Lanni had left the kitchen to get something out of the hallway, but it seemed to take her an eternity to return. Time to get this show on the road, I thought, so I took matters into my own hands. I walked into the living room to greet my guests, but they just sat there in total silence. “Well, tonight I thought we’d have a buffet for dinner,” I announced.
They just sat there, quietly staring at me!
“I don’t mean that we’re actually going to eat the buffet,” I explained nervously. “We’ll eat the food. It’s just that table isn’t large enough for us all to sit at it!”
Still that uncanny silence. Somewhere, a throat was cleared. Someone walked up behind me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Lanni!” I exclaimed, and swiveled around to face her, “where on Earth have you been?
“Melissa, you know full well I’ve never even been to Earth,” she explained in mock indignation.
I blushed a thousand shades of red, and that brought on giggles all around. Being one of the few white people in a predominantly black country can make embarrassing moments even more embarrassing!
Then Lanni said something completely strange: “Okay, folks, let it out!”
“Surprise!” they all shouted. The mysterious silence was gone! The room was filled with happy chatter, and everyone seemed to want to hug me.
“Excuse me!” I yelled over the crowd. They got quiet again. “What’s going on here?”
Hargo Farnmorik spoke up. (She’s one of my newest but dearest friends.) “It’s a surprise party in your honor, Melissa!” She made a dramatic gesture, as though I were an interstellar diplomat and she were introducing me at a state function. There was a big round of applause.
“Wait a minute!” I shouted, but now they wouldn’t be quiet. I let out a loud whistle which startled them into silence. “How could this be a surprise party for me? I knew about the party all along, I planned it, it’s at my apartment, I prepared all the refreshments, and invited all the guests.”
“Ah!” came a voice from the rear. “But it was Lanni’s idea!” The man walked forward, where I could recognize him as our upstairs neighbor. “She tricked you into throwing a New Year’s Party, so you would never suspect it was really a party to celebrate the anniversary of your first arrival on Homeland right before New Year’s Day 17829!”
“Oh my, what a clever trick!” I said, catching on. “It’s the old ‘how to hide an elephant’ trick. Very smooth, Lanni, very smooth.”
“What’s an elephant?” came a child’s voice.
“An elephant is the largest land animal on Earth,” I bent to explain. “According to an old saying, the best place to hide an elephant is in plain view. The presence of the elephant is so preposterous, that no one can even bring up the subject.” The child smiled. “Lanni did the same thing. She cleverly kept the purpose of the party a secret from me by putting me in charge of the arrangements!”
Lanni and I hugged each other warmly, and I thanked her despite all the work that I had to do! The party went into full swing. We had our buffet dinner, sang “O Thorgelfayne, My Native Land” and various other popular songs. We even had an instrumental accompaniment, since John Anderson brought his skritch along. After a while, after things had gotten quiet, Hargo asked Harshan how we had met. At first, Harshan tried to wiggle out of it, but after Darryl announced that he wanted to hear the story, everyone else just jumped on the bandwagon.
I wasn’t sure if I liked this turn of events, but there was no way out now!
So Harshan began to tell of Melissa (me!) the beautiful young human girl that boarded the ship on which he was a purser. She had the rough and unrefined ways of her native planet, as one would expect; but her inner elegance and wisdom shone through. A true button flower blooming in the bramblethorn. (I blushed again, but this time nobody giggled.) First he befriended me, then he fell in love with me. (To my embarrassment, he even told the story about how he got me to eat red peas!) At the time, Harshan did not realize that my upbringing on rugged, crude old Earth had blinded me to the difference between his romantic affection and everyone else’s social courtesy. One day, while showing me the view screen, he kissed me.
This is where I cut in. To me, all this had happened very suddenly, I explained. I missed all the cues, never realizing Harshan’s intentions. Because of my eyelid birth defect (I pointed it out to everyone), which carried a great social stigma on Earth, his kiss seemed to taunt me and tantalize me with something I wanted, but could never have.
Then Harshan continued. Although I had assured another crew member that Harshan had committed no improprieties, he was immediately given compensatory leave: to seek out the passenger he had offended, and correct the wrong. Of course, he was pleased to be given this assignment. His employer was paying him to track down his true love!
“How romantic!” Hargo sighed. “I haven’t read a novel this good in ages! Do continue!”
So he did.
He began to search for me in Fomin, the capital of Halakan. There was no better place in the world to start than that, and not because Harshan is Halakanian. Fomin is the city where the spaceship line is headquartered, and it is also the seat of the World Council of Countries and Independent Jurisdictions, whose International Preserve is located just west of the city. The spaceship company’s home office was able to supply him with more detailed information on me, including my ultimate destination: this lovely city of Hapdorn in the Grand Duchy of Thorgelfayne. However, that information alone was not enough. Thorgelfayne may be a small country as countries go, but it is a very large place in which to find a tourist with no fixed address!
This meant many a dreary day researching the records of the WCCIJ. Finally, a breakthrough! He found the name, address, and telephone number of John Anderson, a human who was a permanent resident of Thorgelfayne, and in fact, a naturalized subject of the Duke!
“I’ll never forget that phone call,” John interrupted. “I could barely understand his Halakanian accent!” Everyone laughed, and this time it was Harshan’s time to blush.
He turned to Lanni, who was sitting on the floor to my left. “Do I have an accent?” he asked.
“Yes, I’m afraid you do,” she smiled, setting her harng mug down beside her. “It used to be pretty bad, but it’s only a trace now.”
“Don’t listen to her, son,” the old man from upstairs said. “Your pronunciation is perfect.” A few people nodded their heads in agreement, then the old man added, “Now get on with the story!”
Harshan said that John had helped him track down the Department of Comparative Cultures at the University, who informed him of my itinerary. He discovered I was going to be visiting the Duke of Thorgelfayne, and arranged to arrive a day in advance to request the Duke’s assistance. As we all know, she cooperated.
“That was the slowest airplane flight in my life,” Harshan concluded. “I kept wanting to go outside and push!”
Darryl ran up and gave us both big hugs. I’m not quite sure exactly why.
The party broke up an hour before midnight, at thirty-one o’clock. I was so glad to see Hargo Farnmorik again. As you know, John Anderson was present and played the skritch for us, but his friend Panu Maksimak had to work and couldn’t come. The only other person you know who was there was Hank Lundquist, the first human to emigrate here. He brought his wife, but I don’t think you know her. She’s very sweet. They’ve moved to Ranka Province, so we don’t get to see them very often. Then there were all our new friends and neighbors, far too numerous to mention; and even a few of Darryl’s friends from school managed to come.
“Oh, Lanni, this was a marvelous surprise party,” I said as the guests were leaving, “except that it was an awful lot of work!”
“At least you’re a good sport about it,” she said. “Don’t worry about cleaning up! Harna will take you three for a moonlight drive; and by the time you return, Hargo, John and I will have this place in perfect condition!”
Harna drove us out to Barlamon and back. We had a lovely vista of the entire valley from the highway, and all the lights of Hapdorn twinkled from the Barlamon side. It was a beautiful, magical drive, especially after that party. We were gone an entire hour, but it only seemed like minutes. Lanni and the others were just coming out of the apartment building when Harna pulled the car up to the curb.
“Thank you Harna,” Harshan said as we got out of the car. While the two men were talking, Lanni came out of the building and ran up to hug me and kiss me on the cheek. We said our good-byes, and Lanni got into the car with her husband. The wind was picking up, and the cold began to bite through our coats.
As we stood on the sidewalk watching Lanni and Harna’s car drive off, Darryl piped up. “This is the best place I’ve ever been,” he said. “Mommy, Daddy, please! Let’s never go back to Earth again!”
His childlike pleading brought tears to my eyes. “No chance of that, Darryl,” I promised, as I waved at the receding taillights. The traffic light at the corner danced gracefully in the wind. “Wild horses couldn’t drag me back!” I pledged. Darryl looked relieved.
Harshan noticed that Darryl was shivering, so he started us walking towards the door. “What’s a horse?” he asked with a grin.
“Who cares!” said Darryl, as he charged for the door.