Masks on. Guns loaded, safeties off and fingers on the trigger. We wait, crouching in our hideouts and behind much-too-thin trees, for the game to begin. The nervous silence is broken by the marshal’s whistle, and the air becomes alive with the pelting sounds of gunshots. Team Red versus Team Black. Paintballs fly like wildfire, leaving colourful splotches when they hit their target; but the red, blue and yellow paint marks are nothing compared to the deep purple bruises that we’ll discover later. The beating of bullets becomes your music as you dance through the trees, dodging paintballs from every direction, and every now and then firing a few shots over your head, hoping to hit skin.
Your breath is fast and heavy, and your mask begins to fog up. Your knees ache from crouching on the hard earth; there’s an unforgiving stitch on your side. You wish you’d done some exercise in preparation for the game, but it’s too late now. To your left, a teammate curses in pain and frustration as a bullet hits their thigh and red paint spreads across their leg like a bloody bullet wound. You stoop down lower hoping the assailant didn’t see you too. Peering between the slats of your hideout, you can just make out his shape hiding behind a lean tree, launching dangerous paintballs in all directions.
You carefully manoeuvre the barrel of your gun between the slats, and take your aim. You breathe in deeply and hold it. One. Two. Three. You pull the trigger and the bullet zooms through the air, between trees and leaves and legs, and splats against the attacker’s stomach. For good measure, you send another two bullets his way. You jump up in victory, having made your first (and last) hit, but your triumph is short-lived as you hear a loud crack, followed by a searing, stinging pain in your right butt cheek. You’d been too focussed on the attacker in front of you and didn’t even notice the one creeping up on you from behind. You yell out in pain and put a hand over the delicate area. “I’m out! I’m out!” you bellow as you lift your gun in the air, defeated, and hobble over to Start/End line, clutching your cheek in your hand like a wounded soldier.
After the game is finished we stand around in our paint-splattered overalls, pulling up our sleeves and rolling up the legs of our trousers, examining the red welts and blue-and-purple bruises that cover our bodies. We compare shiners: who has the biggest bruise? whose looks the ugliest? who was hit in the worst place? Some wounds are bigger than others, more angry or raw, but they are all trophies of our battles, something to show off and be proud of. The rivalry long forgotten, the Red and Black team have dissolved and we are all part of the same team once again – the East Cape Tours team. Our eventful day is ended the South African way with a braai and some drinks, the perfect remedy for a team of sticky, sweaty people with rumbling tummies and dry throats.
You can see more pictures of our fun paintball session in our Facebook Album.