"What happened to your leg?" I asked Lord Patu, as I lit my second splif of his excellent 'Natal Cabbage' and took another swig from the neck of my fifth quart of his quite superb home-brewed beer.
We had been sitting in the shade of his stoep for most of the afternoon, and (under such circumstances) the question did not seem to be unreasonably intrusive.
There was a fairly long delay (even after I had repeated the question, twice) before His Lordship finally replied.
"I trod on a bloody tin can, Old Boy ... " came the eventual reply " ... that day was, actually, a bloody disaster ... "
I nodded, mbanje-ly, and waited for him to continue, which, eventually, he did. I had long since learned not to chivvy His Lordship for any immediate response.
"Ja! That was a bad day ... " Lord Patu blew a perfect smoke ring, and we watched it waft gently upwards, slowly dissipating, until a rare puff of wind tugged away its symmetry and it gradually evaporated into history.
" ... Ja ! A bad day. We were coming back from a patrol in Mrewa TTL, when I saw a tortoise that had been injured in a bush fire. Its front legs had been burned, and I thought that if the poor chap was to have any chance of survival, I should get him to some water. "There was a little vlei not far from our day camp, and I thought that would be a good place for him to recover, so I picked up the tortoise, and when we arrived back at our day camp, I warned my stick members that I was leaving the perimeter, and set off for the stream."
Lord Patu hesitated for some time, and as he was ruminatively scratching his balls, I instinctively knew that he was thinking: casting his mind back to that fateful day in Mrewa TTL.
Not wanting to interrupt his thought process, I surveyed the wisp of smoke that drifted up from my own splif, and dreamily awaited his continuation.
"Ja. A bad day ... " he eventually intoned " ... I carried the poor fella, and was walking down a game trail towards the vlei, when there was a tremendous 'bang'. When I woke up, I was on my back, with my head in the dust and my arse resting in the bottom growth of a thorn bush. I looked up, and there was my leg, about ten feet above me. It was in the higher branches, hanging by the camo material from some of the bigger thorns which had not been burned off in previous bush fires. There was quite a lot of blood, and I could see white bone sticking out where my knee used to be."
I took another sip from my beer and nodded my commiserations. I did not reply for a moment or two, then inquired, "What happened to the tortoise ?"
"Never did find out, Old Boy." Lord Patu shrugged. "The bloody medic jova'd my arse with something, and I didn't wake up until the chopper crashed."
The sun was sinking slowly behind the bougainvillea, casting glowing purple, red and blue reflections through the smoky haze before my eyelids, and again, there seemed to be no reason to hurry His Lordship. (As I have already stated, both the mbanje and the beer were first class).
But I was not totally without interest in the conversation, so after a couple more sips, and a puff or two, I asked, "The chopper crashed ?"
"Ja. Apparently someone had put my leg next to the pilot, and it became wedged behind his cyclical control stick. When he tried to kick it out of the way, he lost control, and the chopper's blades hit the top of a tree."
"Rotten luck." I replied. "What did you do then ?"
"What did you do then ?" I said, a little louder.
"Oh! Nothing. I was not very mobile at the time, and I was still a bit goofy, anyway. They carried me on a stretcher to the nearest road, and eventually an Intaf Land Rover picked me up and took me through to the hospital at Mount Darwin."
Two ibis birds were pecking with their pointed beaks into Lord Patu's lawn in the gathering dusk, searching for worms (I assume), but they showed no undue interest in His Lordship's story, so I ignored them, and gently prodded him to continue.
"The whole way from Mrewa to Mount Darwin in a Land Rover ? You must have been a bit uncomfortable ?"
"Hell, don't tell me ! I will never buy a Land Rover ! Springs in the back are terrible ! Give me a Toyota, any day."
We lapsed again into silence for a while, watching the sun slip lazily lower, and listening to the gentle hum of the bees in the lemon trees as the wood-smoky scent of Africa gently engulfed us.
There seemed no reason to rush towards the question that needed to be asked, but eventually, my curiosity got the better of me.
"Was that when you met your Good Wife ?" I inquired (knowing that Hey You Gertrude had been a nurse).
"Oh! No. We had already been living together for three years before that. When she came to the hospital, she sat on the edge of the bed, where my stump was resting. She sat on it, and I told her to fuck off."
"But she didn't ?" I asked, after another decent interval.
"Oh! No. She told me that although I had been bloody lucky, and that the Lord watches over us, it was high time we got married, before anything else got blown off."
The two ibis birds flew away as the huge black hound bounded hungrily towards them across the lawn: but I was not to be distracted.
"And you agreed ?" I asked him. "Why ? After she had sat upon your stump."
"Don't know, really, Old Chap. I suppose that we would both have married, eventually, anyway ... " Lord Patu replied, after some concentrated deliberation " ... and it just seemed better that TWO people should be continuously unhappy, rather than FOUR."
"Good thinking ... " I replied, getting up and stretching, before making my way back to the rude refrigerator, and thinking about the tortoise once again.
In retrospect, it would have been better had I noticed that the huge black dog had left a large calling card in the passage.
-- KK Brown
Camo : (Slang abbreviation) Camouflage
Intaf : (Abbreviation) Department of Internal Affairs
Jova : (Shona) Inject
Mbanje : Marijuana
Natal Cabbage : Mbanje, Dagga, Marijuana
Splif : Reefer (usually marijuana)
Tin can : Rhodesian slang for an anti-personnel mine
TTL : (Abbreviation) Tribal Trust Land
Vlei : (Afrik.) Wetland area, swampy patch of land