“Wen’ umfana, are you sure-sure you want to do this? I am telling you when you see this it will stay in your mind. You won’t sleep.”
“My friend, I already do not sleep. I will be fine.”
“Hah. I am telling you. I will ask your small sister – she will tell me you are screaming in the night.”
“Thank you for the warning, Simon. I am still going.”
We tramp through the thick brush to the near-empty pigsty; his gumboots flattening a clear path, I in bare feet on the lookout for snakes and broken glass. The five young men are ready. They pass out ropes and bestow the panga upon the tallest one, Lazarus.
She is the last pig, a huge sow, the end of a successful agricultural experiment. Quietly wary she stares them down, grunting softly.
Lazarus offers me the panga. “Come and h-h-help, girl.” Joking. I laugh. They would never let me near her. He turns back to the group as my friend Kurukayo comes up beside me, the dog he adopted from me following as always.
“Kuruka. How are you. Please keep my dog away from the pig.”
“Oh-oh! my sister! If he goes there the pig will eat him! It is so strong and it bites. Ah! if it gets its teeth on my arm… I don’t want to imagine.”
“Stay on this side of the fence,” I recommend.
“It will not let go…” he muses.
Now soldier-turned-pastor Grevin is going in. Rope in hand he squeezes into the waist-high house of the sow. She grunts and runs away squealing, but there is nowhere to run. They circle each other like boxers, feinting and dodging until he tackles here and ties her left hind leg with the help of Sandile.
They release her, whether by accident or intentionally I do not know, and she runs grunting into the fenced area where the men stand ready, waiting. Each time they tackle her or scramble for the rope, she pulls away, grunting steadily but not rhythmically. When I was a child, I marveled at how loudly a lion roared. A noise so great erupting from the mouth of a creature so comparatively small! The same is true now.
My dog Max wants to take part in the fun. He dashes past us and throws himself at the wire fence, then tries to dig his way under. “Kuruka!” I cry. Max listens to him; not so much to me. Kuruka calls Max and sends him away. Max goes off a little way, disappointed. This is a hunt and he is a hunter! Why can he not join in?
Tionge seizes the sow’s rope and does not let go. He pulls this new leash tighter and tighter until he has hold of her leg. Meanwhile, Mlungisi and Sandile wrap their arms around the huge struggling body and Grevin snatches at her ear: once, twice, then he has it. She squeals. Then falls.
Sandile plants his foot firmly on her snout. The others gather around her, holding her down with hands and feet.
“Lazido, we are ready!”
As Lazarus steps forward with the panga, I too take a step, unconsciously.
I raise my foot and examine the wound. Rough. From a root, most likely. Not glass. Blood oozes out of the cut. I wipe it away and look up.
Hesitating only a moment, Lazarus leans into the panga and begins to slice.
The sow is screaming now and a second before it happens I know the sound will change, know how it will change, and I almost cover my ears but I do not.
And the pig continues to scream as her through it separated, a gurgling grunting scream that courses through her convulsing body. Blood pours out on the ground, a feast for the circling flies. I think of my foot and nearly laugh. I was never bleeding at all!
The men shout as Sandile loses control of the still-struggling half-disconnected head and they all jump back to avoid the rain of blood but keep their grips. “Keep cutting, Lazarus!” “Sandile! Hold it!” Sandile regains control and they continue. The sow’s head is at a very strange angle now and her screams have almost diminished to moans.
I saw a man, a loerie-driver, on the road to Johannesburg and he looked like the sow. The people had cut his hands and feet almost all the way off so he flopped and twitched and moaned but could do nothing. He was naked and soaked in blood. The prostitute was there, too. They had given her the same treatment.
As Lazarus reaches the top of the head, the men release the body and jump back. “Leave her,” they say, and the last crescendo of moans and struggles ensues.
“She is still alive,” mutters Kuruka. I nod, eyes fixed on the sow. Her body heaves one last time, then she is still.
Mlungisi fetches the wheelbarrow, a casket that will carry the meat to the waiting women who will gut it, clean it, chop it up. Kuruka and I walk back to the table by the market where he works.
“My sister…” His voice is troubled. “My sister, have you ever seen men fighting with pangas?”
My friend Melo’s daddy was attacked by men with knives one Christmas day. They wanted his wallet but he said, “Ngeke!” and paid for his refusal in blood. His wife came running in tears screaming for help. His face was scarred when he took his family and left not long after.
We reach the table, sit down on its scarred wooden bench. “That is the worst thing you will ever see.” Does he mean the men? The pig? I do not know and I do not ask.
Sandile walks up and shows off the spatters of blood decorating his blue work trousers. Flies applaud. Ma’ Bulunga the gate-guard asks, “Blood?”
“Sandile, how do you kill like that? Do you sleep at night?” Kuruka is not-looking at the blood.
“Yeah.” ‘Duh’ is not a word in Sandile’s vocabulary, but his face knows it well.
Kuruka shakes his head as Sandile walks away. “To kill like that…”
We sit in silence for a while. Then I muse, “To kill a man – Kuruka, to kill a man you must see him like he is that pig. You must see his body, his neck, as porkfat, and hear his screams as the screams of a sow. This is how you kill a man.”
He looks at me. Afraid. “Yes. I have killed only chickens.”
“Me, too,” I say.