The Space Drop Cafe - Tomato Juice
The birds were singing that morning had broken as Saint Nicholas trudged along the asphalt road S-bending through the forest. It was just after first light, with the sky still grey; but the sun was innocent of breaking the morning. The sun had only just risen out of his black, celestial bed and was in need of a bracing drink before clocking on for work and arcing above the woods for the umpteenth time. It was such a dumb and boring job, with no damn holidays and lousy pay – his reward was God not turning him into a dwarf star.
Saint Nicholas, too, needed a wake-me-up brew. But a skinny flat white coffee was in short supply on the road through the woods. Even if it wasn't, he wasn't getting one where he was going. For a bright beam of light suddenly stabbed down from the heavens, engulfed him and snatched him away.
The sun couldn't rightly be blamed for that, either. He was still in the astral kitchen sipping a thermo-nuclear kick-start, occasionally belching a solar wind – much to the disgust of the moon. Of course, on the verge of retiring to bed after a hard day's night, she had witnessed the heinous saint-napping of the blessed one. She would have blamed the sun if she could've gotten away with it, for neither of them had any great love for the other. Both wanted to be the only light in the sky, for both thought they were special – much like those they shone down upon.
No, it wasn't the sun that had plucked up Saint Nicholas. It was the E.T. mother ship. With the E.T. signifying either Extra Terrestrial or Extraordinarily Terrific, depending upon your view of what should happen to saints in a blithely sinning world. But the saint-napping could have been interpreted in two distinct way. It might have been a case of, 'Beam me up Mr or Mrs Alien' as reverse psychology so that they wouldn't or as a dreadful case of mistaken identity. Events showed that it was the latter.
For Saint Nicholas was most certainly not the President of the United States, even though many might have preferred his blundering around to that of the bumbling of a recent George in the Oval Office. But not all the tea in China would have persuaded Saint Nicholas to accept the job. No matter if the American people had fallen to their knees and desperately begged him to. He loathed tea! Nor was he the President of the People's Republic of China, and not all the capitalists in the United States would have been able to bribe him into taking the position.
He didn't loathe capitalists, for lists of capitals were ordinarily harmless enough. It was just that he wouldn't have known one if he'd had the misfortune of riding over a big stack of lists on his motorcycle – and that might damage his beloved machine. Not that there really was a danger of such a calamity, for the world bears witness that capitalists seldom leave their high security prison homes on the right side of the tracks. And Saint Nicholas was definitely from out of left field. Neither was he the head of state of Britain, France, India, Japan or Russia. None of these had advertised for a sainted one, and Saint Nicholas had the good sense not to go where he wasn't wanted.
Nor did he want to go to the mother ship maintaining stationary orbit above earth. But he had no choice in the matter. Not that there was anything wrong with the space ship as such. It wasn't just any old crate! In fact it was a state of the art, fully sealed and pressurized fruit crate – a mammoth one!
If Noah had thought to build one instead of your run-of-the-mill ark, the whole course of evolution and natural selection would have been altered. Yet it never occurred to Charles Darwin to make allowances for that possibility. Nor had any university post-graduate student ever proposed it as a PhD thesis topic. Which reflects badly on the state of higher education. Nor had this possible state of affairs ever been examined by the US military intelligence – an obvious oxymoron. Naturally, the CIA had never thought to check it out either, being obsessed with sticking its bib into the domestic affairs of other countries, ensuring egg on its face. Consequently, it fell upon Saint Nicholas to be the one to save the world. Or more specifically, humanity!
Thus the saint found himself beamed up to the alien ship. Possibly a hostile one! For he was seized in the teleport cold room by two enormous dill pickles. They were grim and stone-faced, their beady eyes full of hate. They escorted him down a long passageway lined with tall, stern and heavily armed asparagus spears. Yet Saint Nicholas never so much as blinked at their appearance.
He had long ago learnt not to just read the title on a book or the blurb on the back to form an opinion as to the text's worth. He always read the content before formulating any judgment, and the title and blurb had no bearing on that. Similarly, he never thanked someone for the gift wrapping around a present; but gave thanks for the content of the gift itself. Of course, that was never the object within the wrapping but was the thought behind the actual giving of it. Thus neither the form nor the grim and threatening appearance of those who greeted him perturbed him at all.
Nor did he register any judgment as to worth when he was marched into the huge control room of the mother ship fruit crate. It was teeming with aliens looking like all sorts of vegetables and fruit. It was very much like being frog-marched into an enormous green grocers market, except that here the produce was walking and talking – mostly in alien babble. But like an auctioneer at a fresh produce market, the control room was dominated by a humongous cauliflower – the Chief Executing Officer on the bridge.
Upon him had been bestowed the galactic rank of It Must Be Obeyed, with no correspondence entered into. And he was appointed CEO by virtue of being deemed the most knowledgeable of all fruit and vegetables. Unlike a common garden cauliflower on Earth, the Chief Executing Officer had eight arms, like that of a giant squid. And whenever It went ballroom dancing, It was well equipped for mass groping during the barn dance, as many a sweet pea and sweet potato could attest. Not that the passion fruits ever complained.
"We have come," the cauliflower growled in a threatening voice, "to conquer the world!" It waited for its cheering comrades to quieten down. "We are the scout of a huge fleet on which there are a host of mighty plant carnivores. They are armed with chlorophyll death rays to destroy, barbecue and eat all of humankind."
A gasp of fear went around the control room – all the aliens there were terrified of their secret weapon plants – what if they ran berserk and amuck? The lurking terror always was that these might change into herbivores and turn on them, devouring them all as one big salad before they were let loose on humans – alleged plant eaters.
"Why," demanded the Chief Executing Officer, glaring at the saint, "do you hate vegetables and fruit?"
"My dear chap," Saint Nicholas said in a soothing voice. The galactic executioner had nailed his death flag onto the mast, and the fate of humanity rested on the saint's holy shoulders. "I'm a vegetarian!" Which was the truth, for his mother had taught him as a young boy that telling the truth would always win out. "A committed vegetarian!"
"What does that mean?" demanded It Must Be Obeyed – a much sought after title to be proud of and flaunted.
"It means," replied the saint with a winning smile, "that I love all vegetables and fruit."
A murmur of surprise, tinged with approval, swept around the control room.
Just then she with the title, The Wisest of Them All rolled onto the bridge in the control room.
"May the chlorophyll be with you," Granny Smith Apple said courteously to the CEO. She swayed on her spindly stalks of legs. Her wise old eyes stared at their saint-napped guest. "And may the chlorophyll be with you," she added. "If you're not from the blighted dark side. Are you?"
Saint Nicholas shook his head, not understanding. But his invisible guardian angel whispered into his ear.
"I follow the Light!" he said stoutly, showing the higher wisdom of angels. Naturally, he was referring to spiritual light. "Sunlight, moonlight, starlight – I walk in their light," he added, covering all bases.
"Ah, he is enlightened," Granny Smith murmured to the CEO. "We also live in the light," she added, referring to the biological necessity.
"We?" queried the saint.
"Yes,' replied The Wisest of Them All. "The intergalactic confederation of fruits, vegetables and all other plants - except killer tomatoes."
"Killer tomatoes?" said Saint Nicholas, aghast that such a dark menace stalked the universe.
"Renegades!" snapped It Must Be Obeyed. "We stamp them out wherever we find them. They can't hide from me!" it added, to illustrate it was the most knowledgeable of them all. "And when I root them out – stomp!"
The listening crew members except for sweet Granny Smith lurched back – the Chief Executioner was renowned for getting a little carried away when stomping.
Saint Nicholas licked his lips.
"No need to be afraid as yet," said Granny Smith Apple.
"Actually, your graciousness," replied the saint, "I'm a little thirsty."
The CEO glanced at a spring onion mouldering near by. "Fetch him some tomato juice!" he commanded. "A big glass of it!" It shouted after the onion springing away.
"I don't suppose," murmured Saint Nicholas, "you have coffee?"
"Coffee?" growled the Chief Executing Officer. "Did you say coffee?" It peered suspiciously at the saint. "What do you know of the sacred coffee?"
"I love it!" Saint Nicholas said enthusiastically. "I adore it!"
There was a general murmur of approval by all the listening fruits and vegetables.
"We, too, adore coffee," said Granny Smith Apple. "It is the love-child of Big V."
"Big V?" your graciousness, asked the saint.
"We speak not the name!" growled the cauliflower with attitude.
"I refer," said The Wisest of Them All, "to Big Vegetable. She smiled at the most knowledgeable of them all. "We must speak the name so that he will understand. For clearly, he and humanity are not enemy to us, and he might be of help to find the planet where the renegade tomatoes are hiding."
The most knowledgeable of them all nodded its agreement, showing that wisdom and knowledge were not the same, and that the knowledge must bow to wisdom. That was why Granny Smith Apple had been conferred the power of veto the by the Galactic Council of Fruits, Vegetables and Other Plants. For wisdom meant understanding knowledge and judiciously applying it to suit the context of any and all situations. Which was not something the Chief Executing Officer was very good at. And although the great cauliflower Must Be Obeyed, this did not pertain when wisdom dictated otherwise.
"You are you the leader of Earth, are you not?" queried the most knowledgeable one of them all.
The CEO thought it wise to double check, for the enlightened one did not seem to be a politician. And the humongous cauliflower had experienced first hand the wrangling and conniving that was rampant in the Galactic Council – there, various groupings schemed and contended for the power to decide and command. That was why the celestial fruit crate was effectively under joint leadership. Whereas It Must Be Obeyed was the Chief Executing Officer by virtue of knowledge, Granny Smith Apple was the navigator with the power of veto over where, when and what by virtue of wisdom. And like the sun and the moon, each thought it best if they were the only light on the bridge of the fruit crate.
"For if you are not the one who commands," continued the CEO, "can you take me to your leader?"
The saint thankfully shook his head that he commanded nothing but his black Moto Guzzi motorcycle, and even that at times seemed to have a mind of its own. Probably because it was an Italian spaghetti western, and not a rice burner made by those of the eastern rice persuasion.
"There is no need to take you to my leader," answered Saint Nicholas. "He is already here."
All in the control room looked quickly about but saw no alien. To all of them, it meant that the leader of humanity was invisible – a possibly parlous state of affairs.
"Come out!" commanded It Must Be Obeyed. "Show yourself. I wish to confer with you about an alliance against the killer tomatoes."
Saint Nicholas breathed a sigh of relief. An alliance meant that humanity was off the menu for the carnivores armed with chlorophyll death rays. He was unaware that such chlorophyll was harmless to humans and that the mighty carnivores would have been easily felled by a whiff of herbicide. Or eaten by a hungry cow. And any rampaging alien fruits and vegetables would have been fine fare for any human not prevented by religious conviction from eating genetically modified plants.
"Where is your leader?" Granny Smith Apple asked the saint.
"Big G is everywhere!" he replied. "He is my all-knowing Leader."
"All-knowing?" growled the most knowledgeable of all fruit and vegetables, who didn't like the sound of it.
"Big G?" queried Granny, The Wisest of Them All.
"He's like your Big V," answered Saint Nicholas. "Only different - but the same."
"You're confused or insane!" growled the CEO, demonstrating his insight. "The same cannot be different."
"Don't be too hasty to jump to conclusions or decisions!" counseled The Wisest of Them All. "Remember what happened to the seedlings!"
A sad murmur swept among those in the control room. All remembered the treachery of the killer tomatoes who had asked to be placed in charge of the plant nurseries – only to devour the seedlings with gusto, and then flee in a fleet of red tomato boxes.
That was not why tears began rolling down the saint's cheeks. It was a reaction to spring onion standing too close when handing him a glass of tomato juice, in what so easily could have been The Space Drop Café.
"He weeps for our seedlings," the great cauliflower whispered in awe to Granny Smith Apple. "The enlightened one shows infinite compassion."
Granny Smith Apple nodded wisely, and addressed Saint Nicholas once more: "How is your leader Big G like our Big V, only different but the same? Whatever do you mean?"
"Big G is like your Big V," began the saint, his head cocked to better listen to the angel whispering in his ear, "in that they both encompass all. And therefore each other. So they must be one and the same. Everything cannot be divided into separate parts with unlike aspects and still remain the same." He hoped he was repeating correctly everything the angel was whispering. "Our leaders Big V and Big G are only different because that is what we separately call the Divine One – the Creator of all that is. In that way they are different even though we refer to the same Entity. The letters of the alphabet, V or G, does not matter. God is God, no matter what we call Him. And such is truth!"
"Ah," murmured the great cauliflower, the most knowledgeable of them all. "I understand. You are not insane, after all."
"Thank heaven for that!" said a relieved Saint Nicholas, for at times he wondered about his mental state.
"But what," began the CEO, wanting to add to its cold store of knowledge, "is truth?"
"Truth," blurted the saint, not waiting for his guardian angel to provide the answer, "is God. God is truth – it is the one and the same, exactly like the Big V and Big G thingy." He paused to listen to his guardian angel, then continued. "God is the substance of all that is. Beyond perception and even beyond belief. God is! He is the sum of all parts, and it is He who defines the parts. The facets do not define Him. He is the universe of universes – the interconnected web of all life. He is everywhere and everywhen."
"But how can you know truth?" asked The Wisest of Them All.
"By knowing God!"
"How?" asked the most knowledgeable of them all.
"By living in the Light!" answered the saint.
"I don't understand," said the CEO, revealing that knowledge and wisdom are not the same. "I don't understand it at all."
Granny Smith Apple smiled at the enormous cauliflower. "I'll explain it to you later. And that's why I navigate the ship!" She turned to Saint Nicholas. "We have no need to speak to any others of your species. We will not invade Earth. Instead, we will continue the hunt for the killer tomatoes. Would you know where they might be hiding?"
The saint shook his head, then had a sudden idea. "You might try Mars – it's the red planet."
"Of course!" cried the big cauliflower. "Why didn't I think of that!" It nodded gratefully at the enlightened one. "You will now be beamed down to exactly when and where you were transported from."
"Exactly to the same time?" queried the saint.
"Of course!" replied the most knowledgeable one of all. "Time is but a shift in the state of mind. And we will return you to exactly when you were picked up by the transport beam – you will not have lost even one second through helping us."
"We will remember you," Granny Smith Apple said in farewell. "For you are worth remembering. "You are the wisest of us all. May the chlorophyll be with you!"
And Saint Nicholas stood once more on the road snaking through the woods. He had not only saved humanity. He had also saved the carnivore plants with chlorophyll death rays and all of the alien genetically modified plants on the intergalactic fruit crate. By preventing the invasion of earth, the saint had saved them from themselves! Thus he was thrice blessed, for he was a peace maker.
Tales from the Divine Drop Cafes