TBASS

 

It was not always easy for John to understand Zoe’s English, but this time all he had to do was to look where she was pointing.

In the middle of the track was a large otter, standing on its hind legs. It was looking in their direction. John and Zoe, unable to move lest they disturb the creature, kept quiet. After some minutes, another large otter bounded from a pool to the right of the track, slowly passed across the track and into another pool on the other side. It was quickly followed by a troop of much smaller otters hastening across the track. When all the others had vanished into the pool, the guarding otter followed suit.

“Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen an otter traffic warden,” said John, as they both fell about laughing.

The sandy track became more defined as a road and, as the jeep climbed to the top of yet another hillock, before them lay a series of three huge, interconnected dredge holes. They had become filled with water; around them were trees and bushes. The expanse of water seemed to stretch for at least a couple of kilometres. Green islets, dotted here and there, added yet more mystery to that already intriguing expanse of water.

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‘Boy you are late, I told you to be here at dawn.’

The boy rubbed his eyes and said in a stifled moan. ‘It is sill dark, what difference does it make?’The old man glared at the boy, ‘Now watch your tongue, that tone does not work with me. If you are here to learn you must do as I say. Otherwise there are a dozen other fishermen at this ghat, you better be with them at your own time and mood.’

The boy lowered his gaze. A taut twitch worked across his clenched jaw. Only if any other fisherman would take him, he would have spat then and there at the old man. Fishing at the ghat remained by and large a family trade. The fishermen chose their sons or nephews or cousins as help-hands or apprentices. The boy was an orphan and the old man was a loner, they were both stuck with each other.

‘Now have you brought the nets?’ the old man asked without looking at the boy.

‘Yes, here they are.’ The boy let the pile of nets fall from his shoulder, ‘They were quite bad. I have mended them wherever I could, but I think you will need new ones quite soon.’

The old man hauled the nets into the boat, ‘Let me worry about them. They will do for now.’

They climbed into the boat. With the help of the oar, the old man gave a push and their boat was afloat on the lake. The old man handed over the oar to the boy, ‘Don’t use the oar till I say. Let the boat drift for now.’

‘Drift!’ cried the boy incredulously. ‘Shouldn’t we be rowing to the neck of the lake as fast as we can?’

‘Now why should we be doing that?’

‘Because that is where the most fish are caught and we should be there as early as we can, before others come cramming in. That is the whole point of getting up early at dawn, isn’t it?’

The old man chuckled. ‘Such idiocy! Where have you heard all that rubbish? The lake is full of fish. Not just at the neck, they are everywhere, but they keep on moving. The trick is to know their track. Everything else they say is just a pile of horse shit.’

‘But that is how everybody else catches the fish.’

‘Anyone who fishes like that is a moron.’

‘And you are not!’ The boy regretted as soon as he had said it. He bit his lip. Was it over!

The old man looked at him and fixed him with the depth of his eyes and voice. ‘Listen boy and listen it well. Fishing is an art – a very subtle art. Old fishmasters knew it. There was no rushing to the neck for them. They were artists, not gamblers like the ones you see at the ghat now. And that is what you are going to learn from me – fishing not gambling.’

‘Gamblers! How are they gamblers?’