Harold Strachan's Last Word

Bring good lucks. Fishy tale

I come out of hospital all tottery and blinking and look about for a taxi. But no, think I, it’s not my legs that have been healed, it’s my lungs, so now I’ll walk home, the legs need the exercise and the lungs the deep breathing, and since it’s my birthday I’ll pick up some nice curried prawns at Palki’s takeaway for a treat.

I step forth in a manly sort of way and I haven’t gone more than fifty paces or so when a taxi pulls up next to me and the driver says I saw you on the steps looking for a taxi and here I am. No, say I, I changed my mind, after a week in bed I need a walk. How far? he asks. Oh about a kilometre-and-a-half, say I, maybe two. It’s not possible, says he, get in. I get in. Where to? says taximan. Umm… it occurs to me that since I am in this cab on such a lovely day I might just take a drive to the beach and see what the shad anglers are doing. Such anglers are generally regarded as mental because when asked How’s the fishing? they look up at the sky. They’re looking at the moon, see, and when it’s up about fifty degrees and over to the north a bit at 2 or 3pm, that means a high spring tide is turning and the shad will start feeding.And if any of you blokes out there thinks that sounds a bit spooky, please ask a lady friend how ladies know to menstruate according to the moon. I suppose all huntsmen are superstitious, and these reckon if I’m lucky enough to be still alive on 1st December, my birthday and the first day of the shad season, then if they take me along to the beach they’ll enjoy some of my luck too, get it?

The taxi heaves to at the base of the rocky groyne on the south side of the Umgeni mouth. The meter is ticking, the driver says it’s a hell of a long way to walk home. Never mind, say I, I think I see my mate Don’t-Delay Pillay on the beach across the river, give a long hoot please, and on hoot #2 or so ol’ Deedee turns and sees me and winds in his line and comes to the river mouth.

The river is quite narrow but deep and fast, I call across to him Any luck? Plenty lucks, he calls back, all bad. Your birthday day today? Why you don’t come round this side and bring me good lucks? Nah! say I, too far round the bridge, I’ll just sit on the rocks here and bring you lucks across the river if you drive me home bimebye. I give the taximan a due sum of money and find a nice little patch of sea sand ’mongst the rocks and settle down there and turn on the telepathy to focus on Deedee. He ties a sardine bait on his hook and lands it right in the middle of a neat little shad-hollow in the surf, and after a bit winds in a dinky shad, one kg or so.

I think like anything. Live bait, I think, live bait, and he takes his heavy surf tackle with a 2-metre steel trace and a 5-O hook and delicately threads this hook through the skin along the back of his shad and into the front of its dorsal fin, and walks thigh-deep into the surf and gently launches it. Then I turn the telepathy on whatever unlucky fish may be passing this way and after a while I see Deedee carefully drop the tip of his rod and tighten the line a bit and I know something has taken a taste of his shad. Wait… waaiiit… I think, I focus the beam 100 perdekrag, then think NOW! and Deedee strikes hard and sets the hook and gets to work on something seriously athletic, I tell you, up and down the beach. When it’s flapping about in the shallows he paddles in and grips its tail. A bloody great Natal salmon, which isn’t a salmon at all but something called Johnius Hololepidotus.

Ten kilos of fish is enough for the day. Deedee packs up and comes round the bridge to me. Of course I won’t take half, say I, when he does the comradely thing.  How can you present your wife with half a fish when you get home? But round about seven or so he appears at my flat with Mrs Deedee and roti in foil and aromatic Indian side-dishes in small bowls and a great pot of heavenly Hololepidotus curried to perfection. Happy birthday lucks, says Mrs Pillay.

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