What is it with mothers? They ask you if you're okay, and when you say, "Yes" they go ahead and check you anyway. A process, I might add, that is exasperating enough in private, never mind in front of two soldiers and a ratel.
"Nice badger, boys," said Dad meditatively.
"Boss," yelped Azikiwe, plaintively, "Na picken, dey go too far!" Once started, he launched into an extensive whinge about the misfortunes and evils that my brother and I were, according to him, solely responsible for.
Due to the rising volume of the screech, I have never been actually sure if the growl came from the ratel, or my mother, who had picked up a lump of dirt the size of a large coconut, and was gauging both the weight and possible trajectories involving Azikiwe's head with a professional eye, but it caused my father to raise a regal finger at Azikiwe and murmur, "I am thinking."
Azikiwe hushed and hung from his banana tree trunk, with only an occasional whine from him and happy snarl from the ratel to disturb Dad's ruminations as he ambled around the scene.
Finally he paused by the two bodyguards, who had abandoned their tussle in the dirt when my parents had arrived. "Ah, soldiers," said Dad, as if they were a mild surprise, "You are well?"
Both men jumped to their feet and whipped off snappy salutes, "Yes, sah! We are well! And yourself?"
Somewhat abstractedly, Dad replied, "Fine, fine. I need two fine soldiers. Are you two such soldiers?"
Snappy salutes again. "Sah, yes, sah!"
Dad patted each one on the back, "Good. Go with madam. Honey, I think we're going to need a wooden crate."
Mom fired a last glare at Azikiwe, dropped the dirt boulder and dusted off her hands, "Two by two by four, dear?"
"Sounds about right."
"I'll bring the range rover back here, too. Less distance."
"Good, good. Tom, go to the kitchen, look in the pantry and bring me the oldest bottle of ginger beer you can find."
"All right, boys, let's see what we have here..."
In short order, we had threaded rope through slits cut in the top of the peanut sack, and with the aid of bamboo poles, had worked the sack into position just below the ratel.
Dad looked around. The ropes and poles were held by a soldier on either side of the pit; Mom and Tom were standing beside a wooden ammo crate with the lid held at ready; Chris and I were safely on top of the roof of the Range Rover; and Azikiwe and the ratel still had deathgrips on their respective items.
Dad worked a church-key under the cap of the bottle of Mom's home-brewed-ginger-beer-from-Sheol he was holding, popped the cap off and put his thumb over the top.
Sniffing reflectively, Dad shook the hell out of the bottle, then leaned forward and slipped his thumb off the lip -- directing a jet of highly-pressurized, highly-spiced ginger-beer into the face of the startled honey-badger.
You know, ratels are some of the toughest critters on Mother Natures little green dirtball, but there are some things that they just aren't prepared for.
I don't know if he was going to snort, sneeze, snap or spew, but whatever was on his mind, he wound up turning loose of Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe's left ham.
Which caused him to drop quite neatly into the burlap peanut sack, his weight drawing the sack closed just as slick as a coin purse.
Dad reached out and grabbed the top of the sack just as claws appeared through the burlap at the bottom and flipped both ratel and sack into the crate, where Mom and Tom slammed the lid down, and Mom jumped up on top of the lid for good measure while Tom worked packing straps around box and lid.
"Out of the hole, Brigadier-Captain," said Dad.
"Oh, boss. I am pained too, too much."
"Suit yourself," murmured my father, while Tom and the soldiers, under the direction of my mother, heaved the snarling, rocking crate into the back of the Range Rover.
"Boss?" said the pit.
"Tom, can you watch the kids for a bit?" asked Mom, "The tea is still fresh and the paper is only about a week old."
"Boss," stated the trap.
"Be glad to," assured Tom.
"Dad! We're going to send it to Gerald Durrell!"
Dad tapped his forehead gently with two fingers, "I forgot. Dear?"
Mom found a marker pen in the glovebox of the Range Rover, and very precisely printed:
FRAGILE! THIS END UP!
on the side of the cursing wooden crate. Then she and Dad climbed into the truck and started the engine.
"Boss!" yelped the tiger trap.
You know, I have nagging doubts about whether she and Dad actually took the ratel to the Lagos Post Office and mailed it, or whether they drove it out into the bush and set it free. We never, ever received a thank you note from Mr. Durrell, which did seem a bit out of character for the man.
"DEVIL CHILDREN!" shrieked the pit in the voice of Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe, as we bounded off to show Tom the plans for a broom-firing ballista, and did Tom think he could get his hands on some one-inch rope?