Excerpt of Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott
(Page 3 of 7)
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Phikwe, which lies ten kilometers away, is the real town;
home, when we arrived, to around 40,000 people, most who
directly or indirectly derived their living from the mine. Among
them were Grandpa Terry and Granny Joan, Mum's parents,
who like most Phikwe residents visited the old town only in
traveling to or from the little bush airport that, together with
the nearby mineshaft and Grandpa Ivor's house, comprised the
only still used part of Selebi.
The airport had a tall glass control tower, two faded orange
windsocks, and a small customs and immigration building. It
was here that my brother, sister, and I first set foot in
unloaded onto the baking tarmac with the eight frozen turkeys
that Grandpa Ivor had packed under the seats when he collected
us in Johannesburg.
I was nearly seven, Damien was five, and Lulu was three.
The air on the runway smacked us like a hot wave.
Snakes, lions, and every other fantasy vanished. Heat
me as I stood, stunned, in the fierce, dry, completely
still air. It was unfairly, unbelievably hot, heat like nothing
ever felt before. Normal thought, in this temperature and
light, was suddenly impossible. Mesmerized, I watched shimmering
waves float above the dark tar. Beyond the runway fence
posts, the flat green scrub seemed frozen behind the wobbling
veil of heat. The almost white sky was empty; nothing stirred in
the bushes; a few black cows stood motionless, sleeping beside
Heat was the only thing moving.
Mum and Dad seemed unperturbed, smiling and chatting as
they hauled bags out the plane. Lulu, Damien, and I stood,
sheltering in the shadow of the wing, quietly waiting for
instructions. Eventually, with all our suitcases retrieved, we
Grandpa Ivor fiddling with the switches in the cockpit, and Mum
and Dad herded us toward the small building beside the control
Inside, it was breathlessly stuffy and not much cooler. A small
fan whirred ineffectively from a stand on the concrete floor in
corner of the room. After an unexplained wait there was no one
else in the queue a uniformed customs officer instructed Mum
and Dad to open all our suitcases on a scratched wooden desk.
With a suspicious scowl, he began slowly rummaging through
layer after layer of clothes, books, and toys. He looked
each time he reached the bottom of a bag.
"Why's he taking so long?" I whined. "What's he looking
"Nothing." Mum squeezed my shoulder.
"I'm so hot."
"Shhh, Robbie," hissed Dad.
"Why are you smiling like that?" As soon as the officer had
approached us, Mum and Dad's excited- to- be- back smiles had
been replaced by fixed, unconvincing grins.
Both ignored me and continued to grin wildly at the slow,
Then suddenly the officer was grinning too. "Dumela, Mr.
Scott," he said, as Grandpa Ivor, carrying a bulging sack,
toward the desk.
As they exchanged greetings in quick, soft Setswana, a pud-
dle spread across the floor beneath the sack of defrosting
The offi cer didn't seem to notice. Still smiling, he turned to
"Ee! The Madala's son," he said warmly. "Welcome to
Ignoring the dripping sack and the unchecked suitcases, he
stamped our forms and waved us on. Minutes later, we were
uncomfortably installed in the tiny, battered pickup truck
that Grandpa called his bakkie. Mum and Lulu sat in the
Dad, Damien, and I in the back, wedged among the bags and
seven turkeys. Grandpa kept the last one out. "Christmas
he said, striding back toward the building, the dripping bird
clutched under his arm. He disappeared inside, emerging,
Excerpted from Twenty Chickens for a Saddle (chapter 1, pages 1-14) by Robyn Scott. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Robyn Scott, 2008.