The Lobster

Themba ran swiftly through the bush down to the sea. The dark, silent bush frightened him a little, for he was very small and had never before been alone in the bush at such an early hour, but today he was determined to do it. At dawn he sneaked unnoticed out of his mother's hut, and he disappeared from the village. Now he was on the winding, sandy path and the noise of the waves growing louder and louder encouraged him to run even faster. At last there was the beach and the ocean. Themba sighed with relief for the beach was deserted. He unfastened his red blanket, threw his head scarf on the sand, and naked ran towards the rocks.

The rocks were still wet and slippery, but Themba climbed up them with ease, as he moved towards the place where the boys usually catch their lobster. For the first time in his life, he himself would try to catch one himself. He had set his mind on it, for there was a lovely slab of chocolate in the trading store that he wanted very badly. Except for a tiny piece a class-mate had given him once, he had never had any chocolate for himself. His mother would buy bread or meilie (maize) meal with money from the oysters and bait she sold to the hotel, but she would never buy him sweets. They were very poor, and she was too old to dive for the lobster which one could sell for a shilling apiece. Themba was not allowed to dive for he was too young, and he was all she had, but today he would try and do it.

Themba finally reached the rock he was looking for; he climbed down and found himself in the water.

The water was very cold and the sea was still angry but Themba persisted. A sudden wave rushed at him, throwing him onto the sharp boulders, but Themba did not lose his head. He held fast to the rock and waited for the fury of the wave to abate, then he scrambled to his feet and dived in the place where he had seen the other boys dive. He dived under repeatedly looking for a lobster; he would come up breathless and then try again and again. Occasionally the waves would throw him here and there and Themba would get frightened and cry a little, but he would not give up.

At last he caught one and brought it triumphantly up. He held it tightly, though it pricked him badly, and he waded back to the beach. The sun was already high and the first holidaymakers appeared in the water. Themba dressed himself hurriedly, wrapped his lobster in the scarf, and climbed up the path leading to the hotel. He was going to sell his lobster to the hotel owner.

Themba stood for a long time outside the kitchen trying to sell his lobster, but the man would not buy it. He needed lobster for supper, but not one, several dozen at least; one lobster was no good to him.

Later, Themba stood on the lawn outside the guest rooms, but again nobody was interested in his lobster; the men only wanted bait. Themba was getting desperate. He would get a hiding from his mother, he would not be able to buy his chocolate, and worst of all he had missed his catechism class. On Monday his teacher would ask him about the Ten Commandments that they had learned, and he knew only a few of them. He began to repeat the first four to himself, then he got stuck on the fifth; he simply could not remember it. The sun was so hot and Themba was so tired, he felt so sleepy. He lay in the grass and soon he was fast asleep, holding in one hand a little scarf with the lobster inside it.

A newcomer to the hotel stopped his car opposite the hotel entrance and hooted loudly. Themba woke up and watched the man with interest. Here was a new chance to sell his crayfish.

Alex Munro got out of the car and soon the hotel attendants rushed out to show him the way to the reception and to carry his luggage. He was going to spend a weekend here. This weekend was going to be a very special one for him. He intended to recall all that was precious and dear to him in the past, and assure himself that what he was going to do was right and just.

'Go away for a few days,' his minister had said to him. 'Cool off and think it over in quietness. The man wronged you, but to take revenge on him would not be right. He is broke, he is ill, and he has a family.'

Alex thought it over, but all he wanted was revenge. And now, in this lovely place, he felt even more strongly about it. Just here, behind the hotel, his father had once had a pineapple plantation. The old cottage, where they had lived for so many years was still there. All his happy childhood was spent there, on that beach, in that green bush, among those rolling hills and lagoons. His father was doing moderately well, until one year when his crop failed and the local shop-keeper sued him for debt. The man demanded the money at once and no extension of time was allowed. His father had to sell everything, and was ruined. They moved to a town where his father, who had never recovered from his loss, died soon afterwards. Alex had worked since he was fifteen; he spent his nights studying and later became an estate agent. It took him several years to own his own estate agency, but at last he got what he wanted. He was prosperous, but his satisfaction was not yet complete. And as it happened, the old shop-keeper came into his life again. He was in financial difficulty; he needed money badly, and had guarantees in land and his shop. Alex's firm lent him the sum required and then more and more; any amount the man wanted. Alex was doing it on purpose, he wanted to get the man into a trap he had set for him, and when it was evident that the man could never repay the whole amount, Alex struck. The final notice was sent, and on Monday, the summons would be issued.

Themba approached the man shyly and stretched out his little hand with the lobster in it. 'Fish,' he called. Alex shook his head. 'Andifuni,' he said in Xhosa, meaning I don't want it. Themba was persistent and Alex got annoyed, he had no time for the little boy and his fish. The waiters shouted at Themba to go away.

Later on Alex strolled towards the beach. He had to think and remember, as he visited the places which reminded him of his childhood, he recalled his mother's face stained with tears and his father stoic resignation. He was then only a child, but he remembered the hatred he felt for that cruel man. He was obsessed with a terrible longing for revenge. He resented so much having to leave his beloved home and countryside, and he still felt the same bitter resentment. He would destroy his enemy; as he had destroyed them. He would pay for his evil deed at last. Alex paced the beach nervously. He could not wait for Monday to come. He was restless, only action would bring relief to his thoughts, any action.

There was a boy sitting among the rocks. Feeling a need for some kind of companionship, Alex approached the boy. He saw the child was crying. 'What is the matter with you, kwedini (meaning little boy)?' he asked, surprised. The boy did not answer but cried even more loudly wiping his nose with his fingers. 'What is the matter with you?' Alex repeated in Xhosa, the language he spoke as a child. He remembered how he himself used to cry unhappily among those very rocks, with the sea his companion.

The boy was still silent .All of a sudden he un-wrapped the piece of cloth and Alex saw the half-suffocated lobster moving weakly. The boy took the lobster out and walked towards a large pool amongst the rocks. Alex was intrigued and followed him. The lobster was dazed and the boy gave it a gentle push, he was letting the lobster loose. The lobster began to crawl slowly, and the boy watched him sadly go. Alex suddenly recognized the boy.

'Hey,' he called to him 'this is your lobster; you wanted to sell it. You little fool, why do you let it go?'

Themba stared at the man. He did not know the answer. The lobster crawled faster now, as he recognized familiar ground. Suddenly a smile illuminated the sad face of the boy. 'Ungabulali!' he exclaimed joyfully, 'Ungabulali (meaning thou shall not kill).' There was such a relief and gladness in his eyes that Alex was startled. The boy laughed joyfully, watching his lobster began to climb the rock with new assurance.

As if in a daze, Alex repeated the words of the boy, 'Thou shall not kill!' and suddenly laughed with relief, 'Let it go, let him live, if the boy can do it, I can do it too.'

'Hey, kwedini, tomorrow you must come and show me the best place to catch big waves. We shall go surfing together.'

Themba shook his head, 'Tomorrow I go to my teacher and tell him I know Ungabulali.'

Alex did not understand but smiled; 'All right, you go to your teacher, but later you come to me. I give you a shining shilling for the lobster we saved from being killed.'

Now the boy did not understand but smiled happily. 'I will show you where to catch a big wave, and I will buy myself a chocolate with that shilling.'

Alex patted his curly head. 'The chocolate is in my suitcase, come and get it. I feel sweet enough without it.'

The man and the boy walked briskly away from the beach towards the hotel. 


More by :  Ola de Sas

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