The tree quaked as the aircraft flew just a few inches above its highest branch
By Nhamo Muchagumisa
I was awakened by the bleeping of my usual alarm, but the echoes bouncing off the walls of my bedroom were something I was not used to. I tried to reach for the phone with my right hand, but I realised that the device was not on my dressing table.
I opened my eyes to check what had gone wrong with my room and realised that only a very faint light from the screen of my phone lit the room, even though I had gone to bed with my light on.
My mattress was as hard as the solid earth, and equally as rough. Tiny pebbles dug into my ribs as I lay on my side. It was all a bad dream.
I tried to get up and realised that I was not even under a blanket, neither was I lying on a mattress. I realised with consternation that I was not even at home and I lacked the physical wellness to find my way back home.
The alarm bleeped again, an ominous reminder that my life was dangling by a thread on a tree branch overhanging a deep pool. My phone’s screen light shone several metres away from my eye and beyond the reach of my hand.
It was past three in the morning and it was still dark outside.
I very much wanted to crawl out of the cave and rediscover my way back to safety, but I did not know what four-legged beast would make a meal of me once I left the cave.
I did not, however, feel safe in the cave. I did not know what venomous reptile might be sharing the cave with me.
The thought of snakes made me aware of the smell of bullrush millet porridge, which our elders said indicated the presence of a black mamba, the most venomous serpent in our forests.
I was afraid the vibrations made by my throbbing heart might trigger the deadly creature into action. But I held on to the safety of the cave against the certainty of death outside.
I prayed for daylight to come. It was the first time I ever put a serious thought to every word I uttered in prayer. I begged the LORD to guard me against the certainty of death that surrounded me.
I had gone on a tour of the Chipindaumwe forest and caves with my classmates and teachers. After a memorable experience of the wonders of creation, I sneaked out of camp to revisit one of the caves.
Back in the cave, I found myself probing into the deeper and darker end of the cave.
My Geography teacher’s voice echoed in my mind, “We are visiting a sacred place, remember not to say anything silly for you will be inviting grave misfortune unto yourself.”
Then the counter echo of my contemptuous laughter played its turn in my head.
Suddenly there was a whistling sound above me. I dared not look up. My heart leapt into my mouth and my body was seized with cramps. Something like the wing of a large bird struck me in the face and I fell to the cave floor with a thud. I do not remember what happened next.
Now in mortal fear, I desperately wanted to leave the cave, but I had to wait for daylight which seemed to be ages away. The thought that I had already been considered a missing person nauseated me.
Very soon a search party would be unleashed on the forest. I needed to get away as soon as possible.
I did not want to make headlines in the press for the wrong reasons, neither did I want some people to earn hero status for having saved my life.
As soon as the first arrows of daylight hit the walls of the cave, I crawled out of the cave to find my way home.
The sun was already high in the sky, only that the thickness of the forest allowed the traces of the night to hold on.
I wove my way around the trees as I trudged towards the Mutare/ Masvingo tarmac road, five kilometers away. I wanted to be out of the forest before the search party caught up with me.
The emptiness of my belly conveyed a burning sensation up my chest, making breathing very difficult for me. I found myself pushing on, not only to outsmart the search party, but to save my life too.
My thoughts were disturbed by the droning of a helicopter.
The search party! I wrapped my arms around a tree trunk and buried my face into the bark to avoid detection. The tree quaked as the aircraft flew just a few inches above its highest branch.
I let go of the tree trunk and watched the flying machine cruising towards the horizon. It was just a flying machine.
As I slowly found my way out of the forest, I realised that sunlight still reached the forest floor with great reluctance. The population of trees had significantly declined as I headed for the fringes of the forest, yet the traces of the night still lingered in the sky.
Looking up at the celestial curve, I could see shadows in the cloudless sky.
The sky was alive with terror-mongering conspiracies of the supernatural that made me think that I was still lying asleep in the cave and dreaming my life away to its final conclusion.
The first real indication of progress came with the odour of drying mud.
I was approaching the Mvurachena River. As the water level subsided, the muddy deposits on its bank were left to the mercy of the sun.
Just as I was about to reach Mutsiyabako Turn off, my ears were assailed by the noise of a heavy vehicle. From a distance I noticed that it was a police truck and hid behind the ruins of an old shop. The lorry took the branch road, raising a cloud of dust as it shot down the dusty road.
I was however able to establish what the lorry carried in its tailboard, more than a dozen police officers.
I had made it, but was it not necessary to pass through the local police post to report that I was out of danger? A loud no rang in my head as I thought about my mother.
I could not delay seeing her as her soul was wandering in the limbo of uncertainty.
But was she not at the police post? I fumbled with my trouser pockets for my mobile phone. They were empty. I had left the god-damned thing in the cave. I turned in the direction of the police post.
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: email@example.com
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