A Fish and a Gift

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One special Friday Yusuf ’s
father gets dressed before a
flicker of light brightens the
sky. He pulls on his heavy
weather-proof jacket and the
green woollen cap that covers
his ears.
He waves his boy goodbye.
Yusuf ’s eyes brighten when
Papa says, “Today is the day I
will catch a fish and bring a gift
home for you.”

A fish and a gift? Oh, what will
it be? Papa cycles down to
Muizenberg Beach. Squeak
squeak go the wheels all the
way to Surfer’s Corner.
Gulls circle the sky. “Whaaat?
Whaaat? Whaaat?” they cry.
“What will you bring back for
Yusuf?”
Papa rings his bell. “Wait and
see what it will be!”

The fishermen watch the sun
rise. They check their nets. They
check their oars. They listen to
the wind. They drag their boats
down to the water. Yusuf ’s
grandfather, Oupa Salie was a
treknet fisherman. Before him
his father, Oupagrootjie
Ridwaan, knew the sea too.

The boat rides into the waves. Papa’s arms stretch to the oar. His leg braces against the side. His neck strains,
his back muscles ripple.
Papa sings as he works: “Drop and swish. Find a fish. Pull and plop. Don’t you stop.”

All day long Yusuf looks at the
sky. It is bright and clear and
windless. A fish and a gift! What
will Papa bring home from the
sea? Sometimes he brings a
beautiful shell. Sometimes he
brings a jewel green bottle
rinsed by the waves.

Some days Yusuf ’s father
brings a story. Like the time
they found sea turtles on the
sand, hundreds washed up in a
storm.
“Whaaat? Whaaat? Whaaat?”
cried the gulls. “What will you
do to help the turtles?”
Papa said, “We saved those
turtles, I tell you straight. We
sent them back to the ocean,
every last one.”

Always Papa brings a song. He sings the song while he pulls the oars. He sings the song while he pulls the nets.
He sings the song as he winds the ropes. He sings the song as he cycles home. “Drop and swish. Find a fish. Pull
and plop. Don’t you stop.”

Ouma Safiya wants a nice fat
yellowtail for her supper.
Mother wants a new dress.
“Don’t be silly,” says Ouma.
“You’ll be lucky if they catch
even a tiny crab. More likely it
will be fish tail Friday. There’s
not so many fish left in the
sea.”
Yusuf holds Ouma’s hand. They
cross the road at the bathing
cabins.
“Whaaat? Whaaat? Whaaat?”
cry the gulls perched on the
bright rooftops. “What is for
supper?”

Last year the fishermen fought
with the surfers. Angry fists and
shouting words.
“Whaaat? Whaaat? Whaaat?”
cried the gulls.
“There’s enough sea for
everybody,” said Yusuf ’s
father. He showed them the
fishing licence that had been
Oupa Salie’s. “Waves for all.
Water for free.”

Ouma Safiya watches through
her binoculars, her fingers
curled in curiosity. The shark
siren sounds. Swimmers run
back to the sand and grab their
towels. Surfers rush to the
shore, carrying their boards
under their arms. Under the
showers they strip off their
wetsuits.
“Whaaat? Whaaat? Whaaat?”
cry the gulls. “What will Yusuf ’s
father bring from the ocean?”

Yusuf’s father and uncle and
cousins heave and pull. A little
shark has been caught. It twists
and thrashes in the waves.
Yusuf’s father untangles the
nets, singing to the shark:
“Drop and swish. Find a fish.
Pull and plop. Don’t you stop.”
When the shark at last is free it
streaks back into the waves,
leaving only one fat yellowtail
in the net. Ouma Safiya will be
pleased.

The men pull the boat in and
coil up the cables. A hard white
triangle catches Papa’s finger.
“Whaaat? Whaaat? Whaaat?”
cry the gulls. “What did you
bring back for Yusuf?”
As the sun goes down, Papa
answers the gulls. “A lucky
shark tooth for my boy.”
At home Yusuf holds his gift up
to the stars.

Credits

A Camel for Kelam
Author: Liesl Jobson
Illustrator: Jesse Breytenbach
Publisher: Pratham Books
Narrator: Arthi Anand

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