It was summer and Hylton McKie had managed to persuade his son that his grandchildren: Efua, Alexander and Sylvester, would enjoy spending two weeks with him in the country. Their grandfather lived in Hanover with Auntie Lorna – far away from Bridgeport in St. Catherine where the children lived.
Professor McKie wasn’t sure that he liked the idea of them going so far away for so long. He didn’t think that his father and sister would be able to manage this particular undertaking because they weren’t very accustomed to children being at their home, and even if he said so himself, these three required a lot of getting used to.
In any event, the children really wanted to go; and so they went to great lengths to achieve that aim. They even promised to behave themselves, and as a result, their parents agreed to let them visit their grandfather for two weeks.
Professor McKie had promised to drive the children to Hanover early that Saturday morning. He planned to stay with them until Sunday afternoon before returning home – just to make sure that none of them changed their mind at the last minute. That had happened once, about five years ago, when the children were just babies. They were all grown up now and didn’t think that it would be necessary for their father to wait around, but since they knew he would miss them for the two weeks that they would be away, they didn’t mind letting him stay with them for a little while longer. They would even leave most of their toys at home to keep him company.
Unfortunately though, the trip did not begin all that well. Alexander and Sylvester argued about who would sit in front with their father. Finally, Professor McKie decided that Efua would; then two kilometres up the road Sylvester said that he had to go to the bathroom – badly! Professor McKie was very upset because he had told the children to go before they left the house. Anyway, he pulled over into a gas station to fill up the car and to give each of the children a chance to use the loo.
A little later he had to scold Efua for enraging her brothers by constantly making her little sock puppet stick its tongue teasingly at them in the back seat. Things really got boisterous though and Professor McKie had to pull over again to speak sternly to the boys when they began arguing loudly about the music on the radio and trying to coax Efua to change the station.
“I had assumed when you guys said that you were going to behave yourselves that you meant that you would behave yourselves well. So far you have behaved very badly,” Professor McKie said. “Right now I feel like just turning around and going back home.”
The children were worried because he looked as if he meant what he said. They promised to behave. They didn’t want to miss out on the trip to visit their grandfather, not because they loved Hanover so much as because on Grandpa’s farm he had the biggest coconuts and the longest, thickest and sweetest canes and the juiciest mangoes that the children had ever eaten. They anticipated two weeks of being in Heaven.
The family arrived at the farm about three hours later because Professor McKie wasn’t in as much of a hurry as his children were. Still, three hours to Esher in Hanover was very good and so they were still in time for breakfast when they drove up the gravel road to the main house.
After receiving the gifts of an additional member for her little family of sock puppets for Efua and a push-cart for the two boys everyone ate a huge breakfast because their aunt and grandfather had prepared a feast of ackee and saltfish, boiled green bananas, cartwheel dumplings and thick slabs of fresh duck bread. They even prepared a pot of steaming coffee. The children wanted to have theirs black like the adults, but they were given orange juice instead.
After breakfast the children rushed outside to play with Manfred, their grandfather’s frisky mongrel puppy, and to see how the farm had held up since their last visit. They poked around the place and ended up in a large shed about two hundred metres from the house.
The shed was dark and cool because it had been shut and light only came in from outside when the children opened the door. Alexander fumbled with a light switch that he had noticed just inside the door and the cool room was flooded with the white light of two long fluorescent bulbs.
Inside there were several rows of fresh scented Pine wood shelves nailed to the three walls that formed the back and the sides of the building. Each row was about forty centimetres higher than the row below it; except for the bottom shelf that was a little higher off the floor. There were some mysterious looking boxes and several long planks of lumber packed neatly on the floor under the shelves to the right of the room. Six large drums of pesticide were lined along the wall under the row of shelves to the left. The children knew that they were not to touch those because they had seen on T.V. that they could get into serious trouble if they did.
They weren’t interested in the pesticide containers however, because on the shelves above them were endless double rows of the largest mangoes that they had ever seen! These fruits were nearly the size of the pumpkins their father tried to grow in his backyard garden at home. The only reason that the children knew that they were really mangoes was because Grandpa had sent a dozen Tommy Atkins mangoes for them last summer with Uncle Stephen. Those had been the biggest mangoes that they had seen up to that time; but they had been nothing compared to what they saw now!
The smooth skins were beautiful tapestries of purple, fuchsia, green, orange, and yellow. They drew the three children like magnets; and so each child grabbed one and dashed from the shed to hide behind the barn where Grandpa’s five cows sometimes slept.
The children were very frightened by what they had done because everything had happened so quickly that they weren’t sure what had really occurred. They soon began to argue among themselves about whether or not they had really stolen the mangoes. The boys were inclined to feel that it wasn’t really stealing since they were only mangoes and they belonged to their grandfather. Efua felt that it was stealing since they were already picked and washed and put away on the shelves waiting for someone to come for them. She argued that if they had picked them from the tree themselves, or picked them up from the ground, then it wouldn’t really be stealing. Alex, remembering how his mango seemed to wink at him suggested that they simply ask their grandfather if they could have the mangoes, but Sylvester vetoed that idea because they had just eaten. The others stared at him quizzically so he went on to explain that the adults would think that they were greedy to want the mangoes after the big breakfast that they had just eaten.
“But we are!” Efua wailed.
“But they don’t have to know that,” Sylvester argued.
Alexander agreed, reluctantly, with his brother and so the children and Manfred ate the mangoes; more to destroy the evidence than because they were hungry. They didn’t enjoy the mangoes very much. They felt far too guilty.
“Why didn’t we just put them back?” asked Efua.
“You should have thought of that before,” Alexander agreed.
“You always see it on T.V; people get caught and killed trying to do things like that,” Sylvester pointed out. “No, it’s better this way.”
“No body would have killed us,” Efua argued, but it was too late because the deed was done.
They had only just finished eating the mangoes, allowing Manfred to lick their hands clean, and crept back toward the house when they heard voices coming their way. It was Grandpa and Daddy and they were going toward the shed!
The children crept closer and hid behind a low wall trying to hear what the two men were saying.
“Yes man; things are going really well for me now Son. The coconut farming hasn’t been all that good, but the mangoes! I don’t have enough to sell.”
“Really!” they heard their father say excitedly. “Have they given you a contract for a guaranteed price?”
And on and on they chatted until their grandfather invited their Dad in to see the fruit for himself.
“Well you can see for yourself,” said Grandpa as he opened the door. He paused, surprised, because the light in the shed was still on! Alexander had forgot to turn it off when he slammed the door behind him as he ran off with his share of the loot.
The children felt terrible and without really meaning to, they found themselves running, screaming, toward the astonished men.
“Why are you making so much noise?” Professor McKie asked.
“We’re so sorry!” Efua said, throwing her arms around her father’s waist.
“Sorry about what?” he asked, suspiciously.
“We were in the shed and we took the mangoes and we left the light on,” she gushed. “We didn’t mean it…”
Sylvester stared at her sourly. He couldn’t see the sense in confessing before they were accused.
“Oh,” said Grandpa, kindly. “That’s okay this time; but please try to understand that this is my store room and these mangoes are here because I have already sold them to Mr. Fuller from the factory. He’s coming to pick them up later today. You know I’d give you some if I could, but that has to wait until after I fill this order.”
The children promised to wait and they ran off again before their father could say anything at all.
They spent the rest of the morning exploring the farm. They watched the men drain the fishpond and catch the fish with their bare hands as they flopped around in the sludge. Efua actually managed to impress her brothers when she caught a little fish by herself. They helped to feed the chickens and then wandered down to the river where they waded in the water and pretended to be goat kids as they jumped from boulder to boulder.
They were very surprised, therefore, when Grandpa and Daddy called them in a very angry way later that day.
“Did you take those mangoes?” their father demanded.
“Y-yes. We took, we took three,” Alexander stammered. “We t-t-t-told you this morning.”
“No I mean after that,” his father barked.
“No, no. We didn’t take any more,” the boy insisted.
“Are you sure?”
“No! I mean yes I’m sure we didn’t take any more,” he said.
“We only took those three,” Efua confirmed.
“Well then, how did these three mangoes get into your luggage?” her father asked coldly. “Your Aunt and I found them when we were unpacking your things.”
The children were shocked.
“I really don’t know,” Efua said in a really small voice.
“You know what? We’re going straight home,” her father thundered. “I don’t know what has come over you children. I didn’t expect you to embarrass me like this.”
Efua began to cry and Alexander felt suddenly ill; but Sylvester still had some fight in him.
“We did not steal any more mangoes Daddy,” he declared.
“Just go inside and get your things for me. I don’t want to hear anything else. We’ll discuss this later. Right now I might say something that I’ll regret.”
The children went inside miserably.
They packed their things and were hauling their luggage to the front room when a thoughtful Sylvester said to the others, “I wonder how those mangoes got into our luggage. We didn’t put them there.”
“I wish we could find out before we left,” said Alexander.
“Well I’m going to find out,” said Sylvester; and flinging his bag down, he ran through the house and away into the back yard; the others following closely behind.
In the meanwhile, Professor McKie didn’t realise that the children had run away. He stood by the car with his father and sister and grew even angrier with each passing minute. When he finally went into the house to call them, the children were long gone. They had run to the same spot where they had squatted to eat the stolen mangoes earlier. They needed to think.
“What are we going to do now?” asked Alexander. He was beginning to think that running away hadn’t been such a good idea.
“We have to make a list to identify all the possible suspects,” Efua replied.
“Are we going to list our names too,” Sylvester asked.
“No man. Why are you so fool, fool! We will list the other people,” said Alexander irritably. “Do you have any paper?” he asked his sister.
“Then how were you going to write a list?”
Efua hissed her teeth.
“So now what?” Sylvester was becoming equally exasperated.
“We’ll look for clues,” said Alexander brightly, thinking of his Hardy Boys books at home. He was suddenly beginning to appreciate the possibilities of the situation.
“This isn’t a joke you know,” Efua insisted. “We have to think this out. Who else knew about those mangoes but us?”
“Everybody did,” said Alexander.
“Oh. Well then, who else likes mangoes besides us?”
“Everybody does,” said Sylvester.
“This isn’t working.”
“Okay; let’s try this,” said Alexander. “If we say that Grandpa wouldn’t steal his own mangoes and we know who was with him then the person who stole the mangoes has to be somebody who wasn’t with him; right?”
Efua was impressed; but Sylvester reminded her that they would still be the prime suspects because they hadn’t been with their grandfather either and in any case they couldn’t find out who was with him unless they asked him and they couldn’t do that because they were fugitives. He then suggested that they return to the shed to look for clues there. Having no other ideas they did just that.
The first thing that the children noticed was how muddy the place was. It hadn’t been like that when they were there and they wondered how it became that way. The second thing that they noticed was the number of footprints that passed through the mud puddle and seemed to disappear into thin air.
“Probably the real thief had parked his truck here and so when he climbed in there wouldn’t be any more footprints…” said Alexander sagely.
“Have you noticed though that there are no children’s footprints here?” whispered Efua excitedly. “That proves that we weren’t here; doesn’t it?”
“No it doesn’t. We could have stolen the mangoes before the truck came. Besides, your feet are as big as any adult’s,” he said, and both boys laughed uproariously at the girl.
“You don’t want us to get out of trouble do you,” Efua shouted, stamping her foot in frustration.
Her brothers stared at her. They felt sorry for her because she didn’t have as much experience with being in trouble as they did and so she was beginning to crack under the strain.
“Come on. Cheer up,” said Alexander, kindly. “Let’s see what we can find out here.”
The children went over the crime scene as carefully as they could and came to the conclusion that practically everyone who lived on the farm except Auntie Lorna and the cows, and themselves, of course, had been at the shed that afternoon. Even Manfred seemed to have been there!
“We’ll never find out who did it,” Sylvester complained, disgustedly.
“I know, let’s set a trap for the thief,” said Efua.
“Why?” asked Sylvester. “All the mangoes are already gone. He won’t come back here unless he’s stupid.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Alexander cut in. “The thief would have to know that the mangoes are gone…”
“Everybody knows that the mangoes are all gone,” interrupted Sylvester again. “… and the thief would definitely know that – he being the thief and all that…”
Efua sighed and wondered what their father was going to do to them when they finally had to go back to the house. She wanted to cry but she wouldn’t dream of doing so in front of the others.
“It couldn’t have been the men who came to take the mangoes away could it?” asked Sylvester.
“No,” said Alexander after some thought. “They would have seen each other.”
“That’s true. And besides, how would they have managed to smuggle three mangoes into our luggage…” Efua began.
“Oh yes. I’d forgot about that,” said Sylvester, disappointedly.
“… it must be somebody who knows us very well. I mean the person had to know which was your bag and which was Alexander’s and which was mine…”
“True,” Alexander agreed.
“You don’t think it could be Daddy do you?” Sylvester cut in, speaking in an awed tone. “Didn’t you notice that he didn’t get a mango too?”
“No!” the other two children gasped.
They were truly amazed that Sylvester could have suspected their father! They looked at their little brother in total disbelief.
“Daddy is too busy to go around the place stealing mangoes,” Efua declared. “And besides, he wouldn’t have accused us if he’d done it… Why would he do that?”
“He didn’t want us to come to the country.”
“No. Daddy wouldn’t do that. We have to think about all the people who knew about our things.”
“Us…” Sylvester began.
“Don’t bother about us…” Efua began, annoyed.
“Well who then?”
“Daddy and Auntie Lorna and Grandpa would know, but it couldn’t be any of them…”
“Well then… Who?”
“I don’t know…”
The children sat leaning against the wall of the shed staring dejectedly at the distant hills when they heard a pathetic whimpering coming from the other side of the building. Soon Manfred come into view and on seeing the children he dropped the large round object which he had been deftly carrying in his mouth, barked happily and bounded toward them.
“What was that that Manfred just dropped over there?”
“I dunno… It looks like a mango…”
A mango! Manfred? Manfred!
The children sat very still for a few minutes trying to absorb this turn of events. It looked as if the mystery had been solved! Manfred! He liked mangoes. His paw prints had been seen at the scene of the crime and Manfred would have been able to smell which bags belonged to the children. They were his friends; their father wasn’t really, he was always cross whenever Manfred came to beg at the table! This must have been why Manfred hadn’t given him a mango too. It was Manfred who had taken the mangoes! If the adults didn’t believe this theory then the children would just have to put a mango in the shed and make them hide and watch Manfred steal it.
The children were overjoyed and scrambled toward the yapping dog. They hugged and kissed him and that made him even happier. With Sylvester cradling the mango carefully, vital evidence, he told the others, Manfred frisked about their heels as the children ran inside to tell their Daddy that they had solved the mystery.
Questions for discussion with your children
- Were the children greedy to want the mangoes after they had just eaten such a big breakfast?
- Did the children steal the mangoes? Should they have eaten the mangoes before asking their grandfather for them?
- Do you think that the children’s grandfather would have given them the mangoes if they had asked for them first?
- Even if their grandfather did not give them the mangoes would it have really mattered?
- Was Professor McKie correct to accuse his children of stealing?
- Would you have run away instead of challenging Professor McKie? What would you have done?
- How do you feel when an adult is unkind to you?
- Is it worse when the person who is unkind to you is an adult or another child?
- Are you ever unkind to other people?
10. What can you do to make up to the people to whom you have been unkind?