More and more these days I dream of terrible things I’ve done. Last night I lay awake after such a dream and remembered what an old man called Elei, a bird juggler I knew more than twenty years ago, once told me.

Elei told me about a San tracker whose name was Xi. Elei spoke staccato English and it took me a few hours one late afternoon to understand what he was trying to say.

Xi was from Angola. When the Cubans came in 1975, he crossed the border and volunteered himself as a tracker at the base where Elei was doing his National Service. Xi ran ahead of the patrol, with Elei, to find the bruises that fleeing guerrillas had left on the bush, sometimes for three or four days on end. For centuries his ancestors had hunted in this way, running down their prey until it collapsed from sheer exhaustion. To track with such endurance was a sacrament of manhood that survived still in the margins of a barren land. The men he hunted were the kudu and the oryx, the sacred quarry he had set himself against. They were worthy opponents, these men, and yet they all succumbed. In the end, the patrol caught up with them and cut them down. When it was over, the soldiers radioed the base and spread out to secure the area. But Xi stayed with the dead men. He squatted in the dry grass among their broken bodies and recounted the hunt. He told of their skill, of their bravery and tenacity, and of his sorrow for their blood. It is true what some say, he whispered to them—to kill is to die in a different way.

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