Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Sad Story About Branding

There was a wide plain and a small hill separating her from the barn, but she could hear much of what was going on. She was nervous, the dry grasses of the semi-desert offering little comfort as she stumbled over the rocky orange soil.

She heard the baying and mooing, the other cows being eased into formation by men with sticks. The sticks had been made from saplings, bent and twisted into knots, so that when cut down and smoothed, the wood formed a perfect knobkerrie. The men swung their sticks and occasionally swiped at the flanks of the beasts they guided- not too rough, just enough to keep them going in the same direction.

But the cows knew. They tended to follow one another out of habit, swinging their hips as their massive heads bobbed up and down. It was rare that one became separated from the herd, and rarer still that one should be able to escape completely.

She'd not meant to escape, but had sensed something in the air that morning. The trucks had arrived earlier than usual, and there seemed to be more humans shouting and making loud jokes in the yard outside the farmhouse. They'd clinked steaming metal mugs of coffee together, and smoked cheap cigarettes they pulled from behind their ears.

She'd seen the fires being stoked, and knew at once that this was unusual. In the late summer, it wasn't necessary to have fires at all, except for cooking. The smells of the braais had always bothered her, but really, it was the smoke that set off primal alarms. Fire. The threat of being caught in the wrong place as the whole veld turned shades of orange and black was her worst fear. She'd seen it, once- thankfully avoided it, but watched a calf struggling to get out of a ditch, and being engulfed in the inferno.

The fires, then, were unusual.

She'd watched the men approaching, more of them than normal, and had sunk to her knees behind a small thorn tree. The two younger men who normally guided them to the greener patches and watched them from the shade of rocks or bushes had gone to greet the new arrivals. It was only midday, but they'd started to swing their sticks and herd the cows towards the white buildings in the valley.

She'd almost stopped breathing, then, the hot air steaming out of her wide nostrils and the sun burning down on her rusty brown hide. They'd been in such a hurry, they hadn't noticed she was missing. Cows tend to move together and don't wander off, as a rule.

She could see some tension from her fellows in the herd as they headed off, baying into the dust cloud of their own making.

And later, when she rocked to her feet, she could see everything that was going on down below. And felt chilled to her marrow.

Her family was being herded into a small enclosure- a rough wooden fence which she'd noticed often- and then, one by one, held still as a very big human sized them up. He'd reach into the heart of the fire, and grasp the red hot implement, swing it around and press it to her herd-mate's haunches.

Even from the hill she could hear the sizzle as the metal burned home. She watched the other cows buck uselessly against the hands holding them down, and then stand absolutely still. She sensed that they were in pain, could smell it on the breeze as they defecated while they waited, and still she hid.

All night she stood in the cold, afraid to move, afraid to eat or drink.

The sun eventually rose, shimmering off the dew which had settled overnight and exposing the valley again. She was tired and felt heavy. There was activity in the farmhouse, and then she saw the dust cloud starting out across the plain towards her

After a time, the herd was close by. As close as they had been when she'd slipped away yesterday. She stretched her aching feet and hobbled closer. Every single one of her fellows was marked by fire, a strange symbol which made her feel uneasy. Afraid. As she approached, they looked at her, the redness still showing in their heavy-lashed eyes

She struggled to tell them what she'd seen, how she felt, and how sad she was that they'd been through such pain, but they all just turned away.

They'd all been branded, and she'd be set apart, forever.


  1. You know, I'd really like to do a bit of a collaboration with you one day. Love your work!

  2. Oooh! I like the sound of that- even though I have no idea what I could possibly do to add to your writing. Even I don't know what the hell this was about. Thanks for saying that, though, Meea.

  3. I felt even more like a cow than I normally do:D
    very well written

  4. Scott I love seeing what you are going to do next.

  5. Lisa and Sally- this was a weird one- but thanks for looking beyond the cows :)


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