Paito's Golden Duck

Paito's Golden Duck

A Story by Chopstix

A young South African girl and a native Mozambican man take a brood of ducks to market.

Ducks provide families in Mozambique with eggs that they can eat and sell at the market. These eggs can turn into more ducks, which in turn produce more eggs! Many of the people who receive a duck are carers for family members, orphans or vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. The gift of a duck really makes a huge difference to the entire family. 

“The ducks have brought a lot of advantages to community members … they are selling some of the ducks and by doing so they are managing to buy books … [and] uniforms for their children to go to school.” 

--Clemence Langa, Mozambique Country Director, Oxfam Australia.

Brown, brown backed or black ducks populate Mozambique’s muddy streams and lakes.  I wonder if the white duck pictured on Oxfam’s webpage plays upon western stereotypes, or advocates replacing indigenous species with western fowl.  Claire, my ten year grand daughter, e-mailed the link with no salutation, no news of her school day life, no mention of plans to visit and no explanation.  Perhaps, she simply came across the web page and remembered stories I told her of South African school days and vacations at father’s ancestral home near Moamba, Mozambique.  Uncle Joao lived there and maintaned the estate.  

I never told her of my first business deal during a September break.  Uncle Joao bought me a beautiful, white Peugeot bicycle with wide fenders and a handle bar basket.  I was just about to ride to town when a lanky, black man waddled up to me leading a string of ducklings. 

“Would you like to buy my ducklings?” His smile beamed through broad, dark lips.  “Two hundred rands for all of them.”

Only a hundred or so rands rustled in my purse, but I sensed an opportunity.  His fine enunciation and gentle manners withered under musty odors and worn clothes.  Desperate natives rarely made much money selling their wares in town.  

“I’ll buy all your ducklings,” I offered, “on the condition you raise them to full size ducks.  I’ll pay your expenses and salary out of the profits. If you take them to market at Christmas time, you’ll get a fair price.”

He muttered and complained for minutes.  After I mounted my bicycle, he agreed.  I watched him waddle back the way he came, ten ducklings followed single file.  I pedaled into town, paraded my bicycle around the plaza a dozen times, rode back to Uncle Joao’s and later took a train home to Johannesburg, leaving the bicycle.  Within days, I forgot all about my business agreement.

Our family traveled to Uncle Joao’s every Christmas.  We took the train to Lourenço Marques, and Uncle Joao’s forest-green Range Rover brought us the rest of the way.  With our luggage, little room remained for gifts.  I brought two hundred rands or so to buy gifts.  Uncle Joao rushed us out of LM, so, after breakfast the next morning, I found my bicycle in the barn and prepared for a shopping trip in town.  Pausing at our front gate, I noticed a native approach along the way.

I didn’t recognize Paito’s face, at first, but I recalled the ducks clustered around his legs and soothed by his voice.  Mere ducklings when we met last September, they grew large and plump.  He looked more tired and ragged,  his clothes a few shades muddier like the dirt road running past uncle’s home.  

“It is time for us to keep our parts of our agreement,” he said barely looking up.  His soft voice would not rouse anyone in Uncle Joao’s house.

“Our deal.” I strained to remember, “was that I would buy your ducklings.  You were to take them to your home, and I’ll pay you a salary to raise them.  We agreed you should take your salary and expenses from the proceeds and we’ll …”

“Split the profits,” he completed.

“Yes,” I agreed, “and it looks like you have them ready for market.”

“I have,” he said, “I fulfilled my end of the bargain.”

He straightened, and the ducks meandered, drifting from him in search of food and amusement.  Gentle taps with a long switch kept them near.  His height and stubbly face might frighten some, but his smile calmed my nerves.

“We agreed you should sell the ducks,” I recalled from the morning of our first, and only prior, meeting.

“Dear Miss Machado,” he rebutted, “were I to sell your ducks, you would not earn much money.  I may get ten rands, maybe twenty for each kilo.  You see the problem.  A salary of a hundred rands a month, and the feed …”

“How does each duck weigh?” I interrupted. 

“Maybe four, maybe five kilos.”

“Oh, I see.”  And I did see.  If he sold the ducks, I would owe him money which I’d rather spend on gifts for my family.  

“How much would the butcher in town pay me?”

“More than he would pay me,” Paito admitted, “but still too little.  Let’s relegate him to buyer of last resort.  You must use your charm, Miss Machado.  You charmed me into raising these ducks for you.  Now, you must charm others into paying a good price for them.”

His smile, bright and confident, revealed a new side to him.  In the brief time I’ve known him, he struck me as permanently melancholy.  Perhaps he hid his own charm.  Perhaps he hid more, but ten ducks lay at issue, and I wanted to shop for presents, not peddle poultry.

“I don’t think I can carry all of them on my bicycle.”  I changed tack.  “So you should take them to market.  I may see you there.”

“As you wish, Miss.  The butcher may give me four hundred rands for them.  That’ll cover my salary.  They required little feed after they started foraging around on their own.  I’ll charge you only one hundred rand.  I’m sure you have the money.”

My father took over Opa’s jewelry business. Opa, Mommy’s father, told me, “Your father’s shrewder than a Jew which is good, for he must bargain with all those Jews in Amsterdam.” Men often came into our shop with spectacular gems.  I remember a sapphire, blue as an autumn lake and large as my fist.  While I admired the uncut treasure, Father discussed its price.  In the end, he congratulated the man for his excellent find, but passed on the deal.  I told him the stone could be cut into several jewels.  “But the price was too high.  You know you've made a bad deal when it brings more work than profit, and I've made my share of bad deals already.”

I felt trapped.  Father’s words rang true: I’d have to work my way out of a bad deal of my own making.

“I can watch your bicycle while you sell your ducks,” Paito offered sensing my reluctance.

To show my annoyance, I scrunched my face and stamped my feet.  After calming, I nodded.  

“You must lead them into town,” he instructed.  “Let me show you how.”

He waddled-walked with short steps maintaining a sure, steady pace.  The ducks lined up and followed along.  He chatted to them and clucked occasionally gesturing conversationally with his left hand.  The long switch in his right swung over the duck’s heads, gently tapping the ground beside any duck distractedly mis-stepping.  After fifty meters, he marshaled them back to me.  He handed me his switch and took hold of my bike’s saddle.

Switch in hand, I stomped my feet and strode off.  Not a single duck trailed after me.  I turned, reestablished myself, stared right at a drake and stomped again.  It shuddered and retreated.  Paito’s tsks redirected my gaze.

“Stomp only when you want them to leave you alone,” he admonished.  “Stomp and roar like a lion.  Talk softly, when you want them to follow.”

I dug my knees into the ground folding hamstring over calf.  One by one, I introduced myself to them.  A couple returned the courtesy.  Unsure what to say next, I recounted Grimm’s tale of the frog and the scorpion.  Eight paid attention.  With the switch, I tapped the ground near the other two, and they joined us.  

“Let’s walk together,” he suggested.  “I’ll push your bicycle.”

He clucked and mumbled as I rose to my feet.  After a few steps, the ducks lined up behind me.  Moamba, by bicycle, lay five minutes away; by foot, a half hour; and with ducks, longer.  He set the pace.  My head swiveled side to side watching our brood waddle behind us.

“I meant to kill a reedbuck,” he uttered loud enough for even the last duck to hear.

“Are you talking to me or them?” I queried.

“To you, I guess,” he said.  “They heard this story before, but they like to hear stories.”

“Why did you kill the reedbuck?”

“I didn’t, but I meant to.  Last year’s rains came late, and when they did come, they washed away much of the good soil.  I grew enough crops to feed my family, but I had little to sell at market.  We went without meat for three months.  I visited my brother that June morning to see if he could spare a cow or a pig.  His wife refused.”

“He must have had a bad year too.”

“Yes, but ‘A generous man receives His favor.’  I told him that.  His wife said, ‘God helps those who help themselves.’  So I walked down a path connecting my leased farm to my brother's.  By the creek, I saw a reedbuck cross.  Fortune placed a perfect throwing stone in front of me, flat, the size of a fist with sharp edges.  I stalked the reedbuck down to the stream and waited for it to pull its head from the water.”

“You are a clever hunter.”

“No, miss, the reedbuck knew I was there.  While my arm was in motion, he sprang up and darted away.  The stone killed their mother.”

“Oh, you hit their nest.”

“I remember this like I remember my name.  The reedbuck startled Mother Duck.  She flew up from her nest, and my stone struck her white breast before they both fell to the ground.”  

“Do you think she intercepted the rock to protect her nest?”

“No, no, no,” he laughed, “but the next time I tell this story, it happened just that way.”

“Even though it’s not the truth?”

“Stories need not be true to tell the truth.”

The drake quacked before I could challenge his assertion.

“So what is the truth of your story?”

“It is now more truthful with your addition.  Thank you.  The truth is that my sister-in-law was right.  God helps those who help themselves.  He just doesn’t give you what you think you want.  The reedbuck would feed my family for weeks; the duck a day or two.”  He turned his face towards mine. “I saw everything.  After picking up Mother Duck, I followed her arc and found her nest.  Ten eggs lay there.  I carefully picked up the nest, lay Mother Duck atop and walked home.  Three are getting away.”

Four hens bunched up behind Paito and I.  The next three drifted to our left.  The Drake quacked and spread it wings.  I lashed at the straying ducks.

“Gently tap the ground, like I showed you.  Do not whip your ducks before you get them to market,” he admonished.

I tapped the ground further to their left coaxing them back into line.

“There, be good ducks,” I cajoled, “you are beautiful ducks and I will show you off.”  The ducks cackled in response.  

“My wife wondered why my brother spared only one duck and some eggs,” he continued.  “I recounted my hunting experience, and she chastised my futility.  She wanted to eat the eggs the next day, but I convinced her to make Mother Duck last three days.  We would enjoy omelets Sunday morning.  Saturday afternoon, the drake hatched.  ‘Just look at that,’ my wife complained.  ‘We waited too long.’  ‘They’d have made poor omelets,’ I argued.  ‘Now we’ll have ducklings we’ll have to feed.  Why does everything you do bring me sorrow?’” 

“Bring her sorrow? It doesn’t look like they brought you sorrow.”

“They brought concern.  Our shack is too small to house my family and this brood.  I spent Sunday collecting discarded wood planks, wire and anything to fashion a coop.  I worked through lunch.  I worked past dinner.  I finished in the dark and tried to crawl into bed.  ‘No,’ my wife said, ‘you must now sleep with your ducklings.  I'll not be deprived omlettes just to let wolves, foxes and beasts  feast on them.’  I haven’t slept in my bed since.’

“Oh, no! Do you rollover in your sleep?”

“I stayed up the whole night making sure I did not.  After a week, I learned to lie still through my sleep.  Our ducklings burrowed into my side seeking warmth.  So you see, after killing Mother Duck, I took her place.  What a smart duck to trust me, but today my blood obligations end.  I will sleep in my bed again.”  He paused to watch our ducklings following after us.  “Earlier, you told a story of a scorpion and a frog.  Do you know another story?”

I recounted the story of the snake and the frog.  Snake Mother warned her son to beware of animals with claws, beaks or strong jaws.  Frog Mother warned her son to beware of strangers who hiss, coil and squeeze.  Baby Snake and Baby Frog met in a rainforest.  Baby Frog taught Baby Snake to hop, and they played ‘Leap Frog’.  Baby Snake taught Baby Frog to slide on his stomach, and they played ‘Snakes in the Grass.’  They snapped their tongues at dragon flies and curious mice.  They played ‘Hide and Hug’ before each returned their homes.  Baby Frog recounted his fun day of play.  Frog Mother said, “No, no, no 'Snakes in the Grass’ and ‘Hide and Hug’ are not games for you.  Those are the way snakes eat frogs.”  She repeated admonitions about hiss, coil and squeeze.  Baby Snake told his mother about ‘Leap Frog’ and ‘Hide and Hug.’  “No, no, no,” Snake Mother lectured, “You played ‘Hide and Hug’ all wrong.  You must squeeze the frog until he squeals.  That way, your play becomes your meal.”

“I know that story,” Paito said.  “It is why frogs and snakes cannot be friends.”

“I know, but they played together so well.  It’s only their parents who kept them apart,” I concluded.  “Don’t you agree?”

“I don’t know. I am not snake; I am not a frog,” he declared.  He stood a little straighter and spoke a little clearer, “I am an educated man.”

We walked further down the road.  I did not understand his assertions.  Our ducks kept pace with gentle prompting.  I tapped the switch from side to side.  It felt more like a dance than a task.  I performed it absent mindedly.

“I go to school in Johannesburg.  Where did you go to school?”

“When I was young, my father made arrangements with an uncle in Lourenço Marques.  He worked in a merchant’s warehouse.  I worked with him, and he sent me to school.  I learned my letters, history, accounting and business.  I speak four languages: Portuguese, Afrikaans, Emakhuwa and Xichangana.  I can read and write in two.”

“I’m just a ten year old girl, and I speak four languages also:  Portuguese, Afrikaans, English and Sesotho.  I read and write Afrikaans, English and some Portuguese.”

“Your parents must be proud.”

“So must your father.”

He shook his head from side to side.  I swear the ducks trailing behind us shook theirs in sympathy.  The drake tucked his head under a wing, and a couple of hens more cried than quacked.  My eyes met his, beseeching an explanation. He took one deep breath before expounding.

“My father was not happy to see me return to his farm with little to show for fifteen years away other than a city-girl wife and young son.”

“Surely he was happy to see his grandson,” I asserted.

“This is my story.”  His stern voice rose enough to draw the drake’s attention.  He regained his calm demeanor.  “Though I’ve never told it before.  Even the ducks do not know of this.”

“Ok,” I prompted.

“I worked alongside my uncle for a merchant, Mr. Ronoldo.  He owned a large warehouse, a wonderful store and a large mansion.  When I was young, my uncle walked me to a school for native children.  After school, I swept up the store and performed several tasks to repay my uncle.  When I got older, I worked as a warehouse laborer after school.  Hard work, but I became strong.  Completing accounting courses earned me a warehouse office position.  You see.  Bit by bit, I learned this mechant’s entire business.”

“I know some of my father’s business.”

“That’s very good,” he said.  “With my schooling complete, Mr. Ronoldo rented me a room in the back of the warehouse next to my uncles.  Several other laborers lived there as well.  We were expected to keep our eyes and ears open for any theives.  I was the only one to work in the office and wear fine clothes.  Nifrita moved in with her family when I was just seventeen.  She was beautiful then.  She is still beautiful, but not as beautiful as before.”

“Do you have pictures?  I’d like to see a picture.”

“We left them behind.  It took me four years to save up for a proper wedding ring.  It would have taken less time, but she drew several suitors and I needed to woo her with expensive meals, fine dances and generous gifts.  Uncle assured me I’d win her hand.  I worked in the office.  No other suitor could match that, but I was never handsome or a proficient dancer.”

“I could teach you to dance.  I lead the fall dance at school.”

“I’m sure you did,” he condescended. “We wed.  It was a glorious day.  Not long afterwards, her pregnancy showed.  I wanted a proper apartment for my new family.  Mr. Ronoldo already shown me every kindness I could expect.  I did not know how to ask for more.  I was already the highest paid native man I knew.  Shortly after my son came to this world, a friend said he heard how we could become rich.”

“He brought me to a meeting on the fringe of town.  A large stockyard.  We signed our names at a table in front and listened to angry men, ignorant-angry men who believed in taking wealth from others instead of earning it for yourself.  I walked home from that meeting with no more riches nor any more hope of making a fortune.”

"Who were these angry men?"

"I do not think I ever seen them before," he declared, his squinted eyes scanned his memory.  “I would not think Mr. Ronoldo an angry man either.  Three days after the meeting, he came to my desk holding a list.  ‘Is this how you repay my kindness?’ He yelled.  I tried to explain, but he told me I must leave.  My wife held our son to her breast outside our room.  She managed to bundle some of our clothes in bed sheets before strong men forced her from our apartment.  I did not know where to go.  Every employer in Lourenço Marques read the list.  There was nowhere I could earn a wage.  We returned to my father’s house.”

“Father hid his disappointment well.  We worked his fields together growing cotton to please his landlord; corn, sorghum and rye to feed ourselves.  My brothers mistreated my wife and I mercilessly.  They ridiculed my farming knowledge.  They still do.  I learned what I could from Father, but he died eight months later.  He didn’t even teach me the full year.  I am an educated man.  I figured many things out, and my brothers came by to point out my every mistake.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.  The ducks agreed, quacking support.  Paito thanked us all.

“Last year was the worst.  So many crops failed.  My wife and I agreed to sell her wedding ring.  We hoped it would pay for two or three years lease and provide money for seed.  A jeweler comes to town every month or two and sets up in the plaza.  You may have seen him.  He looks at the ring and offers only five thousands rands.  I show him my receipt and diamond report.  He was a good man.  He explained the document.  Every diamond has flaws.  Diamond merchants look at them in their magnifying glass and draw them on the diamond sketch.  He let me look in his magnifying glass.  The diamond looked nothing like the sketch.  He encouraged me to inspect the gem from all angles.  No angle returned value to my wife’s diamond.  Do you know what happened?”

I shook my head, “no,” but I knew exactly what happened.

“He asked if I took the ring to another jeweler for cleaning or repair.  I said I didn’t know.  He said unscrupulous jewelers replace precious gems with junk stones.  When I asked my wife, she told me every ring should be cleaned and inspected two or three times a year.  I asked if she checked the ring to make sure the same diamond was in it.  It was the second argument I won.  Saving duck eggs for Sunday omelets being the first.  I am an educated man, but even uneducated women win most arguments against their husbands.”

“My mother hardly ever argues with Father,” I said.

“Your father is a fortunate man.”

We neared a bend in the road a half kilometer from town.  He slowed his pace and looked around.

“Let’s place the drake in back,” he suggested.  “He’ll help keep the hens in line.”

“Is he a trained duck?”

“You’re funny, but now it is time for you to take charge.  If townsfolk think you work for me, they may not give you a white girl’s price.  Let them believe they are helping you, rewarding you for your hard work.”

“I think I understand.”

He rested my bicycle on a nearby tree trunk, corralled the drake, placed him behind the rest of the brood, handed me a small bag of maize and took a step back.  I took a few steps forward.  The ducks turned sideways craning their necks toward Paito.  He stamped his feet on the ground and roared like a lion.  The ducks scrambled up the road.  It took me and the drake two minutes to reestablish an orderly line.  We reached Moamba’s Plaza des Armas shortly after.

Farmers and wares sellers claimed prime locations along the square.  While looking for a spot, an elderly Portuguese couple approached.

“Have you brought your ducks to market, dear?” The lady asked.


“Do they lay eggs?” Her husband followed.

I paused, not knowing what to say.  I was about to quip, “Not the drake.”

“Never mind him,” the lady interceded, “it’s obvious that these hens are meant for Christmas dinner.”

“Yes,” I blurted, “these two are especially plump.”

“Yes they are, dear.  Have you set a price on them?”

“I think they should sell for five hundred rands.”

“No you don’t!” Her husband reprimanded.

A small crowd formed around us.  Some of the ducks fidgeted.  I clucked softly and spinkled corn on nearby ground.  The drake muscled two hens into a cluster forming around my ankles.

“I meant five hundred for the pair,” I said.

“Well, dear, I am willing to pay two hundred apiece.”

“And I’ll pay three hundred for the drake,” a man wearing a straw hat and suspenders offered.

“Done,” I accepted.

The lady’s husband scooped up two large hens while she counted out her money.  They rushed to the butcher’s shop.  All the activity scattered my brood.  The man with the hat helped gather the ducks before he tied a twine loop around the drake’s neck.  A short man with a tall daughter purchased two more hens for one hundred fifty rands each.  Within five minutes, I accomplished half my task.  

When the small crowd dissipated, sales stopped.  I allowed my remaining ducks to finish their snack.  An hour passed yielding nought but a few questions about my remaining five ducks. Location is everything, I thought.  I tried marshalling my ducks to the other side of the square.  Without the drakes help, my attempts seemed farcical.  I remembered Paito’s waddle-walk, and I recited The Ugly Duckling.

“Are you sure you want to tell them that story?”  A young woman asked.

“I think they mostly want to hear my voice,” I informed

“They are lovely hens.”

“I raised them from ducklings.  I hope to sell them by Christmas.”

“We are having ham, thank you.”

“They’ll start laying eggs soon.”

“That might be a good investment, how much?”

“I sold the other hens for two hundred.”

“They must have been better ducks.  I’ll pay one hundred.”

“One fifty, please.”

She considered it for a moment and paid one hundred fifty rands for a nice hen.  A man selling pottery stopped me.  He paid three hundred for two more hens.  He opened two large, red-earth pots.  I placed a handful of feed in each of them, and he set his hens inside.  They looked cute and drew a curious crowd.  He sold them as a package deal.  I should have made a deal with him to sell my last two.

On the fourth lap around the plaza, I decided to sell the remaining two ducks to the butcher.  I’d probably receive one hundred rands for the pair, but my total would be 1550 rands.  Subtracting Paito’s salary and expenses left me with almost five hundred rands profit.  While working out the accounting in my mind, Father approached on foot.  I almost jumped when he touched my shoulder.

“So it’s true little one, you’ve become a poultry merchant.”

“I made my first business deal, Daddy.”

“Was it much work?”

“Not too much.  I’ve made 1450 rands already.  I think I’ll just sell these two to the butcher.”

“How much will you receive for them?”

“I hope he’ll buy them for one hundred.”

“Well, I’ll buy them for one hundred fifty and pay the butcher to dress them.”

We ushered our ducks to Senor de Silva’s shop.  Several of my brood lay cut and cleaned in his ice case.

“How much to dress these two hens?”

“One hundred rands,” de Silva demanded.

“That’s a high price,” Father complained.

“Don’t bother bargaining,” de Silva warned, “some little girl has been selling ducks all morning, and I need to make money somehow.”

“Alright, alright,” my father laughed, “but for that price, be quick about it.  We’ll be back in an hour to pick them up.”

Father and I walked back up the road.  Before long, I saw Uncle Joao’s green Range Rover parked roadside.  My bicycle poked out the back.  Uncle Joao cradled his hunting rifle in his arm aiming it, loosely, at Paito sitting on a rock.  Even from a distance, I heard his voice.

“My wife was right,” he lamented disregarding the gun pointed at him.  “I could never sell those ducks on my own.  She yelled at me the day we returned from your niece.  ‘I sent you to sell those noisy fowl.  I knew you couldn’t part with all of them, but this is ridiculous.  You left with ten ducklings, and you returned with ten.’  I’m sure my brother heard her from his farm two kilometers away.  I let her anger recede and explained, ‘I left with ten ducklings, but I returned with ten ducklings, a salary and a business deal.’  ‘Some deal,’ she sniped, ‘you could pay your own salary and cover your own expenses.’  ‘Perhaps,’ I countered, ‘but I may lose money.  This way we are guaranteed something.’  Of course my wife delved into the heart of the matter.  ‘Did she at least give you feed money or an advance?’  I didn’t think to ask.  Your niece did not offer any money upfront.  The whole deal could have fallen apart.  I owed money on my farm’s lease.  My wife’s torrent poured on for an hour.  I foraged for building materials to build a coop.  It is good thing.  I heard several animals in the night looking for their meals.  I protected those ducklings.  The next day my wife threw her wedding ring at me.  ‘Take this to market.  I’m sure you will have no trouble selling it.  Just remember how valuable I am, but until a ring adorns my finger, you will not be my husband.’  The ring didn’t fetch as much money as it should …’”

“Brother,” Father hailed, “look at what I found.”

“The way he tells stories,” Uncle Joao said, “it’s hard to believe a word he says.”

Uncle Joao shouldered his rifle and retreated to his Range Rover.  Father and I approached Paito.

“Did we get a good price?” Paito’s eyes flashed with excitement.

“At first,” I affirmed smiling.  “The last two were bound for the butcher before Father bought them.”

“Thank you, sir”

I counted out five hundred rands and held them out.  He extended his arm, palm up, and secured the bills with his thumb.

“Here is you salary,” I announced.  I placed another hundred on his palm.  “And your expenses.”

“Thank you,” he said.  He studied my father’s face and then my uncle’s.  He rose to his feet towering over me and dwarfing father.  He folded the bills over and stuffed them in his pocket.  

“And here is your share of the profits.”  I counted out another five hundred rands.  When he reached for them, I made sure to shake his hand before completing the exchange.

“You fulfilled your end of our deal,” he proclaimed.

I smiled, but he remained stiff.  He folded these bills over as well, but kept them in his hand.

“We need to pick up some things in town,” Father interjected.

“So, you best be on your way,” Uncle Joao advised.

Paito shoved his profits into his pocket and strode up the road.

“I feared he killed you, Heidi, and stole your bicycle,” Uncle Joao protested while Paito remained in earshot.  Uncle Joao carried on all the way to town.  

After Christmas dinner, everyone congratulated me for the ducks.  I told Father about Paito’s diamond switch incident.  He expressed sympathy, but he seemed more interested in discussing some trouble in the north.  Apparently in September, a group called FRELIMO asked the Portuguese to leave.  Then they started shooting at officials.

We returned to Johannesburg after Christmas.  Around Easter, Father showed me a small, 0.22 carat, oval cut diamond.  

“I thought it was a dead stone,” he explained, “so I practiced my cutting on it.  Looks pretty good, eh?”

“It is very nice, Father.  May I put it in a ring?”

“For you, or for your duck farmer?”

“For his wife,” I declared.

“I thought you’d say that.  I asked Peter Huylt to help you.  You can see him tomorrow.”

While Mr. Huylt gathered gold scraps, another thought came to mind.  I decided we should make a white gold duck with yellow gold feet and beak.  Mr. Huylt liked the challenge.  He asked me to draw a few ducks for him.  I thought of the helpful drake spreading its wings to usher the hens around.  I also drew a plump hen arranging shoulder feathers.  Mr. Hulyt said the drake was too difficult, so he built a copper wire cage for the hen's body and feet.  He spent a full day on the project.  We mounted Father’s diamond on the beak where nostrils belong.

Father liked Paito’s gold duck so much he displayed it in his shop.  I looked forward to spending the winter with Uncle Joao and delivering the duck, but I wouldn’t see Uncle Joao’s estate for another ten years.  

Hostility in northern Mozambique spread.  Uncle Joao brought his family to our house in the summer of 1965.  By Christmas, he moved in as well.  Three years later, he moved his family to Portugal.  I still attended university when Mozambique cast off Portuguese rule.  I visited the ruins of my uncle’s estate and looked for Paito.  No-one there knew where he, his wife or his brothers could be found.  Traveling through Mozambique unescorted became more and more dangerous.  Civil war ensued shortly after independence.

South Africa suffered troubles as well.  By 1978, Father decided California presented better possibilities.  We opened a jewelry store in Fullerton, and I completed a master’s degree in business at the university there.

Next month, my grand daughter turns ten.  I will entrust her with Paito’s golden duck and this story. 

Author’s Note:
Weary after participating in the LA River Bicycle Ride, I sat at a picnic table in Griffith Park's dog park section while my dog sniffed other dog's butt. At the table, I swapped bicycle stories with a white woman from South Africa. Her first bicycle ride started at her family's ancestral home in Mozambique (earlier she said her grand mother was Portuguese, but the connection escaped me at the time) when she summered there as a ten year old. 

Just before embarking on her ride into town, a native man approached marshalling a brood of ducklings with a switch. He asked if she would like to buy his ducks. She had little or no money, so she said, "Yes, I'd like to buy your ducklings. Here is what we'll do: take the ducklings back to your home and raise them. When we sell them at market, I'll pay you your salary and reimburse the feed costs from the sale and split the profits with you." He agreed. After summer, she went home. A month or two later, her uncle called and said a black man dropped off some money for her. She forgot about her deal.

My reaction to this awful story was something like, "What a stupid man! He could have just raised the ducks himself and kept all the proceeds."  Offend by my conclusion, she explained that he probably had a nagging wife at home demanding he do something about the ducklings. She believed he got a great deal. He left home with ten ducklings. He returned with ten ducklings, a job and a business deal. 

Potential lies in the untold story. Imagination took over. I drew on a vast number of experiences and influences.  A colleague knew a former diplomat to Mozambique, and he referred me to a former Peace Corps volunteer.  They pointed out some obvious errors and provided a great deal of background information.

If you enjoyed this story, or even if you didn't, you should check out my new novel on Kindle at:
Justin Theret's Guide to a Better LIfe  

© 2017 Chopstix

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Damn good story telling this. I liked how you introduced the moral story of the baby frog and the baby snake.

We can all get along cant we, if we try; and if we finally learn to trust one another; but experience tells me that is still a long way off.


Posted 2 Months Ago


2 Months Ago

Thank you for your kind review.
This is so well-written and moves so fluidly. Excellent, excellent job. It's harder to find good fiction on this site. I'll be reading more of your work!

Posted 10 Months Ago


10 Months Ago

Thank you for your kind review.

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2 Reviews
Added on February 4, 2017
Last Updated on February 4, 2017
Tags: Mozambique, South Aftrica, Ducks, Market, Bicycle



Los Angeles, CA

In high school, I wrote lyrics. I started college writing poems and switched to short stories. After college, I discovered I could write computer programs, but I could not finish a novel (kept editi.. more..