Small, brown-clad, zip-lining across the city skyline, the bird-like acrobat would alight on the tiniest ledge. Clip on, push off, hurtling through the topmost branches of the urban jungle. But tempted, the bird became a cat, a peeping tom. His wings were clipped and now TheSparrow flies no more.
He was dressed in an orangutan suit. It must have been itchy as he scratched himself rather a lot. Or perhaps it was part of his act. We thought it was just a prank, but then we discovered he was an undercover insurance agent, tracking a gang of kleptomaniac chimpanzees.
Henry cashed in his dividends and purchased an exclusive package to an upmarket campsite deep in the African bush. He got all the gear, the khaki shirt and pants, the wide-brimmed hat and he was on his way. He knew exactly what was what. He’d read a guide book. Or at least, he’d looked at some of the pictures.
He arrived and was greeted warmly by his hosts. After the briefing, to which he paid limited attention, he decided to go for a walk, all by himself.
Caught short, he squatted by a Khaya tree. As he perched precariously, a long, sinuous tree snake with bright yellow eyes wound its way down the trunk. Clearly offended by what it saw, it opened its jaws and fastened onto Henry’s tender regions.
Henry howled. He jumped up. He ran for the camp, clutching his pants.
But the venom circulated rapidly. It spread throughout his bloodstream into the tissues and the nerves. Henry collapsed in front of his luxury tent.
Later he was flown home in a polished box made from Kanya wood. The irony would, no doubt, have been lost on the hapless Henry.
Percy the pigeon was on holiday. It had been a very tiring journey but at last he’d made it; all the way from London to New York City. As he perched on a tree in Central Park, admiring the city skyline, he noticed a group of children playing hopscotch. What were they using as a marker? Percy wondered. It wasn’t the usual stone that bounced and skipped.
A little girl dressed in pink made her throw. Percy flew down for a closer look.
‘Oh, what’s that pigeon doing?’ she cried.
The children gathered around as Percy waddled over to the marker.
Percy put his head on one side, examining the object. ‘Hoppy Taw‘ he read on its face. (He was a very intelligent pigeon who’d spent a year in Oxford.) Well, I never, Percy thought. I’ve never heard of one of those. Whatever will these clever Americans think of next?
Sam cast off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers disappeared behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as his pushed the throttle forward and eased little Porcupine out into the broad Breede river.
Gulls wheeled noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blinked on either side of the bay. Sam pushed the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He ran his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and set his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.
Sam had grown up in Manenberg on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still was. But he’d escaped. He’d had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he’d got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He’d slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He’d found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he’d fixed it up with the help of a retired engineer called Johannes, who spent his days giving advice and watching the activity in Laaiplek harbour.
Sam and Porcupine made a great team. He’d brought the little boat back to life and now she gave him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he was fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounded the coast to his favourite cove and dropped anchor.
Night came quickly, and within half an hour Sam had two good-sized octopuses in his bucket. He shifted a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam had been busy helping out in the harbour all day and he was tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, he slipped away into a glorious slumber.
Sam was startled by the sound of voices. Someone was on the boat.
‘Concentrate,’ said the first.
‘I am concentrating,’ said the second.
Sam held up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He turned around sharply. He walked around the deck, peering out into the inky ocean. He heard them again.
‘Over he-re,’ the voice said in a sing-song voice.
‘Over he-re,’ joined in the second voice in a deeper tone.
Sam spun around. Where were the voices coming from?
‘Coo-e,” the first voice called out.
Suddenly a jet of water spurted out of the bucket wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waved at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waved again.
Sam crouched down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bobbed up, their eyes fastened upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winked at him. ‘No!” Sam stood up and took a step backwards. More tentacles appeared, waving at him. Sam shook his head.
‘Let us go!’
‘Please, mister fisherman!’
Sam approached the bucket again. He squatted down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’
‘We’re not fish,’ said the first voice indignantly.
Sam rubbed his eyes; he pinched himself.
‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extended towards Sam’s arm and prodded him gently.
‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sang the first voice.
‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ sang the second.
Very slowly Sam picked up the bucket and stepped over to the side of the boat. As the two octopuses slid into the sea, a huge wave broke over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The bucket landed next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobbed about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appeared above the waves. As Sam tried to find his feet, a vast tentacle reached onto the deck and grabbed the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.
When Sam awoke the sun was shining. His head ached. Gingerly he felt the back of his skull. He’d obviously had a nasty knock, but what had happened? He sat up slowly, trying to remember. He’d heard voices; someone on the boat? Sam’s brow furrowed. Something glinting in the sunlight caught his eye.
His fishing bucket was full of shiny objects. He reached out and dragged it over towards him. The bucket was brimming over with gold coins like a hoard of pirate treasure.