Author: Eric G. Müller
Location: Ghent, New York
Eric G. Müller was born in Durban, South Africa, and studied literature and history at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. Together with his family he moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he taught music for many years. Now he teaches English and drama at a high school in upstate New York. His first novel, Rites of Rock
(Adonis, 2005), examines the phenomenon of rock music. Coffee on the Piano for You,
a collection of poetry, was published in 2008 (Adonis Press). His second novel, Meet Me at the Met,
will appear in the early spring of 2010 (Plain View Press). www.ericgmuller.com
Killing on a Koppie
“Hey, Hotnot, war is jy?”
shouted Koos in Afrikaans into one of the mud huts.
“Hier is ek, will jy my hê?”
“Ja, ons gaan dassies stoot; will jy kom?”
“Goet, ek kom nou.”
A young African appeared from the hut wearing only a pair of old khaki shorts.
Walking over to a pile of rusty fence poles, Koos and the ‘Hotnot,’ whose name was Mbulo, each chose for themselves a sturdy pole, bending the tops down so that they looked like big, unwieldy walking sticks. I watched them fashioning these crude weapons with foreboding. But they were doing it in part for us, for our entertainment, so I kept quiet. So did my older brother. We were their guests.
Koos was the son of one of my mother’s childhood friends whom she’d met during the Second World War. When the war broke out my grandfather, being German, was immediately interned, spending time in Leukop Prison before he was forced to move to a small town called Jagersfontein in the Orange Free State, where they lived until the end of the war. My mother spent most of her teenage years in that tiny diamond mining town, keeping herself busy teaching music and dance. One of her students, ironically enough, was André Brink, who later became one of the leading novelists of South Africa, speaking out vigorously against the apartheid system (she recalled how he once conducted her little children’s orchestra with his fly open). She also befriended the van der Post family, though she rarely saw Sir Laurens. But her best friend was Koos’s mother, with whom we were now–many years later–spending our vacation.
The four of us hopped into the back of the bakkie and drove to the nearest koppie. Koos drove fast over the bumpy veld and skidded to a dusty halt at the foot of the craggy outcropping. We laughed, jumped out, and climbed the rock-strewn hill. It was much bigger than it appeared from the distance. I wanted to climb to the top, sit on a boulder, and just enjoy the warmth and view. Even from half way up it was impressive; the flat African veld was dotted with koppies and tabletop kranse in the distance. The farmhouse looked like a lush resort in the yellow-brown, expansive savannah, with tall, green trees surrounding the large white Dutch-style house, centered in a well-kept lawn, dotted with flower beds. But there was no time for any of that.
“We must look for them here,” Koos said, stopping at a particularly rocky section. “This is where they usually hide, under these boulders. What we’ll do is spread out and scare them into revealing their hiding places. Listen for any noises, because often you won’t see them, but you’ll hear them.” Obeying his instructions we spread out over the glaring, bright, rocky crust. Secretly I hoped that all the dassies had gone to visit their relatives. I did not want to see them die, and I had no intention of frightening the poor, furry little beings. So I went around sticking my head into the barbed crevasses, and told the rock rabbits to hide, or get the hell out of there now!
Not long after we heard Koos shout, “Come over here, I see one. Quickly.” The three of us ran up to Koos. “Okay now… all of you go to the right,” urged Koos, pointing to our left, “and make a lot of noise so that the dassies will run right to where I am standing here.” Led by the Mbulo, we yelled and pounded the rocks with sticks. Almost immediately a dassie shot out exactly where Koos was stationed. At once Koos lifted the black iron pole and forced it down on the hapless animal, the blunt point penetrating the shiny fur and entering right through until the squirming creature was pinned against the rock. With the bent part of the pole he twisted it around and around. As he cranked away you could hear the insides tearing and cracking, while the dassie screamed and screamed, until with one last grueling twist, the high-pitched, razor sharp screech was terminated—without one wince of an echo.
Koos pulled out the pole with the intestines still wrapped around it. “Did you hear the way it shrieked?” laughed Koos, picking up the dead animal and throwing it onto a flat rock. “They all do that.” Koos lit a cigarette and used the dassie’s ear as an ashtray. Turning away, I climbed over a few rocks and sat by myself, gazing into the distance. I wondered what George was thinking. I’m sure he was as revolted as I was. But my respite was short-lived. Another piercing scream cut through the air, like chalk scraping across a blackboard. This time it was Mbulo who’d caught one. I didn’t want to look, but stood up and stared in spite of myself. After he’d stabbed the animal, he lifted the pole high up into the air, with the dassie dangling and writhing powerlessly at its tip. Then he brought it down quickly, twisting the pole round and around the way Koos had done—slowly, methodically. “Look at the eyes,” and he laughed loudly. “Look at the fear in his eyes.” He bent down close and peered into its roving, black eyes and saw them tell their story with each and every turn of the old fence pole. Before it was quite dead he pulled out the pole, also with half the insides unraveling, grabbed the rock-rabbit by the hind legs, and bashed it over the rocks, until it too was silenced.
Two more suffered the same fate before we returned to the farmhouse. I felt guilty and sickened by the hunt, and wondered whether I was a wimp. But one thing I knew for sure: It would take a long time before wars would be eradicated on this earth.