“Oh my god, I think we hit a dog.”
This is the worst possible sentence I could ever hope to hear from the woman I love.
This is The End of Joy from which we may never recover.
And of course, I’m the one driving.
Mari loves dogs more than anyone I’ve ever met.
I’ve seen puppies bring her to tears. We’ve spent hours laughing at her favourites on Instagram. I’ve held her as she sobbed like a widow, recalling memories of her dear departed dog Horatio – her best friend, as a child.
“He was like no-one you ever met. We will never see his like again.”
And now, on the dark country road between St Helena and Britannia Bay, I may have hit a dog.
Mari is already crying.
“Oh god… do you think it’s someone’s dog?!”
This is even worse as the realisation dawns that this might not just be a dog, but a dog with an owner – a sweet child with no idea their life is about to be ruined – a little Mari about to confront her dead Horatio.
“What was it? Did you see it? Why were you driving so fast?!”
Ah, the circle is complete. A dog is dead, a child’s life is ruined, and this is all my fault.
“It came out of nowhere”, I mumble helplessly. But this is a fart in a typhoon. I don’t think she even hears me.
I get out of the car and walk towards the dusty little silhouette lying motionless in the dirt.
Behind me, “You always drive too fast.”
I’m already apologising to the heartbroken owner in my head. I’m digging a grave for an audience of howling children.
But as I get closer I realise this is no dog. We’ve hit a duiker!
This tiny buck could be my salvation.
The only thing to rival Mari’s love for dogs is her love for interesting food – foraged food – the wilder the better.
We spent the first months of our relationship falling in love while diving for crayfish, picking mussels, cooking on fires and foraging mushrooms. One of the first meals we made together was a rabbit pie.
Mari is not squeamish.
If I can turn this accident into a food adventure I can turn this situation around.
I pick the buck up by its legs and haul it to the back seat of the car.
“Baby, don’t freak out.”
Mari freaks out.
But when I manage to explain that we’ve hit a duiker (not a dog) and that I’m going to cook it for us, she calms down.
“Gross…what do you think it tastes like?”
She sniffles with a smile and wipes her face.
“Should we make it into a pie?”
I was 13 when I shot my first buck. My father took me into the veld to teach me (among other things) what it means to eat an animal.
I gutted it with trembling hands in the cold night air. And then, to earn the respect of the group, I had to eat a piece of the liver raw.
It was a formative experience, and I think a very important one. In a moment it took all the pretence and bravado out of the hunt and made it very real.
“If you’re going to kill something you’d damn well better eat it.”
I’ve hunted with my father a few times since, and we’ve always butchered our own buck. But on the farm we had a butchery and sharp knives, and old Afrikaans men to grumble advice.
Here at Mari’s family beach house I have a bread knife, some gardening tools and a washing line.
I’m on my own.
Eventually I borrow a proper knife from a curious neighbour, and after a few gruelling hours I get the job done.
Mari’s teenage sister shouts her encouragement through the fence.
“EEEUUUUGH I’m going to vomit!”
But we don’t care. We’re proud. We’re wild cooks. And Mari loves me again.
We spend that night cuddled together in bed. The buck spends the night in the slow cooker, and the next day we do turn him into a pie.
We even make a pie fresco on the top to honour his life – he gallops under a golden sun, through fields of flaky pastry.
The pie is so good even Mari’s sister has a piece. We eat it all weekend.
But by the time we’re licking the last crumbs off our forks I can’t help but wonder; “what’s really the difference between a duiker and a dog?”
Joshua de Kock is a writer, cook and nature enthusiast who would usually rather be diving for crayfish.