Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Buck and the Big Mosquitoes (Pt II)

Part II
The scenery rolled by as I drove the Falcon and listened to Buck in the seat beside me. He paused to take another swallow of rum and then sat silently for a moment, looking out the window. After awhile he turned and saw me scratching absentmindedly at an insect bite on my arm.
“Ten thousand bastards!” he cursed. “The mosquitoes are bad this year! I killed one the other day that was as big as a bleedin albatross!” 
He leaned towards me conspiratorially and uttered, “It’s the female mosquito that bites, you know, lad. And, as I may have mentioned, I’m absolutely irresistible to females! Hahaha!”
May have mentioned? By now Buck had told me a thousand tall tales, many of them with benefit of stimulating and willing females, for he was fond of a good copulation, to hear him tell it. How Buck loved to spin a yarn! It was his favorite thing to do, except perhaps, if one believed his stories, fornication. It was almost as if he believed these stories he was telling, he told them with such gusto and conviction. I was a willing and eager audience, for I like tales of fornication as much as the next bloke and besides, I was young and naive and still couldn’t tell or at least wasn’t insulted when a man was telling the truth or not. 
After all, the lessons of a lifetime cannot be learned in one day.
“Blasted mosquitoes!” said Buck and he good-naturedly cursed mosquitoes in general for five minutes straight. Then he cursed, for another ten minutes, a particular mosquito who had recently attacked him. 
“Talk about persistent, mate!” laughed Buck. “I was weak from loss of blood after her first attack. She had got me in the neck,” he pointed to the spot, “right here! Blood oozed from the wound and this seemed to drive her into a frenzy! I swear she had a look of malignant evil on her horrible, ghastly face, or the thing that we would call a face, matey, if she bleedin had one!” 
Buck paused at this point for another swallow from the bottle. Then he began again, a little breathlessly, with plenty of gesturing. “Just as she came in for the kill I knocked her down with an uppercut to the proboscis. Blast her! She was so tough I had to take off my boot and hit her three times with it to finish her off! Ugh! What a bloody mess.” 
For a moment Buck’s mouth turned down in a frown of remembrance, before he lifted the bottle again and gulped down the dark, sweet rum. 
“Ha! Ha! It was her or me, mate,” he said, “but I survived to tell the tale!”
“Of course,” he continued after a bit, “the biggest, nastiest mosquitoes I ever saw were in Africa. I remember once, crossing the Kalahari, when I saw in the sky, just off the road in the bush a little way, what I took to be giant vultures. 
“They were hovering over the dead carcass of an old bull elephant, the bastards! Getting out of the car, I grabbed my gun and pith hat and sallied forth to see if I could run off those bloody, damned vultures! 
“Because I hate vultures, Rusty Boy, terrible birds of ill omen that they are!” Buck reduced his voice to a whisper. “As I silently approached, my mouth went dry and my hands started sweating. I was fair-dinkum scared mate, for Death is all around you, every minute, in the African jungle.”
Buck took another drink while I thought about death being all around me all the time. Then he solemnly uttered, “I thought to myself, ‘Buck old boy, it’s a good day to die!’” 
I glanced over at Buck. He had that look on his face now, as if it were still a good day to die. 
“I clenched my buttocks,” he continued, “sharpened my eyes, strained my ears and crept forward. Bloody hell! They weren't vultures at all, but horrible monstrous mosquitoes, buzzing and prodding that poor elephant!
“Raising my gun, I took out the biggest one with a double blast, which thankfully scared off the others. Naturally, I wasn't stupid enough to wait around and meet any of her relatives, so I buggered off just as easy as shitting in bed and kicking it out with your foot!”
Buck took another pull from the bottle while I thought about shitting in bed and kicking it out with my foot.
“Too right, mate!” he continued. “I stopped only long enough to assist that old elephant to its feet, with a native trick I learned from an old Zulu witch doctor. 
“That elephant wasn't dead at all but was merely playing possum.”
“Huh?” I said. “What?”
“You didn't know that elephants played possum?” asked Buck, pretending surprise. “Oh yes, and they also, most of them, play the accordion, too.” Buck leaned in closer and whispered, “Although that's a bleedin well kept secret, mate, you have to be an experienced elephant handler or an old Zulu witch doctor to know that one.”
I laughed, but Buck, unconvinced that I was swallowing his tall tale, continued, “You don't believe me? Well, where the blasted hell do you think all that accordion music comes from in the African night when you're trying to sleep out there in the veldt under the stars?”
“I dunno, Buck, I’ve never been to Africa.”
“Bloody hell mate!” laughed Buck. “Use your noggin! An elephant could hardly play the harmonica or the saxophone with that long trunk of his, now could he?”

Many years later, I happened through the circumstance of living to find myself under the stars on the African veldt at night, yes and in a tent close by the Kalahari dessert too, just as Buck had described to the boy I used to be. 
I’d been in Africa a few years trying to make my living as an animator. I may have mentioned that being an animator is a rather hit and miss way of making a living. Anyway, I’d run out of animation gigs, so I had come along from Johannesburg to help some archeologist friends find fossils in the petrified mud of southern Botswana. My friends spent every winter there, cataloguing bits of seashell that had turned to stone uncounted centuries ago. 
We’d worked hard in the sun all day, and now after a good dinner with lively conversation, a little dagga and some strong Cape wine, we’d said our goodnights and gone off to our separate tents for sleep. I was laying in my cot, not asleep but not awake, listening to the wind rustling through the endless African grasses (or was that the strains of accordion music I heard wafting on the air?) when it hit me that Buck was right.
It really was a good day to die.
“Keep an eye out for elephants!” I called to Death and the ghosts and the African night, and I heard my friends gently laugh at my shenanigans.
“Goodnight Rusty, you old fool,” they laughed. “Sleep well.”
“Goodnight friends,” I answered. “You too.”

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