by Sheila Cornelius
Hanif braced himself to face yet another dissatisfied customer. The ‘Everything 99p’ shop’s clientele didn’t mince their words.
‘Call this a garden gnome? It’s so skinny my husband thinks it’s a pixie.’
‘Madam, I grant you that it’s slender’, Hanif conceded, ‘but that’s because he’s holding a fishing rod. It’s known as gestalt theory – you think the gnome is thin because the rod is thin.’ The woman only glared more intently.
‘In a way, it’s also a mark of authenticity. Garden gnomes are active little fellows – wheeling barrows, playing violins or, as in this case, fishing.’
‘Well, it doesn’t look like a gnome. I want my 99p back.’ The woman gave a determined twist to her scarf and stood firm, blocking the aisle.
Hanif changed tack. ‘It’s one of the new slim-line gnomes. The obese ones and are being recalled for contravening EEC directives.’ But it was no use; when she started to slap the disputed gnome against her palm, Hanif instructed Deputy Manager Cullner to authorise a refund at the check-out.
Initially, Hanif had been delighted with the gross of gnomes he’d ordered from the Pearl River factory catalogue. One hundred and forty-four gnomes, ranged like a cluster of mini-sized motorway cones, brightened the whole store with their shiny red hats and bright green trousers, at a time of year when people were taking padlocks off garden sheds.
But then they started coming back. Hanif examined the unsold gnomes himself and sure enough, some of them did look like pixies. The absence of beards was the main give-away.
They were probably elves, he decided, left over from Christmas. With a limited number of Santa’s grottoes in China and the Pearl River workers into overdrive, the suppliers had pulled a fast one and offloaded the surplus.
Hanif told Cullner to count the remaining gnomes and put any obvious pixies in the back room.
When a whole week had gone by with no returns, Hanif began to relax. Then Cullner tapped at his office window and pointed towards a smartly-dressed woman hesitating at the store entrance.
She seemed to be a cut above the average shopper. Only the red point sticking out of the top of a Harrods carrier bag alerted Hanif to the problem.
‘I’ll deal with this lady,’ he said, straightening his tie.
‘Sir, there’s something I should tell you’, said Cullner. ‘You remember you asked me to remove the pixies?’ The woman was rummaging in her bag. ‘There was one I wanted to discuss with you, but it disappeared. It might have been sold in error.’
Hanif gasped, as the customer held the creature aloft. It was a gnome alright, from pointy red hat to little black boots. The trouble was, it wore nothing else, apart from a long coat, held open to reveal another remarkably realistic feature.
‘Ah, yes, Madam, said Hanif, ‘What you have there is one of our new range of Educational Empathy Dolls. Amazingly… life-like, isn’t it?’
Sheila Cornelius lives in London and her hobby is listening to conversations.