Bontle hated everything about Gaborone Birding Club: the heavy khaki shorts that created an embarrassing ‘shwish’ sound when walking, the wide expanse of khaki vest advertising she’d not earned a single birding badge, and, most of all, the pith helmet written- “I’m a Gaborone Birder!”.
The members lived in some La-La Land where bird lists and call recognition created an odd hierarchy they worshipped with voracity unseen outside of African Evangelical Churches. She knew on their ladder she was at the bottom rung, but she also knew she had only herself to blame. It all began because of lust and a lie.
Bontle had lusted after the tall, heavy-brained Dr. Kavindama ever since she heard him give his speech- ‘Cloning- It’s Always Good to Have a Spare’. One day in the university cafeteria he said, “I love bird watching”, and without thinking Bontle responded, “Me, too.” Now, here she was.
“Don’t forget your guide, Bontle, we don’t want another embarrassing incident,” Lillian Molemi shouted already pushing to the front of the queue. Lillian -the Birding Queen. Bontle wondered how she moved weighed down by all of her badges; ‘Best Birder’ 1989 through 2007, alone, took up the whole left side of her vest. Then she had ‘Warbler Call Recognition’, and ‘Complete List’ for ducks, birds of prey, and- the coveted- owls.
The Bird Queen called and the group congregated like moths to a cherished lamp. “Turn Newman’s to page 471, Voila! Today’s bird- the Long-Legged Buzzard. Let’s be on our way birders!”
Professor Kavindama pushed to the front, his pith helmet slightly askew. “Lillian, let’s not forget, a sighting will earn the person a ‘Rare Vagrant’ badge.” He smiled up at his Queen.
Bontle looked away. Professor Kavindama of the Gaborone Birding Club was not the Professor Kavindama with a passion for clones. He likely stole hair samples from Lillian with the hope of reproducing his own Birding Queen back in his lab. Bontle felt ill.
Lillian kept a brisk pace when hunting a bird and Bontle quickly fell to the back. She’d never be the first to spot the Long-legged Buzzard anyway. The members were ruthless when a badge was at stake. On a trip in the Okavango Delta, Gothata Modise, a slightly built accountant, pushed two members into a hippo-infested channel just so he could see a copper sunbird and earn his ‘Complete List: Nectar Feeders’ badge.
‘Kraak!’ Bontle strained her ears. ‘Kraak!’
Wait-she knew that call! It was a White Back Night Heron, a very rare bird for this area. If she found it, she’d get one of the most prestigious badges- ’Rare Night Water Bird’. She looked left then right- she was alone. Bontle set off towards the sound.
Suddenly she heard the group in the distance, they had heard the call too and were coming her way. Bontle ran, ignoring the thorns tearing at her bare, chubby legs. She pushed through some reeds and then- there it was; the white eye ring and yellow legs gave it away.
In seconds, Lillian’s annoyed face appeared through the reeds. “Imagine you stumbling upon that, Bontle.”
“No stumbling involved. I heard the call, I followed it. I don’t believe you have this badge, Lillian, am I right?”
Ignoring her, Lillian ordered a bit too harshly, “No time to waste ogling that, let’s find the buzzard!” She set off and the group trailed away after her.
Bontle sat down on the mat of reeds, happy, and watched the heron hunt in the marshy water.
“Quite a find.”
Bontle jumped; she’d thought she was alone. It was Professor Kavindama. They both watched the bird for some silent moments. “I wonder…. would you like to accompany me to brunch later?” the Professor asked hesitantly.
The heron pulled its beak out of the water holding a wriggling frog- finally -hunting success!
Sharing the imagined thoughts of the bird, Bontle looked back at Professor Kavindama and smiled.
(This story is included in the book 50 Stories for Haiti which raises funds for the people there affected by the hurrivcane)