100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 24: Outside the Zone
By Tonette dela Luna
[The following is another story submitted earlier in our first flash humor contest. The next contest topic will be announced in two hours. You’ll then have three hours to blast out a story of 500 words or less.]
Picture it. Sicily, 1977. Wait, no. More like Hamilton, Ontario, circa 1983 or 1984? I dunno but whenever I have a flashback, Sophia from ‘The Golden Girls’ pops into my head. Her voice, not the entire person. I know she was a wee thing, but I digress. Let’s see. I’m six. On a stage at Filipino comedy concert, or something. I think they asked for kid volunteers to come on stage. Really don’t remember. I think I’ve been blocking out the memory. Here’s the thing. You grow up in a multilingual household, you’re bound to learn a few things, especially, if your grandmother refuses to speak English to ‘make you learn faster’. The parental units offered a smattering of Tagalog–the main Filipino dialect–to English translations. They say you learn languages quickly, as a child. I remember being fluent in Tagalog after a month in the Philippines when I was eight. But that was two years after this incident. No such luck on this scar-inducing night.
So, a Filipino celebrity marches back and forth like she’s Captain von Trapp, holding a microphone to each of us saps standing in formation. I’m trying to pay attention but, man, are those spotlights blinding. I didn’t know that everyone looked like black blobs from up here. I stare down at my shoes. The girl next to me has similar ones but hers are nicer. Mine had those thin straps that took forever to get through the little gold-plated buckles. Hers had flowers. The boy on my other side had ugly shoes.
Next thing I know, there’s a heavy arm draped around my shoulders. Whoa. Stranger danger. I’m inching away from this highly sequenced talking ball gown. I swear her make-up looked freakish, though I could be mixing this horrid memory up with the clown from Stephen King’s It. Not the point. Scary town. She’s talking to me in English and it occurs to my six-year-old self that I could have paid attention to the Q&A rapid-fire rather than examining neighboring footwear.
She asks me my name and I give it. Why, I don’t know. I didn’t ask hers. It’s on the programme. She asks me if I can speak Tagalog. I say that I can speak a little. She says, say something. Say something in Tagalog. So, I go into my treasure trove of worldly knowledge and come up with the one sentence I believe I can say without hesitation. “Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.” Roughly translated, good morning to you all. I was pretty proud of myself. I think I even had the accent down. What’s her response? Remember–as I try not to–this is a comedy concert. She tells me off in Tagalog, asking me why I said good morning when it was nighttime. Lucky for her, the audience roared. Unlucky for me, I understood more than I could speak and received my first multicultural humiliation, spotlight, and all.
Tonnette dela Luna lives in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada. She entered this story in our first flash humor contest on stepping outside one’s comfort zone.
We’ve got three more of these contests coming up during the 100 Hours of Humo(u)r and they’re open to anyone who wants to enter!
If you’d like to learn more about the art and science of humor writing, Dave Fox’s fun and informative online course is on sale at a big discount for the duration of this “100 Hours of humo(u)r” online party. Find out more here!