‘The Ducks are on the move Father Squirrel.’ Said Mother Squirrel.
‘What do you want me to do about their gay marriage? They have rights too you know. Are they kissing? Now that would be something.’ Said Father Squirrel.
‘In the eyes of the Lord, it is not acceptable. Maybe I could wish or stop it from ever having happened, maybe? Protect Mamphele Curious Squirrel, your daughter from the politics of the animal life in this farmyard.
‘What is that? What is that noise? I have been hearing it ever since this morning.’ asked Mamphele Curious Squirrel.
‘The animals are gathering for the animal caucus.It is going to change everything. Be the change you want to see in the world Mamphele Curious Squirrel. Never forget that. You will go far. Perhaps even to the World Bank. Everybody who is anybody in the farmyard is going to be there.’ Said Patricia Mother Squirrel. ‘Please, Mamphele Curious Squirrel, do not stare at the Ducks.’
The Ducks had confused all animal life on the farm.
‘How can two Mother Ducks raise ducklings? There must be a Mother Duck and a Father Duck. It is not normal. It is called politics, I think. Dad says everything is political. All I see around me are Mothers and Fathers. What is wrong with them? Is it in their genes?’ Mamphele Curious Squirrel asked.
‘Good question. It can happen.’ Said Father Squirrel behind his nut.
‘Do not encourage him Father Squirrel.’ Mother Squirrel said with a sigh.
It was spring. A pale September. This time of year before the harvest, the whole farm came to life like the farmer’s wife’s prizewinning rose garden. Her rosebushes was known throughout the country.
Helen Mother Duck, Lindiwe Father Duck, and their wide-eyed ducklings wide-eyed with fear, excitement, trepidation and anticipation as they made their way to the pond on the farm. The ducklings all wore matching kerchiefs around their necks with red tie-dyed bandanas wiggled their way through the hole in the fence in the orchard filled with the licking flames of sunlight dancing off apricots, leaves of grass, the open air of the mountains in the distance.
‘Oh, what a beautiful day. You know preparations for the animal caucus is underway.’ Mother Duck said to Father Duck. The ducklings were looking forward to going to the pond. The older ones by a few minutes were playing ‘I Spy’. The younger ones tried to keep up with their older siblings but fell over their feet. Dust in the air, mud on their kerchief, they dusted themselves off, wriggled their behinds and set off once again in the direction of the pond.
‘I worry about Thabo. He gets around that snake. Even though he is a snake, I still like him. The trouble is because he is whom he is, the people that he knows. He is a very diplomatic fellow, and he is a damn good negotiator. I worry about him. I lose sleep nights just thinking about him sitting on the fence all day long with nothing to keep his hands busy. Now if he had a foundation then maybe he could make a real contribution.’
‘He does not have hands dear that’s the trouble to keep him busy. There, there dear. You have other responsibilities now.’
‘All together now, family.’ Father Duck said. ‘Left, right. Left, right. March, march, march on. No dilly-dallying. Remember, there is no wizard. Now remember what I told you. At the hole in the fence, you wait for me to take the lead. I lead. The strongest must always lead. No stopping to breathe in the robust country air.
‘Oh, just look at my happy family. Today I am so proud of my ducklings.’ Mother Duck looked at herself in a puddle admiring her reflection.
‘Will there be breadcrumbs, mother?’ asked one of her ducklings.
‘There will be swimming. I can promise you that.’ Mother Duck said as she fluffed out her tail.
The ducklings had never swum before.
‘Remember there is no Oz.’ Father Duck yelled.
‘Oh, dear, are you okay?Is it the voices again? Are you seeing things? Order, order ducklings. Do not forget yourselves and the values you were raised with.’ Mother Duck asked in a worried tone of voice but she was used to his outbursts. Her own mother had raised her eyebrows because of her daughter’s choice of life partner. To say that Father Duck had had a certain reputation in the farmyard was to say the least. Some of the animals had called him a poet. Others a mad-duck. Mother Duck remembered what she had told her mother to try, and win her over.
‘No, no Mother Duck. It is just the pressure of this caucus. I think I will have to say something, you know because of our family situation. He for she and all of that. People just do not understand our family.’ Father Duck replied.
‘I love him, mother. I really, really do mean that. I want to build a home with him and raise a family. Please try, and understand that. There is no one else in this world that can understand him the way I do.’ Mother Duck had said plaintively stating her case.
In her day, Mother Duck had been raised with certain values. She had been a very sophisticated and intelligent bird.
‘Mother Duck, I have not slept at all in days.’ Father Duck managed in a small voice.
‘Do not worry, dear. I will be brave for the both of us. Remember this is a big step for both of us.’ Mother Duck replied.
‘Mother Duck, two heads are better than one.’ Father Duck
The children of the farm were not encouraged to name the ducklings. Unfortunately, for the Duck family they usually made their way to the kitchen table and then the dining room table
‘Wait. Stop. Wait for me, I said. I am your father. I do the leading around here. You do the following. Stay out of the way of the border collies Boston, Stoker and Thumper. Their bark is just as bad, as or even worse than their bite. Enough is enough with this Life is not a game. There is a great design to life.’ Said Father Duck but his children would not listen to him. They looked at him grunting with his giant potbelly halfway through the hole in the fence holding their sides, tears falling down their cheeks.
‘Look at dad.’ They nudged each other between guffaws.
‘Children, my precious ducklings, please behave yourselves. Stop undermining your father. He has a weak heart ever since that time he had a run in with the farmer’s wife.’
It was a perfect morning. The ducklings paid much more attention to their mother than they ever did to their father. Mother Duck laid down the law. Rules were rules when it came to Mother Duck. She was very clever. Had still kept her figure. At the end of the day, Father Duck turned to in a crisis Mother Duck. When he felt depressed. When he needed someone to talk to, to bounce ideas off, to talk about ‘that day’ when he had come very close to being a roasted chicken served to the family, his neck strangled, feathers pulled out of him but the ducklings were very innocent of their father’s wild days.
‘Youth is wasted on the young Mother Duck. Where are you Mother Duck? Save me Mother Duck. You are the only one that can under these atmospheric conditions.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Watch your constitution, dear. Not in front of the children, dear. We will have a conversation about this later on, dear. I agree, children should be seen and not heard, dear. I am coming. I am coming. Hold your horses Father Duck before your guts have you for garters Now, is it the other way around, or is it that your guts will have you for breakfast. Children, behave.’ Mother Duck pushed and pushed and pushed. As she pushed and pushed with all her might, she thought to herself. If only he had not overeaten that morning (he was always promising these days that he would watch his weight), and that had been his third helping. She remembered the words of her mother. The words her mother had heard playing on the radio.
‘The early bird will catch the worm. If you love him. If that is your decision then I will support you but do not get too attached or to used to the good times of animal life on a working farm. You will see. Things are done differently out there than a city allotment, my girl.’
‘Yes, dear.’ Mother Duck answered sanguinely. ‘Ducklings do you see the pond. Where are you, dear? Dear.’ Mother Duck looked around her to find Father Duck.
‘I just have to catch my breath, Mother Duck.’
The ducklings gathered around their mother not certain what to do next.
‘It is easy. Just watch me my chicks. It is just a simple, gliding action. That is all there is to it. You just ease your body onto the surface of the water. Just do not look down. Float. Pretty soon you will all be floating like butterflies.’ Mother Duck put on a brave face. When confronted with misery, the macabre incidents on the farm, the twists and turns of daily animal life Mother Duck always put on a brave face.
‘Duckie. I need you. Well, that is that then. This is all on me now and your father was so looking forward to giving you your first swimming lesson.’ ‘Duckie’ was Mother Duck’s pet name for Father Duck. He knew he was in trouble when she used it, when she needed his help desperately, or when her brave front was failing.
‘Are all my twelve ducklings accounted for? When I shout your name, yell ‘present’ as loud as you can and then shake your tail feathers’
‘Off you go my beauty. Swim, swim, and swim. Do not forget that when you get in the water push off in the direction of the fields and just kick as hard as you can with your feet.’
Absolutely nothing discouraged Mother Duck. The people who had owned the allotment where she had been born and raised, and abandoned by her father (somebody had left the gate open one day and he decided to ‘escape’ the good life forever, her mother had admitted to her one winter’s evening) were church people.
‘What is our mantra darling ducklings?’ Mother Duck trilled.
‘Show no fear.’
‘Now where was I? Yes, Sylvia. Eleven to go. Just perfect. Sylvia. You are setting a good responsibility for your brothers and sisters. I am so proud of you. Holding thumbs.’
‘Do not jinx me mum.’ Sylvia shouted.
‘Well, I love you too, Sylvia. Now, now, look who is here. Your father. Okay, chicks. Like I said there is nothing to it.’
‘Oh, you mean Shakes the housecat.’
‘The one and only.’
‘He is always trying to corrupt me.’
‘I know my place, Mother Duck. I know my place in the world.’ Said Father Duck morosely.
‘Well, well. What is Shakes the Cat up to now?’
‘Up to his old tricks, that is what it is, Mother Duck.’ Said Father Duck.
‘Praise Sylvia. Go on. I do not have time to talk about Shakes. Look at what we made.’
‘Oh, I thought they would all be out on the water by this time.’
‘Must I do everything, Duckie?’ Mother Duck exasperatedly.
‘I am looking at all of our children and as usual they surround you and laugh at me. Just like Felix the Cat.’ Said Father Duck. ‘I just do not have it within me to walk away from someone who is talking to me even if they do think that they are high and mightier than me. I have twelve ducklings and an elegant wife. What does Shakes the Cat have besides a collar with his name on it? Pride of place in the family home.’
‘Enough of Shakes the Cat now. Just look at our children.’ Mother Duck squeezed Father Duck’s feathers conspiratorially.
By now, all the ducklings had presented themselves to their mother and had made the transition from land to pond water smoothly.
‘In a perfect world, ‘Mother Duck whispered to Father Duck so her beloved ducklings could not hear. ‘Every day would be this perfect in the farmyard. Take for example banter with the rest of the animal world. Animals would be looking out for each other and not trying to bring each other down or corrupt each other. Watch out for that pond scum chicks.’ Mother Duck shouted out gaily.
‘Sometimes, I have to confess this to you, Mother Duck, I think that Shakes the Cat besides being a know it all snob is also a politician. Eating gourmet fish all day long can brainwash cats.’
‘Just what we need in our lives. A political cat whose swagger ends up making waves while the rest of us just survive animal life in the fanfare of this farm narrowly. Head and chin up is what I always say, Mother Duck.’
Boston, Stoker, and Thumper the border collies were sulking in a corner under the shade of a mulberry tree. They wanted to go fishing with the family who lived and worked on the farm, bark at fish in the river, drown tadpoles by holding them down with their paws, but they were moping. The family had bundled themselves into the car for church. Sunday morning service and then lunch at a neighbouring farm. The barbecued meat would be falling off the bone. Father Duck came close Mother Duck had to get the smelling salts for him. Shakes the Cat was always saying that there were pills for things like that. That there were pills for every physical ailment underneath the sun. The children would swim in the dam. Get sunburnt. The teenage girls would slather coconut oil on their shoulders, neck, and arms and sunbathe on their towels until they turned brown. The younger ones would soak in the dam until their fingers turned into prunes. The sun would make them thirsty and bored robots. Tired of swimming, they would just sit in the water; tracing their names on the water. With the wind in their hair, they would watch the sun go down.
Jacob would watch these same girls from afar when they came from neighbouring farms to visit the daughters of the farm. He would get excited as if they were coming to see him. Soon he would be slaughtered. Replaced as if he never was. Jacob always liked having women around him. All his life Jacob had been a doubting Thomas. He had low self-esteem even though he was the biggest pig on the farm. In fact, he was the biggest pig on earth. Even the farmer said so. ‘Dirty, filthy pig. Dirty, rotten scoundrel. All you ever do is laze around while I do most of the work here. You have no work ethic. You do not know what the meaning of the word is. You better be dreaming about a better life in the afterlife while you still have a chance. Pig. Pig-face. Piggy smells. Yes, piggy smells. Not just here, here, and here but everywhere. Every day I am done with you, I smell like you. My pits, my armpits smell like you. My gonads smell like you. Do you know what a gonad is? Do you pig? You should. You sure know what to do with it, if you know what I mean. Jacob could never understand why Cyril was so cruel to him. Why Cyril would say those cruel words to him? Some days, Cyril would go on and on non-stop. You know how I know that. Do you, Jacob the fat pig, know how come I smell like you? Why do I smell like your doo-doo Jacob? My wife tells me that. She tells that every night before I go to bed that I should shower or take a bath and marinate for an hour in my own filth before I come to bed. This is what you do to me. At least you are worth your weight in gold. I can feast on you for months pig. For a season. That is three months and if you had brain cells, you pig, you would know how long that is. Poor Jacob. He had to endure this kind of abuse day in and day out. The farmer would sneer at him, kick him in his side and make his life a living hell. One day, the farmer walked past him and said, ‘Not long now. Fattening you up. Christmas is around the corner.’ What Jacob did not know was that the farmer would never dream of killing his prize possession. Every night, he dreamed that he was transformed into a man. A man bigger than the farmer. If he was a giant pig, he could destroy the farmer but if he was a man, he could marry the farmer’s teenage daughter and ride her until kingdom come. Giddy up, he would say (but that is if he was a man) and she would moan his name repeatedly. He would see to it that she did. ‘Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Oh, Jacob. Please, do not stop. Ride me repeatedly. Yes, yes, yes.’ Jacob smiled to himself when he thought of this. It also gave him a tingling feeling. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter was that Jacob was a pig, with trotters, piglets, a sow, and swill. He would be the main speaker at the animal caucus. He would and could only be a farming man like Cyril in his piggy dreams. Jacob thought to himself, ‘Oh, Cyril, what did I ever do to you?’ They were friends once. When Jacob was born, Cyril had named him. Cyril had been so proud of him but over the years, their relationship had sadly deteriorated. Cyril spat on the ground when he walked past Jacob now. Jacob remembered the days when a younger, sprightlier Cyril had told him whenever he walked past Jacob how much he loved him. There was a mutual adoration society and then one day, Jacob woke up almost unable to walk because of his size. All he could do was eat and eat and eat. Cyril walked past him and said, ‘Good morning, monster.’ When Jacob heard that barb, it twisted like a thistle in his heart. Jacob cried. Of course, when pigs cry it is not noticeable to any form of human life. Same goes for cows, pigs, hens, frogs, rabbits, snakes, birds, sheep, lambs, spiders, horses and piglets.
‘Mandy, do you know, but if you did not know I am about to tell you anyway. Let you out of your misery. You are making a terrifying sound. Snoring like that.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘I cannot help myself. I have to turn. The sun is on the other side of the farmhouse this time of day.’
‘Oh, is that what it is. I thought it was snoring. Well, whatever.’ Said Felix the Cat.
‘Watch out for who?’Said Felix the Cat.
‘Boston, Stoker, and Thumper. They are on the move.’ Mandy the piglet said smiling deliciously to herself.
‘Oh, those miscreants that think they are so clever. Have they nothing constructive and productive to do with their time? I, on the other hand, am a highly functioning animal. I do not have to call other animals to order with a gavel. Well, I cannot hear you if you mumble to yourself.’ Said Felix the cat, licking his paw as if he was the cat that had got the cream.
‘I was not mumbling.’
‘I think the last time I saw that big Thumper was saying something about smelling bacon frying.’
‘Really?’ Mandy asked in a very small voice.
You, Felix think you are very sophisticated because you sleep in the house and I have to sleep in a muddy hole. It was not the most unpleasant place in the world. Mandy longed to say this with her whole heart but she kind. She was a nice piglet. She had pretty manners. If only her nose was not so big, so twitchy all the time. If only she did not think of food all the time.
You are so mean, Felix. Leave Mandy alone. She is depressed.
We are all depressed. I mean what with the icebergs melting, climate change
You are just a fat cat who enjoys eating gravy and tuna from a can.
Do we not all enjoy eating gravy and eating tuna from the can.
Felix liked to think he was cleverer than everyone else was on the farm. The children loved him, adored him. He was always getting treats.
I think that you are fat, Felix.
Moi? I have to say that you are mistaken Wendy Spider. Look at you. Look at me. Now look at you again, this time carefully as if you have a paper bag over your head and you have cut holes in it for your eyes. Look at yourself, up and down. From side to side, very, very carefully. I am Felix the Cat. I am perfect. Now take this imaginary paper bag off your head. Look at me. Look at you. Fat. Did you say I was fat? I have an eating disorder, if you must know.
‘I have a gun (and crates of rotten tomatoes that my comrades have gathered from my farm. Do not worry there is plenty for everybody and if you like your bredies, there are enough tomatoes for your bredies too. See, I only want to be your friend and comrade. We are in the revolution together).’
‘Who is this clown?’
‘I am Julius.’
‘Oh, he thinks he has a message. He thinks he is another reincarnation living vicariously through the Buddha. Oh, I think I saw this in a made for television movie that was broadcast on etv.’
‘No need to get alarmed. Please do not stand up. I said, do not stand up. Did I not tell you not to be alarmed? I am confused now, cadre. Animals screeching. Animals running to the exits. Look, if I take it out. I promise not to use it. Ahem, not to hurt anyone with it. It was a joke. It was all a joke.’
‘The damage has been done already. We are never getting out of this barn alive.’
‘I am frightened for my kids. I have daughters. What is this world coming to that anyone can carry a loaded automatic handgun?’
‘We all need a reason for living. What is my reason for living?’
‘It is only a handgun. I have a permit for it. It is also for my own protection. Remember those words so that they do not become a memory for you.’ Julius the spirited horse smiled.
‘No, no, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. Look, here, you moegoe, if I have to speak in the language that only you will understand, this is not apartheid, awe? Awe. We are free now. We are free to speak our minds. I can tyoi-tyoi with the best of them. I will not stand to see the Rainbow Nation’s long walk to humiliation and ridicule in front of the world press and national media. Do not make a mockery of my South Africa?’
‘Ag, sies man.These pigs.Ek is nou rerig gatvol van die nonsens. I am leaving this caucus. I do not want to be a politician but I take the gravy train everywhere I go. What am I going to do if I leave political life, teach, lecture, or retire?’
‘Why do the young animals on this farm have to be so dramatic? In the old days, all it took to ruffle someone’s feathers was to have gone to a university and flash your degree. Oh, by the way, I have six honorary degrees.’
‘Really?’ yawned Thuli.
‘Hey, girlfriend. Want some gum?’
‘Oh, hey Winnie. No, I am fine.’
‘You looking mighty fine. You have pretty hair Thuli. Girlfriend, you look sexy. When you get older, you think I must not take the time to look sexy but nowadays everybody in politics is sexy. They think it is supposed to be what you know, what you have between your ears and whom you are networking with. No, no, no it is not about that. It is how you look. The external point of view. ’ Said Winnie. ‘Who does your hair, chommie? Women these days. They say they do not want to be political or be politically motivated. Ag, strond. What do you think Thuli? Patrice is so handsome. You know who else is handsome. My grandson, Julius. Perhaps you have heard of him. He moves in high circles.’
‘You must stop protecting him.’
‘I have to. He is a very sensitive young man. To tell you the truth he does not like being in the spotlight. He calls me ‘Ouma’. I am very proud of him. I tell him, ‘If there is a revolution do this first and then that but you think he would listen to a cadre. Do you think woman to woman it is because I am a woman? Do you think it is because I am a strong woman?’
‘Oh, Winnie. I do not know what to tell you. You are an old soul.’
‘Aiesh sista! You know it. Keep on talking to me.’
‘I have a gun. It is in my back pocket. I can feel it there. If I grab it and pull hard, my package will come out and I will stick it to you. No, I will poke you with it inside and out.I promise you I will poke you. Do not look at me like that. As if, as if I am a terrible mistake. Revolution. Revolution. Revolution. Bang, bang, bang I will make national headlines. No international headlines. The world will know and feel the wrath of Julius rooikoppie. Ag, Julius is just playing. It is not a real gun. See, it is not even loaded with real bullets. He-he-he-he-he. What does Julius know about guns? I told him to buy that expensive leather jacket. Yes, yes, it was I. Winnie, I pinky swear it. Julius knows more about fashion than he does about guns. My Juju.’
‘I will shoot you if you disagree with me. You, yes, you. You were nodding your head. Why were you nodding your head? Oh, you were sleeping. These proceedings bore you. This is a caucus. Animals. Even Jacob knows about animals. They graze the whole daylong. Enough I say. Enough. I bring South Africa to its hands. I bring South Africa down to its toes. Down on one knee. Oh, no. That is marriage. I mean I bring you all down to your knees. I am the fox. I am the hare. No, I am the wolf in sheep’s clothing. I am the wolf in the fairy tale. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you up. I am going to eat you all up. Please do not interrupt me speaker of the house. The time is over for South Africa to graze in the countryside. I am taking grassroots to the next level. Ouma, join me as I sing this sweet refrain.Chant with me. Sing with me, cadres, revolution, revolution, revolution.’
‘Please sit down, Julius or else we will have you escorted out of your seat from this caucus. We are the authorities.’
‘No, speaker of the house. I am the authority here. You are the bad people. Me, good. You, bad. I am going to through a rotten tomato at you Thabo, for always sitting on the fence and another one for you Jacob. I am going to throw a rotten tomato at you Patrice because you are so rich and gave half your fortune away to charity and can afford to buy as many expensive leather jackets as you want to hang in your designer wardrobe. Please, speaker of the house. I do not want to leave. It gets very lonely for me on the farm. Sometimes I even get depressed watching animals graze the whole daylong.’
‘Order Julius. Order.’
‘Aiesh. I am so misunderstood.’