A new beginning

2013-03-25 00:00

LEAVE behind the squalor of a decaying city in the dead of night  — the rotten graveyard and the piles of last week’s excesses, the debris forgotten by municipal lethargy. You might notice the discarded casings of stolen telephone wires in the muted moonlight, and you may wonder of a time when you have to explain to your grandchildren what land lines were and why they no longer exist. On the incline upwards, you might even harbour memories of hamstrung cattle and crazy people, of threats and lies and good friends gone. You will approach the crest of the Claridge Hill and enter a world of hobbits and gremlins, of charcoal greens and haunted forests, and you might blink at the scattered lights from homes buried in the bush. And note, on the gateposts and in your mind, the names of mystery — Tourgar, Dunimarle, Dunaverty, Glen Anne, Longstead ... and on the long flat beyond, the fairy lights of Cramond and Wartburg in the distance far beyond the Hardingsdale valley.

Should you progress along this road awhile, you might come across a Nguni heifer confined in a picketed crush not too far off the beaten track. Her red and white hide stretched over her plump hindquarters could remind those with Africa in their hearts of the intenjane (the crowned plover) or maybe nsiphoamabele (the dregs of sorghum left over from the brew). You might, however, prefer to think of her as umzumbe (the speckled red of the sugar bean), but the distinctive marks on her belly and her head are blacked in darkness so you are unable to make up your mind. Two legs are protruding from her behind and she is uncomfortable, straining to rid herself of the unwanted presence. You unload, wash down and in dappled moon and mottled torch light, assist the birth process. The head of the calf has been deflected by an incompletely dilated cervix and it will tax your ability to reach deep inside her to find it and pull it around. The channel is narrow, the calf is large, and during this process there might come a time when you doubt your strength and expertise and the sweat will bubble on your summer brow. But eventually it is aligned and with one mighty heave, the head is brought into the pelvis. And when the calf bites down hard on your fingers as you drag its jaw around towards the aperture, you might be forgiven for not celebrating the first, not so subtle, signs of life, lest you prematurely raise the hopes of the expectant assistants. It’s only when the calf explodes out of the mother and collapses onto the crush floor and gasps and gurgles its arrival that you smile that smile and giggle that giggle that says everything is okay. A new life, a new beginning. A bull calf, darker than the mother, red, white and black splashes on an artist’s palette. In the subdued light he could be izinkozi ezimyama (the Black Eagle). It seems appropriate.

On the way home everything seems brighter, more defined, happier even. The moon is near full, illuminating the bluff like a drive-in and puffs of cirrus are bright in the heavens beyond.

The lights in the distance towards New Hanover are now brighter than a cane fire, each one in your mind a romantic retreat, a luxury lodge or perhaps a fairies’ den. In the Claridge gloom, the St Joseph’s lilies shine like Christmas sparkles.

And when you descend into the urban sprawl, you might be forgiven for thinking that the litter has been collected and the potholes repaired. And the new flyover, which on the way up was just concrete and steel, is now a work of art, the bright blue silhouette as pretty as a Catherine wheel.

New life does that. It changes one’s frame of mind from a gruesome page-three mentality to the joy of Stidy, or Madam and Eve. Or the column that proudly announces births, engagements, weddings and anniversaries. Maybe the back -page headline that proclaims that “Maritzburg United win again”. Or the Sharks.

Beauty, of course, is in the mind of the beholder. And happiness can be very close to the surface.

As close as a new mother to her calf.

• The author is a practising vet with a passion for his profession and a giggle in his heart.

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