It was still dark when I was told that my mother would be fucked if I didn’t get up, get the fire going, fetch more wood, and boil water for coffee.
I’m not sure who told me this. And it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I get up and do what was expected of me. Since I was the youngest person there, my jobs were clearly delineated, ie. Do what anyone older than you tells you to do.
If that person was nothing more than a gruff, disembodied voice, then so be it. It was to be obeyed. So I got up, and to be honest, I was OK with that. The blankets I had been wrapped in had given me a rash. It was as if I had wrapped myself in sandpaper.
Back in those days, woollen blankets were not soft, cosseting clouds of comfort and warmth. They were certainly warm. But they were by no measure soft, and a nice sheet was always required to keep my tender child-skin away from the abrasive material.
But the sheets my mum always used on my bed were at home with my mum. I had been provided with two woollen blankets and an old pillow dad kept in the garage for his hunting trips, plus the aforementioned foam slab, and that was that.
The previous afternoon I had greatly assisted in erecting three 12 by 12 canvas marquee tents – which is to say I had done most of the work – and also set up camp beds, tables, foldable chairs, and boxes of food, and gathered firewood. But clearly not enough firewood, because I was always sent for more.
The tents themselves were major structures, with heavy wooden poles, hessian ropes, and thick steel tent-pegs. There was none of this beaut space-age, lightweight material and flexible alloy pole bullshit we have these days.
Once these tents were erected, they were like small houses where men could stand upright, and raise or lower the flaps as per their requirements. Everything was lashed with hessian ropes – which I was told not to cut, or once again my mother would be fucked, and to simply deal with the length of rope I was given.
I was shown what needed to be done, then I was left to do it. If I did it wrong, I was told to do it again. I was helped in my efforts by Dragan, the second-youngest person there, and he was clearly very pleased to no longer be at the bottom of this pecking order. He often told me he was going to fuck my mother as I went about my labours, and spent most of his time holding tent-poles upright while I secured them to the ground with pegs, ropes, and an axe I was using as a hammer.
Everything was still standing my morning, so mum would remain unfucked for the moment, and I busied myself building up the fire, boiling water and preparing the cups for coffee. The men slowly roused themselves, dressed, and began to look to their weapons as our campsite came to life with the dawn.
Breakfast was a very casual affair. Onions, chillies, salted pig-fat, a few hard-boiled eggs no Serb would leave home without, stale bread, coffee, and lots of cigarettes. Being eleven, I was not permitted coffee or cigarettes, but was free to eat whatever else I wanted. I had also managed to strap two large Bowie knives to my belt, and was given a semi-auto .22 to look over and a handful of rounds, so I felt very much the part.
I was shown how to put the rounds into the small magazine, and my father then walked me away from the camp, set up some empty beer cans on a log about 20 metres away, and watched while I missed hitting them.
He then explained why I was missing them (breathing wrong, jerking the trigger, not lining up the sights, waving the barrel around too much, etc), gave me another three handfuls of bullets, and told me to keep at it.
I applied myself, and found that if I did what he’d told me, I could hit a can now and then. I was overjoyed each time the .22 round plinked a can. I was shooting! And actually hitting the target! There was no doubt I would soon be sowing death upon the local animal population, and all the men would acknowledge my hawk-eyed marksmanship.
When I’d run out of bullets, I checked and double-checked the gun was unloaded, and the magazine was in my pocket, and returned to camp, where the men were discussing how they would approach the day’s hunt.
I stood quietly to one side with my .22 at port arms, my Bowie knives weighty upon my hips, and waited to be told what position I would occupy on the line.
“Have you filled up the water bottles for everyone?” my father asked me.
“No,” I said, unaware that such a thing needed to be done.
“Go now and do it,” he said, handing me his water bottle, and then went back to his high-level deployment discussions with his mates.
All the men then absently passed me their water bottles, which were all a variation on a theme. And if you’re thinking lightwight plastic jobbies, you’d be wrong. They all had these massive round steel bastards, which seemed to be covered in carpet, and which held about two-litres of water. They were quite weighty when they were empty. When I filled them with two litres of water each, they became obscenely heavy.
So 12 bottles, each weighing about three kilos, was not something I could carry in one hit. So I relayed the bottles to and fro, and when I was finished and ready to go, I was told I was not actually going on the hunt. My job was to stay in the camp and await the results.
Of course, I was disappointed. Crushed, you might say. I had built up this whole hunting trip in my mind, and saw myself as integral part of this manly company, and I was going to kill a fuck-tonne of wild beasts and make my father proud of me.
In reality, I was an eleven-year-old boy who couldn’t shoot for shit, was not to be given a rifle any more powerful than a .22, and was certainly not about to go stalking through two-metre-high cane grass in search of wild razorbacks.
Dad could see I was on the verge of tears. But I would not shame him by weeping, and we both knew that. There was no mum to hug me back to happiness here. He put his big hand on my head, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me my time would come, but that time was not today.
“Do you understand?”
I nodded. I did. I was eleven, but I was not stupid, or at all used to getting my way, and if I was to stay and mind the camp and make sure the fire didn’t go out, then that’s what I would do. Dad then gave me another hundred or so rounds of .22 ammo, and told me that I was only to shoot in the opposite direction they were going in.
And off they went.
My understanding was that one group would go way ahead of the others, do a big loop and “herd” whatever game they came across or spooked across the field of fire of the other group. Most of them had done this before, and it invariably worked, no-one got shot, and they usually killed quite a few feral animals.
In a very short time, they had disappeared from my sight into the scrub, and I was left entirely alone. I was not scared, or bothered by this in the slightest. There were enough armaments left in the camp for me to stave of an entire division of SS, and those who guard also serve.
I planned on getting some serious target practice in, and maybe increase the distance, try some off-the-hip shooting (because Dad was not directly supervising), and perhaps even essay some knife-throwing (also because Dad was not supervising), so I started setting myself up.
I had just finished propping up the cans on a dead tree, when gunfire broke out in the distance. The flat crack of high-powered rifles carries a long way, as does the hollow boom of a 12-gauge, and it sounded like the hunting party had fully engaged with the beasts maybe a kilometre away.
The shooting died off, and there was silence, and then it started up again with renewed ferocity. And then that too stopped.
I forgot all about target-practice and stood on the edge of camp straining my eyes at the scrub and waiting to see if maybe a few stray pigs would come charging towards me.
But nothing came charging towards me. A whole bunch of laughing, hooting, and chain-smoking Serbs with rifles slung on their shoulders came walking slowly instead.
It was a good hunt. Many pigs had been killed. Tales of marksmanship were recounted, and the size, colour, and disposition of the beasts discussed. Some of the beasts were classed as “angry” (ljuteh), some as “utterly cunted-off” (skroz popizedeli”, and special mention was of the several big, vicious sows who stopped to defend their sucklings. The general agreement was that all their mothers had been fucked, good and hard.
“Where are they?” I asked. I could hear lots of talking, but I could see no actual evidence of the hunt.
Pane grinned at me, and placed a companiable, and cordite-smelling hand on my shoulder. “They are over there,” he grinned, nodding back the way they’d come. “You need to go get them. It’s OK. Dragan will go with you. Some of them are quite big.”
A few of themen laughed at the expression on my face. Then my father explained I would be better off gutting them in situ rather than trying to haul the gut-filled bastards back. He then informed me Dragan would show me how this was done, and if I needed my mother to stay unfucked, I’d do well not to pierce the shit-filled intestines during this process.
And so began a day which I count as the most blood-drenched of my entire life. The men had shot, at their count, 18 pigs of various sizes. They had done this in an area of about one square kilometre, and my job, along with Dragan, was to ferry the gutted carcasses of the animals back to camp, and then further process them.
So that’s what I did. And yes, I did pierce more than one set of intestines, and yes, the stench entered my clothes, my hair, and my very soul, and I was drenched in pig-blood to my armpits. My learning curve was very steep.
I quickly discovered blood is first quite slippery, then it becomes very sticky. I discovered that gutting pigs lying on the ground is hard, back-breaking work that requires you getting your arms and your knife deep inside the animal, and slashing at things that connect its guts to its…well, insides. I discovered that worms live inside pigs. I discovered the animals have skulls as thick as concrete pavers, fur as abrasive as hatred, and in the case of boars, tusks that are long, and viciously sharp.
Dragan and I must have walked seven or eight kilometres that day. We dragged them by their hind legs, by their ears, by their front legs, and even by their tails. We fell over, we got up, we kept on dragging, and then we went and got another one. And another one. The last three were piglets, so Dragan put one on each of my shoulders, slung the last one over his, and we staggered back, exhausted and puffing.
Lunch was over. It was much the same as breakfast, but spring onions had been added to the staples of salted pork-fat, stale bread, tomatoes, chillies, and hard-boiled eggs – and there was lots of it, so we gobbled as much as we could, washed it down with metallic-tasting water, and sank to the ground by the campfire – which, to my credit, had not gone out.
“Why are you sitting down?” Voya wanted to know from the comfort of his chair.
Now this was not a question he wanted answered. It did not matter to him why we were sitting down. Not really. He could not give a fuck about why, so we did not answer him.
“Are you tired?” he asked. This was another question he didn’t want or need answered.
“You did not come here to relax. Make some coffee for everyone, then we’ll go and prepare the meat.” By which he meant that someone would come and supervise us butchering the two tonnes of pork lying near the fence-line next to the camp.
That someone was my father, who, unbeknownst to me, was possessed of some pretty decent butchering skills. He showed me how to cut the front and back legs off the animals, skin them, salt them, and pack them into sealable tubs, which would be filled with ice from the first servo we stopped at. He also showed me how to cut chops and backstraps, and how to take the bottom jaws off the boars, so they could be boiled until all the meat came off, then dried, and finally lacquered as trophies which would sit in the hunter’s home, much to the delight of his family.
It was pretty much dark by the time Dragan and I were finished. We were permitted a little of the drinking water to wash ourselves, but there was no way I could get the crap out from under my fingernails, and the smell of butchered pig stayed with me until I got home late the next evening and into the shower. And even then I could smell it. Or thought I could.
That night, I wrapped myself in the rough blankets and fell instantly asleep. The following morning, I was put to work digging shallow pits to push all the offal into, while Dragan busied himself striking the camp.
As I was helping load the cars, my father came over to me, stroked my head, and told me I had done very well. There was no shame on our family name, and as a result, on the next hunting trip, which was in about four months, I would be allowed to hunt – provided, of course, that there was enough firewood, the tents were all good, no-one was in need of any coffee, and that I was a better shot than I was at the moment.
I could hardly wait.
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.