A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
When Lea was living in Botswana, she once met a man on the road holding a kitten. He told her that he was going to have to drown the kitten if no one would adopt it. Lea, being a kind person who loves animals, said that she would certainly adopt the kitten. The man said it would cost her five pulas. But, Lea said, if you don’t want the kitten, why would you insist on being paid? Because my family is hungry, the man said. Lea paid the five pulas and took the kitten home.
A few days later, a woman with wild eyes showed up at her door with a goat. She said that she would have to kill the goat unless Lea paid her twenty pulas. Lea said I’m not going to pay you twenty pulas for a goat I don’t even want. The woman took a small knife out of her apron pocket and held the blade to the goat’s throat. Do you want to be responsible? What’s twenty pulas to you? You are a rich American and this is just a poor Botswana goat. Have you no heart? Lea, being a kind person who loves animals and also being a brave person who right now was a little afraid of this woman with the wild eyes, paid the twenty pulas and took the goat.
Lea named the kitten Masa, and she named the goat Bantlé. Masa was happy in the house, and Bantlé was happy in the yard, and Lea was happy she had saved both their lives.
A few days later, there was a ruckus at her front gate. She looked out the window and saw half a dozen people, each with an animal. There was a man holding a very old, very sick rooster, a woman with a mangy dog, and four children each holding an animal – a green lizard, a sleeping mouse, an orange bird wearing a blue hat, and an animal that looked like a marmot, or what Lea thought a marmot might look like if it wore a ribbon around its neck and yawned incessantly. On the other hand, maybe it was a sloth. Wait a minute, there are no marmots or sloths in Africa. Well, whatever this creature was, Lea didn’t want to own it.
Lea realized she had made a mistake in buying the kitten –and a bigger mistake in buying the goat. She wasn’t about to compound these mistakes by buying the menagerie outside her gate. Obviously, word had gotten out that there was an American who would pay cash for animals. Lea was worried that she would have to buy every animal in the village, and then people would start bringing animals from the countryside. She had to put a stop to this.
Meanwhile more people were gathering in front of her house. They didn’t have animals; they just wanted to see what she would do. Her paying money to crazy poor people so a kitten wouldn’t die and a goat wouldn’t die was the most interesting thing that had happened in the village in months. Of course, everyone loves a kitten. But a goat? People milked goats, or they ate them, but they didn’t try to save them from their fate.
Lea went out to the gate and told the people that she would pay one pula for each animal they brought, but today was the last day she would be buying animals. She gave a pula to each person, petted each animal, and then asked the person to take the animal home because she had no more room in her house.
And no one brought her another animal during the rest of her stay in the village.
As for Masa, she became a pretty good mouser. And Bantlé spent the rest of his life in Lea’s yard, happily munching the weeds and bushes.
Copyright 2020 Michael Simms