By Phil Hall
Someone from the countryside was selling a young bush-baby in a corner of Dar-es-Salaam market. Mom was smitten. She bought it.
Let’s see this creature sweet enough to melt Mom’s resolve.
Look, boys. she said, coming in through the door. She was with with Josiah and his bodyguard. Mom showed us. In her palm sat a grey furry ball. It had a delicate pointed nose, pointed ears and a long, soft, bushy tail.
She held her arm out and the small bush-baby sat up and walked up to her shoulders. The bush-baby clutched at Mom’s hair with its delicate, tapering fingers, swung around and planted its feet on the nape of her neck. The little animal was riding her – tail in the air.
It’s been doing this all the way home, said Mom smiling.
Now the bush-baby climbed up onto Mom’s head, leaned over, and grabbed the thick rim of her glasses. It swung down to stand on her nose. It looked around at all of us for a moment.
We laughed and, startled, it lost its grip, dangled and fell to the ground.
The bush-baby rode each of us. But when it stood on my shoulders I felt a warm trickle of pee down my back.
Bushy needed toilet training, but he learned fast. Within a week he was disappearing outside to relieve himself and then coming back in again.
To hold bushy in your hands was fun, especially when he was young. In fact, you didn’t hold him. He held you; his damp hands clasped your fingers with strength.
When Bushy was small we fed him mashed bananas and milk, but when we heard that bush-babies liked grasshoppers, the three of us boys and the neighbours’ children went looking for grasshoppers and then we watched him eat them.
He caught the grasshoppers the by their bodies, legs pinned to their sides. Bushy showed us his excellent manners. He held the insect in one hand like a stick of celery and took crisp bites out of it with his sharp teeth. Occasionally a grasshopper leg would protrude from his small, fox-like mouth, but he would quickly eat it. Bushy would lick his lips and then start to lick his fur clean.
In a month or so Bushy was bigger, and weighed a little over a pound. He was very lively and he learned that the three of us were far more likely playmates than either of our parents.
Dad would laugh at Bushy, but he wouldn’t play with him. Mom occasional took a moment to pet him.
Bushy was nocturnal so we only saw him at dawn or dusk. We would look for him in the afternoon after school and find him sleeping in a nest of borrowed socks and underwear. When you woke him too early he looked gormless, but at night he was wide awake and he wanted to play, and while we were sleeping he would jump onto our faces and bite our noses to wake us up.
Bushy, go away.
Bushy chitters. Lands on a face. This time he nips a little harder. An arm sweeps him away.
Once Chris was sleeping and Andy and I spent 10 minutes dropping Bushy onto Chris’s face.
After a while Chris groaned: Leave me alone Bushy.
Once I shut my door on Bushy’s small hands. Bushy timed a leap onto the door frame just as the door closed. He broke his little finger. He jumped onto my face and gave me a hard bite on the nose. I deserved it. He didn’t draw blood and I was apologetic;
Sorry Bushy. Sorry about your finger. Sorry. I didn’t see you.
Bushy was OK, but from then on he ate his grasshoppers with little finger stretched out – very refined.
As he grew bigger he needed to get out more and so would hop up into the Kungu (almond) tree right outside the front door. He was in search of a mate and we felt sorry for him. How many female bush-babies could there be in our suburb? We didn’t know.
Then Bushy must have found someone because he came home less often. He found his own insects outside.
The cats were out to get him. Jumping into the tree he would outpace them leaping three yards at a time.
One day he didn’t come home and we had nightmares about cats. Perhaps a cat got him. Or perhaps he was captured. But maybe, we all hoped, there was a happy ending after all and he found a mate. And perhaps they found their way into the thick coastal vegetation outside town.
Phil Hall is a university lecturer. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.