It seems this Nigerian chap, Dr. Sheldon Nabongalele, was President of the Rhinoceros Protection Society, or RPS, located in the Nigerian capital city of Abugia. The national zoo there had had a rare puce rhinoceros born the previous year, and Dr. Nabongalele and the RPS were trying desperately to save it. A group of Chinese investors were plotting to buy the rhinoceros from the zoo (through the machinations of a corrupt government official) and then have the poor little bugger (the rhinoceros, not the official) pulverized for use as an aphrodisiac.
Dr. Nabongalele told me how, at great personal risk, he had stolen the puce rhinoceros and hidden him in a warehouse. Now he needed $1,100 right away to make a crate so the RPS could smuggle the little rhinoceros across the border to a zoo in neighboring Zamboniland, where he need no longer fear being ground up to stiffen little Chinese peckers.
Well, one thing led to another, and, $89,000 later, I owned the puce rhinoceros! Yes, you may well be surprised at my good fortune. I was surprised, myself. I named him “Zaka” at a friend’s suggestion. Dr. Nabongalele had asked me for another $29,000 to construct a modest habitat at the Zamboniland Zoo for Zaka, but I’d had to decline, since I had already spent all my savings and a lot more that I’d borrowed from friends.
This money would eventually be recouped, of course, as soon as the zoo admission charges to see the rare puce rhinoceros reached $100,000. After that, Dr. Nabongalele assured me, I’d receive 50 cents for each visitor admitted to Zaka’s compound. Once I’d been repaid, I planned to donate the extra income to my church.
Anyway, several months after I’d bought Zaka, I won a small amount of money in the Iowa state lottery, $4,545, to be exact. I immediately made plans to spend this money on a trip to the zoo in Zamboniland to visit Zaka. When I informed Dr. Nabongalele of my winnings and my impending trip, he became very excited. He told me that Zaka had suddenly contracted Foster’s Disease, an infection peculiar to puce rhinoceroses, and that the veterinarian needed exactly $4,545 for medications to treat the little fellow. Wasn’t that amazing? I took it as a sign and wired the money immediately to my friend, Dr. Nabongalele, who sent me occasional reports on Zaka’s progress.
But then, in an amazing twist of fate, I won another $4,734 in the next week’s lottery. Now I could make my trip to Zamboniland! And when it turned out that none of the airlines had flights to Zamboniland (nor had even heard of it), I decided the trip would be extra special if I paid a surprise visit to Dr. Nabongalele in Abugia first, and then arranged to travel to Zamboniland by bus. Better yet, an elderly friend who had lent me $10,000 for Zaka decided to accompany me, along with his nephew-in-law from Chicago, a large fellow with the odd name of “Big Louie” Thugganini, who had recently developed an interest in zoology, especially rhinoceroses.
To make a long story short, once we reached Abugia, we had a devil of a time tracking down the offices of Dr. Nabongalele and the Rhinoceros Protection Society. But Big Louie was most resourceful and persuasive, and we somehow found the right building. When the three of us arrived at Dr. Nabongalele’s office, you should have seen the expression on his face! I told him we were on our way to Zamboniland, if he could just show us on my map which direction it was from Nigeria. He informed us that Zamboniland had changed its name to Bechuanaland after a recent coup d’etat, and that foreigners were no longer being admitted.
Big Louie just cracked his knuckles and said, “We wouldn’t let a little t’ing like a name change keep us from seein’ our beloved Zaka. Let’s da four o’ us go to the Bechuanaland consulate right now an’ demand visas.” Dr. Nabongalele then broke down and reluctantly admitted he’d been hiding something from us. It seems the treatment had been unsuccessful, and Zaka had succumbed to Foster’s Disease the day prior to our arrival. I was stunned. My elderly friend led me out of the building, heartbroken, while Big Louie lingered to express his condolences to Dr. Nabongalele. We were kept waiting for quite a long time, while the poor doctor’s cries of grief echoed from within the building.
Because we’d intended to continue on to Zamboniland, wherever that turned out to be, we had no tickets when we arrived back at the airport. Big Louie, in an unexpected act of generosity, pulled a huge wad of currency out of his pocket and insisted on paying all our fares back to Iowa. He also repaid the $10,000 my friend had lent me. Wasn’t that sweet of him?
Just before we boarded the plane to fly back to Turnip Center, Iowa, I suggested we give Dr. Nabongalele a phone call to say adieu. It was then that Big Louie informed us of the further shocking news that Dr. Nabongalele had “joined his ancestahs and Zaka in da hereaftah.” No sooner had my friend and I left the office the previous day, than the good doctor had had some sort of attack and died in Big Louie’s arms. Big Louie nodded gravely as he told us: “It looked an awful lot like Fostah’s Disease ta me.”
Then Big Louie, ordinarily a rather gruff fellow, buried his face in his hands as his body shook with emotion. He’d peer up at me every so often, poor chap, bravely trying to smile through his tears. Then he’d hide his face again and convulse with silent sobs. How sad it was to see!
Now, of course, I’ve learned my lesson and would never again think of investing in a rhinoceros. No, indeed.
But how would you like to be part-owner of an orphaned elephant named Pidgey?