Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: BUSY (08/15/19)
- TITLE: Rinkhals and Party Lines
By Corinne Smelker
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â€œItâ€™s chasing me!â€ I eventually made out, as he streaked along the long flat path in front of the farmhouse and skidded to a stop in front of me. He wasnâ€™t looking at me though, but back towards the direction heâ€™d ridden from.
Our mom tore out of the house in only the way a mother can when she knows her â€˜cubâ€™ is in trouble.
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ She exclaimed, holding onto his handlebars to stabilize the bicycle.
Mom and I looked at each other. Not only were we new to the area, we were new to the country â€“ this alien territory of scorching sun, dust and little rain. But snakes too? Chasing people?
Our gardener, Sipho, came over to us. â€œMissus,â€ he addressed Mom. â€œThere is a snake, a Rinkhals, very bad. Will chase you if you get too close.â€
â€œNow Iâ€™ve heard it all,â€ Mom said. â€œAs if itâ€™s not bad enough that we have to shake out our shoes because of scorpions, and stand back when we turn on the bath taps in case a snake decided to crawl up there for a nap, they chase you? What was your father thinking?â€ she asked with a sigh.
â€œI go check,â€ Sipho said in his broken English, and picked up a large garden spade. Within a couple of minutes he returned, dangling the lifeless body of a five-foot long cobra-like creature. â€œYes. Rinkhals,â€ he confirmed. â€œMaybe mother protecting her babies?â€
â€œWell, I need to protect MY babies,â€ Mom said.
She went inside and I heard her dial the phone, to call Dad I assume. We lived so remotely we had a party line. As usual it was engaged. One neighbour, Sonja, had a monopoly on the line. A few minutes later Mom tried again. Still busy. She jiggled the receiver, a sign to Sonja that she really needed the phone.
I could hear snippets of the Momâ€™s conversation. Obviously she was NOT happy and was giving Dad a considerable piece of her mind. I wondered whether heâ€™d even dare to come home.
The rest of the afternoon passed fairly uneventfully. Iâ€™d hear Mom on the phone every now and then. â€œYes Joan. A snake! Itâ€™s a wonder he wasnâ€™t bitten! We live so far out, he could have died.â€
And, â€œSeriously! I am so thankful for Sipho. Weâ€™d all be dead in this house if it werenâ€™t for him.â€
After a tense dinner, where Mom gave Dad the silent treatment, I had to call a friend about some homework that was due the following day. I picked up the phone and heard Sonja on the line. Normally Iâ€™d put the receiver down straightaway, but my brotherâ€™s name caught my attention, so I stayed on the line.
â€œJa, Piet. That is what I heard. Young Paul was bitten by a Rinkhals this afternoon. Ja, sad, hey? Shame. I hear he is busy dyingâ€¦â€
I hung up. And started laughing. I was only 10, but even to me, the phrase â€˜busy dyingâ€™ just sounded so wrong! I went to the lounge and told my parents what Sonja had said. Mom glanced at Dad, anger forgotten, and they both burst out laughing. â€œBusy dying? How do you get busy dying?â€
I had images of an old person, strolling around to friends, â€œHey. So I am really busy. Yeah. Busy dying. Donâ€™t think I can make the braai next week since Iâ€™m busy dying.â€
We all lost it. â€œWe may speak the same language,â€ Mom said, â€œbut I donâ€™t know that I will ever understand these people!â€
This is based on a true story, and in South Africa, the phrase â€˜busy dyingâ€™ is extremely common.
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