I loved the taste of warthog from the moment it touched my lips.
It was when I was a first-year staying in an all-male residence at Rhodes University. It was our Awards Evening. Those things are glorified piss-ups. “Awards is wild,” an older guy told me between heavily breaths as we trudged up the hellish hill our home-away-from-home was dumped on. “There’s lekker food, a lot of it, and enough punch to drown a whale.”
He wasn’t kidding. 88 guys wolfed down a warthog spit braai and several buckets of punch strong enough to corrode tar. What really stood out in what memory I managed to retain were the three bread rolls I ate overflowing with shredded warthog meat hot off the spit. It was the colour of salmon. It was tender and juicy. It was smoky, and it was saucy, and put to shame the pulled pork of my past.
In my second-year I helped organise Awards.
“Last year was wild,” someone said in an organising meeting. “Let’s do it all again. Let’s eat warthog. Let’s get shitfaced. Everything.”
The committee agreed unanimously. The warden, Jono, said he would shoot a warthog on his parents’ farm that Saturday, as he had for the previous year’s function.
That Sunday I was meandering back to the residence after lunch when Jono came around the side of the building. He was wearing a grubby set of greenish overalls splattered with dark red stains, the same colour of the stuff dripping from the large knife dangling in his left hand.
“Jords, come give us a hand with something,” he called out. I followed him tentatively.
“How was the farm yesterday?” I asked, just before I looked around the corner.
The tail-flap on his white bakkie was open, and an enormous warthog’s head was dangling over the back of it, upside down as though it were sun-tanning its neck. Its eyes were open just a slit, piercing nothingness with a dead black quality like rubber coated in Spray-and-Cook. The head looked normal otherwise, until the neck, where the fur and skin ended abruptly. From here on, halfway down the pig’s enormous underside, was pink flesh the colour of salmon, with millions of white sinews running across it randomly. The naked meat was taut like the straining calves of a man pulling a train. The skin had been peeled back on either side of the animal, and the underside of the skin was visible to the world, as their impossibly ugly colouring proved they were never intended to be. The skin was stretched out on either side like wings, giving the sow an angelic quality. A tiny hole in the left wing showed where the bullet had struck. The hind half of the pig was only half unsheathed, like a model teasing the reader of an adult magazine with the threat of a glimpse of her holiest-of-holies. Another of my res mates, Collide, paused briefly to smile at me, before returning a concentrated and expert gaze to his own knife, which was slicing under the remaining skin, to slowly and carefully reveal more and more. A flood of blood was dripping off the tailgate into a small pool. An offshoot of the pool dribbled between my legs.
“It was fantastic,” answered Jono.
He giggled at the obvious shock on my face.
“We need to spin it around so we can reach the back properly to finish her off. Give us a hand?”
Collide hopped down from atop the back wheel that he had been standing on to better reach his work area, and grabbed the animal’s right-back leg.
“Grab that one,” he pointed at the other hind leg, struggling to politely contain his laughter at my shocked expression.
I grabbed the leg firmly enough not to drop it, and lightly enough no to hurt her. Jono laid down his knife on the floor next to the vehicle grabbed the dead pig by the shoulders.
“One. Two. Three!”
We heaved the dead angel towards the sky, and then slowly reversed it off the back of the bakkie. We spun it around, and then returned it headfirst onto its deathbed. As we set her down, a black ball of shit the size and shape of a human heart squeezed out of her exposed anus like toothpaste from a tube, and plopped into the small dark pool of blood, which splattered on my shin.
“Aweh!” exclaimed Collide, hurriedly returning to his skinning job on the animal’s left side. Jono picked up the knife and got to work on the right.
I just stood there. They were both experienced, and made the job look easy. The skin peeled back rhythmically like a tide rolling out. We said nothing until the job was done, but Collide hummed happily as he worked.
The pig was sent to the butchers who prepared it for the spit. They had refused to skin it for some reason I can’t remember. The meat filled 88 hungry, drunken mouths at the Awards Evening the next Friday. I ate six rolls this time. It was to die for.