Mac was at the braai and Stu was at the braai and I was at the braai; three men standing around a braai, sipping beer, staring at the boerewors, rolling them backwards and forwards, never leaving them alone. We didn’t know why we were at the braai; we were just drawn there like moths to a flame.
The braai was a powerful gravitational force, a man-magnet. Stu said “The thin ones could use a turn”, I said “Yeah, I reckon the thin ones could use a turn”, Mac said “Yeah they really need a turn”. It was a unanimous turning decision. Mac was the Tong-Master, a true artist, he gave a couple of practice snaps of his long silver tongs, SNAP SNAP, before moving in, prodding, teasing, and with an elegant flick of his wrist, rolling them onto their little backs. A lesser tong-man would’ve flicked too hard; the boerie would’ve gone full circle, back to where they started. “Nice,” I said. The others went yeah. Kevin was passing us, he heard the siren-song- sizzle of the boerie, the braai was calling, beckoning, Kevinnnnn ..come. He stuck his head in and said “Any room?” We said yeah and began the braai shuffle; Mac shuffled to the left, Stu shuffled to the left, I shuffled to the left, Kevin slipped in beside me, we sipped our beer.
Now there were four of us staring at the boerie, and Mac gave me the nod, my cue. I was second-in-command, and I had to take the raw boeries out of the plastic bag and lay them on the braai; not too close together, not too far apart, curl them into each other’s bodies like lovers – fat ones, thin ones, herbed and continental. The chipolatas were tiny, they could easily slip down between the grill, falling into the molten hot-bed-netherworld below. Carefully I laid them sideways ACROSS the grill, clever thinking. Mac snapped his tongs with approval; there was no greater braai honour.
Luke came along, he said “looking good, looking good”
-the irresistible lure of the braai had pulled him in too. We said yeah and did the shuffle, left, left, left, left, he slipped in beside Kevin, we sipped our beer. Five men, lots of boerie. Stu was the Fork-pronger; he had the fork that pronged the tough hides of the Free State’s finest boerie and he showed a lot of promise. Stabbing away eagerly, leaving perfect little vampire holes up and down the casing. Luke was shaking his head, he said “I reckon they cook better if you don’t poke them”. There was a long silence, you could have heard a chipolata drop, and this newcomer was a rabble-rouser, bringing in his crazy ideas from outside. He didn’t understand the hierarchy; first the Tong-master, then the Boerie-layer, then the Fork-pronger – and everyone below was just a watcher.
Maybe eventually they’ll move up the ladder, but for now – don’t rock the Weber. Wendy popped her head in; “hmmm, smells good”, she said. She was trying to jostle into the circle; we closed ranks, pulling our heads down and our shoulders in, mumbling yeah yeah yeah, but making no room for her. She was keen, going round to the far side of the braai, heading for the only available space . . . the gap in the circle where all the smoke and ashes blew. Nobody could survive the gap, nobody had ever survived the gap. Wendy was going to try. She stood there stubbornly, smoke blinding her eyes, ashes filling her nostrils, boerie fat spattering all over her arms and face. Until she couldn’t take it anymore, she gave up, backed off.
Kevin waited till she was gone and sipped his beer. We sipped our beer, yeah. Mac handed me his tongs. I looked at him and he nodded. I knew what was happening, I’d waited a long time for this moment – the abdication. The tongs weighed heavy in my hands, firm in my grip – was I ready for the responsibility? Yes, I was. I held them up high and they glinted in the sun. “Don’t forget to turn the thin ones,” Mac said as he walked away from the braai, disappearing toward the house. “Yeah,” I called back, “I will, I will”. I snapped the tongs twice, SNAP SNAP, before moving in, prodding, teasing, and with an elegant flick of my wrist, rolling them back onto their little bellies.
I was a natural, I was the TONG-MASTER. But only until Mac got back from the toilet …