The Prize


The time had come for me to go up to the stage area at the front of the Grand Auditorium to accept my prize. It was a momentous occasion, of that I was fully aware. In that mighty auditorium there must have been anywhere between four and five thousand people. It was pretty intimidating, I can tell you! That many people, each one of them a person of distinction, each one a person of great social standing, was by anyone’s standard a very sobering sight. This was a serious occasion and no mistake. In the distance, a brass band played. Trained monkeys scampered here and there, picking up empty coffee cups, crisp wrappers and bits of left-over sandwiches from the floor. Every now and again the sound of an elephant trumpeting rang out, shattering the calm. There was a buzzing of bees. And on each side of me as I walked to the front of the auditorium were row upon row of solemnly attired men and woman, gazing with the utmost gravity at me. Eventually – after almost tripping over the scampering monkeys not just once but several times – I mounted the steps of the stage and received from one of the assembled dignitaries there my prize, which came in a small, brightly-coloured box. I was to make a speech. It was expected. All eyes were upon me. Even the monkeys had stopped scampering and were watching me, baring their gums in nervous anticipation. I became acutely aware of the intense curiosity on their oddly human little faces – curiosity and something else, some emotion that I could not for the moment seem to identify. I could not wait around until I worked out what it was however because everyone was waiting upon me to make my speech. I ascended the podium and spoke into the microphone. “Thank you for this wonderful prize,” I intoned in my best Mandarin, “I am immensely honoured and gratified to be the recipient of such a magnificent gift. This has really made my day…” The crowd broke into sporadic, half-hearted applause, obviously uncertain as to whether I had finished my speech or not. I bowed low, taking my hat off and waving it around to indicate that I had no more to say, and then made by way down the steps and back to my place in the back row of the auditorium, consumed by the need to find out what was in the small box. A monkey ran up to my feet and winked its eye, as if to say “Go on, open it”, before climbing up a nearby curtain and disappearing out of sight amongst the rafters. Overcoming with an effort the strange hesitation that had come over me, with sweaty, clumsy fingers I undid the gaily coloured ribbon and took the lid off the box. It contained a pocket-sized universe, complete with its own miniature event-horizon. As I gazed into it the built-in magnifying glass brought a spiral galaxy into view, against a velvet back-drop of the utmost darkness. As the automatic viewfinder zoomed in still further I could make out a smallish blue-white star, around which a number of speck-like planets were in orbit. On one of these planets several large land-masses were visible. Cities could be seen on the dark side of the planet, made up of pinpricks of tiny lights, scattered here and there around the coastline of these continents. I intuitively realized at that point that I was on that planet, on one of those continental landmasses, in one of those cities. In the capital city of that continent in fact, in the Grand Auditorium, in the back row, staring fixedly into a little box. And at the same time I knew this, I also knew that none of this was real.


















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