I’m no stranger to embarrassment, but this day’s experience was to be the most remembered. There’s no reason to be nervous. I assured myself. I’m accustomed to speaking in public. Yet, my audience’s silent secret was the loudest thought in my mind. Am I missing something?
Addressing our affluent supporters in the assembly hall normally wouldn’t be so unnerving. Fifty faces, one-hundred expectant, shining eyes seated in folding chairs all directed toward the lectern. I’ve been the object of their stoic attention before, all garbed in finely tailored suits. A few are women, dressed accordingly, one of which, from the front row, offers the first clue. There’s an elephant in the room.
Her eyebrows arch so high she could be modeling for a MacDonald’s sign. Is that shock registering on her face, with distended bug-eyes? Aimed at me?
Quickly, I sidestep to safety behind the podium, and my obscured hand drops to check my zipper. It is up. Shirttail is not sticking out of it. Back to business.
I have to sell myself—command their full attention. So I launch with a bit of humor. One of my best jokes should do the trick.
“We have cause for great optimism today.” The pessimist farmer verses the optimist farmer joke.
Success. Chuckles sweep the room. On to the real business.
“Our African associates are very pleased to have Chidamoya Christian Mission on-board with the new health initiative. I had the privilege of briefly speaking with one of President Mugabe’s aides on the telephone. And, he has agreed to a meeting with our representatives in Harare, to discuss the fresh-water well project for the Shona tribes. As well as the continued reconstruction of the Chidamoya hospital.”
The crowd gasps in unison. What’s going on here? I see hands covering mouths, stifled grins, bulging eyes…. Here and there a giggle escapes. I turn to look behind me. Nothing out of the ordinary there. I didn’t eat eggs this morning, so there couldn’t be egg on my face.
Continuing my speech, which is more of a sales pitch, it becomes increasingly difficult to concentrate. My job is to keep the financial support for our mission’s projects in Zimbabwe flowing. But there is obviously an elephant—somewhere. What could it be? Apparently, I’m the only one who doesn’t know.
Time to pull out the big guns—my visual aids. The appealing charts that I had a colleague draw up to demonstrate the efficient use of monetary contributions thus far. Several pages are prepared and displayed on a giant easel standing behind me. Turning toward the easel, I extend my telescopic pointer. But the stifled giggles suddenly erupt into roaring laughter and applause. I spin around to find several fingers pointing at me.
I’ve had enough of this. I demand the elephant’s exposure.
“It seems I’m the only one who doesn’t get the joke here. Is there an elephant in the room?”
This elicits heartier laughter and more finger pointing. Now at the apex of my confusion, I call upon reason to disclose the beast. There is only one place in the room, which the audience can see, but I cannot.
Sprinting around to the front of the podium, I spy a white, furry head poke out of a hole that had been chewed by a disrupting rodent. It seems his timing of constantly exiting and reentering the hole was impeccable, coinciding with different elements of my speech. The roaring laughter had come when the big rat had waved its little arms as if directing applause for my pie chart.
I chuckle along with everyone else. But that impish rat! He is ruining my speech!
“Why don’t we take a brief intermission, while our uninvited guest is apprehended and removed?”
It seems Mister Rat does not like that statement. But he likes me. Crawling on top of the lectern now, he proceeds to scurry up my sleeve and perch atop my shoulder. He then emits a loud squeal as if scolding me. I’m not much of a dancer, but the jig I cut to get rid of my unwanted passenger must have been very impressive, judging by the applause of the audience. I finally brush him off, and he scoots out the door.
Turns out, our visitor was a lost pet named, Captain Jackpot.
Order is eventually restored, and we continue. Somehow, pledges for support of Chidamoya Christian Mission nearly doubled that quarter. Seems our elephant-in-the-room, was a friend after all.
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