LIFE WITH HAROLD STRA­CHAN

Weekend Witness - - Opinion -

Hin­dus and don’t in­ter­fere in the busi­ness world. Some other Hin­dus too, one should try to be fair.

Elias, now, he knows his place all right. He lives in the garbage lane back of our house un­der some planks. But he knows his place so­cially is what Mrs Fother­ing­ham means; he’s a Zulu African and hence a gen­tle­man, see, she gives him bread most days, oth­er­wise he would die. Says Mrs Fother­ing­ham.

Then over the road there’s Mr Ash­ment who keeps rac­ing pi­geons, he’s old-time Na­tal English work­ing class. Th­ese pi­geons are real ath­letes, I tell you, you should see them at the end of a long 500 km haul, they’re so ex­hausted they just glide the last 100 me­tres and flop on the ground, too shagged even to fold up their wings or try for a last hop into the loft. Some of Mr Ash­ment’s birds are worth R1 000. More. Trou­ble is, cer­tain fal­cons have moved into Um­bilo from cen­tral Durbs, it seems, where low-class pi­geons hang about and shit on stat­ues and peo­ple’s mo­tor cars and rap­tors have to catch them in mid-air, now said rap­tors have moved to where there’s a ready sup­ply of qual­ity blood-stock just flopped on the ground. It’s get­ting so bad the in­sur­ance peo­ple are threat­en­ing not to pro­vide fur­ther cover for the Ash­ment pedi­gree birds, but what can one do about Na­ture? Mr Ash­ment has a ready vo­cab­u­lary of English work­ing class present par­tici­ples which he lays on the world’s fal­cons, while throw­ing stones at them would be pur­pose­less, I mean have you ever tried throw­ing any­thing at a hov­er­ing bird?

I am giv­ing you here a lit­tle sketch of our mod­est Um­bilo com­mu­nity, you will have no­ticed. A mixed bag, we. There’s me too, of course, I mean I. I clean peo­ple’s oil paint­ings for a liv­ing, a bit like dry-clean­ing kids’ school blaz­ers, they come in, they go out, but I make a few ex­tra Rs from a deal with the lo­cal Spar: they buy the en­tire crop from my avo tree once a year. “Buy the tree”, as they say. Trou­ble is, cer­tain mon­keys move across the Berea from the Bur­man Bush once a year when the avos are about as big as your thumb and strip your trees naked, and what can I do about Na­ture? I wait but in vain with a bag of suit­able throw­ing rocks and mouth a few high-class present par­tici­ples I re­mem­ber from the Air Force. But man is not lost. Elias ap­pears with a fear­some cat­a­pult he has got from a fear­some Nige­rian at the taxi rank, dou­ble-thick­ness rub­ber from the in­ner tube of a bus tyre, and with this WMD he is go­ing to shoot the bloody lights out of any mon­key within sight and range in Um­bilo if I am will­ing to go 50/50 with the re­sul­tant quar­ter-pear crop.

So gaan dit mos. Plenty other odds and sods in this com­mu­nity. Busi­ness­men up the hill shop at Wool­worth’s, down here where I live and breathe and have my be­ing we recog­nise one an­other in the street, we love each other in a fa­mil­iar sort of way, even the car guards and the koek­suster lady in the street with her sun-blasted com­plex­ion and sun-scorched hair, lank and unlovely. I do a good deal with Elias, the near­est mon­key is in the Botanic Gar­dens five kays away. But it’s six months to avo har­vest­ing and he still looks like hell on his diet of Fother­ing­ham bread, his teeth rat­tle about in his mal­nour­ished skull.

And then ... then ... one day I no­tice he’s get­ting a bit plump in cheek and chin and I say to him Elias, I say, you are look­ing ab­nor­mally healthy th­ese days, has Mrs Fother­ing­ham been feed­ing you up? Nah, says he, just bread as be­fore, but I have in­creased my in­take of pro­tein un­til the quar­ter-pear sea­son starts and a new diet. I shoot birds. They are bloody stupid, man, they just sit on the ground with their wings spread out and I walk up and shoot them. You bas­tard! I ex­claim, you have been eat­ing Mr Ash­ment’s pi­geons! Never mind, says Elias.

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