They that mourn

2010-11-05 00:00

FISHERMEN were slaughtering bronze hammerhead sharks pulled from the channel at the South Pier. There was much hilarity and shouts of delight at the sport they were enjoying. A large number of these “nuisances” were lying on the pier like burnished bronze slabs, while an enthusiastic volunteer hacked at their heads with a cane knife. The odd tail was still waving as blood trailed across the concrete. Their annual journey to the south abruptly halted in Durban. They were being thrown back for other sharks, to create a feeding frenzy.

A warm summer wind gusted around the Bluff as I started back along the pier. Fishermen were packing up their gear, and one walked next to me muttering,

“They shouldn’t have killed them like that. You can’t eat them and they don’t worry our fishing for long, then they go to the Cape. They are living creatures after all.”

I didn’t reply, not wanting to enter into conversation on the merits of saving sharks.

As I wandered off, I sneezed loudly.

“Bless you, Sir,” he called out. Noticing he was eating, I remarked, “The spicy smell of curry makes me sneeze.”

“No Kosaan, curry won’t make you sneeze,” he laughed. “That stink from the Whaling Station also makes me sneeze when it blows this way.”

Rolling his old suit trousers up skinny legs he hobbled closer on bare feet. “Have one of my wife’s samoosas, Sir, very special.”

Being a school boarder and permanently hungry, I was tempted by the savoury aroma. No avoiding a chat now, I asked where he lived.

“Clairwood, Kosaan, but I come with the train to West Station. I leave my son at Rossburgh Station to sell newspapers and I come to fish a little while in the afternoons. I then go back to meet him at six o’clock. People at Isipingo and Clairwood’s stations don’t buy newspapers.”

“Money from fishing must be short?”

“Well, Sir, you can say that, but it’s what I do. We battle, Sir. If I catch well, I sell to the West Hotel at a shilling a pound. Sometimes the chef gives me nice treats to take home for the children. I am very lucky. I have a nice family; two girls at school and they help my wife in the vegetable garden in the afternoon. Clever and good girls. My little boy, oh Sir, he’s another story. Only small, but very smart. One day he will be a big businessman. He likes fishing, but not for him to be fisherman. I tease him and call him ‘Naughty Boy’, but he’s really very good. I love that little boy. He sells newspapers very fast. He’s so sharp with the change like you can’t believe. He’ll catch you but you won’t catch him. I let him keep the change, only some pennies.”

“Wow, this chap can talk,” I thought. “His life story in a few minutes.”

“Just one nice shad, with breyani tonight; so tasty my wife cooks.”

I had lost count of time and hurried to catch the ferry across the bay, to be in the school hostel before six o’clock.

“Good luck,” I shouted into the wind. He waved back.

“I hope Naughty Boy looks after you when he’s a big businessman.”

“Thank you, Sir, I hope so too. Wait, I got a hard knock.”

I couldn’t wait and began to walk to the ferry, as his rod bent.

“Look, Sir,” he shouted as he held a flopping blue shad by the tail. “I got a nice fish.”

I waved back.

The rays of the sun shone over the white water as screaming gulls darted across the waves. A great swell erupted behind the fisherman as he held onto the struggling fish. I watched in horror as he lost his balance and seemed to hang in the air before the wave washed him into the channel, rod, shad and all.

The last despairing look on his face has been etched into my memory for over 60 years.

A few stragglers collected and peered into the rough water, but nothing could be seen. His rod floated past and someone pulled it out with the shad still well hooked.

“Poor bastard, no chance with all the sharks around.”

The ferry crossed over to the Point where I had left my bicycle at the Custom’s Post. I had never even asked his name. What a loss to his family. In the short time we had spoken he had shown his humanity, shown compassion for the sharks as living creatures, countered my surliness with his laughter and shared his food with a stranger. Happy with his lot in life he shared his dreams and regrets. He didn’t have much more to share.

I often wonder what happened to Naughty Boy.


TERRY Lewis, a product of Glenwood High School and the University of Natal, is a retired professional industrial relations and human resources practitioner, an academic and a former director of Mangosuthu Technikon. He lives in Kloof with his wife Faye.


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