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The tale of a pipe and a dog



Some roads in Lesotho get repaired fairly regularly, others do not. Who can say why this is?

Most people in Lesotho behave well in public, others do not. Perhaps we should put the behaviour of the latter down to their upbringing, or to the amount of Castle lager they consume. (Who would, in any case, drink lager when they can have joala—delicious, nutritious, and homemade?) Roads and bad behaviour, then. Herein lies a tale.

A week before Christmas a small openbacked truck turned off a main highway on to the road that leads to Thaba Mahe. This, as everyone knows, is a narrow tarmac road, continually plagued with potholes.

The truck was carelessly loaded with debris from a demolition site, and was being driven too fast. Before long the left rear wheel hit a pot-hole and out of the back leapt a couple of bricks and a small length of narrow brown plastic pipe, which came to land in the middle of the road. The driver failed to notice this.

That same morning an elderly man named Thabo was making his way back to his home in Thaba Mahe after visiting his sons in Maseru. At the junction he left one kombi and waited for another, which would take him home. By his side was his faithful dog, Bananas. In one hand he carried a large plastic bag full of Christmas presents from his sons.

In his pocket he had his ancient, battered smoking pipe—only a little less beloved than his sons—and another present from them, a big pouch of tobacco. He was itching for a good, long smoke, but didn’t want to be busy filling his pipe—a lengthy procedure, as he had arthritis in his hands—when his kombi arrived.

Ten minutes later and the kombi pulled up, nearly full already. Thabo squeezed inside, into a middle seat, with Bananas wedged between his legs, and they set off. Uncomfortable and feeling irritable, as the fat man on his left was digging his elbow into his side, Thabo fished his pipe from his pocket, then his tobacco, and surreptitiously laid them on his blanket where it stretched between his knees.

The driver wasn’t paying any attention to this, half his mind on the road, the other half taken up with a long, joking conversation he was having with a young female passenger sitting next to him. Thabo filled his pipe. The old woman to his right muttered something to the effect he shouldn’t be doing that.

“Sorry, madam,” he murmured. “I don’t feel at all well.” Then he lit up.

As a cloud of smoke filled the front half of the kombi, the fat man started snorting like a hippo. The driver slowed almost to a halt, placed his hand on the young female passenger’s shoulder, and turned round. “You can’t smoke in here!” shouted the fat man. “Idiot and house-fly!”

“It’s not a problem,” murmured the old lady. “I don’t mind, really. He says he’s not feeling well.” At which point Bananas licked her hand. The driver stopped the kombi and told Thabo “cigarettes are not allowed, let alone a pipe. I’m sorry, my friend, you must put it out.”

“Evict the bastard!” shouted the fat man, prompting a ferocious growl from Bananas. “Idiot and pit latrine!” “Old man,” said the driver, a pleasant looking youth. “Please do as I say.”

At this attempt at conflict management, the fat man lurched forward and flung open the sliding door. Snatching Thabo’s pipe he hurled it outside. Bananas yelped and leapt after it.

Slamming the door shut, the fat man shouted to the driver: “Go! We don’t have all the time in the world!” And the driver set off again, oblivious to Thabo’s weeping and the piteous howling from Bananas outside.

By the time they reached Thaba Mahe, Thabo was the only passenger left. The fat man had disembarked earlier on, turning to Thabo and hurling a parting shot: “Idiot and rubber bung!” He was followed by the old lady, who gave Thabo her blessings. All the other passengers got off at the following stop.

Reaching Thaba Mahe, the driver positioned his kombi for the return trip and helped Thabo outside. As there were no new passengers waiting he suggested the two sit on a grassy bank and offered the old man a cigarette.

“I’m sorry about all that,” he said. “But you were acting against our regulations.” “I am sorry, too,” replied Thabo. “Because you seem to be a kind young fellow.” Then he gazed at the crystalline sky, watching a snow-white egret land next to the cow who would provide its lunch.

The driver, whose name was Tšepo, couldn’t help notice how much Thabo had enjoyed his cigarette and so offered him another. He also noticed the old man was staring back up the road, a tear in his eye.

“I’m sure your dog will catch up with us,” he said. “He is my best friend,” Thabo replied. “Me, I keep tropical fish.” Thabo produced a baffled smile and Tšepo asked him “what’s your dog’s name?” “Bananas.”

Tšepo blinked twice and asked “why ever did you call him that?” “Because I like bananas.” “Well,” said Tšepo. “My wife and I like football. Very much. We could have called our daughter Penalty. But we decided on Puleng.”

A minute or two passed. Then Thabo suddenly sat bolt upright. A moment later Tšepo noticed Bananas, racing down the road towards them, his tail swishing from side to side. “You see,” he said. “A faithful dog. And a clever one. Look what he’s brought you!”

Bananas reached them and placed his front paws on Thabo’s knees. As he did so he dropped from his jaws his trophy from the little truck—a short length of narrow brown plastic pipe.

Chris Dunton



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