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Rocky Keele

The Day the Missionary Danced

Elder Hatori was a prankster, as I found out the first morning after he arrived from mainland Spain. He had made the two hour flight from Sevilla to the island of La Palma, better known as La Isla Bonita, with the sole purpose, it seemed, of tormenting his new companion – me.

I had showered, and with towel in hand, was attempting to dry off in the humid island air. I was wondering how my new companion would work out. Would we get along? Was he a worker or a goof-off? Was he weird? All these questions went through my mind while recalling several companions who had been less than perfect.

Well, I'd find out over the next several days how this tall Japanese-Hawaian mixture of a missionary would turn out. It usually took several days of working and talking together to get a realistic feel for whether a new companion would be OK, or whether he would suck. He seemed nice enough.

That is, until he almost cut my toes off.

From the slot under the bathroom door, I heard a sound like steel on tile, and saw flashing blades slashing back and forth, narrowly missing my naked toes. I let out a “yeaaawah!” and jumped back - then heard laughter fill the hallway outside the bathroom door. Elder Hatori had drawn first blood – figuratively, of course. There were two decorative plaques, the shapes of shields, hanging in the hallway leading to the bedroom. Two miniature swords crossed each other over these shields. Until that point in time, the idea of pulling those silvered daggers from their mounts had never crossed my mind. The innovative Elder Hatori had immediately seen a better use for them, however.

That moment started the time of my best companionship and the time when I checked my back every five minutes.

Not wanting to be outdone by the junior companion, I knew I had to put up a strong counter-attack or face the humiliation.

We lived on the fifth floor of a six story apartment building. We may have had a washing machine in our apartment, or we may have had to wash all our clothes by hand in the tub, I don't remember. What I do remember though, is that we had to take our wet clothes to the top of the building and leave them out to dry during the heat of the day.

Elder Hatori had done a load of his clothes one night after we had come in from work for the day. Just before bed, he took his load of wet clothes and headed for the roof. I was already in my pajamas, but I didn't care. I gave him several minutes to get to the roof and then I followed, trying my hardest to be like a sneaky cat.

The door from inside came out onto the roof, but to actually get to where the clothes lines were, one had to climb another flight of stairs that were out in the open air. I hid at the side of these stairs, patiently watching the prankster companion hang out his wet clothing. He finally finished, and came walking down the stairs, making his way back to the door leading into the building. I had hidden myself in a position where he didn't notice me...until I wanted him to notice me that is. When his back was to me, I jumped up yelling like a man possessed. My initial glee at scaring this wannabe trickster was overcome by a moment of panic as Elder Hatori danced on the edge of the stairs, and building, six stories above the hard pavement below.

He survived.

But now he knew I was a force to be reckoned with and this started a series of jokes and counter-jokes that lasted our entire two months together. I don't really know who eventually won this small war of pranks, but I do know that I won the battle the day the missionary danced.

On one of the many perfect mornings of La Palma, we hiked up very steep terrain to teach a family and show them a small film. The vegetation was thick, green and beautiful on this tropical island. Plantations of banana trees seemed to grow everywhere, even between houses and apartments. We had finished our teaching appointment, and the lot had fallen to Elder Hatori to carry the film projector to the next appointment. I was one of the few missionaries in the mission who had bought one of these film projectors while in the missionary training center, and because of its rarity, it was treated like gold. In its black case, it was the size of a small, thick briefcase, and weighted ten or fifteen pounds. The case did have a handle, but it was still a pain for the poor missionary that had to carry it for the day. Each of us carried our own set of scriptures, and Mormon scriptures are not a small affair. We also had our six missionary discussions booklets. Also, because we had been giving out Book's of Mormon like they were candy, we each carried as many of these as we could. In the end, we ended up looking like an illegal book vendor hawking his wares to the unwary.

So, poor Elder Hatori was loaded down with books, pamphlets and projector; both hands completely full and essentially useless. The road we were now descending was a winding, snake like thing. The terrain here was very steep, and automobiles had to wind their way up and down the mountain side. But missionaries didn't have to if there was a path that cut straight down the side of the mountain, bypassing the winding road. There was a well worn path doing exactly this, and Elder Hatori, wanting to save some walking, decided to take the walking trail. He went first, loaded down with his supplies. He was paying careful attention to the steep pathway, not wanting to loose his footing and make the trip on the seat of his dark missionary suit.

During my several months on La Palma, I had seen what I called banana spiders living in long webs. The webs were not round and pretty, but rather four or five long strands of thick webs stretching from one banana tree to another, sometimes six or eight feet long. The strands would meet in the center in some kind of mass and connection, and is was here, in the center of the webs, were the banana spider would hang out, waiting for dinner. These spiders were what I would call 'freakin huge' – not tarantula huge, but more along the lines of a very big garden spider or large cat-face spider. I have no idea if they were dangerous to humans, but I know I didn't want to find out.

Both sides of the narrow walking trail that we were descending were crowded with banana trees and their large, fan like leaves. Spanning the trail and anchored to the trees on each side of the trail was a banana spider web, and as always, a banana spider in the center waiting to catch a meal. Because of the steep slope of the trail, I could have walked under the web (not that I would have!) without getting the spider in my face, but Elder Hatori, being five or six inches taller than I, was not so lucky. I did happen to notice the web and spider mere moments before Elder Hatori's forehead and the spider were introduced. I did shout out some warning about a spider, but the instant his head felt the spider, I witnessed a missionary explode. Scriptures, discussions and pamphlets from one hand went flying ten feet in the air on one side; projector and extra Book's of Mormon were dropped in a chaotic pile on the other side. Elder Hatori then did that peculiar dance that humans tend to do when they think a bug is on them. Arms flailing; hands brushing, wiping, swatting and slapping face, head, arms and chest. Legs doing a fast jig like an Irish stage dancer. And of course, shrieks of terror and pleas for help (mostly consisting of “Get it off me!”)

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I hate spiders. I wasn't excited to get close to the danger zone – but my companion's pitiful cries for help finally convinced me. I looked him over in great detail, not only for his own good, but for mine as well. I did NOT want that ugly spider going back to our apartment with him. After several minutes of careful inspection, and then several more minutes of assuring him that I could see no spider on him, he began the process of putting clothes back on and gathering and organizing books, papers and film projector.

Eventually, with missionary supplies back in place, Elder Hatori continued down the shortcut trail and into the town proper. For several minutes, I walked behind him, laughing to myself and out loud every time I recalled the hilarious dance on the hillside.

We walked down a cobbled side street, and it still being in the morning, women were emptying mop buckets into outside drains, bakers were putting out loaves of bread, and people were generally walking to where they needed to go.

It was then that a truly evil prank jumped into my brain. I thought I would demonstrate to this rookie companion how to play a real prank. I shouted out something along the lines of , “Elder, its on your back!” and again was treated to the utter breakdown of the cool, conservative missionary image. As before, books flew in every direction, film projector was dropped and the strange missionary dance commenced. Hands flew to head, face and back. Swatting, brushing and beating were common themes. The jig was glorious to behold, and the shouts and screams were wondrous to hear.

Of course, at this point, it wasn't just me that was enjoying this performance by my dancing companion, but the entire street full of islanders. They stopped to see what the commotion was, while I laughed myself to tears in the background.

At length, I got through to him that there was no spider, but rather an excellent prank by the senior companion. It took me the rest of the day to convince him that it was an excellent trick, and by the time we went home for the night, we were again friends.

I'm sure he later got me for that one, but I only remember that I won the day, and of course, how well he danced.

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