Saturday, 23 June 2012

The Salesman

When Lollola announced that he was planning to sell silk to the Goblins, everyone assured him that he was crazy.
“You’re nuts,” they informed him, their eyes wide with consternation. “You’re stark, raving crazy.”
“Why?” Lollola replied, quite calmly. “I’ve won the Salesman of the Year trophy for three of the last five years, and was runner-up the other two. I’ve sold beef recipes to the Indians, bikinis to the Taliban, and atheist literature to the Americans. I need challenges to overcome!”
“But why choose Goblins?” they asked. “They don’t even wear any clothes!”
“Which makes it even more of a challenge,” Lollola replied smoothly. “And, besides, can you imagine the commission I’ll earn?”
Leaving them still shaking their heads in bewilderment, Lollola went off to get his sample case.
It was a grand sample case, which Lollola had inherited from his great-great-grandfather, who had been known to all as the Emperor of all the Salespeople. It was made of polished leather, ancient but soft and glossy, fitted with magnificent silver buckles. Nobody else had such a case, and nobody else knew where it came from. Family lore had it that the great man had won it gambling with the Little Folk, but that was certainly too ridiculous, because everyone knew the Little Folk did not gamble.
Wherever it had come from, Lollola always thought that the very sight of the case sealed a good half of his deals, and so he polished and buffed it until it gleamed, and packed it with all the different samples of silk he had. Then off he went.
Although he’d never had any dealings with the Goblins before, they weren’t hard to find. He tracked them down easily enough by the smell. They lived in the creepy old castle just three left turns past the edge of town, the one in the forest, with the moss-green walls. Lollola walked past the three left turns and through the forest until he came to the castle. Ignoring the purple smoke oozing from the chimneys and the lunatic howls echoing up from the basement, he climbed up the stairs and hammered on the big front door.
In his mind, all the while, was the Salesman’s Golden Book, written by himself, which had a precept on each page: homilies such as LOOK THE WORLD IN THE EYES and NEVER FORGET A SMILE; IT MAY BE YOUR PATH TO AN ORDER. Even though he’d written it, he suddenly felt a need to keep repeating the homilies to himself. Of course he wasn’t nervous or something of the kind; he just had never dealt with such clients as the Goblins before.
The castle door opened to his touch, of course – as the old grandmother had told him, the Goblins never turn a visitor away. Also, of course, there was nobody in the doorway when it opened, because the Goblins are shy and do not, as far as possible, wish to be seen. But Lollola knew they would be watching him, so he strode in and plonked his sample case down on a table on which a candle stood burning.
The howls from the basement stopped, and now, all around, he could hear scurrying and whispers, as though rats were scuttling through the walls. He could also smell the characteristic odour of the Goblins, which an ancient grandmother had once described as a mixture of ripe cheese, decaying tomato, and lavender, with a whiff or two of kerosene mixed in. He knew they were watching.
One by one, Lollola spread out his silks on the table – the coarse heavy material first, fashioned into socks and undershirts for demonstration purposes, and then the finer, shimmering stuff, shining like liquid rainbows in the candlelight. He held the silks up and twirled them around, in a waterfall of light, and kept up a steady patter, though he wasn’t at all sure if the Goblins could even understand English. The aged grandmother hadn’t been all that clear on that point. He had just done a slow pirouette with the largest, finest and gaudiest piece in his case when, looking back at the table, he saw a Goblin sitting on it.
“Hello,” he told it, smiling brightly. “Good morning. Nice Day, isn’t it?”
The Goblin took no notice of him. It looked like a little wizened mummy, dressed only in a red leather cap, and it was picking up and examining his samples one by one. Lollola was about to speak to it again when it turned its head and signalled that it could not hear him. Then it went back to examining the silks.
Lollola had not won the Salesman of the Year award so many times for nothing. ALWAYS EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, he had written in his book. NEVER THINK THINGS WILL GO YOUR WAY JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT THEM TO. He had a notepad and pencil all ready, and he began noting down prices for the Goblin’s benefit. The creature took the notepad, read the rates without reacting, and went back to examining the silks. Lollola sighed mentally and prepared to start offering discounts.
Then the Goblin regretfully shook its head, threw down the last piece of silk, and gestured at its naked body, indicating to Lollola that it didn’t wear any clothes and so had no use for the material. Nor did it want tablecloths, curtains, or bedspreads, or indeed anything else that one might conceivably use silk for. Even Lollola was finally disheartened and began packing up his material. One of the attributes of being a good salesman is never to give up, but there’s a point at which one just knows when one is beaten.
It was then that the Goblin noticed the sample case.
Even if Lollola hadn’t been the greatest salesperson of his generation, he wouldn’t have missed the gleam of avarice in the Goblin’s beady little eyes, or the way it reached out for the case, only to jerk its fingers away at the last moment, as though the leather was red-hot. Lollola looked at it and at the case, and then reached for his notebook.
The Goblin wanted a hundred.
Now this was a problem, because there weren’t a hundred sample cases like this one. There was just one, and it was lying on the table with the Goblin salivating over it. But Lollola hadn’t become the Salesman of the Year so many times by bowing to such details. All right, so there weren’t a hundred cases like this one. So what? He’d have a hundred made. If the money was right, he’d have a thousand, ten thousand, a million.
But that was if the money was right.
And what did the Goblins use for money?
In Lollola’s plans for selling silk to the Goblins, he’d missed out on one crucial point: the mode of payment. Goblins weren't cooperative enough to participate in the modern economic system, so, despite their fabled riches, they had no actual currency. Of course, he intimated to the Goblin, he couldn’t actually accept the order without an advance. The Goblin quite understood and went scuttling away. In a breath of time it was back, and holding out something to Lollola. This something was a large and roughly-cut diamond.
Lollola was, of course, a good salesman. He was also not an idiot. The diamond was huge and worth a king’s ransom, but it would as surely bring the most unwanted of attention on him, from the government or from crooks. He’d be lucky to hang on to it long enough to turn it into any cash at all.
“Sorry,” he muttered, shaking his head handing the diamond back. Looking around, he searched for something more easily convertible into money. And, looking around, his notice fell on the candlestick, which was exquisitely worked and of a heavy yellow material like old ivory.
If Lollola had only paid a bit more attention to his old grandmother, he’d have known that the Goblins turned the bones of their revered ancestors into such items as candlesticks, bowls and mirror frames, and that these items were of almost incalculable holiness. But he’d only been listening for information on how to find the Goblins so he could sell things to them, and he did not know.
So it was not really his fault that he stepped forward, yanked the candle out of the holder, popped the stick in his pocket, and - a cheery smile on his lips (ALWAYS SMILE; MAKE THE CUSTOMER FEEL SPECIAL) - turned towards the door.
The Goblin was there already, blocking his way and snarling. And the others, who had been waiting, came boiling forth from the shadows.
As they grabbed hold of Lollola and began pulling him to pieces, he remembered a casual remark of his grandmother’s. The Goblins welcomed all visitors, she had said.
But they were reluctant to let them go.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

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