One such toy was the nocti, a crude version of the pellet gun. It was made of bamboo and looked like a bicycle pump. However, it operated on the same principle as a pellet gun, and sure sounded like one when fired.
The pellet was a rare berry called temphlam that grew like grapes, on a small tree of which there were not very many in the village. The berry was green in colour, and had the consistency of a squash ball. When squeezed, it released a pungent juice that served as a lubricant in the barrel of the nocti.
The hollow bamboo barrel of the nocti was about a foot long, with a bore of approximately five-sixteenths of an inch – just a smidgeon narrower than the diameter of the berry. The firing device was a round shaft that was a quarter-inch shorter in length than the barrel, and fitted to another piece of bamboo that served as the handle.
The nocti was primed by shoving a berry into the barrel and pushing it to the other end with the aid of the shaft. Since the shaft was shorter than the barrel, the berry ended up snuggly lodged near the firing end of the nocti. Now, we’d shove another berry into the nocti, move it slowly a few inches into the barrel, and then push sharply on the shaft. The air pressure built up in the barrel would cause the forward berry to blast off with a loud bang, while leaving the second berry in place for the next shot.
The nocti was not designed for accuracy; we fired shots aimlessly just to enjoy that fleeting moment of power when the pent-up air pressure in the barrel sent another berry blasting off into the air.
Although it was a harmless toy, the projectile from that barrel fired at your bare skin stung badly enough to make you keep a safe distance from any kid toting a nocti.
In Saligão, we didn’t play the game of Cowboys and Indians as kids did in the West. And even if we did, it wouldn’t have been the same; here it was the Indian who carried the gun – the nocti.