A bird in the hand is not worth two in the bush
|A proud little nomad posing with his pellet gun and squinting into the sun. Taken at my childhood home in Matola, Mozambique.|
|My teenage mother and uncle with my grandmother on a riverbank outside Johannesburg. My uncle is supporting his gun - they must have been shooting at birds or hoping to do so.|
I shot my first bird at eight soon after having been given a pellet gun by my uncle. Both he and my mother had grown up shooting flying things with alacrity. It was thought that a pellet gun would be a great source of fun for me.
They were right.
I loved shooting bottles and tin cans off walls. A masala (*), especially if overripe and hit in the right place, exploded impressively. Loquats and marulas didn’t explode but hitting them took much more skill. Shooting at birds began as soon as I got the gun. It was what you did with a gun. Boys that didn’t have guns, killed birds with catapults. And none of them had a mother who waxed lyrical about her youthful shooting sprees and immediately christened my gun by shooting several mousebirds. Their limp, soft, warm bodies fascinated me.
I wanted to shoot one too.
Shooting a bird wasn’t as easy as shooting fruit or tin cans. Aiming while pointing a gun upwards wasn’t that simple - I always missed or they’d fly away before I had time to shoot. I decided to ‘cheat’. There was a very large marula tree in the paddock that was always full of birds engorging themselves on the fruit and the fat mopani worms that infested the tree at certain times of the year. The paddock gate was just the right height for an eight-year old to rest a gun on it while taking aim. I took aim and shot. A small green bird plumetted to the ground. With a loud shout of glee, I ran towards it.
My first bird!
It’s broken body lay amongst the rotting fruit; blood trickled out of its beak and through a hole in its chest. Instead of picking it up immediately, I stood looking at it. Watching its blood stain the ground. I didn’t want to touch it, I wanted to run away. I wanted to hide.
I picked it up and wept.
This was colonial Africa. Animals and birds were being killed around me all the time. Killed for sport and slaughtered for food. On festive occasions, our neighbours would sometimes slaughter a pig by slitting its throat and letting it bleed to death. The chickens we ate were often slaughtered by the cook in the backyard. My mother continued using my gun to shoot birds. The better shots amongst my friends killed with their catapults. None of this bothered me but I never killed again.
Not until many years later, that is.
(*) also known as groenklapper, elephant orange, monkey ball, monkey orange, Natal orange, spiny monkey ball, kaffir orange, mpapa, mtonga, angora