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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Percy gets spooky

Reading Time: 5 minutesInexplicable happenings are common around Halloween, as well as any other time of the year, discovers Percy,
 glowing green ghosts
Percy is my wife Rose’s elder brother. He is an authority on sports played in both India and in Australia, writes short stories as a hobby, and has written many books on sports and various other subjects. One evening, Percy regaled us with a strange story.
You may know little about my personal life, he said, so sit back and follow this tale.
I have some peculiar likes and dislikes. My lifestyle certainly is not just the usual. I collect items no one would dream of collecting. My dietary formulae puzzle most of my friends. My sleeping habits are at best, atrociously inhuman. And I consume an inordinate amount of hot tea, yes, plain hot tea! About 25 mugs of it, and my mug holds about three normal cups. Each morning as I go through my daily ritual of reading the newspapers, I devour three or four mugs of hot tea before standing and stretching my body, before walking to the inbox of my computer.
The reason for this high intake of tea, as per my research, is that those who drink excessive amounts of tea will never have a fear of cancer. But I drink tea because, cancer or no cancer, I love it! You may give me a barrel of wine, or a carton of beer, but I would still prefer my cuppa tea!
Now some years ago, my wife Maya and I woke up to a freezing Melbourne Saturday, and we decided on the spur of the moment to drive to Mildura, an inland town of Victoria, 350 miles north-west of  Melbourne. It was a long weekend and we thought it was worth the trip. While there is little of noteworthiness in Mildura, the weather was wonderful and we were keen to escape the temperamental Melbourne weather. Quickly we packed, never forgetting my huge picnic flask that holds about ten mugs of tea, and got on the road at around 8am.
The only mistake we made as we had already realised, was that we had made no hotel or motel reservation. This being the pre-mobile phone era, we could not contact accommodation providers from our car. After a few tea-drinking stops on the way, we hit Mildura around midday. We enquired at this hotel/motel and that for accommodation, but the travel-loving Melbournians had evidently beaten us to the punch. In desperation I returned to the car, enjoyed a mug of tea and gave our predicament some thought. Having failed to find accommodation anywhere, we drove to nearby Robinvale in the hope of better luck.
Needless to say, there was no accommodation in Robinvale either. So we decided to try smaller towns on the way, and drove along the River Murray that runs its jagged course from the Snowy Mountains in the north-east, towards South Australia in the west. While the route was certainly scenic, we were in no mood to enjoy the scenery without the promise of accommodation at which we could rest our weary bodies, and night was fast approaching. Even in the tourist town of Swan Hill, we found no accommodation. My positive frame of mind coaxed me to drive to Koondurook, but again, no luck! The tragedy was that the level of tea in my flask was scraping the bottom, and I needed my cuppa every half hour to stay awake.
Defeated, we now decided to drive back home via Echuca, a larger town than Mildura. But the flask was now bone-dry, which worried me. Without my ‘fix’ like a junkie, I was not sure if I could drive beyond Echuca. We were out of luck there too. Being the long weekend, eateries like KFC and McDonalds had also closed early, and I could not replenish my supply of tea.
Disappointed, the lack of tea nearly disabling me, I pulled up as we reached a thick wooded area just outside of Echuca, and told Maya that without tea, I could drive no further. Maya was weary too, for we had driven over 600 miles and were still some 130 miles away from home. Exploring the options available to us, I stepped out of the car and had a smoke. Carefully stepping on the spent butt, I returned to the driver’s seat and gathered courage to drive the final stretch back home; the night now truly upon us.
Suddenly in this uninhabited, thickly wooded part of the bush in the middle of nowhere, I heard a knock on my car window just as I was about to drive off.
Now I must tell you even if you may already know it, but when in the bush, the knock of that kind is not a sign about which to be jubilant. Under the circumstance we were in, I could imagine a gun smashing the side window, the driver promptly shot dead, the female passenger abducted and the car robbed. In a flash, an entire range of other dreadful eventualities swept through my mind. Having no other options at my disposal, I lowered the glass and saw two hefty guys standing by the car.
“Would you like to come in our little chapel and join us for a cup of tea, perhaps?” asked one of the giants, rather politely.
Churchgoers ourselves, we let the two giants escort us into their truly little chapel, a few meters from the road. If I remember correctly, there was just one dim light outside the chapel. It seemed that their vestry meeting had just ended, and we noticed a dozen or so clergy and members standing just outside. They pleasantly asked us to join them for the cuppa. Very thoughtfully, they let me fill my elephantine flask with tea. They even packed sandwiches for our journey back home.
After a week, Maya and I decided to drive to that little chapel and leave a donation for those who came to our rescue that night, when we had found ourselves despondent and stranded without my cuppa. We reached the exact spot where we had parked that night the week before, but were monumentally astounded to see that there was no chapel where we had met with such polite hospitality. It was a heavily treed area for many square miles, with no building in sight anywhere!
I can promise on a stack of tea flasks that, that particular night, there was a chapel building and also a chapel hall, where we were welcomed and served tea and sandwiches. Nonplussed, and wondering if we had made a mistake and were at the wrong spot, I stood by my car and lit a cigarette. Lo and behold, I looked down and at my feet just a few paces from where I stood, lay the butt of the cigarette I smoked that night a week earlier!

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