Dutch Treat
Margot Comstock

E very time I wanted to visit my cousin, I had to break the law. Mbene's hut was only a couple of miles from our family home, but it was in another country. It hadn't always been so; but South Africa, the giant that nearly surrounds my homeland, claimed the bit of ground Mbene lives on, and it was no longer part of Swaziland.

Mbene and I were very close. Whenever something important happened, we longed to be together, to encourage and comfort each other. Now, just to see one another, one of us had to cross the border between Swaziland and South Africa. Because Swaziland was disputing the land South Africa had seized, crossing the border there wasn't allowed. So we began our illegal crossings.

Like most of our people, we each wore an amulet for safety and good fortune. Our amulets were also used as a symbol of our friendship. Mbene had filled my amulet with wonderful charms. For Mbene's, I had carved a tiny rhinoceros of ivory. I liked to imagine the rhinoceros was a familiar through which we could share our thoughts.

Maybe it was.

We'd been crossing the border for nearly a year when we almost got caught. It was Mbene's turn to cross. I hid near the border to wait for her.

The South African sentry went by. We always crossed about five minutes after he passed, but that time a border patrol appeared, brandishing guns. Silently, ten soldiers concealed themselves in the brush on the South African side. They were waiting for someone, to catch someone crossing.

Were they waiting for us? Why were they armed to kill! Desperately, I watched for Mbene. How could I warn her? I clutched my amulet, willing the toy rhino to give her my message.

Then I spotted her at jungle's edge. No! I thought. Don't come! Suddenly, she looked to her left, then dove behind a tree just as a crash sounded.

A white rhinoceros stampeded into the clearing, across the border, and into the Swaziland bush. The border patrolmen leaped from cover to escape the rhino's hooves. At first they didn't see the two men running behind the rhino, and when they did their bullets were too late.

The two men disappeared into Swaziland. The border patrol gathered, disgruntled, shaking fists and shouting. But they had no rights across the border and soon went away.

Wisdom might have had us run for our homes. But Mbene and I left our hiding places as one and met in a big hug right on the border.

Maybe someday the border will open. Until then Mbene and I will just have to go on breaking the law. Very carefully.

First published: February 2001
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