A Croc's Tail
From Great North Road
By Philip Pain.
More growing up in Nkana-Kitwe: A Croc's Tail
Around 1963-64 a lot of school friends and I would go out to the Lazarevic's farm which was to the north of Kitwe and on the banks of the Kafue River. We would often spend weekends there. Some of you might remember Mr. and Mrs. Lazarevic as the people who sold fresh veggies at the mine market on Saturday mornings.
On this one particular weekend a group of boys gathered at the farm on the Saturday morning. ( The names that I can remember were Winkie Walker, Sid van Zyl, Bob Hardy, John Jack, myself and of course Stan Lazarevic. ) During the morning we wandered upstream to a rapid which was on the Kafue some distance from the house. This rapid was about 30m. (100 feet for Arthur) and ended in a calm area of the river.
Well boys being boys, it wasn't long before we were all starkers and body boarding down the rapid. (The rocks were all worn rounded and smooth.) When you reached the end of the rapid you would swim like hell for the bank. We had convinced ourselves that crocks don't like rapids and if any were about they would be in the calm water. We spent a fantastic day down at the river and decided to come back the next day.
Very early the next morning Stan’s elder brother George took their .303 and went for a hike along the banks of the river. When he approached the pool at the end of the rapids where we had been swimming the previous day a crock was laying in the shallows. One well aimed shot into the crocks head and it started to drift away.
On arriving at the rapid there was nothing to be seen but no one was too keen to swim again. After messing around for a while we decided to go back to the house and watch Stan feed his snakes in the snake pit. (The brothers had an old reservoir where all the snakes found on the farm were kept.)
While walking on the bank of the river back towards the house we came across the crock. It had drifted down stream and was held against a reed bank in the middle of the river by the current. After a lot of "Wow check that" and such comments Winkie suggested that we should try and retrieve the crock so we could examine it more closely.
But how? After a lot of discussion Winkie decided that we must tie a rope around his waste and he would swim over with another line and tie it to the crock and we could haul it back. If we should see anything or if anything should happen to him we were to pull him back as fast as we could. (I don't think we considered how we were going to do that if another crock decided to attach itself to Winkie.)
It wasn't long before Stan arrived back with the required ropes and after securing both the ropes to Winkie, he went as far back as he could into the bush and turning around took a running dive into the river. His swim to the reed bank would have made Johnny Weismiller look like he was doing the doggy paddle. On arriving at the reed bank Winkie quickly hoisted himself onto the reeds and out of the water. Using one of the ropes he tied it to the crock. Now the deliberation started again about which should come back to the bank first, Winkie or the crock?
We on the bank were really keen to pull the crock back first but Winkie was of the opinion that by pulling the crock over first the blood might attract other crocks. (I don't know why we didn't think of this before Winkie took his swim.) Winkie’s argument won and he was pulled back across that stretch of water on the "plane." All that was left now was to pull the crock back and that was achieved with ease.
We decided to take the beast back to the house for our examination, so with one guy at each leg and some on the tail we bundu bashed our way back to the farm house like the porters of some great white hunter. On arriving back at the house the first thing we did was measure it. The crock measured eight foot, big enough to have taken any one of us.
It was decided that we would skin the crock as we might be able to sell the skin. (We were always looking for money) As the Lazarevic boys were farm kids they knew what they were doing and the process was soon over. The head was cut off and to be left to rot so that we could all get some teeth to keep as souvenirs. While this was being done some bright spark remembered a story about crocks picking up gravel off the river bed to help digestion and sometimes they picked up diamonds from the river bed and these can be found in their stomachs.
One of the guys slit the stomach, with the rest of us crowded around to see what there was to be found. This was one of the biggest mistakes we could have made, because as the stomach was opened the worst stench that I have ever smelt in my life came from a half digested heron and a fairly large bream. (To this day I still feel nausea rising when I think back on that smell.) Well there was gravel in the stomach and each of us grabbed a hand full to wash under the tap. (Alas there were no diamonds.)
A short while later Mrs. Lazarevic told us to clean up as lunch was ready. Well as you can tell by their name they were not your typically born and bred Rhodesians. (The sons were.) So the lovely meal that was prepared for all the boys was a bit foreign to my pallet and every time I brought my hand up to my mouth to eat all I could smell was the stench from the crocks guts. I believe that it has been one of the most difficult meals I have ever had to eat in my life. Every time I swallowed the food just kind of jumped back into my mouth and must have swallowed each mouthful at least four times. By the end of the meal I must have looked like a chipmunk with all the food stored in my cheeks.
Somewhere amongst all my junk I still have my treasured crock's tooth and whenever I look at it, it reminds me of how stupid we were as kids. What was fun and adventure to us then could just as easily ended in tragedy.
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