The next episode that I remember well at about the age of three, happened about the same time as the memory I wrote about in a previous post. Weather it happen before or after the stork/baby episode I really couldn’t say.
In those years the municipality used to get gangs of convicts to do general clean up around the village, cut grass, clean drains and trim overgrown trees and bush. Chain gang style, without the chains. With the convicts came a prison warder on a horse. The warder was armed with some sort of shotgun/rifle that looked as if it had seen better days. More for show than of any real use, I think. His job was to see that the assigned work got done, rather than to try and prevent escapes.
On this particular day I was hanging over the front gate watching the prisoners, but more interested in the horse and the waders gun. Our yard was enclosed by a thick privet type hedge with only the small garden gate for entry and exit. There was no driveway or large gate as we had no car. In the subtropical climate of Natal south coast, this hedge grew thick and high. At the back of the yard I had discovered a small opening leading out into the veldt. It was the type of opening that only a small boy would find being low on the ground. I often made use of it to go exploring outside, my mother thinking that I was playing safely in the yard.
I was watching the show outside, warder lolling on his horse, convicts pretending to work, when the prisoners suddenly scattered in all directions, the sort of reaction you get when someone shouts snake among a group of people. What I was actually seeing was a prison break. One prisoner gave the warders horse a mighty slap on the rump as he passed, sending horse and rider in different directions. Or to put it differently the warder inadvertently dismounted from his horse.
Convicts were running in all directions, one came running towards me and vaulted the gate, flying over my head. He hit the ground and kept on running around the house to the back. Very curious, I followed; it seemed like an interesting game they were playing. Outside in the street all was chaos, women screaming, warder blowing his whistle, and convicts running.
Meanwhile the convict that I was following realised that he was trapped, no way out through that hedge. He was a very young Zulu man, maybe still a teenager. To this day the image of his face; the fear in his eyes; and the look of despair; remains imprinted in my memory.
I walked up to him, took his hand and led him to my secret hole in the fence. (Fearlessness of the innocent). It was a tight fit but he got through and I watched him running away through the veldt.
By now someone must have phoned the police and the prison, and the village was swarming with warders and policemen, most of them on horseback, rounding up convicts. Two came charging around the house and saw me standing there.
Had I seen any convicts in the yard? (not that I knew what a convict was)
A strange man?
You wouldn’t lie to a policeman would you?
So much for innocence.
For the first and last time in my life I lied to a policeman.
I often wonder if the young man made good his escape. I hope so.