Oranges! I was fond of them. I used to eat them all day and every day. But one day a police man found seventeen oranges hidden away in my pockets. He locked me up and I have never eaten an orange again.
I want to tell you the story.
I was driving a little pony-and-cart for the Swift Delivery Company, and I often went in and out of the docks.
I was not really a thief. But I usually left the docks with something under my apron. I had made the apron myself and it was a big one.
When there was a banana boat in the docks, I drove my little cart beside it. Sometimes bunches of bananas fell to the ground. Often my friends kicked a bunch to me from the boat. I always picked up the bananas quickly and hid them under my apron.
Then I spent the rest of the day eating bananas. I liked bananas, but I like oranges best of all.
I only took things when I found them. But some people planned a theft very carefully. Clem Jones was a careful planner. Let me tell you about Clem.
One day Clem was coming out of the docks. He was carrying a box. ‘What have you got in here?’ asked Pongo the policeman.
‘A cat,’ replied Clem. ‘Please don’t make me open the box. The cat will run away.’
‘A cat?’ Pongo said. I don’t believe you. Open the box.’
‘But the cat will run away,’ Clem said again.
‘There isn’t a cat in the box,’ replied Pongo. ‘Open it up.’
Clem got very angry, but finally opened his box. Out jumped a ship’s cat. The cat ran back into the docks. Clem ran after the cat. He was shouting angrily.
Two minutes later, Clem came back with the same box. He was holding the lid down tightly. Pongo laughed at him and Clem looked at him furiously. Clem looked angry all the way home. Then he smiled. He opened the box in the kitchen and took out a large Dutch cheese.
That was Clem’s story. But I was not so lucky. Pongo, the policeman, caught me red-handed because my apron string broke. He noticed that my trouser pockets were somewhat bulging.
‘Hey! Wait a minute,’ Pongo shouted. He caught me by the collar, took me into his cabin nearby and looked into my pockets. There were seventeen oranges. Pongo counted them and placed them carefully on the table.
‘Too many people are stealing from the docks,’ Pongo said, ‘You’ve stolen these oranges and concealed them in your pocket. Have you anything to say?’
I said nothing. I was very frightened, but I kept quiet. I had read a lot of detective stories to make the mistake of blabbing. Anything you say may be used as evidence against you. I knew that the best plan was to say nothing. ‘So you won’t say anything,’ said Pongo. ‘I’m going to bring another policeman here. He’ll be a witness against you, when I bring up this case in the court.’
Pongo left the cabin and locked the door behind him. I was very worried. I looked at the walls. I looked at the door. I looked at the seventeen oranges, and I looked at the apron with its broken string.
I’ll lose my job, I thought. Perhaps I’ll go to prison. What will my father say?
What will my father do?
I almost gave up the hope of escaping from the trouble. I was locked in the cabin and the oranges were on the table. Pongo had gone to bring a witness. I was in trouble.
‘Oh, my God!’ I said.
‘What can I do?’
‘Eat the oranges', said a voice in my head. ‘Eat the evidence.’
‘Eat them?’ I asked.
‘Yes,’ said the voice in my head. ‘Eat them and the evidence will be gone. Be quick! Eat them all.’
I thought for half a second. Then I took an orange. I peeled it and put it in my mouth. Soon, only the pips were left.
‘You have to swallow the pips too,’ said the voice in my head ‘You have to swallow the pips and the peel. You have to swallow all the evidence.’
‘Yes, of course,’ I said.
I swallowed the pips and put some of the peel in my mouth.
‘Don’t eat it!’ said the voice. ‘There isn’t time. Swallow it! Be quick! Swallow it!’
I took a small knife from my pocket and cut the oranges into large chunks. I swallowed the pieces of oranges one after the other.
There were still three oranges on the table when I heard Pongo outside. I stopped. My stomach was nearly full.
‘Be quick! Swallow them!’ said the voice in my head.
I was lucky. Pongo and the other policeman had seen some carts at the dock gate. They went and talked to the drivers. This gave me a few more minutes.
I must swallow all the oranges, I thought. Only three left!
I swallowed the first one, and then the second one.
Suddenly the door began to open. I went through a great deal of struggle and finally managed to finish off the last piece of the last orange. Pongo and the other policeman walked in.
‘This is the thief.’ Pongo said. ‘I caught him with his pockets full of oranges.’
Then Pongo looked at the table and at first, he could not figure out what had happened. ‘Where are the oranges?’
‘I can smell them,’ said the other policeman.
I said nothing.
Pongo looked everywhere for the oranges. He looked in my pockets. He looked in my apron. But he didn’t find one orange.
Finally, Pongo understood what had happened. But it was very difficult to believe.
‘Seventeen oranges!’, he said.
‘Seventeen big oranges! How did you eat them all?’
I said nothing. Pongo was not able to send me to prison. There was no evidence.
Pongo became angry and shouted at me. But I didn’t say a word. In the end, he had to let me go. I told Clem Jones about the seventeen oranges.
‘Pongo locked you in that cabin for half an hour,’ said Clem. ‘He had no right to do that.’
Perhaps Clem was right. I don’t know. I didn’t have time to think about it. I had eaten seventeen large oranges -peels, pips and all. I felt very sick for a week and those oranges kept working away in my stomach.
State Council of Educational Research and Training (2019). Term-2 English Standard-9. Seventeen Oranges - Bill Naughtan(pp. 93-97). Published by the Tamil Nadu Textbook and Educational Services Corporation.