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Spoils of war
John Eppel

It took me all afternoon, in full view
of swaggering Frelimo, to dig up
that girl-sized stem. What a hullabaloo,
I thought, would this create in peace time. Sup-
pose they invoked the law (Government Notice
14 of 1975) I
had no permit, and they'd certainly miss
this fatso, though it grows abundantly
in Vila Salazar. Adenium
Obesum enjoys the hot, dry lowveld;
it would flourish in Colleen Bawn, become
a talking point at the Club.

So I knelt
beside this hyper-bole and hugged it out
of the earth. With its final give I gave
and we tumbled like lovers, till a shout
from our camp warned that I was in grave
danger, Frelimo were watching. "Get in
you titface." I took my loot, and the spade
for digging bunkers, (oops and my weapon),
and stumbled for cover.

That night we made
a sweep of the T.T.L. Our section
was ill-prepared. None of us had wanted
to carry the big-gun. We had to spin
for it. I lost. I wished that thing planted
like a Sabi Star. None of us took bangs.
Too dangerous. Besides we needed the space
in our kidney pouches for gin meringues
and quarterjacks of Limosin - in case
of snake bite!

In a clinking of bottles
and a clanking of weaponry we steer
our tackies, discussing Aristotle's
Poetics. Tragedy should excite fear
and pity: "Our pity is awakened
by undeserved misfortune, and our fear
by that of someone just like ourselves." Tinned
thoughts these, at this time. Shall we squeeze a tear
of two. Army life makes rat-packs of our

The LMG drags me through the bush,
its muzzle close to the ground. A sour,
smoky stink of terror checks it. I push
forward, then flatten in a commotion
that splits a bag of raisins in my brain.

When the screaming starts, I have a notion,
lying on my back - horizontal rain
of tracer bullets just above my nose -
a notion that some cattle have been shot.
I start feeling pity and fear for those
poor bellowing beasts. Surely that is not
a human sound. The screams go on all night.

Next morning our section finds their shelter,
fifteen metres from where we lay. The sight
of corpses, and their smell, like an abbatoir,
forms warm pilchards into my throat. "Look
at that," says Sarge, "a Tokarev pistol
still in its grease." He pockets it. They take
a portable radio, a fistful
of rounds, and empty AK magazine,
five teeth, a penis, a number of ears,
and a picture of someone in a green
uniform. Sarge tells me to save my tears
for the civilians these gooks have slaughtered.
But I am not thinking of them, and I
cannot explain that I am being purged
of my Rhodesianism. That ugly
word with its jagged edge is opening
me. Through a haze of baked beans in chilli
sauce I move to the past tense.

The going
was tough but at last I had my frilly-
petalled (highly protected) succulent
shrub buried up to its neck in granite
sub-soil. Adenium does not transplant
well, but this one flourished. You can see it
there today. It flowers in September.
And if ever you live in our old home -
the one in the village - please remember
not to over-water my cuddlesome
stump. And if you are bothered by the law,
tell them that the plant is a spoil of war.

© 1989, John Eppel
From: Spoils of War
Publisher: Carrefour Press, Cape Town
ISBN 0 620 13315 5

Frelimo - Front for the Liberation of Mozambique
Adenium Obesum - Sabi Star. A succulent shrub or small tree bearing pink and white flowers in late winter.
T.T.L. - Tribal Trust Lands: the name in the 1960s and 1970s for rural land set apart for black communal occupation.
Limosin - A cheap brandy
LMG - light machine gun
gooks - Rhodesian army slang for guerillas adopted from the US army in Vietnam.

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