A lion has just mauled and partially eaten a warrior who tried to throw a spear in my guts while trespassing on my farm a few months ago. This man was from the same gang that in April attacked me with rocks and smashed up my left hand so badly the doctors were hours away from amputating two or three of my fingers. Apparently, the spear thrower was up to no good again, on private land some distance from here some nights ago, when a lion slunk out of the darkness and jumped on his back. It then moved to his buttocks, on which it began feasting. It was all up for the lad and you might as well have said, ‘Yon lion’s ’et Albert — and ’im in his Sunday clothes, too…’ But before he could be gobbled up entirely, the lucky chap’s friends, who were nearby, came to his rescue and scared the predator off.
This news only underlines my ardent belief that in the end bullies will get their comeuppance. I’m not happy about the man’s suffering; it is quite the opposite. I tremble at the inevitability of retribution, with the passing of time.
There was a moment, once, when I nearly broke under the strain of cattle raiding and invasion, my car riddled with rustlers’ bullets, bleeding from the beating they delivered me — and I discovered an extraordinary document called ‘The Great Monition of Cursing’. In 1525 this historic curse, composed by the Archbishop of Glasgow Gavin Dunbar, was delivered from every pulpit in the Scottish Borders against the border reivers, the cattle raiders who brought chaos between the Esk and the Tweed from the reigns of Edward I to James I, who finally smashed it. George MacDonald Fraser’s The Steel Bonnets is all about the reivers, for those who are interested, as I am, in tales of rustling and ruffians in general.
In my home parts, cursing is enthusiastically pursued. It seems everybody curses each other and curses are not simply insults; they have the power of spells. Once, a man cursed the dust of my footprints. Who knows, perhaps I can blame any of my misfortunes of the past decade on that. But I reckon whatever misfortunes I’ve had were due to my own mistakes or misdeeds, rather than to spells or bad luck.
For a while, I read Archbishop Dunbar’s curses and pictured myself standing on my northern dry-stone wall, looking out and incanting the words:
‘I CURSE thair heid and all the haris of thair heid; I CURSE thair face, thair ene, thair mouth, thair neise, thair toung, thair teeth, thair crag …etc.’
There has perhaps never been a curse as terrifying as the Archbishop’s Great Monition, which crescendos into a carpet-chewing rant bringing down ‘all the vengeance that ever wes takin sen the warlde began for oppin synnys, and all the plagis and pestilence that ever fell on man or beist, mot fall on thaim for their oppin reiff, saik-lesse slauchter and schedding of innocent blude…’
I did not go ahead with such a performance on my wall because I genuinely became afraid of the power of the Archbishop’s words. I believe in God, especially in turbulence at altitude, and I aim not to wish ill on any person even if he mistreats me. When my children told me they had been teased or bullied at school, I taught them how to defend themselves if it came to a fight, and they saw how those cowards run away. But most of all I told them to walk away, wait and watch, because surely their tormentors would in time get their comeuppance.
You’ll say I’m talking nonsense, that I’ve spent too long in isolation on the ranch. But the man who ambushed me with an AK-47 in my vehicle ended up, later, in a gunfight with the police, and died with a bullet through his forehead that exploded his skull. The man who led the cattle raids against me two years ago got shot in the spine by his tribal adversaries and for all I know he might never walk again. As I write this, the elders on the plains are pondering how to discipline the youths who pelted me with rocks in April and, if penalties are imposed (a fine of several cattle, I imagine), I am going to help those old men with grazing for their milch cows through to the end of the drought season. Even in the absence of traditional justice I know that all I need do is wait, and I will get the news, perhaps years from now, of the terrible misfortune that has brought them down. We don’t need great curses, only time. And so in life, I remind myself, ‘Never let the bastards get you down.’
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