as taunts, jeers, gibes, sneers, scoffs, along with much chaffing, tormenting, provoking, goading, ridiculing, deriding, mocking, heckling, riding, ribbing, needling, hassling, ragging and not a small amount of raspberry blowing, except for the tamarinds, who just stood there, being trees and all.
“Competitors, prepare yourselves,” came an announcement over the tannoy; “for the 763rd Annual National Straw Carrying Event!”
There was a smattering of light applause from the stands and one ineffectual Whoop! - then a countdown from fourteen to three.
“Stack!,” went the tannoy... and the competition began.
At first it was pretty boring. Straws were removed from bags and balanced on the backs of beasts (and trees). Slowly. Very slowly. Because where the first few straws went was the key to it all (apparently). There was mumbling and murmuring from the stands, and not a small amount of timepiece consulting. At one point, a curly straw fell off an alligator’s nose, which was terribly exciting and incited a sharp intake of breath from one of the handful of hardened straw carrying fans, who sat amongst the dozen or so folk who had just wandered into the stadium because they were bored and didn’t fancy going home yet.
The next twenty two minutes were excruciating. Most of the sparsely arrayed audience were kept in their seats, however, by the introduction to the arena of a juggler, a comedian and an a cappella group, who were dragged over from a nearby fringe festival. It was when the a cappella group were approaching the final bars of their version of the Game of Thrones theme, that things started to hot up.
The pigeons, straws now piled mountainously (relative to their size) atop their feathery backs, gave a pained unified Coo!, shook off their burdens and with a reverberating (for there was a lot of them) flutter, took off in search of McDonalds cartons and partially consumed Subway sandwiches, to sooth their fevered (and feathered) brows.
The sloths, who really didn’t care one way or the other how many straws could be stacked on top of them and had just signed up to the competition under the misguided apprehension that it could provide them with the opportunity to catch a few zees, fell, as one, off their branches and were thus disqualified.
And the lizard (who, if you are interested, was a very small lizard called Paul), who normally couldn’t stay still for more than a minute, so it was a miracle that he had managed to maintain immobility for this long, got an itch in his front left leg, so, as was the way of lizards, ran around crazily, rubbing his front left leg on anything he could find (including a hoof of Tristan, who spat infuriatingly at the ridiculously rushing reptile, but managed to retain his load), then scuttled out of the arena in a huff.
The remaining contenders stepped up their game.
Straws were stacked.
Even the audience members who had just wandered in off the street (that is, most of them) leaned forward in their seats slightly.
Contestants fell, one by one. Sometimes literally, sometimes in a metaphorical sense, unable take any more of the mental weight of all the straws piled upon their being. Finally it came down to just three. One of the tamarinds... and the camels, Frederick and Tristan.
“One... more...!,” said Frederick. And another straw was placed upon his back.
“Another... straw...!,” said Tristan. And the same was done to him also.
The tamarind said nothing, which was taken to mean that he (or she (for what gender is a tree?)) also required another straw to be placed atop thereto.
“Give me... another...!,” said Frederick.
“Me... too...!,” said Frederick.
And one more for the tamarind.
On it went, in such a manner, for a further two hours and forty three minutes.
Tense was not the word.
No, it really wasn’t. For who can maintain such a level of anticipation for such a time? I couldn’t, that’s for sure. Not without needing a wee. Or two. And something to eat. And so, as the minutes ticked by, the audience members who’s interest had been piqued nearly three hours ago, in need of relief and satiation with respect of the aforementioned, drifted slowly out of the stadium. All who remained by this point were two hardened fans, who were probably on some kind of stimulant medication, which also suppressed their appetite and need to urinate.
And lo, further straws were added.
And lo, the contestants did grunt and groan.
And lo, except for the tamarind, because, you know, it was a tree.
And thus and so. And so and thus. And furthermore...
“Stop!,” said Frederick.
“I can take no more!,” said Tristan.
“...,” said the tamarind.
And upon the piling of one more straw on top of the latter, it was declared that the tamarind was the winner of the 763rd Annual National Straw Carrying Event.
“Ooh, me back,” said Frederick.
“Mine too,” said Tristan.
“I bet mine hurts more than yours,” said Frederick.
“I bet it doesn’t,” said Tristan.
And that was that.