The little figure – bent towards the murky water – turned out to be a little girl, sitting, one leg unshod, face buried in the palms of her hands
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
Sergeant Danga had never allowed a shadow of doubt to cross his path whenever he was on a difficult assignment. He had dealt with mysteries that had boggled great minds like a fish finding its way in deep water.
Like a footballer set to kick his final ball, he found himself entertaining a sense of emotional involvement with official duty, something that had not happened in his twenty years of service.
He did not, however, allow his imagination to take this as a bad sign.
He allowed Mrs Nyakare’s image to linger in his mind as he led the search party, comprising police officers and volunteers, into the Mutsiyabako Forest. Mrs Nyakare’s twelve-year-old daughter had gone missing when she and her classmates had gone on a tour of the Mutsiyabako Forest and caves.
The teachers and her classmates had only discovered that Natasha was missing long after they had left the most dangerous parts of the conservancy on their way back to Chimhenga Primary School.
Mrs Nyakare’s face would not leave Sergeant Danga’s mind. Terror was written all over it as if she had just signed her death warrant. Her soul was surely begging for divine intervention.
Mrs Nyakare had begged to play a part in the search, but she was in such a panic mode that she would collapse before going any far. The search party leader had therefore implored the desperate woman to put her faith in the search party.
The senior police officer felt a wave of anger welling up in him.
It was all negligence that had brought him into this final assignment of his career.
The teachers should have conducted a roll call before leaving the forest. Now four of them had joined the search party, the fear of losing their jobs playing centre stage, not a concern for the hapless child.
Mutsiyabako Forest was infested with marauding four-legged beasts, active especially at night, venomous reptiles, that would not spare a hapless girl and swarms of mosquitoes and a host of other blood-sucking insects, that would drain a little girl of her blood.
In addition to these factual realities, Mutsiyabako Forest was believed to be haunted by the spirits of the departed, capable of taking a little girl hostage and releasing her after initiating her into the cult of spirit mediums.
Sergeant Danga reprimanded himself for being superstitious, something that he had never allowed to lead his way in previous searches.
The search went on, but time was running out. The search team had combed the forest with sniffer dogs, but the girl could not be found. The caves had been searched, but there was no sign of a human creature within.
The sun’s rays only hit the forest floor in tiny patches because it was such a dense forest, yet the heat did not spare the team. In addition to the sultry heat, breathing was a major physical task for the search party as the humid air carried with it a host of strange smells nobody could put a name to.
Sergeant Danga’s heart sank as the image of a young girl trying to find her way out of such conditions crossed his mind.
The search party broke into four groups as the sun ominously drooped towards the western horizon, the western mountains appearing to be rising, with the intention to swallow the sun.
“If we do not find the child today, chances are that we won’t find her alive tomorrow,” Sergeant Danga told his team, as they rounded a hill.
Natasha was probably very hungry now, and the thought of her suffering the torture of a freezing death when the temperatures plummeted at night made the senior officer regret what he had just said.
“A shoe, ” a member of the search party shouted.
Sergeant Danga scrutinised the shoe as he let a rush of hope run him over. “It certainly belongs to the girl,” he said, a quick glance at the declining sun plunging him back into a sombre mood.
The hill had no further sign of Natasha, not even a discernible footprint.
This was going to be Sergeant Danga’s first failure in a very long time. In two weeks time, he would be retiring from the police force, to be haunted by the image of a little girl he had never seen, a little girl who was her mother’s only child.
Physical exhaustion tortured the policeman’s muscles, the result of this search and age that was creeping on him. Looking at the faces around him, he noted a sense of resignation and immediately forgot his physical deterioration.
“Let us revisit Jonga Pool,” Sergeant Danga said, as he and his team descended the slope of the hill.
“But Serge, we have been there before,” one volunteer complained.
“Who said we have not been there?” Sergeant Danga retorted.
In single file, Sergeant Danga’s team headed for the pool. Nobody uttered another word.
Sergeant Danga had concluded that the girl had drowned in the pool. He wanted to have one last look at the pool before calling the search off.
On the following day, the search would be in the hands of the sub-aqua unit that would extract the remains of the girl from the muddy bed of the pool’s depths.
As they approached the death trap, they detected a little figure sitting on a stone, bent towards the murky water. The little figure turned out to be a little girl, sitting, one leg unshod, face buried in the palms of her hands.
As the noise of pounding footfalls hit her eardrums, she raised her head and turned her face to look at the crowd gathering behind her.
The two wet lines on her face emanated from a deeper agony within her, not just from being stranded in a strange place.
Sergeant Danga took her by the right hand and led her away to safety. She never spoke a word and Sergeant Danga thought it was not yet the time to coax her into saying something.
When Natasha was presented to her mother, the grateful woman listened attentively to how the search had taken place, but when she finally heard that she was found at the edge of Jonga Pool, she collapsed in a faint.
Natasha’s father had died of drowning nine years before, not in the same pool, but in another pool, more than a hundred kilometres away.
Nhamo Muchagumisa is an English Language and Literature teacher, and he writes from Odzi. He writes in his own capacity and can be contacted on +263777460162. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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