The Sloth Diaries: The Nigerian Lottery Scam
The terrible traumas of the last few weeks are already becoming a distant memory and have been consigned to the brimming recycle bin of life. The sloth appears to have recovered from his duel with the dentist and seems none the worse for his experience. The intensity of summer is at an end and the days are becoming shorter. The garden is being romanced by vibrant Dhalias, dazzling us with the colours of their Mexican heritage. Burnt orange, Fuschia pinks, Marigold yellows, brilliant scarlet and pure, creamy white. They grow in profusion, crowding the borders and competing aggressively with the purple and pink Michaelmas daisies. The feathery leaves on the Sumach ( Japanese Maple) that grows at the foot of the rockery are turning a delicate yellow gold with the occasional vermillion leaf in between. Even the weather has become conveniently autumnal with the mist rolling down the mountain and spreading its moist mantle over the valley below. But the garden heaves a great sigh of relief and welcomes the the torrential downpours that soak the grateful roots of the old apple trees.
However, the peace and quiet of this sunny monday morning was shattered by a triumphant yell from the the study. When I went in to investigate this unruly outburst, I was confronted by the rare sight of the Sloth jumping up and down, waving a letter excitedly in the air. (a rather risky activitiy as he suffers from Angina!!!).
‘We’ve won! We’ve won! Here, look at this!’ He held the letter under my nose with trembling hands.
‘We’ve won the bloody Spanish lottery. We’re rich!’
I snatched the letter from his shaking hand and scanned a smudgy photocopy informing the Sloth that he’d been entered in the Spanish lottery via the internet and his numbers had come up. It stated that he was the lucky winner of 800,815 euros ( roughly £500, 600 ). To collect his winnings he had been given an email address and several phone numbers to contact someone called Steve Gomez. Poor old Sloth! Anyone with half a brain could see that it had SCAM, written all over it. But he desperately wanted to think it was true, as much as he wants to be rich and famous. He has a certain child like innocence that believes the little old ladies who come to our door and con him out of his cash. He’s a sucker for a hard luck story. This is a man who has an unshakeable belief in God and probably believes in Father Christmas too!! Both concepts seem synonymous as we are conditioned from childhood to believe in them. We never actually see them in the flesh though.
‘Look!’, I say. ‘It’s just a trick. They’ve got your name and address from the internet. You’re always buying things online”.
Sloth sighed heavily. He doesn’t do patience. He began to speak very slowly and loudly as though he was talking to a simpleton or someone who was profoundly deaf.
‘It doesn’t matter where they got my name from does it? I’ve obviously won something and I’m going to ring the number and check it right now. OK?’
‘Ok! But it’s a Spanish number. It’ll cost a fortune on a Monday morning. Why don’t we wait until after six o’clock?’
His shoulders began to shake. The volcano was rumbling. ‘This is irrelevant in the scheme of things. The cost of a couple of phone calls is small beer when it looks like we’ve won half a million!’ Well, there’s no answer to that!
There were three phone numbers. He rang the first number but slammed down the receiver after dialling it several times. ‘It’s giving the unused line signal. I’ll try the other one.’ This time there was an answer.
‘Hola! Buenas dias! Puedo hablar con senor Steve Gomez por favor?’ Sloth said breezily.
‘Quien?’ a female voice crackled down the line.
‘Steve Gomez. G- O- M- E- Z ‘ Sloth spelled the name (using the Spanish alphabet) helpfully. There was a long pause, then, ‘No hay Steve Gomez aqui senor.’
The Sloth stiffened and grapsed the receiver firmly as though it was the arm of the Spanish speaker on the other end and tried again.
‘Mirar! Tengo una ficha sobre la lotteria…………’
‘Senor!’ the voice interrupted. ‘No hay Steve Gomez. No existe’
‘What do you mean? ‘Doesn’t exist’ ?’ Suddenly English had become the lingua franca, born out of sheer desperation.
‘Hello!….Hello!…’ Sloth tapped the phone frantically but was rewarded for his trouble with the irritating purr of the dialing tone.
‘See! I told you it was just a scam! The man doesn’t even exist….’
‘Of course he exists! ‘ exploded the Sloth and pounded up the stairs two at a time to send the non exisitent person an email.
The next morning the Sloth was up bright and early checking his emails. He came into the kitchen excitedly brandishing a sheet of paper.
‘I told you it was genuine’ he said self righteously. ‘ Take a look at this’.
I read the email and saw that it was indeed from someone calling himself Steve Gomez and informing the Sloth that he would be ringing from Spain that very morning. His smugness was unbearable as he began humming a tune from his latest Roy Orbison CD and stiring his capuccino noisily.
At eleven am the phone rang and the Sloth went into a frantic pantomime of manic handsignals worthy of a bookie ‘s tic tac signalling the odds on the racecourse! I took this to mean that I was to answer it as the Sloth hates speaking on the phone. Expecting a conversation in Spanish I began by greeting the caller in what I believed was his native tongue. There was a brief silence from the other end, then ‘Er….can you speak English?’
‘Yes of course. Sorry! I thought you were Spanish. You have a spanish name so I thought…………’ I trailed off.
‘You have an African accent’ I ventured. A loud chuckle exploded in my ear.’Well that’s because I was born in South Africa, you see!’ Somehow, I couldn’t make out the clipped , adenoidal vowels of South Africa in his speech. By now I was bristling with suspicion but to prove my point to the gullible Sloth, I continued.
The deep, dark African voice identified himself as Steve Gomez and asked to speak to the Sloth. I explained that he had a cold and had lost his voice, so I was handling things for him. He seemed completely unfazed and told me cheerfully in a lilting African accent that Sloth had won some money in the Spanish lottery. He needed to know if he wanted to be paid by cheque or have the money transferred into his bank account by electronic transfer. ‘Of course we would need your bank details for this operation’ he crooned smoothly. I decided to play the shark a little longer and said ‘It would be better if you sent a cheuque’, I said breezily and gave a false address. ‘Steve’ seemed very happy with this. So much so that he then dropped the (the terribly predictable) bombshell.
‘Well that’s good! Now there’s only one more thing you must do to guarantee payment of the cheque’ he giggled.
‘What’s that exactly’ I said slowly.
‘Well!’ he paused ‘The Spanish bank charges £l,OOO’
‘What for?’ I said my voice beginning to rise.
‘Its the handling fee ma’m’
‘A £l,OOO handling fee’ I repeated.
I looked over at the Sloth who looked so woeful as he gave me the thumbs down. Dreams of a life of Riley fading into the ether. I quietly put down the receiver and switched on the answerphone.