Coming face to face with a big game hunter
He leaned on my desk as he asked the question.
I went through my files (in my head) carefully, but only come up with the African experience that belongs to the likes of Wilbur Smith and Tony Parks. “No, I don’t think so, but feel free to look around.”
I should have added, “They aren’t the kinds of books we stock.” (The royal ‘we’ assumes there’s a management body made up of more than just myself.)
Pointing him in the direction of world history, I let him go and rummage in peace.
But while he was rummaging in peace, my mind was nearly hysterical.
Could he be a real African game hunter? In my little shop in the Victorian regional boondocks that is Port Fairy? I didn’t think it possible, but yet … he had that look. He looked like he’d be one of those guys who pose over a fresh kill, one leg up on the beast, one big gun pointing skyward, and one big grotesque grin.
In my mind, I stomp up to him, and say, “Do you actually hunt African game?”
In my mind, he responds with a proud, “Why, yes, I do.”
In my mind, I frogmarch him out of my shop, holding tightly to the collar of his RJ Williams shirt. And in my mind, I give him a big old shove off the stairs of the shop, dust my hands, and yell after him, “If I could, I’d turn you into a white rhino. Don’t ever come back!”
But what really happens is after a while he returns with a couple of books.
I don’t even want to know what books they are. If he wants them, I know I don’t want them in my shop. He pays for his books, and whilst the transaction is happening, I drum up the courage to ask, “So do you actually hunt?”
He looks me straight in the eye. “Yes.” He isn’t ashamed, but he isn’t overly proud either. He’s walking a careful, perhaps well-worn, line.
“Oh, yes. Mainly Africa. Mainly around South Africa. I’m off to British Columbia next.”
My curiosity gets the better of me, but perhaps it’s my writer’s heart. Whatever it is, it stops me from frogmarching him out the door. “What animals do you actually hunt?”
“Oh, well, there’s quite a few. Antelope, zebra, rhino, eland, warthog, nyala, springbok, gemsbok, impala …”
As he’s reeling off his list, I’m beginning to feel sick. Perhaps he can read my face, although I’m trying to maintain the interested party veneer, because he then adds that if it wasn’t for hunters these animals would have all died out years ago, that they are aiding the economy, that they help to feed the surrounding villages.
Then I can’t stop myself, I have to ask. “What do you do with these animals? Surely you don’t bring them back with you?”
“Oh no. Every part of the animal is used by the village. It’s quite incredible really. Even the hoofs. I usually bring back the horns and the cape.”
In my head, this man in front of me parades around with a fresh zebra skin over his back like a funky Batman. In my head, I picture his billiard room, his fireplace, his interior ‘decoration’.
I give him his change. He settles down with his new acquisitions on our couches. He’s in no hurry to leave, when all I want to do is push him out the door and spray the place with air-freshener.
He makes me want to hug my kids.
He makes me want to cry.
And he makes me angry.
But I let myself down on all counts. I don’t cry or yell. I leave him at peace. He has the right to live his life. Just because it’s not my choice to live that way, I feel I have no right to accost him in a public place for being who he is.
I wave him goodbye when he finally does leave. And I light a candle, and think of all the magnificent animals on this small planet of ours.
For more of Jo Canham’s Tales from Port Fairy, catch up here.
Enjoy our other Bluestone columnists …
Great food and gardening tips: Kylie Treble and Food for Thought
Great architecture: Clinton Krause on mid-century architecture in the south-west
Great books: Claire Norman’s Bool Belle book reviews