Printed from WriteWords -


by  mafunyane

Posted: Saturday, January 17, 2009
Word Count: 2893
Summary: I think I know what the reaction to this chapter is going to be. The question for those who've read this and the previous chapter is really whether I should get rid of them (as non-essential to the plot) or is there (as I hope!) merit to the incidents themselves. (I also like this chapter because it shows both Kenny and Jo being strong and working together - which becomes important later. But maye I don't need all that...). All views appreciated!


‘Jo,’ shouted Kenny. ‘We’ve got to leave it.’ Reluctantly Jo turned away from the calf and started walking. The renewed bleating meant she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder. As she glanced back, the calf pushed itself up on its rickety front legs. She breathed a huge sigh of relief – perhaps it would run off and join the herd after all. Jo liked happy endings and immediately imagined an emotional reunion with the animal’s mother. Feeling a bit happier about the situation, she caught up with the boys.

As the three walked on, the bleating continued. When Lourens paused to tie his bootlace, Jo turned around again. The calf was tottering along behind them. It wasn’t heading towards the herd. It was heading towards them. By the time they started walking again, the calf was alongside. Kenny wasn’t happy but he thought there was no harm letting it walk with them for a while. So the three set off with the calf in tow, looking like three kids back home, out for a walk with their pet dog. But the pet was bleating not barking, and one day it would grow up to weigh more than half a tonne.

Lourens found their new companion great fun and chattered away happily in Afrikaans as they walked. Perhaps he was trying to encourage it to keep going. When they approached the picnic site, the calf was obviously getting tired. Despite Lourens’s enthusiastic attempts at buffalo-whispering, its legs looked feeble and it struggled to stand, let alone walk. Jo looked at Kenny. She knew she couldn’t ask to take it back to Camp but she couldn’t bear to abandon it either. After everything with the Museum, she needed something good to happen.

‘It will be fine. I’ve got an idea,’ said Kenny, patting Jo gently on the shoulder before running across to the staff huts at the side of the picnic area. Rapping on one of the doors for what seemed like an age, Kenny was finally greeted by the dishevelled attendant. Jo was sure he had been asleep but couldn’t really blame him – hardly anyone came to this site and there was nothing to do apart from fight off the baboons that hung around scavenging for food and wrecking the bathroom windows.

Kenny called his father on the attendant’s radio and they talked for sometime in Shangaan. Jo couldn’t understand much more than the occasional yes and no. She sat on a rock in the shade and watched a passing dung beetle roll a ball three times the size of its body along with its spindly back legs.

Lourens was sitting with the exhausted calf at the picnic site entrance. At the sound of gravel crunching under the tyres of an approaching car, Jo looked up to see him leaping around like a crazy cicada. He was trying to slow the driver down. Jo couldn’t help but laugh at his long-limbed car-scaring dance . . . But at least it worked, and the car gave the calf, and Lourens, a wide berth.

‘It’s all going to be ok,’ said Kenny, joining Jo on her rock. ‘But we need to get her to the Hlanganini river.’

‘How far is that?’ asked Jo, intrigued by what Kenny had planned.

‘About two kilometres. Not far if we go across the veld.’

‘But she’ll never make it. Look at her, she’s like a cripple.’

‘She’s missing her mother’s milk,’ said Kenny.

‘Her mother’s miles away,’ said Jo. Kenny shrugged his shoulders and walked off to join Lourens. Jo was despondent. She looked around the site in desperation. Nothing but old coke cans and plastic bags – even the baboons would be disappointed if they stopped by today. But then she spotted the newly-arrived picnickers. They obviously hadn’t been put off by Lourens’s jig at the entrance. On the far side of the site they were setting up drinks and food at a concrete table. The two children grabbed cans of coke and their parents opened a flask of something. Wait a minute. A flask . . . Jo pushed herself off the rock, clapped her dusty hands on the sides of her shorts, pulled her fringe back across her forehead in a vague sort of parting and walked up to the tourists. She took a deep breath, ‘Ouk hund et?’

‘Hood, dankie,’ replied the father. Damnit, thought Jo, they’re Afrikaans. She looked across to Lourens, but he and Kenny were focused on the calf. And she wasn’t sure what the tourists had thought of his mad entrance dance anyway. So she tried her best, with odd Afrikaans words, some German she remembered from last term at school and a couple of improvised hand signals, to explain that she wanted some of their milk. Combined with Lourens’s dancing she could easily have scared the visitors off but they finally passed over a carton of milk. At Jo’s further, but clearly signalled, request, they also surrendered a small bottle of water.

‘Buy a donkey. Buy a donkey.’ Jo thanked them warmly and rushed over to join her companions, proudly waving her provisions. Lourens and Kenny looked up with interest as she knelt down beside them and emptied the water bottle. The moisture quickly disappeared into dry earth that hadn’t seen a drop of rain for months. She filled the empty bottle with milk and, before she had time to wonder how they might persuade the calf to drink it, the animal found enough energy to force its head up towards the open, round top. Jo jiggled around to find the most effective angle for getting as much milk into the calf’s mouth as possible (without spilling half of it down the animal’s neck or her own knees) and it wasn’t long before the entire bottle was finished. The three of them heaved the calf up onto its feet and, after a minor wobble, she looked like she might be able to walk again.

Kenny wasted no time. He ran back to the attendant’s hut, disturbed the sleeping sentry once more and radioed his father again. The plan was in motion, and he, Lourens, Jo and the calf, all started marching into the bush, heading for the Hlanganini river crossing.

‘Lions are here somedays,’ said Lourens. ‘What if they fancy some buffel for dinner?’ Jo was shocked by the rather manic shriek at the end of Lourens’s question.

‘It’s ok,’ said Kenny calmly. ‘My father said they ate this morning. The rangers found a giraffe kill near the windmill at the dam. Their stomachs will be too full of ndlulamithi to be able to move. I bet they’re sleeping it off somewhere.’

Jo relaxed a little. She knew that lions slept for about twenty hours of the day – a pretty lazy life – and if they’d eaten a whole giraffe, then a relatively small buffalo calf, or even three teenagers, probably wouldn’t seem that appealing.

‘What does en-doo-la-meat-y mean?’ she asked Kenny.

‘Taller than the trees,’ he replied raising his hand high in the air. Jo thought this was a good name. The giraffes in Kruger could be over five metres tall (that was more than twice the height of her brother David, and anyone who didn’t know how uncoordinated he was always said he ought to be a basketball player. That was so not his thing . . .). And the giraffes were certainly taller than most of the scrubby mopane trees she had seen around camp so far.

‘We call it a camel-horse,’ said Lourens giggling. ‘A cameell-paired.’

Jo could see the logic, but she didn’t think it was a very flattering name for such an elegant animal. She liked the fact that animal names here meant something though. She loved the Afrikaans for hippopotamus: say-coy-a, which meant sea cow.

As they walked away from the picnic site, two more tourist cars drove onto the gravel entrance road – it was turning out to be a surprisingly busy day for the picnic attendant. The calf-rescuers made an unusual sight and one of the holiday-makers even videoed the action. Jo wondered if she would return home to find herself broadcast on youtube with an overenthusiastic Afrikaans boy and a wobbly buffalo calf. At least if Kenny was in the footage, her schoolmates would be impressed by his handsome good looks.

After about five minutes, the calf was getting tired again. She was still on her feet, but walking ever more slowly. Kenny looked anxiously at his watch. Lourens tried to cajole the calf to speed up by clapping his hands behind her and making a variety of strange noises. By now, Jo recognised this as his standard approach to ‘scaring animals’, whatever their size, age or temperament. But this just stressed the calf out and her legs went all wobbly again. Kenny looked worried. If they didn’t get the calf to the river on time, the whole plan would fall through.

They continued to slow down. Kenny finally stopped and passed Jo his fishing sling. ‘Hold this please,’ he said and started to bend down. Jo was amazed as she watched Kenny take hold of the calf’s legs, bend his head under its stomach and pull the animal onto his shoulders. The calf didn’t even bleat. Kenny spread his legs to steady himself and, with a wide grimace, pushed himself up to stand. The calf’s front legs were resting on his left shoulder, and he wrapped his left arm securely around the top of them, supporting the calf’s head as well. She looked surprisingly comfortable and kept her head held up, looking forwards over Kenny’s hat. The rear legs hung over Kenny’s right shoulder, sticking out to the front, and the tail swung quite happily over his back, removing flies not just from the calf but from Kenny too. The tired animal looked quite serene. Kenny looked rather unsteady.

‘Are you good?’ asked Lourens.

‘Sharp,’ said Kenny. His breathy reply sounded as if the buffalo had crushed all the air out of his lungs. He quickly moved his right arm to get a better grip on the calf’s legs and started to step forward. Jo was awestruck. The animal must have weighed more than fifty kilograms, possibly more than Kenny himself. When Kenny set off, Jo and Lourens walked slowly behind him, the group now pacing in single file like a pack of zebra. Even Lourens was silent as they paced ahead and Jo’s mind went back to the Museum again. Who would do such a horrid thing? And why? She simply couldn’t believe the elephant story. But she couldn’t believe anyone else would want to break in and wreck the place either.

Where the Hlanganini river crosses under the road, Jo spied a couple of ranger bakkies parked up. Kenny’s dad was there, with Sergeant and a couple of green-clad rangers. Sergeant spotted the approaching group, and Julius started up one of the trucks. Sergeant and the two rangers leapt into the back and the vehicle zigzagged through the scrubby bush. When it pulled up in front of the trio, Kenny stopped. His arms and bent neck were frozen in their carrying position. His face was full of exhaustion, glistening with sweat. The rangers flicked open the bakkie’s back plate and bounded out. Standing either side of Kenny they put their arms under the animal and took the calf’s weight from him. As he moved away, the rangers gently placed the buff in the back of the truck.

‘Good work, son. Now we move.’ The rangers helped Kenny into the back of the truck and Lourens and Jo followed. As usual, Lourens pushed Jo up to help her get aboard, although she was sure she could have clambered onto the fat tyre and over the side of the truck just like Sergeant if she’d been given half a chance. Kenny was slumped in the corner. He moved his shoulders in small circles, clicked his neck from side to side and stretched his arms above his head. The whole limbering down routine looked like a goalkeeper preparing to receive an impending penalty kick. Jo was sure Kenny would ache for several days to come.

With the calf safe, Kenny and Julius’s plan went into action. Two other ranger cars were already in position up near the buffalo herd. They had started to track the animals when Kenny first radioed and were now forcing them towards the river. When they reached the broad flat rock where the dirt road meets the water, five rangers went on foot to corral them. Their driver radioed Julius and he set off towards the rendezvous. Jo was impressed by all this co-ordination but didn’t really see how they could possibly find the calf’s mother in such a mass of animals. And who said the buffalo would go where the rangers wanted them to anyway?

As they made their way through the scrub, Sergeant looked closely at the calf. He spoke in Afrikaans to Lourens, who responded excitedly and started pointing at Jo. Sergeant said a few words then smiled at Jo and nodded.

‘He says you did a lekker job getting milk,’ Lourens explained to Jo. ‘The kleinkje is very weak. But the milk keeps her alive.’ Jo was pleased but she just hoped the calf had enough energy to last until they found the mother. She slid across towards the baby buffalo and gently stroked her back.

‘Not long now,’ she whispered. ‘Mum’s not far away.’
The herd was already there, mooing, grunting and honking just like before. The scared-looking rangers were trying to keep them in position. Kenny’s father stopped the bakkie a little ahead of the herd and reversed down towards the water. The rangers lifted the calf out of the back, and placed her by the stream.

‘Bye little one,’ whispered Jo, more to herself than the calf. She thought she was going to cry.

Package delivered, they drove back up to the main road, with a view down to the water below. The rangers closed in and the herd moved forward towards the calf. Jo held her breath. The baby was quickly surrounded and she couldn’t see what was happening. She crossed her fingers that she wouldn’t get trampled. They were still waiting nervously when the herd suddenly moved on. A moment later and they were gone. Including the calf.

‘She must have found her mother,’ said Kenny, with a hand on Jo’s shoulder. ‘You did really well. I’m sorry I wanted to leave her.’ He looked straight into Jo’s moist eyes.

‘It’s OK. I hope she’ll be safe now,’ replied Jo. She leant her head on Kenny’s hand. She could feel his warm skin against her cheek. And she was suddenly full of hope. If they could reunite a lost calf with its mother in the middle of the bush, then surely there must be some way to find Shawu’s lost tusk. She closed her eyes and imagined the Museum as it was, with the two long tusks curving out from the wall. That was how it would be again.

Back at the Compound, Kenny helped Jo down from the bakkie and dragged her to one side. The card-playing gate-keepers shouted across, ‘Yebo, Jo!’ and waved at her. After her appearance on the football field, everyone now knew the soccer-playing, camera-snapping white girl. She smiled and waved back.

‘Listen, Jo,’ said Kenny, sounding all serious. ‘I didn’t want to say before. When we were fishing…’ He leaned towards her, his voice now just a whisper. Their faces were so close she could feel his breath on her cheek. She looked up into his eyes, trying her best to look cool calm and collected. Inside, a swarm of butterflies flapped around her stomach. ‘… did you say Oom Louis was fighting another white man?’ Jo was jolted out of her romantic reverie. She took a step back and nodded in silence. ‘…in Park uniform?’ Another nod. But this time she managed to open her mouth as well.

‘I couldn’t really see him. He looked quite tall and skinny. And his skin was paler than Louis.’ Kenny exhaled a deep breath and bit his bottom lip. ‘What’s the matter?’ asked Jo. He wrung his hat between his hands and looked away. ‘Kenny. What is it?’

‘There’s only three other white men in Camp,’ he explained. ‘They mostly appoint black staff now: affirmative action and everything.’ Jo leant forward and nodded expectantly. ‘One of them has dark brown hair and very tanned skin. Another is even fatter than Louis...’ Jo was getting impatient. ‘It probably wasn’t really a fight anyway.’ She pulled Kenny’s mangled hat out of his hands and punched it back into shape.

‘It looked pretty rough to me,’ she snapped. And then it dawned on her.

‘Maybe it was someone from another camp...’ said Kenny hopefully.

‘I doubt it,’ said Jo, shaking her head.

‘... or maybe someone borrowed the uniform from somewhere?’ He was grasping at straws.

‘Why bother?’

‘Well then it must have been...’ Kenny glanced over his shoulder and brought his gaze back to Jo. Together they both said what they hadn’t wanted to admit, ‘It must have been Lourens’s father’.