and I were awed by the termite hunter. He was peculiar in
shape. His eyes never still. His voice high pitched. His
movements threaded with unnatural gestures that suggested a form of
insanity until he was hunting termite, and then he became like an
antelope. He belonged to the world of magic, and now that I am older
I know why.
When a European wife became pregnant, a
European husband would have built for her a Banda. This was a
multi-posted, round structure with a grass roof, set in a cleared
space. It provided shade and fresh air for newly born and caretakers
during the first years of a new European life. But if a Banda was
built within a hundred yards of a termite mound, it would last for perhaps
Unlike a modern termite man who
arrives in a pickup truck makes a few seasonal remarks and then leaves,
the termite hunter had to be collected amongst ceremony soon after a good
rain. His first act, after approaching the termite mound, was to
completely disrobe, which for young minds living amongst a clothes wearing
people was in and of itself unnerving.
was advised to keep their distance, which we quickly did. Having
placed his ear to the termite mound for what seemed like an hour or two,
the termite hunter then directed Okanya's mother to hack out a small
portion of the termite mound near the ground, which she did. And I
recall a smile of amusement on her face, because he was so peculiar and so
naked and she was so tall, and we were all watching.
There were no incantations, no smoke, no unnecessary
movements, just the quiet of listening. Then with slow precision the
termite hunter reached his thin arm into the mound and produced a big white
fat queen, which he promptly popped into his mouth and swallowed.
Okanya's mother beamed down at him a
smile reserved for perfect things. The termite hunter himself shrugged
in that way professionals have. And without its queen the termite
mound, for a few years at least, would enter a period of dormancy.
In the world where I live now the
termite hunter would most likely have endured a frightful childhood of
mockery. He would as a grown person have adopted a reclusive and
lonely lifestyle, emerging from behind his gates to shuffle and twitch his
way through the grocery aisles. Round eyed children would point at him
and their elders would avert their eyes. He would eat vanilla ice
cream with chocolate sauce and sometimes he would be arrested for
indecency. In his life there would be no magic skill that sung his
praise for miles around and on into time.
When the termite hunter was gone, Okanya
and I hurried toward the termite mound, expecting to see a swarm of soldier
termites searching out their queen while worker termites repaired damaged
termite halls. But there was nothing to be seen of termites.
Okanya's mother explained that their
heart had been stolen, and even though years have built between now and
then, and even though memory can be deceitful, I can still hear a
wistfulness in her voice.