The Island

by Travis Bray Lyle

Had a Huckleberry Finn childhood. Spent a lot of time on the lagoon, riding a bike, fishing and exploring. Maybe that's the memory because there was a Mississippi paddle steamer moored on the bank there before Demoina. No shit. There was an island in the middle of the Umgeni there; hobo's used to live on it. Used to buy cracker shrimp off them; at low tide they would come over with old orange sacks filled with cracker, legs black with mud, swearing all the way. They had built shacks there, hidden in the thick bush under the biggest trees. When the tide was in the water was clear enough to see crabs dancing along the bottom, claws raised like they were carrying invisible furniture. First memory is a warthog that came snorting and stamping out of the bush under the bridge. Mother was shit-scared but went all 'aw, shame' when the little ones came from behind. Succulent, said Father. Aw, shame, said Mother.

Boogie was one of the cracker hobo's, and a friend. Used to bring the biggest crackers and demonstrate how to hook and tie them just right so they wouldn't come off, even if a crab got cheeky. Was a piss-cat and a button*-smoker, was Boogie. Smelled terrible, the methane of swamp mixed with the ripe hum of sorghum beer and rotting teeth. He didn't care about a thing other than drink, buttons*, zol* and his pozzi* on the island. Dirt poor but laughing all the time, even when falling on his ass in the mud.

Used to be a fun fair on the banks of the river there, below the model boat pond. Rode the slip 'n slide, the go-karts and the miniature train that ran on a track through the mangrove jungle. All so big when you're a lightie*. Mother and Father knew the owners, so it was freebies on those rides till sunset sometimes. Lightie heaven. That's where the Huckleberry Finn boat was. Never saw it used, maybe it was just for show.

Boogie knew all the best spots where the mullet were so thick at high tide they'd even go for a finger in the water. Sharp fuckin' teeth. So thick, just drop a line and wham! Got one. The other hobo's didn't know about the special spots; they never got to know. Was our secret, Boogie and me. Used to bring a carton of iJuba*, say have a taste. So sour, but then lekker. Mother smelled it. Said I smelled like a shebeen and lighties didn't drink Zulu beer, so no more jolling* with Boogie. Well, that she knew of. Used toothpaste after, no more shebeen breath.

Also smokes. Boogie would fall in the mud but the smokes stayed dry. Green pack Courtleigh Satin Leaf. He would say have a pull. Choke and cough and he would laugh and say 'Ag, lightie, one day, eh?'

And buttons, Boogie smaaked to smoke pipes. One day the police waited for him in the bush at low tide when he came with the cracker, to bust him for smoking buttons. But they just klapped* him, took his buttons and zol and threw it in the water. Then Boogie would stop laughing for a while. Then he would vloek* them, and then drink more iJuba, and then start laughing again.

Cyclone Demoina came and washed the river clean of the island, washed all the bush and the dead fish onto the beaches. Dunno what happened to Boogie.

* South African slang

button = mandrax

zol = weed

pozzi = place, home

lightie = kid

iJuba = sorghum beer

jolling = fun

klapped = smacked

vloek = swear

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