Waiter, there's a fly in my soup!
The waiter glanced lugubriously at my soup bowl, Yes sir, he said. That's Alfred.
Alfred? I was puzzled. Why would a fly have a name?
Yes sir, explained the waiter. Alfred is the restaurant fly. Every restaurant in New Zealand is obliged by law to employ a fly. You must have seen restaurant flies before.
Well yes, I said. I have noticed that I do seem to come across a fly every single time I eat in a restaurant. But I was not aware that the employment of these flies was a legal obligation. When was the law passed? I don't recall any discussion of it in the newspapers.
Oh it's not a new law, sir. It's been on the statute books for more than 150 years. It was one of the very first laws passed by the New Zealand Parliament after the Treaty Of Waitangi was signed.
So Alfred the Fly is an employee of the restaurant? I asked, trying to get my head around the idea.
Indeed he is, said the waiter. And his duties are quite onerous. He actually earns a larger salary than I do.
But I don't suppose he gets as many tips as you do, I said. Surely that cancels the larger salary out?
Well, said the waiter, in most countries of the world it would. But since nobody in New Zealand ever leaves a tip, the point is moot.
So what are Alfred's duties? I was intrigued.
Mainly he has to take a swim in every glass of wine. That's quite exhausting when you are as small as Alfred. We've been trying to persuade him to conserve his energy and use the breast stroke. After all, he's not as young as he used to be. But he insists that breast stroking is for wimps. Real flies use the Australian Crawl. By the end of the evening he's often quite tuckered out.. Sometimes he barely has enough strength left to shit in the salads. That's his other major job and I think it's his favourite.
I watched Alfred doing the Australian crawl up and down my soup bowl. So presumably it isn't only the wine that he swims in?
Oh no sir any and all liquids are available to him, though wine is to be preferred because it is the most expensive of our liquid refreshments. However he has complete discretionary access. I think his choice of liquid depends on his mood. Possibly he was feeling chilled after his last marathon effort in a glass of Chardonnay. Your soup represents a perfect opportunity to warm himself up.
Alfred swam lazily to the side of my soup bowl and hauled himself up onto the rim. He brushed himself down with each and every leg, one by one, and shook little drops of soup off himself back into my bowl. Then, after a brief rest, he launched himself into the air heading determinedly for the other side of the restaurant.
Ah, said the waiter, I see that one of my colleagues has just served a salad to the diners on table number ten. Alfred must heed the call of duty. He's very conscientious. He seldom takes a rest. But don't worry, sir. I'm sure he will eventually make his way back to you. Would you care for another glass of wine?
No thank you, I said. Not just at the moment. I put my soup spoon down. Perhaps you could clear my soup away, I said. I feel that I've had enough.
Was everything to your taste, sir? enquired the waiter.
Indeed it was, I replied. But I'd like to leave room for the next course. However I have a question for you.
Outside in the street it is the middle of winter. Why isn't Alfred hibernating, or whatever it is that flies do in the winter? Generally speaking they are seldom if ever seen at this time of the year.
Alfred doesn't know that it is winter, said the waiter. We have a lovely temperature controlled tropical rain forest in an alcove just off the kitchen and that's where Alfred lives. He seldom goes outside and so the changes of season remain unknown to him. Please don't inform him that it is winter. We wouldn't want to lose him, he's a valuable and popular employee.
Perish the thought, I said.
Thank you sir, said the waiter. By the way, I notice that you are reading an ebook while you enjoy your meal,
That's right, I said. I find ebook readers to be very convenient gadgets. And the touch screen is a joy and a delight to use.
Hmmm, said the waiter. I feel I should let you know that Alfred recently got a substantial pay rise because a new task has been added to his job description.
Oh yes? I said. What's that?
He is required to walk left and right across the screen of every customer's ebook reader, thus causing the pages to turn in rapid succession and making the customer lose his place in the book he is reading.
I would imagine that would be very annoying, I said.
Indeed it is, said the waiter, and Alfred is particularly proud of his skills in that area.
I think I'd like to order a salad, I said, and a glass of wine. Perhaps Alfred might find them distracting enough to allow me to finish my chapter.
Certainly sir, said the waiter. I'll fetch them immediately.