I always had the idea that relatives far away, abroad, can only be humans. However, there are exceptions.
One day in the little village in the Orava mountains, in the middle of Europe, where we have our family cottage, a penguin appeared. How can we even imagine an Antarctic flightless bird in one of the most remote corners of the center of the Europe?! In fact, he had been there for a while, but we only discovered him when our six-year-old daughter Veronica and I went down from our cottage on the hill to the hardware store. She discovered that penguin on the shelf over the checkout counter. Obviously, she wouldn‘t be attracted much by nails, paints, axes, or saws, but a penguin in an ironmongery is not an everyday sight. He had been standing there for a long time, and his black plush fur coat was covered with dust. Our Veronica was not bothered by that; she likes gifts on any occasion, even when shopping for nails. But I said no, firmly…
My resistance to the penguin lasted a week, which is quite an accomplishment. Finally, I could not listen Veronica´s noisy demands. So, we went to look at the penguin – just to have a look. Veronica was really enthusiastic. And even the owner of shop became enthusiastic. He realized that this was his once-in-a-lifetime chance.
That penguin (who was, thanks to batteries, able to walk strangely, move his wings, and make some strange penguin-like noises) had been acquired by the owner in a temporary loss of business-sense. Veronica and I must have looked like heralds from heaven.
„I´ll give you a discount.“
That seemed obvious with one look at the dust-covered penguin. But not necessarily a discount for us, since we had just come to have a look.
„Look as much as you want, take your time.“
So, we had enough time to look at the penguin: how he walked strangely, moved his wings, and made some strange penguin-like noises. I found nothing especially attractive in that. But Veronica and the shopkeeper were pretty excited. But that was not all.
„But that is not all,“ the owner said dramatically when the penguin finished his walking, moving and quacking parade. „This,“ said the owner mysteriously, taking the innocent penguin in his hands, „this is – male! And I also have a female!“ He took from somewhere in the storeroom a paper box and pulled out a penguin exactly like the one from shelf. He placed them next to each other.
„Penguin daddy – penguin mummy, for your pleasure!“
Veronica and I looked at each other with silent amazement – a penguin farm in the Orava mountains? Little plush penguin babies easily and quickly?! Before I would totally lose contact with reality, I sternly expressed my decision that this penguin wedding will take place only over my dead body. Little Veronica did not hesitate for long and firmly expressed her decision that if we did not buy at least one of those penguins, I could count on seeing her dead body as well. The owner had already been near death from that whole stressful business. All this face to face with two penguins who are endlessly able to show how they walk strangely, move their wings, and try to express themselves in their own, genuine electric language.
I consider as a big victory for rational thinking that we bought only the female penguin (the one not covered by dust). Please, do not try to remind me that we came just to have a look. The result was a clear compromise.
A month later we were with my dear wife Janina on holiday in the Egyptian tourist resort Hurghada. Originally a shabby fishing village, now turned into a tourist centre full of hotels, beaches, swimming-pools and shops within a few years. There were few shops in Hurghada, and only one pretended to be a „duty free“. We were attracted, went through and bought nothing. But we got good news for taking back home. Our female penguin has an uncle in Hurghada! He is staying there on a shelf covered by dust and is waiting until some local Veronica will come and will take him home together with a penguin aunt hidden somewhere in the storeroom…
From a book (see in E-book form here) by Gustáv Murín: Svet je malý/The World is Small – collection of travel stories in bilingual Slovak–English edition, SPN Publ., 2012.