When Hoopoes Go to Heaven

BOOK: When Hoopoes Go to Heaven
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GAILE PARKIN was born and raised in Zambia, and studied at universities in South Africa and England. She has lived in many different parts of Africa, including Swaziland, where
When Hoopoes go to Heaven
is set. She is also the author of
Baking Cakes in Kigali
, which has been translated into 13 languages to date. When she isn’t writing, she is a
freelance consultant in the fields of education, gender and HIV/AIDS.

Published in hardback, trade paperback and eBook in Great Britain in 2012 by Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd..

Copyright © Gaile Parkin, 2012.

The moral right of Gaile Parkin to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

The excerpt from
A Traveller’s Guide to Swaziland
on this
is quoted by permission.

This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Hardback ISBN: 978-0-85789-408-3
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-0-85789-409-0
eBook ISBN: 978-0-85789-410-6

Printed in Great Britain.

An imprint of Atlantic Books Ltd
Ormond House
26-27 Boswell Street
London WC1N 3JZ


In memory of Huwi, brave warrior to the end























just pretend, and things that seemed just pretend could sometimes be real. It
was hard to keep that in your mind all the time, especially when you were still small. But it was important to try, because if you didn’t you could easily get confused. You could even get an
accident, like the tiny bird he held in his small hands now. It had thought it was flying through sky, but it had flown into a sheet of glass instead, a windowpane that was showing it just a
picture of the sky.

The bird was completely still. Its beak was open and its wide eyes didn’t blink. He examined it carefully, searching with a gentle finger for any signs of damage under the soft yellow and
black of its feathers. Finding none, he slid his back slowly down the outside wall of the house until he reached the ground where he could squat steadily without tipping over. Then he cradled the
bird in his left hand, freeing his right to search in the pocket of his shorts for the precious brown bottle of rescue medicine. Without taking his eyes off the bird, he shifted his knees apart and
placed the small bottle between his bare feet, holding it tight there so that his hand could unscrew its top, giving the rubber teat on it a squeeze before lifting it. A quick glance at the glass
dropper attached to the top reminded him that there wasn’t much of the healing liquid left: he must remember to ask Auntie Rachel for some more next time he was at the other house.

Very carefully, he squeezed a drop into the little bird’s open beak, watching it swallow before squeezing in another. Two drops should be enough. It was a young bird, not yet fully grown
into its adult feathers, but unmistakably one of the weavers that built their nests near the dam further up the hill.

Replacing the top of the medicine bottle, he slipped it back into his pocket as he pushed himself up the wall until he was standing again. The bird blinked. Soon it would be ready to come back
to itself after its sudden, painful shock.

Carrying it a little way away from the wall, he bent and placed it gently on the grass, talking to it softly as he settled down on the grass himself to keep an eye on it while he waited
patiently for it to recover enough to fly back up the hill to its family. The movement of a butterfly flitting nearby caught his attention. It was one of his favourites: an African monarch, with
wings somewhere between orange and brown, edged in black with bold white spots.

Monarch was another way of saying king; he knew that because there was a king here where they were living now on account of Baba’s new job, and people were always saying that this king,
Mswati III, was Africa’s last absolute monarch. He wasn’t entirely sure what an
monarch was, but when people said
, what they meant was
, so he guessed that there was simply no doubt about Mswati being the king.

On his family’s very first day here in Swaziland, when they were still on the road in Baba’s red Microbus with the trailer behind, on their way from Tanzania to their new home here
near the foot of the Malagwane Hill, they had heard loud sirens screaming at them, and Baba had copied the cars in front and pulled off the tar road onto the dusty verge. First some motorbikes,
then five, six, seven, eight big back shiny cars had sped past them with blue lights flashing. Later, people had told them that was the king, and if the king was ever on the road you had to get out
of the way. Which pretty much showed that Mswati was absolutely the king and nobody must doubt it.

The little bird blinked again, and then again, turning its head from side to side as if to take in the garden around it.

To his own eyes, it was the most beautiful garden in the whole entire world – although, in truth, he knew that he would have found any garden at all beautiful after the bare earth of the
compound in Kigali where they had lived last year on account of Baba’s old job. He and his younger brothers would sometimes go from that compound to a house down the road where two Indian
boys from their school lived. There was a garden there, but it was nothing like this one here on the Malagwane Hill. While his brothers had played football – or, even more boring, cricket
– with Rajesh and Kamal, he had done his best to make friends with a crow that lived in that garden. There hadn’t been that many other birds there, not like all the kinds here in
Swaziland. But nearly every time that crow had come close, Mama-Rajesh had run out of the house to chase it away, telling him that birds had too many germs. There had also been a rat living in that
garden, brown with beautiful dark eyes ringed in black just like Mama-Rajesh’s. But he had never said.

Nobody bothered him in the garden here. How excited he had been to see it!

His family had gone from Kigali in Rwanda to Bukoba in Tanzania, Mama and Baba’s home town on the shores of Lake Victoria, to spend Christmas with aunties, uncles and cousins before
driving all the way to Dar es Salaam, where Baba needed to check on the family’s house. Other people were living in their house on account of Baba being away from his job at the university
there, so the Tungarazas had stayed with friends in Dar for the short time it had taken Baba to find this house for them in Swaziland.

When they had all arrived here late in January – nearly three months ago now – the garden had been green and lush, with flowers of all colours shining in it like jewels, and birds
and butterflies flitting through it like glitter.
, it had looked so beautiful!

The bird sitting on the grass ruffled its feathers, gave a little shiver, and stretched its wings out slowly as if to check that nothing was broken. A sudden sound from behind the hedge startled
it, and in an instant it was gone.

He smiled, watching its strong, quick flight for a moment before turning his attention to the sound. Hoping to hear it again, he crawled quietly but excitedly on his hands and knees towards the
hedge of yesterday, today and tomorrow bushes with their flowers of purple, lilac and white.

When the scream first came, he was lying on his stomach, his neck twisted to the side, his right cheek flat against the grass. He paid the scream little attention and continued to listen instead
for the sound that had flattened him to the ground, watching the base of the hedge for the slightest movement.

At last the sound came again from a little further back: a liquid
, like water being poured from a bottle with a narrow neck. And then the bird with the water-bottle call
hopped from behind a stem, showing him a brief flash of white breast beneath its black hood and cinnamon wings before disappearing again amongst the undergrowth.

He smiled, ignoring the second scream, thrilled to have seen the shy bird for the first time ever.


It was Mama’s voice now, and he could not – would not – ignore it. Scrambling to his feet, he dusted the grass and soil from his T-shirt and shorts as he hurried towards the

Mama stood on the bricked veranda, her plastic icing syringe in her right hand, her left hand on her hip. He felt bad: he had interrupted her work.

Did you not hear your sisters?’

‘Sorry, Mama, I was looking for something.’ He could hear the girls whimpering inside now.

‘And did you find it?’

He smiled proudly. ‘Yes! A special kind of bird that you
But I saw it, Mama! It was—’

‘Benedict!’ His eldest sister Grace appeared in the wide opening of the sliding glass doorway that led from the house onto the large veranda. The blue plastic sieve that she carried
told him all that he needed to know.

In the bathroom, their sister Faith sniffed loudly as she hopped from foot to foot, her tearful eyes fixed on the bathtub where a tadpole less than two centimetres long wriggled tiredly in the
shallow water.

BOOK: When Hoopoes Go to Heaven
10.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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