Smith has joined a group of disciples gathered around the mysterious Mister (a Camden Town guru), and although striving to his utmost fulfilling the demands of the discipline feels he has not done too well.
Smith turns up in time for his final assessment by the Mister, he is extremely nervous and knows he is sure to fail this test, but he has come too far to retreat now and enters the ante-room where the other disciples are sitting around drinking tea.
‘Go on in, lad,’ says the Chief disciple sternly, pointing to an inner door, and ominously: ‘He’s waiting for you.’
Smith knocks on the door with the official code: One knock, then three, then two, and hears the harsh voice of the Mister from within.
Smith shudders with fear as the terrible voice cuts through him like a sharp knife. He enters the room and sees a small table behind which is seated the ruthless man himself.
‘Sit down, and be quick about it,’ says the Mister, giving him the full benefit of his fearful eyes.
Smith sits on a chair and looks at the table on which are placed a number of commonplace objects.
‘Now tell me,’ says the Mister, pointing at Smith’s umbrella. ‘What is that?’
Smith looks down at his … what?
The day before yesterday he had been told it was a teapot, and the day before that — he cannot remember. He has spent months in his classes with the disciples re-learning the names of different objects, and each day the names had been changing, and though he had struggled hard with the exercises the process has led him into his present state of extreme confusion.
‘Well come on then,’ shouts the Mister angrily. ‘What is it?’
‘I… er … it’s … er … a …’ But it is useless, he has called it by so many names now that he cannot for the life of him remember.
‘All right then,’ continues the Mister. ‘What did you used to call it?’
But Smith has forgotten this too. ‘You don’t know do you?’ says the Mister scathingly, and Smith can do no more than hang his head. ‘No,’ he admits, a sense of shame and failure overcoming him.
The Mister points to a salt-cellar on the table. ‘What is that?’ he demands.
Smith looks to where he points and struggles to identify it. ‘Is it a frying-pan?’ he wonders, ‘or a dustbin?’ It was a dustbin all last week, and he had become quite used to saying ‘Pass the dustbin,’ when in the canteen. Unfortunately no sooner had he felt at ease with this than he had to call it a frying-pan, and then a day later it was a football.
Now the names are spinning around in his head and he cannot be sure of any of them.
‘It’s a … a … a …,’ but he doesn’t know, and the Mister is pressing him.
‘What did you call it before? Come on, what is its original name?’ The harsh voice is giving him no time to think and Smith has given up. He had known he would fail this test and has already accepted his fate: He will be thrown out on his ear for sure.
He shrugs helplessly and … ‘I don’t know,’ he admits. ‘I just don’t know.’
The Mister snorts contemptuously. ‘All right. Get out, get out.’ He waves his hand dismissively and Smith gets out.
In the ante-room the disciples are still at their tea and although after his ordeal he would like a cup himself, Smith doesn’t dare to ask. Presently, the man who had given him his first interview comes out of the inner-room, and going over to the Chief disciple whispers something to him.
‘This is it,’ thinks Smith. ‘Out on my ear.’ But the Chief disciple now takes him by the arm and turning, addresses the assembled disciples.
‘I want you to give a welcome to our new initiate,’ he says, and to Smith’s amazement the disciples respond with friendly smiles, and with clapping hands give him a warm round of applause.
‘But, but,’ says Smith, now dreadfully confused. ‘But I failed,’ he stammers.
‘Failed?’ says the Chief disciple. ‘Nonsense, you passed with flying-colours.’
‘But I didn’t know the name of anything at all,’ he says, at which the disciples all fall about laughing, and even the Chief, not known for his humour, cannot suppress a hearty chuckle. He claps Smith on the back in a friendly manner.
‘Join the club lad,’ he says with a grin. ‘Join the club.’
Art Nick Victor