The phantom swallows
by Herman Labuschagne

Eden Express Article, 1 December 2013 


I grew up on an isolated farm in the South Eastern Transvaal. The region was known to have the second highest amount of lightning strikes per square kilometre in the world. It follows that the thunder storms were terrifically violent. Often they would be accompanied by hail and torrential mountain rains. When that happened, it sometimes set the scene for one of the greatest wonders of my childhood – the coming of the phantom swallows.


The fiercest storms came in the dead at night. When the night around us became alive with its varicose veins of ice blue fire, I would become afraid and crawl into bed with my parents. There I felt safe, no matter how the world was shaken. Later my mother would sometimes light her glass oil lamp to see if they were there. And then she would wake us gently and whisper: “Shhh – look – they’re back…!”


The exquisite wonder of the sight in the shadows of that old lamp never failed to ripple my imagination. For there, upon the curtain pelmet would be a row of swallows – so densely packed that there was not room for a single one more. They would huddle without a sound – staring at us with their mysterious big eyes and exotic whiskers. My father explained to me that when the storms are that cold, the swallows often die. Their little bodies are so small that they weigh almost nothing at all. But somehow, instinctively, they always knew that there was safety in our home.


Our house was very old, but nicely-built with no visible gaps. They never came to any place but my parent’s bedroom. When morning came and the storm was gone, they had always mysteriously vanished the way they came. And we never did find out their amazing secret.

Photo: Jack Versloot., Wikipedia.,