It was the King of Toyland’s son’s birthday.
This was something of a Big Deal, since the son in question was the Crown Prince and would sit on the Great Throne himself, someday, and everyone wanted to be on his good side, even though he was only four years old. So they came in their hundreds to greet him and congratulate him as he sat on his hig chair, and nibble at his frosted pink birthday cake.
They all came, in their hundreds and thousands – big toys and small, fluffy teddy bears, fat cabbage patch dolls, stuffed giraffes whose heads touched the ceiling, even a contingent of Barbie dolls from the modelling agencies, trying hard to look demure and only succeeding in resembling slightly overdressed hookers. There were big friendly dogs with red lolling tongues and manic plastic eyes. There were monkeys with stiff tails braced by wire. There were even those who came from the outer fringes of Toyland, creatures of seashell and coconut husk, of rubber bands and old thread spools. Even these outcasts came to demonstrate their love and affection for the Crown Prince.
All around the Crown Prince’s chair his elite guard stood, as far above the common soldier dolls outside as they were above the destitute outcasts from the outer fringes. They were all the top of the range, GI Joes and superhero action figures, wielding everything from machine guns to magic swords and fists full of super-strength. They crossed their arms on their chests and glowered at the crowds, so threateningly that even the monkeys didn’t try any of their eponymous business.
And, of course, there were the gifts. Since staying on the right side of the Crown Prince was important, the visitors came loaded down with gifts, just about everything they could afford; gifts of gold and silver, of precious stones and delicately-scented perfumes, of rare silks and spices worthy of a prince’s palate. But the Crown Prince was not happy; not at all.
The word ran through the palace and would have sent shivers down the spines of those who heard, if only they had any spines:
“The Crown Prince is not happy!”
In vain the Crown Prince’s personal entourage tried to make him happy. The Frisbees spun round and round in the air, the plastic balls bounced as high as they could go, the lead-weighted toys staged boxing matches in which they just could not be knocked down. The Crown Prince still didn’t smile.
So the ministers of the King came, and they tried to tell him jokes. Unfortunately, their jokes consisted of anecdotes about bureaucratic files and points of law, so boring that even they began to nod off in the middle of telling them. The Crown Prince still pouted angrily, and wouldn’t even touch his gifts.
The Queen was summoned, but did not come, because she was having her hair brushed, and that was a Holy Time in which she could not be disturbed. Not that she could have done anything anyway.
Finally, the King of Toyland himself came, driving his matchbox Formula One car, escorted by a dozen toy tanks and missile carriers. Frowning terribly at his trembling ministers, he demanded to know why his son was unhappy.
“Ask him yourself, Your Majesty,” suggested one bobble-headed toy among them, much bolder than his colleagues, “for we can’t make him tell us why.”
“All right,” the King said grumpily, motioning secretly behind his back for his personal guard of X Men toys to seize and decapitate the minister who had dared talk back to him; but the toy was too bobble-headed to be harmed, and had to be quietly let off afterwards. “What makes you unhappy, my son?” he asked. “Say but a word, and I’ll have the stuffing ripped out of a dozen Teddy bears for your amusement. I’ll even invade Teddyland itself, so you can see the pretty bombs bursting for yourself!”
The Crown Prince said nothing, just shook his head stubbornly.
“Then,” said the King, “is it something you want? A gift?”
“He has all the gifts he could possibly want, Your Majesty,” the Prime Minister said. He gestured at the huge pile of offerings. “Here is gold and spices, frankincense and myrrh, jewels and silver and all manner of the best cloth of all. How can he want a gift?”
But the Crown Prince nodded. “I want a human,” he said.
“A human?” The King and his ministers looked at each other, startled. “He can’t possibly mean that. A human?”
The King cleared his throat. “Look, son. Humans are nasty, dirty creatures, and only kept by the lowest class of people for their children to play with. You, on the other hand, are...”
“Yes,” the Crown Prince agreed. “I want a human. To play with.”
The King looked at his son. His son looked back at him.
“All right,” the King sighed, defeated. “You shall have a human.” He turned to the Prime Minister. “You shall, personally, go and purchase a human right now for my son to play with.”
“Right now, Your Majesty?” the Prime Minister said, swallowing nervously.
“Right now,” the King affirmed. “And make sure it’s the right one for my son. Or else...” He ran his finger round his throat significantly.
The Prime Minister didn’t have a bobble head, so he couldn’t risk the chop. With a heavy sigh, for he had been so looking forward to the party, he set out for the most exclusive human shop in town.
The manager was a Ken toy, very eager to help. “We have all sorts of exclusive lines of humans,” he said, and pulled out one from a display case. “This one, for example, is helpful for heating as well as a plaything. It’s full of hot air, and spouts more at every opportunity.”
“What’s it called?” the Prime Minister asked, examining the human.
“That’s the Politician model.” The Ken brought out another. “This is our Rich Capitalist model. It sits on the top of the heap and is very low maintenance, since it knows exactly how to take care of itself.” He glanced up at the Prime Minister. “It comes with a golf course, luxury yacht and mansion attached.”
“H’m.” The Prime Minister pointed at another human. “That one?”
“That’s our media person model. It regurgitates whatever you choose to feed it.” The Ken held up another human so the Prime Minister could see it. “I wouldn’t recommend this one. It’s the Sleazy Lawyer model. All it’s good for is biting the hand that feeds it, sooner or later.”
“No, that wouldn’t do at all. What else do you have?”
“How about this?” The human had a red face, dilated eyes and froth-speckled lips, and hunched in front of a TV set, shouting away. “That’s our Right-Wing Patriot model human. It’s very popular.”
“I’ll think about it. Anything else?”
“Of course, sir. Here is the Celebrity Model, which is famous for doing absolutely nothing. Or maybe you'd prefer the Soldier Model? Here he is, wearing a chestful of medals. Eminently worthy of worship, as always.”
“But he’s holding a gun, and we can’t have that. We'd have to keep creating enemies for him to fight to keep him busy. Don’t you have something a bit more...” the Prime Minister twirled his hand in the air, looking for the right word. “Wholesome?”
“Your wish is my command, sir. Take a look at our Religious Model. He’s holding up a Holy Book in one hand and Hellfire and Damnation in the other. He comes with a donation box.” The Ken looked enquiringly at the Prime Minister. “Should I show you the Sportsperson model? All brawn, no brain, and it comes with an agent hunting for advertisement deals and money.”
“Anything other than these?”
The Ken sighed. “Yes, sir. But I’m afraid it will disappoint you.”
When the Prime Minister returned to the palace, he had a human in a gift-wrapped box along with him. “Here is the Crown Prince’s gift, Your Majesty,” he said. “It’s the best one I could find. All it’s good for is to be kicked and crushed and treaded down, spat on and taken advantage of. It’s ideal for the Crown Prince to play with.”
“Is that so?” The King looked pleased. “What is the model called?”
The Prime Minister gave a proud smile. “The Common Man,” he said.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012