LIFE WITH HAROLD STRACHAN
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.