Photo by Oxa Roxa on Unsplash

On one day recently, Oom Wessel (not me) had a spade stolen that he had left outside, Bennie who farms with a modest variety of livestock lost one hundred chickens, a visitor from a civilised place called Johannesburg lost her car in a hi-jacking, a young man from the Pieterse family left his fifty cc motor cycle outside the local supermarket while he went inside for a Coke and has not seen it since, Oom Koos van Wyk lost four cows, and Tannie Mavis had a her modest crop of tomatoes harvested in the night without her knowledge. And strangest of all, it was not that unusual a night. We have such nights quite regularly.

So when a night or two later I lost a hefty monkey wrench, that I had been using to wrestle with a water pipe, I was displeased with the local prevalence of crime. I understood that I was partly to blame, having left it outside the back door when distracted by the delightful smells coming from Miriam’s efforts at the stove. But it seemed to me this was the time to make a stand.

I went to the our local police station and laid a complaint. A charming, young, female constable in uniform wrote down my complaint in her book. Once she had it all down, she asked, “What’s a monkey wrench?”

“A big kind of spanner thing for working on water pipes,” I told her.

She wrote that down too. The she smiled at me. “Very well, Sir. I’ve got all the facts.”

“What happens now?” I asked.

“You don’t have to worry about it, Sir. It’s our problem now.”

“Do you think I may get it back.”

She looked doubtful. “We’ll see what our intelligence finds.” She nodded to someone else who had come in, clearly thinking that her attention so far was going to satisfy me. When I didn’t go away, she turned to me again. “Is there anything else, Sir?”

“Could I have a case number?” I asked.

“A case number?” she asked. It seemed to be an unusual request. Her eyes flickered in the direction of a middle-aged male constable. “A case number?”

He came closer. “How can I help you, Sir?”

“I’m wanting a case number.”

“What was the crime?”

“My monkey wrench was stolen…”

“Your monkey wrench?”

“It’s a kind of a spanner thing,” the lady constable said.

“I know what it is,” her colleague said.

I was becoming embarrassed by the thought that I had such a minor crime to report. It seemed it would have been more satisfying for all if I could have reported something decent, a flock of sheep stolen or a five-ton truck, for instance.

At that point a burly sergeant, seeing that congestion was building up in the charge office, came closer.

“What’s the problem?” he wanted to know. “Can I help you, Sir?”

“I was just reporting my monkey wrench stolen.”

He turned accusing eyes to the lady constable. “Why didn’t you take down this gentleman’s particulars?”

“I did. He wants a case number.”

“A case number – for a monkey wrench?” Before I could answer, he continued, “You see, Sir, this is a matter of statistics. If we give out a case number for every stolen monkey wrench, our statistics department won’t be able to keep pace.” While I was thinking about this, he went on. “I’ll tell you what, Sir. I’ll come round to your place tomorrow morning and view the crime scene. How’s that.”

On the way home I ran into a police captain that I had met in the past. He had always seemed to be a very reasonable man. I explained to him what had happened. “Ah,” he said. “If we give out a number for every crime, it will look like we have a crime wave in Bultfontein and it will reflect very badly on all of us. It’s a matter of statistics.”

I waited for the sergeant the next morning, but he never came.

A Matter of Statistics