Tomato sauce

2009-10-10 00:00

I DON’T know where Bellum came from. Never did know. But he was a Bushman all right, like a small skinny jockey with Nelson Mandela eyes, and he spoke Afrikaans and called my ma Nonnie instead of Missus like Zulu folks, so that would suggest he came from the Cape or even the old Transvaal somewhere. “Nonnie” is very courteous, see, if curious; it is to call a woman a young nun, and I suppose that goes way back to early Dutch days in the Cape, right back to Holland maybe. Well anyway, here he was amongst our muscular locals, much favoured by housemaids who saw him as some sort of sexual tokoloshe, or imp, which would bring one good luck. His personal favourite was a certainThoko, nice and plump like those Cro Magnon Venuses. Haaai! die Thoko, said Bellum, hy’s too lekka, ek byt hom! Seems it was Bellum’s mode of romance to bite his ladies as tomcats do theirs at the moment of truth; it was a symbol of desirability to appear publicly on a Monday morning with his toothmarks all over one’s neck. But I’m not here to talk about Bellum’s love-life, rather his diet, which was kind of Kalahari.

I don’t know where all those locust swarms came from, back in the old days. Nor, for that matter, where they all went to, eventually. They were huge, man, tens of kilometres long, as they passed overhead the sun would noticeably darken, as in a partial eclipse, their turds would rain down upon Maritzburg as if in a monsoon, and when they’d run out of turds they’d descend and eat every leaf off every plant to make more. And I mean every plant; they’d eat the lawn from under your feet. You had to watch the temperature guage on your car if you were travelling because they’d pack up solid on your radiator. They’d pack up solid on your chest too if you were riding a bicycle, it was horrible. But kids loved the panic of it, burned tyres to smoke them out of town, banged on tin baths and things and yell like crazy to prevent their settling. Bellum would utter supplications to Bushie deities to make them land, then he’d scoop them up in a bucket and put a plank on top so they couldn’t fly off again and go and light a nice fire in the back yard and cook them and eat them. Just grip them by the jumping legs and shove them in the coals and haul them out with a stick when the wings and things were singed off.

Sis! said I. Don’t you even squeeze the crap out first? Nee-e-e! said Bellum, it’s for smaak, flavour, it’s just grass. Well I’m squeezing mine out, said I, and did, and you know what, it really wasn’t as tasty as Bellum’s. Never mind, I fetched the tomato sauce from the fridge, and you know what, he had to agree now mine was better. But you know also how family life is, hey; eventually there was a hell of a row over the tomato sauce, every time the locusts came there was none to go with our school saamies and no sooner had my ma got to buying bigger bottles of the stuff than these disappeared too almost instantly because by then the flying-ant season had started. Sis! she yelled, and bloody hell! you’ve been deep-frying your bloody flying-ants in the spaghetti pot again! And where’s the new bottle of tomato sauce, you little bugger? Rage! Accusations of antisocial behaviour! But we all went off on a nice holiday to Karkloof and things healed up. Bellum, we said, don’t forget to water the lawn and top up the birdbath and clean out Arthur’s cage and feed Kitty and Blackie please and give them fresh water. Arthur was a budgie named after Arthur Askey who had that song which went Har! Har! Har! I’m a budgerigar! and Kitty and Blackie were cat and dog, of course.

East, West, home’s best. Nice to be back. Tum-te-tum, I stroll round the old patch. Suddenly Hey Bellum, I exclaim, where’s the budgie, hey? Nee-e-e, betlak, says Bellum, you forgot to trim his wings, man, and when I went to clean his cage he just flew away, jy weet mos. Sadly I sit down. I suppose he’ll be okay, say I. Ag ja, says Bellum, he is a clever bird, he will eat grass seeds. But a couple of Sundays later I see Bellum off to his Thoko in his Sunday threads, and in his hatband I note a couple of familiar feathers which he has forgotten about. Bellum, say I, you filthy swine, you have eaten Arthur! He can’t deny it, they are Arthur’s feathers. He was very old, says Bellum. You mean it was a mercy killing? say I, you ate him to put him out of his suffering? I suppose you put tomato sauce on him, say I, sarcastically. Nee-e-e, chutney, says Bellum. Mrs Ball’s blatjang. Tomato sauce is for goggas.

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