"Are those really your spatulas, uncle?"
He nodded, slowly.
"Would you tell me again the story of how you used them to navigate across the Sea of Discarded Underpants, and how you met my auntie, who was then but a poor ignorant native living in a tribe that knew little of double-entry book-keeping?"
"Well, lad I remember how the canoe capsized in a crocodile-infested stretch of the Lower Lumbago." He stared off into the distance. "It was carnage. The horror! The horror!"
He shifted in his seat, moving from quoted speech to direct first-person narrative.
Out of a party of seven, I was the only one to reach the shore alive. Even then, I had a crocodile bite the size of a telephone directory in my upper left thigh.
Fortunately, the canoe drifted towards the bank of the river where I lay. I managed to crawl towards it so that I could get a hand on it. I dragged it all the way up the bank away from the river and the crocodiles.
The only other things I was able to salvage were the cooking utensils, first aid pack and a bag of flour.
Anyway, a few days later - once my leg had begun to heal - I set off in the canoe once again, looking for food and safety. Those spatulas were the only thing I had I could use as paddles. Anyway, a few days later, I rounded a bend in the river and there she was.
She was - as you know - a member of the Calkulatori - the only indigenous tribe of nomadic Chartered Accountants in the whole of the Lumbago rainforest.
"But, uncle," I said, dragging him out of his first-person narrative. "How could they have been accountants without any real understanding of double-entry bookkeeping?"
"Ah, young Trouserweasel," he said, ruminatively, staring into the dying embers of the fire. "It is a mystery," he said at last. "A mystery that has taxed finer minds than mine." He was silent for a while. The clock struck loud in the silence. It was way past my bedtime.
"Accountancy," He said, long after I thought he had forgotten my presence beside his seat. "Accountancy is a dark and secret art, my boy. I can see that you are young, keen, eager to sample the fuller deeper tastes of adulthood, but accountancy is a heady brew, especially for the young." He turned his wise old eyes to look deep into mine. "I know what it is like to be young," he said. "After all, I was young once. A long time ago now. But I remember back at school staying up late at night in the dorm whispering about double-entry bookkeeping, unfilled tax-returns, order-books, filing systems and… yes, even petty cash receipts."
"G…. Gosh!" I exclaimed in awe. Never before had a grown-up spoke to me of such adult matters.
"Have I shocked you, boy?" uncle Toadgasket said.
"Oh… er… no," I said hastily trying to appear grown-up, a man of the world. "We… do… know… about… er…. One of the masters, last term, told us all about…." I tried to fight back the blush I felt spreading up from my neck to cover my face, I looked away from my uncle. "….Business S… s…. studies."
My uncle nodded indulgently. "Don't be ashamed, my lad." He stroked my shoulder reassuringly. "I'm glad to hear it. Why back in my day a boy could be sent down for mere possession of a manila envelope. They said that auditing would make you grow blind and that checking receipts would make hairs grow on the palms of your hands and other nonsense like that. Think yourself lucky that you live in such enlightened times." He was silent again, his hand resting on my shoulder.
Suddenly, he roused himself and looked at the clock. "Anyway, my boy," he said brightly, struggling to his feet. "It is way past your bed time. Come on. Get to bed now."
I thought for a moment about all those questions I had, the questions all young boys have, about the dark and seriously adult world of business: what were invoices? Was Human Resources as wildly romantic as it sounded? Time and motion studies - I shivered at just the thought of it. But one glance at my uncle and his refusal to look back at me told me the moment had passed.
Sighing I turned towards the door and the stairs to my bedroom.
"Oh, young Trouserweasel?"
"Yes?" I turned back to him, maybe he would tell me what Sales Reps really did, or something like that.
"Do much buggery at school, do you?"
I felt my shoulders sag, deflated. "Oh, yes, lots," I said without enthusiasm. How ordinary the dull routine of day-to-day school life seemed, now that I'd had a glimpse into the real world of adulthood.
"Oh, right, Good show," my uncle said, in that falsely cheery way that adults speak to children. "Keep it up. I was House Captain of the hand-jobs team in my day, you know?"
I nodded back at him without enthusiasm and looked down at the carpet.
He came towards me. "Look, about what we were talking about earlier."
I nodded without looking up at him.
"Well, keep it to yourself, all right? All right?"
I nodded again, turning towards the door once again.
"I… I…. If you're interested I have some old ledgers you could have a look at… tonight… in bed?"
I turned to see him grinning broadly at me. I almost ran towards him as he held the dusty old tomes out towards me. I couldn't wait. I began to open one of them, there, right in front of him. I just managed my first ever glimpse of a column of figures. I felt my stomach churn with excitement.
"No, no, lad," he said, slamming the cover closed. "Take them upstairs with you. There are some things best done in privacy… if you know what I mean?"
I looked up at his kind old face. He winked.
"Yes… yes," I nodded wisely. "Of course." I felt there ought to be something else I could say, but I was too eager to be off to my bedroom where I would open those ledgers that seemed now so hot and heavy in my hand and- at long last - see some full-frontal accountancy figures in all their naked glory.
At the door, I turned to look back at my uncle. I nodded towards the ledgers in my hand. "Th…thank you," I said, turned and - once out of his sight - ran for the stairs.