And then there were none

2011-07-18 00:00

ELISABETH Eybers, the famous Afrikaans poet, went to school in our North West town. In "Wes-Transvaal", she describes how God had run out of mountains and trees when it came to creating this landscape, but he left us with the timeless peace of the fullness of creation.

Recently, the timeless peace of the old Wes-Transvaal was broken by our dabbling in chicken farming. Kapokkies, everyone advised us. Something wild, a chicken that will roost in the trees and fend for itself. So we got six.

We agreed that they would be Herman's responsibility, as I have a bird phobia that goes up in trappe van vergelyking like this: birds in general, flapping chickens, dead chickens close to me, with the last one being most likely to drive me into certifiable hysteria.

What we ignorant ex-city-dwelling-wanna-be-farmers underestimated was the stupidity of the fowls themselves. It's a problem with educated people — they presume that all people and all of God's living creatures think like they do. Big mistake.

The first time we let them out of their cage to roam free, they chose to roost on the ground in front of the barn. A little group of takeaway chicken lay sleeping within spitting distance of the equally free-roaming jackals, our cat and our dogs.

It was the fox terrier who won that round. "Mommy! Come and see," Nicolaas yelled in excitement. "Simba has killed one of the chickens." I looked out the window. The bird hung limp in the jaws of the murderer and the yard rang out in silence with the senseless loss of life.

Then there were five.

And they got locked up in the cowshed for preservation's sake. It was not a battery, but it was limited for birds that are supposed to be wild and it was not the free-range free-spirit chicken farming we had in mind. We planned to let them out when they had all learnt to fly. Little did we know that the ability to fly would not be enough to save them from their lack of other abilities.

A week later, while Herman was away, they escaped from their prison. I quickly locked the merry band of murdering dogs into the garden. But I need not have bothered. As Nicolaas and I tried to herd them into the safety of their shed, one of them took fright and for some stupid reason, chose to fly over the fence behind which the dogs were secured, and to land in the mouth of the Rottweiler.

The dog barely had to lift her bottom off the ground. All she had to do was get over her shock, pull herself unto herself and follow through with her natural instincts. She took the corpse into the cannas. Then there were four.

And from there things only got worse. Shadow at least removed the evidence.

The next day I went to give the fowl water. They were so startled at my appearing at the gate (which I had done often before) that they flapped around hysterically. One of them ran through a tiny gap in the fence that was so small we had not considered closing it up. He crashed into the waiting Simba, who after being bumped aside, whirled around and went for the jugular.

The senselessness of death struck our farmyard silent for another minute. But the silence was broken seconds later by my certifiable screams. Because Simba, unlike Shadow, had decided that this one he was going to eat inside our house. He was just struggling to get himself and the chicken through the security gate.

"Noooo! Stupid bird! Stupid dog!" I was screaming from a distance, knowing that if Simba and the bird got inside the house, I would rather sleep in an anthill like Racheltjie, than inside my duvet-clad home.

The children stood on the stoep watching my hysteria. "Don't let him get inside," I yelled. "Get him and that stupid bird off the stoep!" Barely able to understand me, Nicolaas eventually chased Simba away. I quickly got all us clever humans inside and locked the door against the dangers of what that dead bird could do to us.

Then there were I don't know how many, and the details of the ensuing deaths I will spare you. But die they did. Now there are none. And since then, peace has returned to our corner of Elisabeth Eybers' homeland. And while the Internet makes it clear that we are only famous for having the greatest density of earth-moving equipment in the world, what it doesn't say is that if peace could be measured, bottled and sold, we would be one of the richest, not the poorest provinces in our country.

If you want a bit of it for yourself, Google it. Elizabeth Eybers, "Wes-Transvaal".

• Catherine Smetherham lives in Strydpoort, North West. Contact her at

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