An accountant and a crocodile – a short story

An accountant and a crocodile – a short story

“So,” said Jeff, “let’s lighten up. Time for a joke.”
“As long,” groaned Thabo, a lecturer in Jurisprudence, “it’s not another lawyer joke.”
Jeff passed him the bottle of Scotch.
“Have another swig. Now, you’re locked in a bank vault, with a tiger, a crocodile and a lawyer. You have a gun, but it’s only got two bullets. What d’you do?”

“Easy,” said Jacqueline. “You shoot the lock off the door.”
Jeff raised his eyebrows.
“No, no, no. You’re inside a bank vault. No lock inside.”
Thabo took a swig of Scotch and muttered: “o.k., what do you do?”
“You shoot the lawyer,” said Jeff, winking at Thabo. “You shoot him twice.” And pouring Thabo another Scotch. “To make sure.”

“One of these days,” Thabo muttered. “I’m going to start making up jokes about geographers.”
Jeff laughed.
“I won’t give you the latitude. But by the way, my joke—reference to the crocodile—reminds me of something that happened when I was working in northern Nigeria.”
“Here we go,” murmured Jacqueline.
“Another heavily embellished anecdote.”

“No, really. You’ll enjoy this. And it’s a lawyer-free story. First, picture the scene. So. We were still using a temporary campus, northern Nigeria. Very hot and dry, close to the Sahara. Front entrance of the campus there was a semi-circular drive, leading to car parks either side. And as you circled the drive, branching off, the admin offices, two long buildings, with a big garden in between.”

“Garden?” protested Jacqueline. “Thought it was very hot and dry. Close to the Sahara.” Thabo nodded in support.
“The campus had a good deep borehole, so the garden was well looked after. Canna lilies. Castor oil shrubs. And syringa trees, they’re really beautiful.”
Thabo interjected: “Is this the sensitive side of you coming out?”
“Really beautiful. Tiny mauve and white flowers, and a lovely scent. And I’m sensitive through and through, by the way.”
Folding his hands.

“Now. Where was I. Right, the admin blocks contained, apart from other offices, the finance section. And in there worked a guy I tried my best to avoid.”
“Don’t tell me he was a lawyer,” groaned Thabo. “You promised this was a lawyer-free joke.”

“And so it is. Not a lawyer, but the chief accountant. A fellow Brit, big shambolic man, short-tempered, unhelpful. Not nice to the junior staff, who were afraid of him. Looked like a slob, always wore broken-down sandals with grubby socks. And he had a big, big, beer gut.

So. One lunchtime I came out of my office, heading for the car park, through the admin block garden, which, as I said, was really beautiful. And there’s an immense kerfuffle going on. Students in big groups, letting out shrieks. The VC flapping his arms, police, traffic wardens. And the campus security guards lined up round the semi-circular drive beyond, obviously terrified they were going to be told to sort something out.”
Jacqueline frowned. “Sounds like you didn’t have much time for campus security.”

“Sweet, good-natured young guys. But totally ineffectual. At first I couldn’t tell what the problem was, but then I saw the central bit of the garden was deserted, except, sitting bang in the middle of it, with its head raised up and its jaws wide open, a Nile crocodile.”
“What” demanded Jacqueline, “was a crocodile doing on campus? Nile or not.”

“How big was it?” asked Thabo.
“One at a time. A juvenile, I’d say, but still pretty fearsome. Why was it on campus?  It was a gift from a Minister of Something somewhere in the Arab world, to his counterpart in Nigeria. The counterpart obviously didn’t know what to do with it—maybe his wife objected to having it in the house—and so he donated it to the university. Our Director of Works got a kind of concrete snake-pit built with metal bars on top and there the poor beast lived. Until the morning I’m talking about, when it’d apparently made a break for it.”

“So there you all are,” said Jacqueline. “What was the croc doing?”
“It was as still as a statue. But its teeth were glinting and its eyes looked ravenous.”
“This is really gripping,” said Jacqueline. “What happened next?”
To be continued

Prof Chris Dunton

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