Ol’ man river takes a flight of fancy and kills a cobra

The farmworkers of Kleinfontein, near the North West town of Brits, depend largely on word of mouth and, to some extent, ol’ man river, Mr Mshayi, for news.

But then as the news network tentacles spread, quite often information changes in character and meaning, as one person understands it differently from another. Quite often Mr Mshayi, a pensioner, would go: “No, no, no. What some of us hear is that blah, blah, blah”.

And, therefore, the prefix “we hear” is the option of choice among farmworkers to pass on information to the next person.

I spend much of my spare time on the farmlands of Kleinfontein, walking the pumpkin and mealie fields, and rounding it all off with a cold beer, in the comfort of a camp chair.

I often share this tranquil moment under the shade of a tree in the company of, among others, Mr Mshayi.

Following a recent walk, I joined the well-travelled Mr Mshayi under the shade of a thorn tree, on the forecourt of the Rashoop trading store.

Suddenly a light aircraft from the nearby Brits Flying Club whizzed past above the branches, flying below the radar or some such thing, sending me and Mr Mshayi scurrying for cover.

Mr Mshayi had a good laugh as we returned to our chairs.

Then he started: “Have you ever been in one of those flying machines?”

To grant Mr Mshayi the opportunity to unveil the wonders of the flying machine, I chose to respond that I had never been in an aircraft.

Rolling tobacco in a newspaper, Mr Mshayi winked mischievously, assuring me not to worry, as he would explain to yours truly how flying machines work.

According to Mr Mshayi, before boarding a flight passengers were required to remove their shoes and put on slippers.

Also, each passenger was required to wear a helmet and was issued with a parachute, in the event of an emergency. Wow!

Now there is another story doing the rounds across the farmlands.

We hear that, just the other day, Mr Mshayi had one too many, staggered his way to his room and collapsed on to the flattened cardboard box he calls his bed.

The story has it that the next day the kindly farmer, Joshua van der Walt, dispatched the family domestic worker to tidy up for Mr Mshayi, as she does from time to time.

Underneath the flattened cardboard – so we hear – the domestic worker found a venomous cobra crushed to death, apparently under the drunken weight of Mr Mshayi.

Ol’ man river exploded into uncontrollable laughter when I tried to confirm this with him. And I’m sure it wasn’t long before the farmworkers heard – and spread – the news.

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author

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