Fiction Funny Contemporary

“It’s Woombaa!” The male Indian translator insisted, with hands cupping his abdomen.

“No, It’s Womb!” The female interpreter from Zimbabwe stipulated, tapping her solar plexus as she pronounced the word.

“It’s Woombaa!”

“No, Womb!”

Chloe Petersen had just entered the unusually crowded interpreter’s staffroom at the United Nations building in New York City. It was her first day in a new career that she had been studying and working hard for. However, she had inadvertently found herself in the middle of a war of words between several of the other translators - that by all appearances, threatened to spill onto the gathering of the UN General Assembly awaiting the return of the interpreters from lunch.

Arriving late to the debate, Chloe momentarily listened to the argument, then took it upon herself to intervene. Being a woman, she was certain she had more intimate knowledge of the female anatomy than her male counterpart – who was obviously reluctant to admitting that he was wrong.

“It’s Woombaa!” the Indian man asserted.

“No, it is Womb!” The now familiar retort repeated.

“Excuse me, but I do believe the young woman is using the proper expression,” Chloe interrupted. “The correct term is, Womb.”

The Indian man looked deeply into Chloe’s eyes, then with a broad smile and his thickest accent, he answered,

“With the greatest of respect, Miss,” he said - drawing a deep breath. “I don’t think you’ve ever heard an elephant fart!”

The room erupted in a cacophony of hilarity. Clearly, Chloe had been the accidental butt of the innocent joke.

Woombaa,” she mouthed. “Of course, it is.”

“Rohit Pungi, at your service,” he said – calming his tickled sense of humour.

“I think laughter is the perfect ice breaker, don’t you?”

“That was cute,” Chloe conceded. Extending a handshake, she introduced herself. “Chloe Petersen. It’s my first day here.”

“Yes, we know,” Rohit admitted as he shook hands with her. “Most people in here are in the same boat as you.”

“Oh?” Chloe’s surprised expression solicited further information.

“Covid opportunists, Miss Chloe,” Rohit explained. “The UN mustn’t be seen to give in to Covid, so they’ve contracted all levels of language translators to fill the void created by the mass exodus of worried interpreters.”

“Were they let go?”

“No, just given a choice to go into lockdown and live or expose themselves to all manner of sick people and possibly not live.” He paused for a reaction from Chloe, but she didn’t take the bait. “In the interim, the UN contracted all of us to replace those that chose to live.”

“My goodness,” Chloe sighed. “Are we all at risk?”

“No no, Miss Chloe. The worse of it is over, but a lot of the stay-at-home translators understandably do not want to be around crowds of people. Provisions are underway to allow them to translate from home using Zoom web meetings, but the infrastructure is still lagging in its concept development. So, here we all are in living flesh and in a positive light, not death breathers.”

“I was told face masks are still mandatory. Is that true?”

“Purely optional from today,” Rohit replied. “So, what is your specialty?”

“Cyrillic languages.”

“Ah, the language of the Baltic marital breakup.”

“I think you mean, Balkan marital breakup.”

Woombaa, Miss Chloe, Woombaa!

Chloe acknowledged the recent funny punchline was now today’s idiom for “I’m joking” so, a little laugh escaped from her lips.

“With the greatest respect, Rohit,” Chloe mimicked the line from the recent joke, causing Rohit to smile admiringly. “They may be separate countries, but they all speak the same language.”

That statement caused Rohit to cock his head, like a double-take on a ludicrous situation that had just caught his attention.

“Has their language been added to the official UN language list?”

“No,” replied Chloe. “I don’t think so.”

“Surely, they don’t need to translate to each other, do they?” Rohit probed.

Laughing at the innocent thought, Chloe shyly shook her head.

“They may talk their own talk, but they’re all of the same tongue. My other speciality – although minor, is Arabic, plus some Russian,” she quickly added.

“Impressive,” Rohit congratulated her.

Spanning four years of working travel – including three additional years of language study, Chloe had honed her interpreter skills in some of the planet’s most troubled regions. Her resume had attracted the attention of the UN Interpretation Service and after an exhausting interview process, Chloe had been offered a position as an interpreter for the Balkan countries. However, when Covid interrupted her start date indefinitely, she signed with an agency, who coincidentally, placed her back at her choice of employers - the United Nations.

“So, how does this work?” Chloe innocently enquired. “Is there an induction?”

“Heavens no,” Rohit’s flabbergasted reply took Chloe by surprise. “If this building was a swimming pool, then we’d all be treading water in the deep end.”

“That chaotic, is it?”

“Less chaos, more shitstorm, Miss Chloe,” Rohit disclosed. “We were just ending our lunch break when we were instructed to hold here, until some Russian delegates were re-seated.”

“Why is that?”

“It seems that they were an unscheduled arrival that occupied several seats allocated to the Ukrainian officials. I don’t have to tell you that in the current political landscape, Russians occupying Ukraine territory is a sore subject to tackle, so must be done with minimum fuss and maximum diplomacy.”

“My goodness,” Chloe muttered. “How soon do you think they’ll solve that problem?”

“It’s too early to tell. As a short-term solution, the Russians were told to move, but they took the Ukrainian’s chairs over to the Russian section. Do you see the blatant, ironic comparisons there?”

“It sounds like a rehearsed action.”

“Yes,” Rohit replied. “Something in the vein of a Russian training exercise.”

Chloe eyebrows quickly frowned in reaction to the sensitive comparison.

“My apologies, Miss Chloe. I just can’t contain my discontentment enough to mute my opinion. Even their own interpreters denounced the childish actions and walked out, leaving them impotent - in an interpreter kind of way.”

“So, they have no-one to translate for them?”

“That is correct, Miss Chloe. In the great wisdom of the Eastern Bear, they have sent their people to the UN, and through stubbornness or just plain arrogance, they have lost their ability to communicate with anyone. So now, they find themselves stuck on foreign soil with no means of language support - except the ability to order Vodka or Coffee from the hospitality staff.”

No sooner had Rohit mentioned the lack of translators, when a middle-aged, suited woman appeared at the door to the staff lounge.

“May I have your attention, please,” she demanded in a US southern drawl. “Are there any Russian speakers in here?”

The sudden question caused most to look at each other, then around the room, as if trying to identify a culprit. However, Chloe – in an eager moment, raised her hand.

“Come with me, please,” the woman instructed.

“Rohit, who is that?” Chloe asked.

“That’s Mrs. Windgate, the scheduling chief of interpreters,” Rohit answered. “When she calls, you drop everything else you’re doing and run to her.”

Gently pushing her forward, Rohit intimated for Chloe to hurry. Catching up with Mrs. Windgate, Chloe matched her quick confident stride down a long hallway toward an elevator waiting with doors open.

“I presume you’ve heard,” Mrs. Windgate asked.

“You mean, the Russians, Maam?”

“I’m not the President of the UN, nor do I aspire to be,” Mrs. Windgate stated. “I am merely a servant of the will of the people - namely the United Nations General Assembly. Please call me Mrs. Windgate. Should you last the day, you will earn the right to address me by my first name.”

“And what is that?” Chloe sincerely enquired.

“Survive the day first, Miss… What is your name?”

“Chloe… Chloe Petersen.”

“Last the day, Miss Petersen and I’ll gladly play happy UN families with you.”

Entering the elevator, Windgate inserted a key below the floor button panel and pressed the button with the letters “GAF” embossed on it.

Doors closing,” the elevator’s female voice announced. As the elevator began its descent, Windgate studied Chloe’s calculating expression - attempting to decipher the three letters. To eliminate any clouded thought transferring to the main hall, Windgate answered the unspoken question.

General Assembly Floor. Only accessible from levels three and above by authorised personnel – namely me, my counterparts, my superiors, and their superiors. Unescorted interpreters are not allowed without prior approval. And who issues that approval?”

“You?” Chloe answered the rhetorical question with a question.

“You learn quick, Miss Petersen. I like that.”

General Assembly Floor. Doors open,” the elevator voice announced. “Please keep all valuables with you at all times. Doors closing.”

Quickly stepping out into the main hall, Chloe marvelled at the size of the space and it’s grandiose – almost cathedral-like feel to it.

“At its busiest,” Windgate explained. “There are spaces for over eighteen hundred people in here.”

“My goodness,” Chloe marvelled.

“However, in life, it is often that the minority spoil the experience for the majority. Today, we have a small delegation that believe themselves to be above everyone else and have arrived on the floor with the arrogance of a Spanish bull fighter.”

“Olé,” Chloe jested to the obvious disapproval of Mrs. Windgate.

“Hmm, yes,” Windgate winced. “Perhaps Mr. Pungi and his levity was not the most ideal first contact to experience here. It sets the wrong tone of direction. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard his Woombaa story. It’s always the new ones he corrupts by planting a misconception of what working here is like. This is a serious place, Miss Petersen, with serious issues. It is not a stand-up comedy club.”

“My apologies, Mrs. Windgate.”

“You will notice the seating is alphabetical by country,” Windgate continued unmoved. “With the exception of both Koreas, Macedonia, Tanzania, and Moldova, and before you ask, survive the day and I will gladly answer that question.”

Pointing to one end of the hall, focussed Chloe’s attention on the giant United Nations emblem mounted high above what looked like a church alter.

“At the large podium,” Windgate added. “Is where the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretarial-General, and the current UN President sit and reside over proceedings. In front of them is the rostrum. Either side of them, sit the conference officers, press officers, and the General Assembly Affairs representatives. You, are normally up there behind one of those row of opaque glass windows overlooking the hall floor, translating for your assigned party. However, today; a more hands-on approach is needed to relay a strong message.”

“Oh my goodness!” Chloe exclaimed. “Are we declaring war?”

“This is not Washington DC, dear. Nor is it the White House. This is the United Nations. We’re all supposed to get along like one big cozy neighbourhood,” Windgate pointed out through gritted teeth. “However, the Jones’s over there – next to the Rwandans - think they can break house rules and spoil the neighbourhood party. So, with your assistance, I am here – as the appointed neighbourhood watch representative - to tell them otherwise.”

Following Mrs. Windgate’s lead, Chloe accompanied her over to the Russian desk – where an excess of chairs made the area look as untidy as a teenager’s bedroom.

Immediately upon arrival, Windgate began her house rules speech to the mixed group of middle-aged and old men blankly looking back at her with distaste.


Either feigning ignorance or emoting an air of petulance, the men ignored her, so she called up her reinforcements.

 “Miss Petersen, if you would be so kind.”

Gospoda!” Chloe assertively bellowed – grabbing their instant attention.

“Tell them who you are, dear,” Windgate prompted.

Ya Chloe Petersen, Perevodchitsa,” she announced loudly.

“What was that end bit?” Windgate asked.

Perevodchitsa, Mrs. Windgate. It means, Translator,” Chloe explained.

“No improvising, dear. I want you to translate word for word what I have to say, okay? No deviating. Is that clear?”


“Good. Then please translate the following.”

Positioning herself on the opposite side of the table, like she was addressing PTA board members in a small-town high school, Windgate proceeded to explain the situation.

“I am Mrs. Windgate, and I run this floor.”

Nodding to Chloe, her first job at the UN took flight.

Ya Missis Vindgate, yi ya upravlyayu ethym étageom,” Chloe translated in Russian.

“Only six delegates are permitted to occupy your table,” Windgate continued to explain.

Tolko shest delegatov mogut zanimat vas stohl.”

“Any overflow of visitors must retire to the viewing seats at the side of the hall. So, please return the chairs you removed from the Ukrainian delegation and proceed to the observation deck.”

Chloe translated Windgate’s instructions precisely word for word.

“Thank you for your cooperation.”

Spasibo saa sotrudnichestvo.”

For a few moments, the Russian delegates just stared silently at Mrs. Windgate, like she had just interrupted some secret discussion. After several grumbles amongst themselves, the anointed spokesman replied in Russian.

Chloe listened intently – not wanting to miss anything. Then, when the man had said his piece, she turned to Mrs. Windgate.

“He said,” Chloe started to translate, then abruptly hesitated.

“Go on dear. I’m curious to hear his reply.”

Chloe briefly cleared her throat, before concisely translating the Russian’s words.

“He said, Any woman that looks like my wife, has no business telling me what to do.”

Mrs. Windgate deliberately processed the attempt at an insult, before responding only to Chloe, but smiling directly at the delegation.

“I can only assume that his wife is a beautiful woman with many young lovers on the side.” Chloe giggled – intriguing the group of men.

“Tell them,” Windgate commanded vexingly. “If they refuse to move, I will be forced to call security and have them removed from the building.”

Adopting a stern tone in her voice, Chloe translated Mrs. Windgate’s warning to the men, causing some to react by throwing their arms in the air, cursing in Russian and dismissing the caution as mere intimidation tactics.

My nay dvigaemsya,” was the collective protesting reply.

“I presume that was a blank refusal,” Windgate noted.

“Colourful, but yes, you understood it.” Chloe replied.

Seeing Mrs. Windgate faltering in what could turn out to be a diplomatic crisis, Chloe decided to intercede.

“If I may, Mrs. Windgate. I think I can help.”

“You’re here to only translate, Miss Petersen. Nothing else.”

Continuing to decide what her next move should be, Windgate quickly acquiesced - after realising there was nothing to lose. The Russians – she realised - were determined to cause a scene, and she was only too happy to accommodate them with some local, down-home hoo-ha. However, tact and diplomacy won the moment over the growing urge to call in the UN security team.

“Very well. If you think you can resolve this, please give it a go.”

“Thank you,” Chloe responded, before grabbing her abdomen and shouting an elongated, “Woombaa!

Their attention captured; Chloe proceeded to tell the joke in both an Indian accent and an adopted Middle Eastern accent. Both accents were not quite politically correct in the modern era; however, she considered them to be a necessity to add substance to the punchline. When Chloe ended the joke using the Indian accent, the whole delegation fell about laughing at the comedy, repeating it in Russian, accompanied by hilarious cries of “Woombaa!”

A brief huddle and discussion, resulted in the excess members of the delegation returning their chairs to the Ukraine table, then shuffling off to the observation deck – the sound of an elephant farting being repeated as they strolled.

“Translatory Motion,” Mrs. Windgate quoted. “Where all points of a moving body, move uniformly in the same direction. I believe you’ve just demonstrated the core value of the UN, Miss Petersen. Now, let’s go grab a coffee, then you can help me resolve the Moldova issue. They want to be in the “M” section, but they’re now regarded as the Republic of Moldova, so we’ve sat them next to Romania – right in front of Serbia. It’s like a Soccer rivalry between those three. They talk more about sport than anything else.”

As they turned to head back toward the elevator, Chloe repeated Rohit’s earlier words, “I think laughter is the perfect ice breaker, don’t you, Mrs. Windgate? At least it is in this new Cold War they’re trying to reincarnate.”

“Call me Amanda.”

“Only if you call me, Chloe – Amanda.”

Doors open,” the elevator announced, as the two women stepped in. Turning to face the closing doors, Windgate inserted her elevator key, pressed the “SR” button, then smiled.

Staff Room, Chloe - in case you were wondering.”


“I think you may have avoided an international incident here, today,” Mrs. Windgate said in a congratulatory tone. “You know, people outside just don’t realise how much of an essential service we provide here at the UN. The value is immeasurable – especially when a situation like the one just experienced can be resolved with some good old-fashioned détente.”

“And, a simple explosion of laughter,” Chloe added.

Staff Room, Doors opening,” the elevator’s reliable voice announced.

Stepping out of the elevator and into the crowded staff room, Amanda and Chloe smiled, as the faint elevator voice trailed into the distance toward another approaching floor. Seeing them return, Rohit excitedly ran up to them, searching their expressions for any sign of good news.

“So?” Asked Rohit. “Can we go back to work now?”

Amanda and Chloe looked at each other, smiled a knowing smile, then spontaneously and in unison, shouted, “WOOMBAA!”


April 28, 2023 07:30

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Mustang Patty
14:39 Apr 29, 2023

LOL!!! It would be wonderful IF something like this could ease the tension at the UN, or with the Allies, or even in the rooms with the Russians, Chinese, and Ukranians. Wonderful pacing, and great character development. ~MP~


Chris Campbell
04:41 Apr 30, 2023

Thanks Patty. Maybe they need to introduce open mic comedy nights at the UN and have stand-up translators delivering the jokes. 😉 Glad you liked it.


Mustang Patty
13:21 May 01, 2023

I'd pay good money to go to that Comedy Show!


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Mary Bendickson
05:32 Apr 29, 2023

Busy solving world crisis, I see.


Chris Campbell
06:18 Apr 29, 2023

Ah, yep. Took a page out of Monty Python's, "My dog has no nose" joke.


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Kendall Defoe
03:25 Apr 29, 2023



Chris Campbell
03:32 Apr 29, 2023

Thanks, Kendall. This is story 2 of 2 for this week. The joke is a joke I heard in the 90s. Been saving it up for the right platform. Glad you liked it.


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Laurel Hanson
16:54 Apr 28, 2023

NIcely done. Super catchy opening and for a layperson so to speak, the information about the US is interesting and skillfully rendered. Strong characterization here, too.


Chris Campbell
03:25 Apr 29, 2023

Thanks, Laurel. This is story 2 of 2 that I wrote for this week's contest. Glad you liked it.


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Delbert Griffith
14:11 Apr 28, 2023

Loved the story, Chris. Wow, you made the U.N building come to life, and the atmosphere you created was perfect! The underlying message and the relevance of the current Russia-Ukraine situation was spot on, my friend. This is one of your best, IMO. I applaud such good work. Cheers!


Chris Campbell
15:40 Apr 28, 2023

Delbert, Thank you so much. This is actually story 2 of 2 this week. Initially, I had started this one first, then changed my mind and wrote the third in the trilogy of Tom and Eric, but I had started this one, so had to come back and finish it. So glad you liked it.


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Helen A Smith
16:49 May 07, 2023

Hilarious story Chris. Just shows how humour can be used to calm even the most tense situations. It was a great response to the prompt. If only humour could be used to solve the world’s current conflicts! You set a great scene and created such vivid characters.


Chris Campbell
13:54 May 08, 2023

Thanks, Helen. I agree. Laughter is the best (diplomatic) policy. Glad you liked it.


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Michelle Oliver
12:33 May 03, 2023

Hilarious. Woomba indeed. Wouldn’t it be love to hunk that a well delivered punchline could ease the world’s political unrest. A great read, a good chuckle and a well told joke in a contemporary context. Thanks for sharing, now off to read your second one for the week too.


Chris Campbell
02:46 May 04, 2023

Thanks, Michelle. I first heard the joke nearly thirty years ago. Kept it under wraps for the right moment. Instead of wars, perhaps countries could compete in joke telling. Imagine future history books describing the battle of the "No Nose Dog" or the hilarious social fall down from "War Joke III." What was the song from that old movie, "Singin' in the Rain?" Oh yeah, it was "Make 'em laugh." It's the best medicine for melancholy and a great disarmer.


Michelle Oliver
11:30 May 04, 2023



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Shirley Medhurst
13:07 Apr 30, 2023

Agreat & well planned story 👍 I especially liked this, following on from the earlier reference to the Russians: « where an excess of chairs made the area look as untidy as a teenager’s bedroom. »


Chris Campbell
23:58 Apr 30, 2023

Shirley, Thanks for reading and commenting. A little research on the United Nations building helped a great deal. Glad you liked it.


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Amanda Lieser
19:46 May 10, 2023

Hi Chris! I’m so glad you wrote a United Nations piece! I was a model United Nations kids growing up-always had a bit of fun with it. :) this piece brought back fond memories. I love that the theme of this piece is surrounding humor I think that humor is one of those international, perhaps arguably even interspecies, unifiers that allows us to feel valued. I think that it’s really really cool that you chose to laugh a bit in this piece. I also admire that you chose to write about the first day on the job, because I think that prompt in its...


Chris Campbell
02:07 May 11, 2023

Amanda, I'm glad I could rekindle fond memories in someone I've never met, and someone who also has an affinity to the location in my story. I feel laughter is a great medicine for most situations. A first day on the job is always an alien landscape. In this case, Chloe's spaceship landed safely and planted a happy flag. Thanks for the great feedback.


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Michał Przywara
20:33 May 04, 2023

Ha! An impressive story. Didn't expect to find a UN translator story to be funny, or for a translator's first-day-of-work story to be tense, but here we are. Quite a lot happens here, in essentially one conversation and an elevator ride. "I don’t think you’ve ever heard an elephant fart!" :) Woombaa quickly turned into an in-joke, and has that quality of "you had to be there" - which real workplaces are filled with. The stuff you won't find in a manual, but will be passed down through the oral histories around the water cooler.


Chris Campbell
02:26 May 05, 2023

Thanks, Michal. I had started this story, put it down, then finished my Tom and Eric trilogy. I had to tell this one, so it's story 2 of 2 for the week. Glad you liked it.


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Chris Fullwood
21:58 May 03, 2023

Loved it! Excellent style and content. Church altar….has two a’s (Sorry to nitpick!)


Chris Campbell
02:17 May 04, 2023

Thanks, Chris. Great pick-up on the misspell. I blame MS-Word for predictive writing. 😉 Glad you liked it.


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01:14 May 02, 2023

This is a fun insight into a work environment the reader probably knows little about. The Russian symbolic take over is a nice touch.


Chris Campbell
01:19 May 02, 2023

Anne, Thanks for reading my story and for commenting on it. Glad you liked the symbolism.


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Larry Parks
23:08 May 01, 2023

Hey Chris, What a gem! Great characters, funny, and well-planned. I look forward to reading more of your work. Larry


Chris Campbell
00:33 May 02, 2023

Larry, Thanks for taking the time to read my story and to comment on it. I'm glad you liked it.


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Mike Panasitti
17:32 Apr 30, 2023

If only ameliorating global conflict were as easy as recounting a joke whose punchline is a foreign word for elephant flatulence... What a world it would be. This story possesses the witty voice of all Chris Campbell tales - a voice that takes humor seriously and renders seriousness humorous. Great choice of profession to fulfill the requirements of the prompt: U.N. translators - an undervalued group of professionals, indeed. This story is an excellent means of honoring them.


Chris Campbell
00:01 May 01, 2023

Thanks Mike, "Serious Humorous." Ooh, I like that! I had started writing this story first, but then decided to write a different story, However, I went back afterwards and finished this one. So, this is story 2 of 2 this week. Thanks for the great feedback.


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