The three men stood nervously in front of their captain, nudging at each other. Eventually one of them spoke.
“We hate to bring this up,” he said, “but we’re sailing in the wrong direction.”
Columbus looked up from his desk. “No,” he said, “we’re heading west, just as I intended.”
“Yes, but India is in the east,” said Nina.
“Whereas to the west”, said Pinta, “once we’ve sailed past the bottom of Ireland -”
“Cork, you mean? Jolly good description of it, I must say.”
“As I was saying, once we sail west there’s nothing until we fall off the edge.”
“Well that’s where you’re wrong,” said Columbus, “because the world is round. And I intend to prove it by sailing west and ending up in the east.”
“That’s daft,” said Santa Maria. “It’s like proving that someone is your best mate by punching him in the face.”
“The world is flat,” said Nina firmly. “Otherwise the Australians would fall off.”
“That’s why they wear hats weighed down with corks,” said Columbus. “It helps to keep their feet on the ground, so to speak.”
“Whereas we don’t have to,” said Pinta, “because we live on the top?”
“Actually,” said Columbus, “We live on the side.”
“Ludicrous,” said Santa Maria. “One of our legs would have to be shorter than the other for us to walk upright.”
“And we’d only be able to walk in one direction,” said Nina. “If we tried to turn around we’d fall over.”
“Have some faith, please,” said Columbus.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” said Santa Maria, their resident faith expert. “God comes from above, the Bible says so. It doesn’t say that he comes from around the corner.”
“And the devil lives down below,” said Nina. “If your argument is right then Australia would be hell, and I offer surfing, Christmas Day spent sun-bathing and girls in bikinis on Bondi Beach as evidence that it isn’t.”
“Look,” said Columbus, “I’m not the only one who believes this. Jules Verne has written a book called Around The World In 80 Days.”
“Ignoring the huge anachronism in that sentence,” said Pinta, “I think he meant it in the same way as ‘around the town in a horse and cart’.”
“And,” continued Columbus, “a scientist called Einstein reckons that if you could build a telescope powerful enough you’d be able to see the back of your own head.”
“A head which sounds like it clearly needs to be examined,” said Santa Maria. “As indeed does yours.”
Columbus’s reply was forestalled by a yell of “Land ahoy!” from the crow’s nest. Columbus looked smug.
“Coming, gentlemen?” he said. “I fancy a look at the Taj Mahal.”
Twenty minutes later they had pulled up onto a beach and had entered a village. The men were immesely tall. And black. The women were full-figured. And black. The women had loud, infectious laughs, and the men were playing cricket.
“You’re sure this is India?” asked Nina.
A villager was walking by. “I’ll check,” said Columbus, and addressed the man in the time-honoured fashion of any tourist greeting a native.
“Oy You!” he shouted. “What. Is. This Place. Called?”
“Yo mon,” said the man, with a smile that lit his face up like a lighthouse, “dis is Barbados.”
Columbus looked cresftallen. Nina put an arm around him. “Cheer up, boss,” he said. “You’ve discovered a new country.”
“Nuts to that,” said Columbus. “I was looking forward to a curry.”