Close encounter of the 42nd kind

Gorillas are great companions when you’re feeling light-hearted, but an ape with a more serious side to his character sometimes needs to be alone. That’s why, once a year, a light aircraft drops me off in the Kalahari Desert for a five-day sojourn in the sand. I might describe the aim of this excursion as “opening my soul to the stillness of eternity”, but won’t do so for fear of sounding like a sententious ass.

I returned from my latest trip yesterday and have an unusual incident to report. Everything started as normal as I disembarked from the aeroplane with my water-flask and belt bag. The latter contained the standard provisions for a venture of this type – a compass, a pastry fork, a box of mahogany toothpicks, suppositories and one extra-large packet of dried locusts. I wore a floppy sun hat and a flowing silk robe, essential garb to keep the sand out of my fur. We gorillas do not cross-dress without good reason.

In the desert one travels by night and rests by day, so I crawled beneath the shade of a large rock and snoozed until the sun went down. After eating a couple of locusts at dusk, I began my first nightly trek. Mid-way through the journey, in the serene repose of a starry night, I saw a bright yellow dot appear over the horizon. As it neared, I discerned a shiny metallic object which looked rather like a giant screw. It stopped in the sky some fifty yards ahead of me, allowing me to confirm that it was indeed a giant screw. The sharp end twisted itself ten feet into the ground with a sonorous whir, leaving the rest of the shaft standing as tall as King Kong.

I didn’t see any point in trying to run away. The screw was obviously much faster than me and its dazzling light illuminated the desert for hundreds of yards in all directions. The device had clearly sought me out on some petition, so I held my ground, waiting for it to make its move. After nothing had happened after five minutes, I grew impatient:

“Are you going to twist those threads or whistle Colonel Bogey?” I shouted.

Scarcely had the words left my lips when I saw a humanoid figure materialise before me in Star Trek fashion. Those of you who live in fear of ugly, critter-faced aliens can take heart – this one was the spitting image of a young Omar Sharif, dressed in the raiment of a medieval warrior-prince. He stared at me with intense hawk-like eyes.

“You are a gorilla,” he said in a smouldering galactic drawl.

“Yes,” I replied, “and who are you?”

“I am not of your world, gorilla. My name is Binky Lokta Poopy Lakta, which in your Earth language is Torquil Screwdriver.”

“Indeed?” I replied. “Then welcome to Earth, Mr Screwdriver.”

“To where do you travel, gorilla?” he asked.

“To the Vasikela water hole,” I answered.

“I will take you in my screw,” offered the alien.

“Thank you, but I prefer to go on foot,” I replied.

“You will surely lose you way,” cautioned the alien, “and losing your way you will perish miserably in the sun.”

“Not with my compass,” I retorted, removing the instrument from my belt bag and holding it up to his face.

I then felt the compass dissolve in my fingers and saw it re-appear in the hand of the alien. I tried not to show surprise at this unnerving feat. He examined it with a look of amused disdain on his face.

“What if I take this compass, gorilla?” he said with an unpleasant sneer.

“Then you would be a thief,” I replied, looking back defiantly into his eyes.

“Have you no fear, gorilla?” he asked in apparent surprise.

“My fear is my concern,” I answered haughtily.

He nodded at me respectfully and I felt the compass materialise in my fist. He then cordially invited me into his screw for a spot of refreshment, and given the change in his demeanour I didn’t hesitate to accept. It was the old story. The invincible alien warlord gets so accustomed to people grovelling at his feet and quaking at his threats, that anyone who addresses him boldly is automatically accorded the status of a thane.

The interior of the screw was much more spacious than appeared possible from the outside. As we sat down in a salon furnished with satin-covered sofas and rosewood coffee tables, Torquil Screwdriver told me he was from Asda-3, a planet that had been vaporised when its Sun became a supernova. As one of the few Asdarians to have escaped, he was looking for a new home to settle in. Having visited several suitable planets in the Orion Arm, he had chosen our world after noticing that tiny replicas of his spaceship were used in local handicrafts, which he took as a good omen. He told me that he was able to assume the form of any Earth creature.

“Any reason why you chose Omar Sharif, Torkers?” I asked, while sipping a cup of Asdarian tea. “I mean, he’s a good-looking chap and all that, but his best work is long behind him.”

“Who is Omar Sharif?” asked Torquil with a puzzled look on his face. “The man whose shape I have taken is a great warrior called Genghis Khan.”

A large display screen then appeared on the wall and a movie started playing. I recognised it as the 1965 version of Genghis Khan, with Omar Sharif in the title role and James Mason as one of his co-stars. Torquil explained that the Earth’s entire digital media output had been stored on the ship’s computer. Having watched hundreds of films, he had concluded that Genghis Khan was the top-ranking human because of the number of followers he commanded and the number of wives who shared his bed. Hence he had adopted the appearance of the merciless Mongol, or so he thought.

I decided to put him straight on a few important matters.

“Movies are not real life, Torkers,” I said. “All those people you see on the screen are really actors putting on a show for the viewers.”

“You surely jest!” exclaimed Torquil. “All those humans riding horses and swishing swords are just pretending!”

“Yes,” I replied. “We call it entertainment. Didn’t you have make-believe on Asda-3?”

“Our children used to play such games but they always grew out of them,” he answered.

“Well, we Earth creatures are pretty immature,” I explained. “If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you other films starring Omar Sharif.”

So we got the ship’s computer to play a few excerpts from Dr Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia, and the perplexed alien was forced to concede that a Mongol chieftain could not also be a Russian doctor and a Bedouin prince.

“But if this man Sharif is an actor, who is truly the highest-ranking human on Earth?” asked Torquil.

I thought hard about this one. Clearly, I had to steer Torquil away from wrong kind of role model. Genghis Khan may have been great in his day, but the last thing the Earth needed was a horseback tyrant looting the shopping malls and pillaging the finishing schools, while kicking dust into the faces of innocent bystanders. I asked Torquil to hand me the touchpad interface for the ship’s computer, and with a bit of instruction managed to get the footage I wanted on the screen.

“Why are those men chasing after a ball?” he asked.

“It’s a sport called football, Torkers,” I replied. “Now look what happens after the ball goes into the net. The crowd are acclaiming the man who has scored as their leader. Can you hear them chanting his name, ‘Rooney’, ‘Rooney’? He is the highest-ranking human on Earth.”

“He does have many followers,” admitted Torquil. “But why are the other players trying to mate with him after he has scored? In Asda-3 such males were known as ‘left-handed-threads’. Most of them worked in fur-trimming boutiques for the females and were not highly regarded.”

“No, No, Torkers!” I cried, “that’s just a bit of friendly hugging. I assure you that Rooney likes girls as much as Genghis Khan did.”

“But do many females want to mate with him?” asked Torquil.

“Oodles of them, Torkers, oodles of them! I promise you they’re practically queuing up to spread their legs for him.”

“I find that surprising,” said Torquil. “This man Rooney has a face like the snub-nosed water weasel of Argos-11.”

“They don’t look at his face, Torkers, they just smell the cash on his body. I’ll show you all the newspaper articles about his shagging activities. They should be on your database.”

So we used the computer to trawl for tabloid headlines such as I dropped my knickers for Wayne, Twins take turns with Rooney in V.I.P. bog and Rooney made my Mum meow like a cat. I could see that these stories were having a powerful effect on Torquil. After we had read about seven of them his mind was made up: he would fly to Manchester in his screw and take on the bodily form of its most famous English footballer.

At daybreak, Torquil insisted on taking me to the place I would have reached had I continued my night-trek without interruption. We materialised together on the desert sand and before we made our farewells an obvious point occurred to me.

“How are you going to deal with the problem of having two Roonies?” I asked. “People tend to smell a rat when that sort of thing happens on Earth.”

“I will beam the real Rooney somewhere else before taking his place,” said Torquil. “There is a stud farm on Onus-5 looking for an apprentice shaft-handler to relieve the Viagran Bulls.”

I nodded in approval. “I’ve always believed in giving young humans the chance to learn a new trade,” I remarked. “What about playing football yourself, Torkers? Will you be able to reproduce the Rooney magic on the field of play?”

Torquil gave me a smug Asdarian smile. “I’ll do everything that he did and few other tricks the fans have never seen,” he boasted.

So we shook hands and wished each other well in our future endeavours. I watched Torquil disappear back into the screw, which twisted away into the pale morning sky. I don’t know exactly when he’ll step into Wayne’s boots, but I’m sure he’ll be true to his word about surpassing him as a player. So if you see Rooney perform any unheard-of feats on the football pitch, like getting the ball to ricochet into the net off the referee’s nose, you’ll know that the Premier League has witnessed its first alien footballer.

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