Alex burst into the cottage.
‘Mummy has bought me a pomba but says you will let it go!’
We are a multi-lingual family and, I suppose in common with many others, quite lazy in our choice of language, mixing them up as is convenient. He had me with pomba though. Mind you, I hadn’t really heard him that well. As far as I was concerned he could have been on about a pump or even a bomb. His attitude didn’t really give me much time to consider it either, he was pretty damn aggressive.
‘If Mummy bought it for you, I’m sure I wouldn’t, Son’ I said.
‘So I can bring it in, then?’
‘You can manage by yourself? It isn’t too heavy for you?’
He gave me a bewildered look and ran back to the driveway. I just hoped it wasn’t anything lethal such as the bow and arrows he was given recently.
Alex had been stamping around the bush surrounding the cottage when he came across a funny little man. I know he was a funny little man because Alex brought him home. No more than five feet tall and wizened like an old tree root, if he spoke Portuguese, it was like no dialect I had ever heard. I think it was my grandmother who told me that every child is born able to speak any language and is blessed with all God’s knowledge but then an Angel comes along and seals the child’s lips with his thumb, which is why we have an indentation on our top lip. Mind you she also explained to me how our buttocks came to be in two halves, a story in which figured a madman with an axe so I took her tales with a pinch of salt and considered angels spoilsports. If it wasn’t for angels, there’d be no need for school. Mind you if it wasn’t for my Granny’s madman, women wouldn’t look nearly so good in G-strings.
It nevertheless amazes me that for children, a lack of fluency isn’t an impediment to communication. While I hadn’t a clue, Alex and this little man seemed to understand each other perfectly. The only word he said that I understood was ‘Namib’. I decided he was a Herero* but what he was doing so far north escaped me. Alex explained to me that he had found the Herero hunting birds in the bush. The man nodded his agreement and said something entirely incomprehensible. Alex translated.
‘He wants to give me his bow and arrows.’
‘I’m sure he doesn’t, Son, I think he probably needs them.’
The Herero handed his bow and arrows to Alex. The way something is handed to you in Africa is important. If something is just handed over, you are being given it to try, it is a temporary transition of possession. If, on the other hand, the item is passed to you balanced on two upturned palms it is very literally being offered to you. To keep. This is how the Herero passed his bow and arrows to Alex.
To be honest, I wasn’t particularly concerned. The bow and especially the arrows looked pretty bloody artisan, I doubted you could squirt one very far. No wonder the bloke looked starved. I fetched him a cold beer from the fridge. While he drank it, Alex had a go with the bow. As I expected, the arrow barely covered three feet. Clearly the guy was knocking these out by the hundred and flogging them as little souvenirs, although who round here would pay for them I had no idea.
The Herero finished his beer and took the bow back from Alex. Alex retrieved the arrows for him. Brian Blessed is the only man I have ever seen who could draw an English Longbow. There is a slow, methodical determination in doing so that has its own grace. I know that this little bow was nothing in comparison but I expected a little more than an arrow launched from a crouching position in the blink of an eye. I know he did it in the blink of an eye because I blinked and I missed it.
‘Where did the arrow go?’ I asked Alex as I scanned the ground a few yards ahead.
‘Over there,’ said Alex pointing way into the trees.
Pretty soon, under the Herero’s patient tuition, Alex was launching arrows from one side of the garden to the other.
Alex decided that he wanted to shoot birds as well and this both saddened and worried me. This is the trouble with weapons like these. Very soon, boredom with inanimate targets sets in and a moving target is required. I will teach him to shoot and I will teach him to hunt but right now he is too young to distinguish between hunting, and killing for the sake of it. He is also far too young to understand the enormous responsibility of handling a lethal weapon.
Bows and arrows make me nervous. Anything that fires a projectile makes me nervous and I am not alone. I think everyone is uncomfortable having a weapon pointed at them. The other day a local slapped Alex for merely pointing a bright green plastic water pistol at him. That time public opinion was on my side when I knocked the man down and squirted the entire contents of Alex’s pistol up his nostril, but if Alex ever pointed a drawn bow and arrow at anyone or, God forbid, loosed one off, we’d really be in trouble, never mind the awful trauma of accidentally taking a life, or putting someone’s eye out. After the Herero left, I quietly hid the bow and arrows, but only after having a quiet go myself. I was rubbish.
Alex returned with something cupped in his hands, close on his heels one of his friends from the village.
‘Oh, a pigeon!’ I said. Laying in his hands, legs bound together with plastic, was a very frightened pigeon.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘are you going to let it go?’
|I placed it temporarily in a waste paper basket where it was less likely to
flutter in panic and hurt itself
Well, ordinarily I would and Marcia evidently knows my thoughts on this well enough to have warned Alex. I don’t mind shooting pigeons, they can be as much of a pest as rats so I will shoot them, yes for sport as well, but mainly for the pot. One minute they will be gorging themselves on the farmer’s corn, next oblivion and my fileting knife as I carve the meat off the carcass. The idea of keeping one in a cage, though, does not appeal to me at all. As an extraordinary concession I would, however, allow Alex to keep the pigeon in the same pen as the ducks. It is completely enclosed in shade netting and has over two metres of headroom, enough space for the bird to stretch its wings. Pigeons are very sociable creatures so it seems a bit mean to keep one on its own but on its own, unless it can rejoin its flock, it’ll be a sitting duck for any of the many hawks and eagles around here looking for just such a loner. It may even fall to one of the Herero’s arrows. Perhaps this one will act as a decoy and lure others in. If I scatter a bit of feed around, they may hang around, in which case I can make an opening in the netting to let them in and out. That would be nice. What it might do is encourage in Alex a little more respect for these creatures and a little more circumspection about killing them.
Tomorrow, Alex starts his golf lessons. Next year the Mangais Golf Resort will host a round of the PGA championship and as part of this, they want to hold a junior tournament.
Golf is not something that really excites me but Alex wouldn’t be the first mixed race player to make a fortune at it. If he can keep his dick in his trousers he might get to keep it. Anyway, I hope he enjoys it. In civilized countries I understand it is quite hard to get time on a PGA standard golf course.
Marcia is very excited about this. So excited, I even caught her watching golf on TV. I thought that might be because she wanted to understand the rules although they could hardly be considered complicated, just take turns hitting a ball until it goes down a hole, then do it again seventeen more times. But no, she was watching it to see what the players wore. I was disappointed she hadn’t asked me first. I would have Googled a picture of Payne Stewart and shown her that. She has spent the afternoon washing pretty much every item of clothing the boy possesses and even now as I type is showing me various bits of apparel and asking my opinion. Intellectually, this is a strain. A polo shirt is easy, all I have to say is no Darling, you need a pony with that, but it is difficult to find something amusing in an ordinary pair of navy blue chinos.
The Herero is an ethnic group inhabiting parts of Southern Africa. The majority reside in Namibia, with the remainder found in Botswana and Angola. About 250,000 members are alive today. Groups in Angola include the Mucubal Kuvale, Zemba, Hakawona, Tjavikwa, Tjimba and Himba. The Tjimba, though they speak Herero, are physically distinct indigenous hunter-gatherers.