A Question of Procedure


He came over one day unannounced. Stout, green and wattled with independently rotating eyes and a wide smile -a sort of humanoid chameleon, the size, and weight of a baseball. He asked to be called Robert after I picked him up from under the hedgerow where it was frosty and brought him into the warmth of the kitchen. Are you a gnome? I asked. Maybe, said Robert, elusive. Have any magic powers? No, he said.


I was about to catch a plane to Singapore, to hop on a shuttle to London from Manchester, then on to the Far East, for my wedding. You have a wife? Asked Robert. Soon, I replied. Is she Chinese? What's it to you? Just asking, Robert trailed off, they tend to be kindly to us. I stared at the mitten-sized reptile, who said you were coming along? I was in two minds whether to put Robert back -under the hedgerow, but he had taken a liking to sleeping near the heater and eating cooked food, so it was obvious he had to come along.


Rather than go through the whole process of getting him registered and all the questions I'd have to answer to get him a passport, I said I would just tuck him into my coat pocket. Worse come to worse, he'd go into a box in the cargo hold. Robert nodded.


The first hurdle cleared, I stuffed my suitcase into the boot of the black cab and got in the back. Claire and I chatted on WhatsApp. I have a surprise for you, I said -and his name is Robert. Oh, you're bringing a friend. Is he your best man? I laughed, no, I said, more like a pet. She sent a smiley, and I patted my pocket just to be sure it was still there.


Baggage checked in, I passed through security and onto the 757. Being frisked was my only worry, but thankfully nobody thought of that. Every time I fly, I take the International Herald Tribune. Subconsciously. Reading it puts me to sleep. I also make a point of tasting the packed breakfast box we get on the shuttle. That's when the freeloader in my pocket piped up. My ears are stuffed up, he said. That's because we're on a plane, I whispered. But already, faces had turned our way. Sorry, I'm a ventriloquist, I said, dismissing their curiosity. No, a high voice pipped up, you've got someone in your coat! Umm, I said, well he's a pet. A hamster, a mouse, a cricket -you know. That's when the stewardess leaned over my seat and said to take Robert out. I reached in, sullenly and felt -nothing. He's not there, I said. I mean, nothing was there. Well alright, she said comfortingly. She gave me the eye, so I unfolded and hid behind the Tribune. Come back when you're ready, I whispered. See -there's an elf on the plane, said the kid. An elf, Dad. Oh hush, Jimmy, said his mother.


Rather shaken, I decided to have the mini-Mars bar only to find Robert already chewing at in inside the box. I gave him a raised eyebrow, and he just shrugged. Then I put one finger against my lips, and he nodded. We drank the shallow cup of orange juice and had a bit of the sandwich, then landed at Heathrow. The kid and his family were going to Singapore too. I'm sorry for my son -he believes in nonsense, said his father. I'm in Insurance, AIA, he said glancing at my newspaper Yes, I always have this, I said -superb coverage. He nodded proudly. What stocks do you watch? I'm into Bitcoin, I said. Ah, cryptocurrency -good. I develop for the App Store. I'm quite the nerd. What's your App? He asked. LittlePad, I replied, a patented displaced Qwerty keyboard for super-fast typing. We'll have to give it a spin then, said the insurance man.


His pocket just wriggled, said Jimmy, staring. Now Jimmy, don't be a bother, said his mother. I'm sorry -your name? John, I said. John Emmanuel. I felt a sharp jabbing. It was Robert. Excuse me, I need to use the men's room. I've got to molt, said the chameleon-like creature. Molt? Shed and grow, he said. Oh, then we'd better get into a stall. I put Robert on the cistern. He looked nervous. Don't touch me till I'm hardened, he cautioned, breathing heavily. He turned dark at first then later, after his outer skin had peeled off, a pale pink blending into a healthy olive green. He smiled widely, looking over his new size. You're a little harder to hide now, I said. We only molt once, offered Robert.


The long-haul flight to Singapore took over 12 hours. I was sleepless, having mislaid my reading matter, probably about the time of Robert's molt, when he had to be rinsed off in the sink. He wasn't very comfortable to carry in my coat pocket anymore, so I zipped him into the hand luggage, overhead, leaving a small gap. He wasn't too pleased but obliged anyway.


HI, I'm Vicky, said a petite blonde. Is this seat taken? No, I said uneasily -go ahead. You're with someone, she pouted. Yes, actually -no. Sit, I stammered. Vicky must have had a spine problem as she began to lean into my space so as to nuzzle into my shoulder. All, things avoided by carrying the Tribune, I thought -the never-fail that swats off spunky girls. I need to lie down, cooed Vicky, stretching herself out over my lap. I put on the earphones and tried to lose myself in the in flight movie. It was a romantic comedy: The Truth About Cats and Dogs. You should watch this, I said. But she was already having a better dream. Her breath smelt of beer, and I eventually ordered one myself.


By and large, we both fell into a stupor, Vicky, and me, drifting off to sleep. The lights were shut off and in the semi darkness of the cabin, small feet started padding, small hands dragged out my hand luggage, unzipped it and took Robert out. You're real, said Jimmy, -elf. He stared at the chameleon who stared back impassively, then both nodded a silent pact. I won't tell anyone, said Jimmy.


Vicky woke up like a woman after a one-night-stand, also bringing me to with a warm feeling. It isn't everyday someone beautiful lays in your lap. She gathered her golden hair into a bun. Who's your girlfriend? She asked. Claire? I said. She's, my fiancée. She's a Singaporean Chinese. We studied together in Manchester- Feed your elf, Jimmy interrupted, holding out a paper airsick sack. Soup's up. Thanks, I said with a stiff upper lip, grabbing the sack from him. He returned to his seat and pulled the tray down, watching me from across the aisle.


What elf? Asked Vicky. I sank in the chest. I suppose everyone had better meet Robert then, I announced loudly. But nobody seemed much to care. I have a chameleon in this sack. Now we're going to have dinner together, will that be okay? Again, nobody cared. Perhaps how the food tasted was more on their minds. Even the stewardesses just turned away all smiles.


I laid the puke sack on the fold-away tray and Robert crawled out gingerly, on spindly legs and arms that contrasted with his otherwise barrelish shape. You're so cute! Effused Vicky. You too, replied Robert. As we ate, Vicky fed him from her dish. I think I'm in love, he said, looking at me. Indeed, he seemed to have swelled a little in his man-area.


Vicky asked for coffee and so did I. And for the little man? Asked the stewardess. A deck of cards, please, said Robert. Claire taught me a game, big 2, while we were in university together. A kind of poker where the 2 card is the most important -the dii. Robert suggested that Claire join in via mobile, as I dealt the cards.


What a good idea, I exclaimed, publishing the video feed. Tell the whole world, then. It's part of his plan, said Vicky, jealous of how comely Claire turned out to be. Claire didn't bat an eyelid at Robert. Show me the cards, elf, she said dispassionately as Vicky cosied up to me unabashed. A stewardess brought over a little Santa hat and put it on Robert, and everyone laughed. It's Christmas, eh? I said cheerfully.


Robert and Claire won all the hands, and they were rolling with laughter from each other's jokes. You're a lot more fun than John, she said, wiping tears from her eyes. Robert smiled. That's why I brought him, I said -to meet you. Robert, Vicky, and I took a selfie for Claire. Can't wait to meet all of you, she texted.


Soon, it was Jimmy and Vicky, Robert, and Claire-via-Internet, against just myself in a best of 3 hands of "coup", with the winner getting to have the chameleon over for Christmas. It was the middle of the final hand, and a storm rumbled and groaned outside the aircraft. About of a sudden, everyone's eyes glazed over. I suppose you like that blonde thing, Claire said, referring to Vicky. I suppose I do, I replied. Actually, I'd never found you that much charming, John. I know, I said. Robert interjected that Claire looked a lot like Selena Gomez, and she blushed slightly.


Thunder shuddered the plane. Everyone looked blasé like we had just seen the CIA take Sasquatch aboard a UFO. I, started Claire, and at that moment, all of us rushed for Robert, but Vicky was quickest, snatching the chameleon to her bosom. Give him to me! Squealed Jimmy excitedly. But Vicky said: we trade. What do you have? Robert lounged smugly in her palm like an Auntie Anne's pretzel, pleased to be his little green, influencing self. Claire said it wasn't every day you see a talking Chameleon who plays poker. I agreed. Okay, you can have my John for Christmas if I get Robert over for Christmas. Vicky smiled sultrily, and I was suddenly aware that I was compulsively massaging her thigh through her leggings.


You're a whore, said Jimmy, but Vicky ignored him. Can't Robert come to our house for Christmas? No, said his mother, taking him back to his seat. The seat belt warning came on as we began the descent to Changi airport.


Claire could have spent her whole life with Robert. They opened presents, Jacuzzi-ed together, smoked Cuban cigars. She gave him a Black Pink Ice Cream poster for Christmas and a mini bean sack that he often lay in as he watched the harbor cranes hard at work from her high-rise air-conditioned apartment window. Me? I married Vicky. She was an actress, and indeed a tart, who had landed the lead role in the sexually charged upcoming Edmund Yeo thriller: The Strangeness of Death. Jimmy and his Dad were seen down at Chinatown, in an old family-run pet store, trying to describe talking chameleons. Come on, 200 dollars, urged Jimmy's Dad, over the singing mynas in their bamboo cages. China men laying about looked on drearily in shorts and hitched up Chung Kai pagodas. No have, lah, sir. No such thing, one.

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