Penchant for pretence

Penchant for pretence


Penchant for pretence

My neighbour, B, is a person who is quite concerned about my well-being and safety. She came in one day and, in a tone edged with anxiety, told me, “Do you know, your neighbourhood banker may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing? He could be a cheat, a rapist or what have you. He could well be ‘The Great Pretender’ and the law may or may not catch up with him.”

“You may be right,” I said feigning interest. “But how do we make sure?”
My manner must have betrayed me, for her face fell.

“I know you are not interested,” she raged. “You are pretending to take me seriously, when in fact you don’t care a damn for what I am telling you.”

Fortunately, what could have developed into a full-fledged spat was mercifully cut short by the ping of her doorbell. It was Mrs Gossip whom B heartily disliked. But with no loss of time, she put on a mask of friendliness and ushered her into her home with little cries of welcome.

‘The Small Pretender’, I smiled to myself as I shut the door thankfully. But moments later, the ugly truth struck me. Did I not have a penchant for pretence? Of course I do, and so do millions of others; in fact, every one of us. There is no use pretending otherwise, for pretence has its uses. Go back to your schooldays and the Tom Sawyer tricks you were up to. If a test that you had not prepared for loomed large, you thanked the good Lord for small discomforts like a headache or a stomachache and, lo, to all intents and purposes, promptly developed one. In most cases it worked, because your parents had hearts that beat for you all the time. Another trick of those halcyon days was the truant memory that you possessed. It could be the homework you forgot or the workbook you failed to bring. But the ploy did not always work. One teacher at least was never ever presented with this excuse and here is why. Anyone who dared to trot out this reason was subjected to a short but potent inquisition.

“You forgot it, is it?” she would say in honeyed tones. A short pause and then, “Did you forget to bring your lunch?”

Hardly anyone made that mistake and on hearing that it had indeed accompanied you, she would say in still gentler tones, “Well, you can hand it over to me and forget about that too.” That was the end of lunch that day, and the end of the trick forever.

Adulthood does not bring this useful habit to a halt. You continue to invent and trot up many an excuse whenever the situation warrants. But beware, for while you don’t need to keep count of the occasions, it is important to keep an account of them. There is the sad tale of a man who requested his boss to grant him leave as his mother had expired.

“But,” countered the boss, “didn’t you tell me the same story three months ago?” Quick as a wink, the man answered, “Oh, that was another mother!” “Be prepared”, as the Scouts say, for your pretence can well be torn into shreds, leaving you completely exposed. It happened to my uncle and though the good soul has left this earth, his exploit continues to evoke mirth. He was by nature a timid person, but put on a fiercely unassailable front. When he went to bed, he placed a stout stick and a torch beside him, the better, he claimed, to deal with thieves.

At dead of night, deftly disguised, his brother accosted him. The poor man promptly dove under his sheets, emerging only at the peep of dawn. However, he began a spiel on how he confronted a thief and how, in spite of his best efforts, the brute ran away with his stick and torch. His brother allowed him to finish his embellished tale and then with great glee produced the said articles along with the true story.

With the passage of time, we have honed pretence into such a fine art that “the world is a stage and we, merely actors in it”. Not only can “we smile and smile and be villains”, but, what is more, make millions.