Once upon a time, like today, April 1 was a Sunday. The only difference was that Easter holidays had already begun.
It was one of those rare occasions where cousins from both sides of the family had met at our Buġibba flat which – and this is important for the dénouement of the story – had a balcony that went all around it, thus facing over three streets, with a door at each face.
Now this balcony was built in a precarious, weird manner. A row of stones, with pillars at intervals, joining two steel tubes running horizontally (health and safety, anyone?) and a sill made of pre-cast concrete.
My sister had a habit of sitting in one of the corners; a very dangerous practice that had passers-by yelling at her to get off because “she was going to fall”. One of these Nosey Parkers, whom we did not even know from Adam’s off ox, was particularly vociferous, insisting that unless she obeyed, my sister would be “taken to prison” because she was going to “report her”.
And this, I swear, is what made me do it.
I conveyed The Idea to my sister and my cousins, and most of them were game. Those who would have nothing to do with it went inside and pretended to be engrossed in their books. I have always been known for my banshee shriek, and when the street was relatively quiet, I let rip.
Of course, the adults inside the house assumed the worst, and since my sister was crouching at the very edge of the balcony, that is, round the corner where they would not see her since they logically came out through the nearer two doorways.
It worked – even more than I had imagined. The confusion that ensued was such that the cousins who were in on the joke but had not seen my sister go away to hide actually thought she had been injured. So when she suddenly appeared, laughing, we both got the telling-off of our lives.
Today I am older, but not necessarily wiser; yet I realise that this was not a nice joke to play at all –m and that, for that matter, it was not a joke at all.
Then there was a time when at school, one particular girl (who could do no wrong) went up to class during mid-day break and spilled sugar on the floor, wet the chalk, and moved the desks around.
Without even asking who had done it, the teacher whose lesson it was right after recess singled me out and yelled at me. Since I was at the end of the line I did not even know what she was talking about. When I produced at least four witnesses that I had been in the yard all along – and the culprit admitted that she was to blame – all she got was a “thank you for owning up, please do not do it again”.
And this goes to show that sometime, it is not the joke itself that matters – but who plays it, and on whom.
I grew up – and got a job, and one April 1 – a weekday this time – I was beavering away at some files when suddenly, a senior office came to me with a legal notice covered in undecipherable edits, saying that “The Minister” wanted it within the hour, and left the room.
The Minister in whose portfolio the department where I worked then happened to be, was a very-laid back person. And since I did not work in a Ministry, there was no way he would have asked my colleagues (who, by some coincidence, were all out of the office at that moment) or myself to do the job – especially since scrawled across the trop, in red marker, were the words “Top Secret”.
At the time, there were only electric (not even electronic) typewriters, and definitely no computers, so a mistake would take time to rectify
So, playing it by ear, I continued with my usual work, and waited until my colleagues came in, one by one. Each of them glanced at me, my typewriter, and my In tray – where the said document was in full view. And that gave the game away, and merely confirmed either how untrustworthy they were, for wanting to paly such a mean trick on the office Junior, or how much they toadies up to superiors so that, as was the general idea in those times “they would not get a transfer”.
There are people who still enjoy going around with bandaged heads and fake blood; those who pretend to fall off chairs; and those who seek to collect an audience by pretending to argue in the middle of the street and then bending over double with laughter.
It’s a given that there are many who, today, will think their cars have been stolen, just because someone who has access to the keys will pull a prank on them and drive the vehicles to another street (and hopefully finds a parking space).
I hate to rain on anyone’s parade – after all, I have been guilty of concocting a joke or two in my time – but I honestly do not see the point of making someone the butt of a joke. If this person happens to believe that revenge is a dish best served cold – well, then, you never know when he will return the favour.
I don’t even smile when newsrooms of different media try to impress us with their ‘breaking news’ item, as I sip my glass of My CreativiTea.
Of course, some news items of these days – that some scientists want to create a society where no “problem” gifted children are born (and will therefore ‘fix their brains’ during the gestation period), or where prospective employers would want your passwords to all your social sites and e-mail accounts – go way beyond a joke, because they are actually true.
I don’t think jokes such as swapping the caffeinated and decaffeinated coffees in the office canteen and using a remote control to change the channels of other people’s television sets (and, if you are lucky, the ones in clinic waiting rooms) are funny to anyone but the perpetrators.
Over the years, April 1 has lost its appeal for me, perhaps because I have better opportunities as to where I may allow my imagination to roam.