Today would have been my 12th wedding anniversary. Never get married on a day famous for other things, by the way. If things don’t last, you will never forgot your ex-anniversary. Perhaps unniversary is a better name for it. The tradition says silk or linen; I got something much better.
My favourite sound in the world is the call of the guineafowl. It’s not especially melodious or pleasing to the ear, but in those shrieks and clucks and chrrrrrs are all the complex allure of Africa, infinitely lovely. Also hopelessly guilt-ridden and heartbreaking, for those of us whose ancestors arrived after a long hiatus from the place our DNA reminds us we all call the motherland on boats, uninvited.
There aren’t too many guineafowl left in Johannesburg. They need space and undisturbed grassland, and freedom from cats and dogs. I’ve never known them in the garden, until now.
A few months ago, a pair of them moved into my grandmother’s garden. I moved in with her after we agreed to get divorced, and somehow it never made a lot of sense to move out. The garden is one of the reasons I stay. I’d rather have ponds and trees and lawn than noisy neighbours and thin walls in a Summercon complex.
Where they came from, I don’t know. I assumed they were the domesticated kind, escaped from another garden. They stayed, clucking companiably with the eight Egyptian geese who also share our lawns. Every now and then my 87 year old grandmother, who hates the geese, likes to brandish a broom at them. It keeps her on her toes.
Later, one of the guineafowl disappeared and I worried that it had flown off, hit by a car, or attacked by a dog. Perhaps even been eaten. Today I understood why. She’d been sitting on eggs. This morning I saw the two of them together again. They were followed by eight chicks, exotically striped for camouflage. Striped little things peeping and shrieking in their parents’ twin wakes. They’re amazingly loud, when you get up close. On Monday, I watched remarkable Veldfokus footage of a duiker catching and eating guineafowl chicks; I hope ours stay safe.
The guineafowl chicks in my garden look exactly like this.
Their parents keep them hidden, which is wise given that Egyptian geese are known to attack and drown other birds. This afternoon, I found a weevil-infested box of couscous in the cupboard and scattered it on the lawn. Tomorrow, I will buy wild bird seed to help them along. They have a growing family to feed, and though we don’t use pesticides and patches of the garden are an overgrown paradise for birds, 2 acres of Bryanston probably isn’t enough.
I could read all sorts of signs into this. About Africa, and rebirth, and birds, which can fly – even guineafowl. Or simply hold onto the fact that it is possible to take such pleasure in little things, in the endless, irrepressible exuberance of life itself.
I could not have asked for a better unniversary gift.