We were sent to my Uncle's farm in the Northern Province of South
Africa so that we would not have to bear witness as my parents
negotiated and devoured each others souls and what was left of
their farcical union.
My Uncle was a special human. Perhaps it was his French Mauritian roots that allowed him to be the kind and giving humanitarian he was, and for a nine year old boy who knew his parents union was about to end, he was at that time my only hope.
He was one of the first to stop commercial farming and turn the dry earth back to what it was, a playground for Africa's true inhabitants. And so with out realising it he set the seeds within me that would later manifest in an uncontrollable and undying love for Africa, its beautiful geography, uniqueness in flora and fauna and its wonderful people.
He still kept some cows for milk and sheep for meat, but these were not for commercial use just to sustain those that had joined him in his quest to restore the soul of the land. He grew every conceivable vegetable, including sousous which one doesn't really see these days and the orchard of naartjies (tangerines), figs, apricots and peaches once a year poured forth their heavy bounty creating work for weeks as my aunt and her team made konfyt(jam) and bottled the fruit for the next years consumption.
He had an uncanny ability to find water and so whilst other farms sweltered and died under an African sun, the water he found poured out its life force in crystal clarity as if God himself had sanctioned this man and his team's efforts to return once ploughed fields back to the natural Eden the creator had left.
We were walking through the sheep pen when he looked at me and my
chum Jan, a black kid about my age whose father worked this land
with my uncle. "Vapour", my uncle said "Catch that sheep", and
obediently I dived and caught the sheep's leg, Jan also grabbed
it and we pinned it down. "Jan do you have your knife", my uncle
asked and Jan replied that he did, "Give it to Vapour", Jan
obeyed and handed me the knife, a smallish pen knife with a blade
not larger than three centimetres. "Okay Vapour cut the sheep's
throat". "Excuse me uncle", I stammered, "You heard me, cut the
sheep's throat", I was shaking, and in total shock at his command
as I looked at him with pleading eyes, "Vapour, I am not going to
ask you again cut the animals throat", Jan pushed me, "Ah Vapour
do what your uncle asks it's just a sheep". I took the blunt
blade and pushed it into the throat of the animal and watched as
the blood squirted up and across my chest and face whilst the
animal pleaded and begged for its life.
Jan showed me and I followed his instruction as I moved the knife in up and down motions sawing through the cartilage of the sheep's throat. I felt the life go out of the animal and its struggles grew weaker and then I felt its spirit disappear. I was shaking and my little nine year old legs were knocking together as I realised that I had just killed, taken a spirit. My uncle and one of his team then pulled me off the animal and they picked up the now lifeless carcass to clean it and prepare it for that night's barbecue.
They put me down and I remember running as fast as my little legs could carry me, I just ran and ran; I felt that I done something terribly wrong.
Eventually exhausted and out of breath I stopped next to a big old Mopani tree, to catch my breath and wipe my snot nose and my damp eyes.
Breathless Jan caught up with me, "Are you okay Vapour, why did you run away"?, still shaking at the gravity of what had transpired I looked at Jan and replied "I don't know Jan, I was just scared that God might see me", "Oh Vapour don't be stupid, god knows we must eat that's why he gave us sheep". I looked at Jan in disbelief, "But at Sunday school Jan they taught us that God said thou shalt not kill". "People Vapour, God said you may not kill people", replied Jan irritably, as if he wasn't to sure now of his facts.
Angry and confused I watched a troop of army ants marching past the tree and with my small dirty barefoot I stamped in the middle of their path, just like a god to block their way. All of a sudden the ants attacked my foot intent on chewing their way through it, I grimaced in pain and Jan quickly pushed me out the way and pulled the ants one by one from my foot.
"Vapour what are you doing, these ants will eat you up", Jan screamed at me.
The pain felt good, almost penance for the deed I had just done.
I looked up and there was my uncle, this god like man who up until a few moments ago I thought could do no wrong, "Vapour I am sorry you had to learn such a hard lesson, but I want you to know the truth, this is how we are able to live", "How uncle", I asked, "Through the death of others, yes my boy that is the truth, so don't forget to give thanks to them".
That night I watched as the party and festivities went long on into the night. Later tired and emotionally drained from the days harsh lesson, I went off to bed and kneeling at the side of the bed with a serious frown and absolute focus I thanked the sheep and everything I had ever consumed and hoped they were all happy in heaven and that they should tell God that I am sorry for killing them but that it was Gods fault for making me a person