The phone rings. It is in a largely empty office. Downsising is now an art form. Insurance is, after all, very expensive. Eventually, the phone is answered. ‘Hopalong Insurance Company’ says a high-pitched female voice. Before she could say anything else, the caller asks ‘Is that you, Tripalong?’
‘Pardon?’ queries the female. ‘Never mind’ says the caller. ‘I want to speak to Mr. Ali.’ ‘We do not have a Mr. Ali here’ says the female. ‘Has he left the company?’ asks the caller. ‘We have never had a Mr. Ali . But, my boss is named Ellie.’ Before the caller can respond, female voice no. 1 is replaced by a deeper female voice. ‘Ellie speaking’ she says, with an inviting voice.
‘I don’t want to speak with you, Ellie. I want Mr. Ali. He wrote to me about my policies’ says the caller. He sounds quite testy. ‘I wrote to you. I am Ellie.’ Female voice no. 2 sounds testy too. ‘If your name is Ellie, why do you sign your name as Ali?’ ‘That is my name.’ She feels quite cross. Her voice has risen an octave. It is almost squeaky with indignation.
An angry voice at the other end of the phone shouts. ’Why do you, a woman, use a good Muslim man’s name? Have you no shame? You insult the Prophet!’ At that point Ellie becomes mindful of the company’s future. An image of a fire-bomb fills her mind. She calms down a little. She now says ‘Could I have your name please?’ ‘No!’ roars the caller. ‘I want Ali. He will be more sensible.’ ‘Please, mister, there is no Ali here.’ Since the caller obviously doesn’t believe her, she continues. ‘I am in charge of the policy renewal section. I wrote to all our customers last week. How can I help you?’
‘Listen dumdum Ellie, …’ Before he could say further, Ellie shouts. ‘Don’t you dumdum me, you Islamist hoon. Give me your name. I will delete it from our files.’ At that, the caller remembers reality. The reality of cash. ‘Wait, wait! Your company offered me a 20% discount if I placed all my insurance with you. You know, house, contents, my life, car, boat.’
Even in the hot darkness of her mind, Ellie (written as Ali) realises what her boss will be saying to her were this customer to take his business elsewhere. The cold light of reality dampens her anger. She speaks sweetly. ‘Could we meet in the coffee shop downstairs to discuss your policies please?’ The caller is now confused. He thinks: ‘I want that discount. What do I care if she is Ellie or Ali?’ ‘O.K.’ he says. He gives her his name and other identification. They agree, with shared anger under control, on a date and a time for the policy renewal- with- coffee.
On the day, they approach each other warily. When their eyes meet, that well-known spark lights the darkness of wariness in both of them. The light of mutual attraction casts aside all preconceptions. They sign the renewal policies amicably. They arrange to meet for another coffee, very, very soon. The hoon and the dumdum seem quite compatible. Hopalong Insurance continues to operate successfully.
Some time into their marriage, she asks about Tripalong. Who was she? He explains. She was the wife of a film actor. He rode long distances on his horse, singing away merrily. His name was Hopalong Cassidy. Because she always accompanied him on his travels, his wife was referred to as Tripalong. Thus, ‘Islamic hoon’ and ‘dumdum Ellie’ (written as Ali) tripped along the path of life happily, but without any horses.