Chapter 11: Tracking
I imagine the sign of a track to be like an invisible ether, which if one wore the appropriate filter glasses, one could see its scent suspended in the air like some faint hazy blue smoke.
With this in mind it was magical when watching a falconer friend’s dog at work.
The full beautifully sinuous length of her English Pointer body would stretch out in flowing bounds as she coursed back and forth at an undulating lope across the fields, searching for the scent of a game bird. Then in sharp and sudden abruptness she would jerk to a halt, and transform into a tail-raised, foot cocked nose extended point with all the quivering directional tension of a tightly drawn bow. She would be poised to be released by his flushing shout, which in turn cascaded into the flash of the Falcon as it plunged into its stoop.
All of this flurry would be predicated by the minutest traces of scent buoyed upon the breeze, and if the nose of a pointer can be magical, then the skill of a master tracker is absolutely so, because magic is the only way to describe the mix of art and alchemy that goes into such an intricate skill.
Yes, surely some of the talent of the tracker must be inherited from nature, just as the nose of the pointer is the inherited resultant of eons of evolution. But unlike the automatic detection of a scent in the nose of a dog, or smoke in the eye of an observer, it is in the mind of a tracker that the cognitive mental magic occurs. The nose of the pointer can follow the drift of the sent just as the eyes of a man can follow the smoke of a fire. But there is nothing consistently obvious in what constitutes a track in the eye or nose of a master tracker, its thread must be pieced together in the mind from the faintest shards of a previous passage.
Often, I think that those who were the best piano tuners before the advent of modern digital wave harmonizers would have the personalities and compulsive attention-to-detail that is the hallmark of a master tracker. Like the old breed of piano tuners who required a lifetime of familiarity with the intricacies and characteristic harmonics of their particular instruments, so too does the tracker need to be exquisitely intimate with every detail of his surroundings.
After all, tracking is all about the ability to synthesize and assemble thousands of details, which change every second as the eye moves and reaps and gathers an intricate plethora of information, and registers it against the memory in the mind of how the bush world should be, while at the same time comparing this with how it actually is.
Tracking is all about noticing the smallest discrepancies from the usual, a depression here, a bent stem of grass further on, a twig broken here, a plucked berry there, the slightly darker color of a fallen leaf, faintly more moist than the others, indicating its shaded side has been up-turned by some recent passing disturbance. Or even the distant alarm call of a bird.
But it is not only about noticing these discrepancies, it is also about noticing how the environment slowly ages the appearance of the disturbances.
As soon as a hoof, or paw, or foot print presses into the soil, and hence presses down into the moistness of layers not expose to sunlight, or the dry wafting eddies of the air, the process of aging begins.
Any vertical edges or sides of prints in the sand immediately begin to dry. Within hours, with the loss of moisture and its adhesive characteristics, the soil begins to crumble. This in turn allows an indication, to those who know how long it takes for the particular soil to lose its cohesiveness, to give approximate time since the imprint was made.
Like with so many things in life it is a mixture of nature and nurture which is to be found in the best of any profession. The basics can be taught to anyone. However, there will be certain rare individuals who will have a natural year for perfect pitch and hence even without practice or training, will become great tuners or makers of music. Tracking is no exception. But it will be those even rarer individuals who will take their God given gift and practice it, and hone it daily, and endlessly, until it is like magic. As with Van Cliburn’s specialty with his piano, and Perlman’s violin, so also it is with trackers.
The bushman trackers who were with us up on the flat Sandy expanses of Northern Ovamboland and Angola, wouldn’t be as good at their craft here in the Kafue Basin. Here the best would probably be some of the lifetime poachers of the local Kaunde tribe, or maybe their fellow tribesmen, serving on the other side of the wildlife equation, in the National Parks department, as game scouts.
To be the best one needs to grow up in an area, to begin to pick up its signs and nuances, even before one begins to walk, to absorb the local color of shaded grass, moist leaves, bird alarm calls, or the geography. Only these specialists will truly be able to accumulate the knowledge to detect and interpret the local out-of-place, which in turn will guide the mental sniffing of their minds.
I was not such a magician when it came to tracking, but I had followed in the footsteps of such a one.
Moses had inherited those genes of proficiency, and because of the lonely outsider status of his upbringing, as a youth he spent much of his time in the Bush away from the mission. This I gathered from Father Xavier’s tales. He had communed with nature more than with people.
It was in this communing that he honed his gift, making him such an asset when on the hunt in the Bush for the ultimate quarry, other men. His quiet confident, almost uncanny way of knowing when we were close, and contact imminent.
I wasn’t a gifted tracker, but having walked behind Moses so many times and watched him point to this clue or that, I felt sufficiently confident that my basic proficiency would allow me to follow the footprints of the mystery man.
After all it appeared that this individual wanted to be followed, leaving behind a tauntingly easy track.
The open treeless expanse of the Shalamakanga dambo stretches back lazily from the river. Along its length the sponge of its soils slowly dribbles its rain water into the Kafue, as the river slides gradually South West to where its ancient flow was stolen eastwards, and its destiny changed forever. Change can be profound in Africa, for better or worse, even for its rivers, not only its people.
An eagle in the sky would see how, after a few kilometers, the length of the dambo spreads and stretches out into four long sluices, curving towards the West. The clawed extremity of one of them hooks at the artery of the main road, causing it to flinch westwards. It is as though the eagle’s talons are outstretched to grab at any vehicle as it scuttles past along the dirt of the road.
So far so good!
The ease of the tracking allowed my mind, like my feet, to skip over the possibilities.
Reaching the shank of the dambo where it widens out into the pad spawning its tributaries, a small herd of Puku raise their heads sharply from the grazing in the open grassland. They looked on with some curiosity, before halfheartedly scampering away. It was heartening to see how the numbers of these animals had slowly been increasing from their previous dearth, when they were subjected to the poacher’s ravages. It was also heartening to see how they had become relatively tame and unconcerned. They were now almost accustomed to the presence of humans on foot, let alone in a vehicle.
As I lowered my gaze from the antelope the boot-prints were clear. It took very little effort to pick out their shallow indentations, especially if I walked on the verge of the twin tracts as they headed west along the southern lip of the dambo. Craning my head over my shoulder, I could easily detect the thin line of their shadow as they were etched by the bright rays streaming in from the sun as it still hung low, like a banzai flag, in the mornings eastern sky.
The mystery man was simply following the lodge’s secondary access road back to the bigger arterial.
A niggle of apprehension tickled in the background of my consciousness. Heading out a long way into the Bush alone was never a good thing. I was breaking rule number one, which was as bad as heading out alone on the river to canoe or kayak. Bad stuff can happen very quickly out there, a hippo could become aggressive and overturn or bite a canoe, a boat could be court in the current and flipped. One does not want to be alone without a rescuer close by in these situations. And in the bush, the danger of hippos is replaced by charging elephants, which are sometimes aggressive in the Kafue, where they are still, as I had seen, the targets of the ivory poachers.
However, another of life’s dictions is that reward is generally matched to risk, and the indirect taunting of the mysterious man now posed a risk which, if not counted quickly, I would lose any information which may be useful to counter possible threats.
Thus, despite the time pressure I decided to go out alone after him. It was likely that his taunting had been designed to scare me, rather than goad me into following him. I doubt that he knew how much I had hunted men in my past. After all nobody at the Lodge knew much about me, apart from that I had grown up in the Bush. I doubted that he would expect me to track him.
It seemed that he had some knowledge of the Lodge and its rituals. It was certain that he knew that the normal small contingent of scouts stationed at the lodge were out on patrols. Which is maybe why he had been audacious enough to taunt and attempt to intimidate me, expecting that I would not venture after him without the help of a scout, or two, with their weapons.
So what was it to be? Finding some resolution to the conundrum of occurrence’s by chasing to the end of a fresh track, or a risk going bad, way out in the Bush, all alone.
I found my hand reaching up and fingering the shells of the small leather strand around my neck.
But in some ways the urgency of finding out what was going on was enhanced by only having a few days before needing to fly out down to Johannesburg. I was scheduled to attend a meeting with the chairman and coordinator behind the program I was running. The chairman was the director of a German corporation, it being the main donor of our funds.
I was loathe to leave for some time knowing that I had missed an opportunity to solve the mystery, even if it meant that I had to venture out essentially unarmed and alone.
I would be careful. Out here even though it was the 21st century, it was a piece of the world which had not changed significantly for the last few thousand years. In such a world, without technology, a person would be wise to remember that they are not the top of the food chain. I could not out bite a lion and I could not out run and elephant.
As I moved along the dirt tracks skirting the lower side of the dambo, jutting out of the bush-line was a small copse, at the center of which a dead tree thrust the fingers of its bare branches up above the foliage like the wizened hand of a witch. Sitting sunning themselves at the extremities of some of these spindly fingers was a small flock of normally secretive green pigeons. In unison they took flight as I passed by. I watched these beautiful birds head back towards the river, with the olive emerald of their wings flickering behind the brushed grey of their napes, and the bright highlights of their yellow leggings showing even in the shadow of their disappearing tails..
Ohh well, I mused, I had been the catalyst of an early commencement of their usual habit of cloistering themselves in the thick greenery of the local fruit bearing trees, where they would spend the rest of the day sneaking around feeding on the berries and quietly issuing their ‘getting rich, getting rich’ murmurs.
Sort of like the man I was tracking.
The boot-prints led unconcernedly, step-by-step along the uneven bumpy center of one of the tracks of the twin -strip road.
When I first noticed its blatant obviousness, it seemed that the lack of its concealment was a deliberate flaunting. Now that I had followed them a good distance, and the same disregard for concealment was still apparent, I was not so sure if it was that, or if the originator discounted my ability to track and to follow. Or was there a rendezvous with a vehicle waiting out at the main road. Or, I smiled to myself, was it a hyena which would whisk him away before he could be reached.
Mentally I shrugged. I wished I could believe in flying hyenas, and could conjure one up, taxi style. Too bad Precious was not here, I could tease and ask her why, if this man was such a hot shot sangoma, had he not dialed up his flying hyena by now? Why walk all the many kilometers to the road.
The track was so obvious I could follow it at a fast walking pace. It was three hours since I’d heard the scratch of the chair on the Chitenge floor. Mystery man was three hours ahead.
The secret to good tracking is persistence, with minimal pauses for rest. Only the best trackers can follow along like a dog on the scent, without losing the track. I was not one of the best. I knew that I would find myself generally progressing at a slower average pace than my target, because here and there I would lose the track and need to scout around to relocate it. Thus, where I could I would have to walk faster, a lot faster than my target to catch up. It would be exhausting. There would be the mental strain of concentrating on finding and following the clues of the track. This would come on top of the physical strain of the speed walking, where and when it was appropriate.
It is this combination of mental concentration, linked with the need for persistent pursuit, an where circumstances permit, the physically fast pace of walking which makes tracking a man so difficult, especially if the target knows they are being followed, and they can themselves move as fast as possible, even run, while engaging in evasive counter tracking actions.
But, the blatancy of the tracks and the act of hunting a man engendered a sense of elation which buoyed me along. Much of tracking is getting inside the head of a target. For example, the way a Buffalo behaves is different when it is wounded and aware it is being followed. Was it more likely that a man’s track would lead around the right, or left side of a thicket, or was it likely, every few hundred meters that he would head towards a patch of longer grass, so that a strand could be plucked and chewed upon. Getting inside a targets head, with its individual idiosyncrasy’s, often gives a slight anticipatory advantage.
I walked fast, breaking into a jog here and there when the ground hardened and made running easier. By the time the lodge’s dirt-strip road and the prints I was following reached the main arterial, I estimated I had gained almost half an hour.
At the junction he had paused and milled around, as if looking back at his path. This gave me another few minutes gain. From there he had resumed his steady progress, northwards along the verge of the main road. He was walking at a regular pace, there was nothing hurried in his gait,
I could see this from the way that the heel of the imprints was not accentuated, as it would be if the pace was faster and the pressure of the impact slightly more pronounced by the jarring of a faster forward inertia. Correspondingly there was no deeper toe print, as would be anticipated if there was a more pronounced rock across the ball of the foot for the spring in a rapid step.
This section of the road, between the Lubungu pontoon and Kasempa, was laid down over a decade ago by a South African firm. The surface of the road has fared better, even after all the years of use than the distance between Mumbwa and the pontoon. That length had been awarded to a Chinese company. The South Africans have had 300 years of engineering experience in Africa. The Chinese are new comers… they are still learning how to make things that last for years in Africa. It would have been easier to track on the Chinese road surface.
I was lucky, with its center section still comprised mostly of hard compacted dirt, his tracks hadn’t moved out into the well -traveled and more rutted part of the road. It hugged the softer verge, which was spotted with tufts of grass and the creeping runners of the vine like plants, which at the beginning of winter would be covered in diminutive purple flowers and thousands of white butterflies.
This made the track easier to follow and it suggested that its creator was loathe to be detected by passing vehicles. His tracks were out of sight at the edge of the road, and it meant that if he heard an approaching vehicle he had sufficient time to move into the Bush to hide.
This was borne out when a short distance later I could see where his tracks deviated sharply to duck into the Bush. The man had crouched down in the longer grass surrounding one of the thicker tree trunks, where he had turned to look back at the road. It was likely he had moved of to the side to avoid detection from a passing vehicle.
I followed along the verge of the road, using the occasional faint footprint in the patches of dust which hadn’t been disturbed by random vehicle or bicycle traffic. Every now and again the maker of the tracks reaffirmed his carelessness, with the crushed or tugged foliage of the vine runners indicating his direction. Following in these footsteps was not difficult, but required a bit more concentration.
I tracked along the prints, until they reached a small disused quarry which had been used to provide the hardpan for the roads substrate.
Here he had stopped and waited. It was also where he had been joined by somebody else. Moving in from the opposite side of the quarry, and now mixed in with his, was a different set of prints, having a more conventional shoe pattern than that of the ZIPRA boot.
There was something else surprising.
The arch of the female foot is almost always more pronounced. It has a greater bow to the arched outline that joins the heel to the pad forming the ball of the foot.
It was such a set of footprints, delicate and slender which trailed alongside those of the newcomer. These were the tracks of a woman, a small woman, maybe those of a teenager. She was barefoot!
As I stood and contemplated this discovery I bent down and without undoing the shoe-lace, tugged off one of my leather veldskoen shoe and shook out the fine grit that had somehow slipped into it, annoying the comfort of my pacing.
Then not quite straightening up I brushed my hand up my calves and behind both knees to check for the little black bush-ticks that find their favorite soft skin behind the knees, where they are sheltered from the brushing of the legs through the longer grass, as they gorge on blood. Sure enough I found a fat little bugger. Pinching it between the nails of my thumb and forefinger, it split open and its meal of my blood squirted over the palm of my hand, which I wiped off onto the course khaki of my shorts.
It took a while to figure out a probable scenario of what transpired in the quarry.
The new tracks led in from the north side of the quarry.
There was a confused jumble where they met, as if there had been some pacing around, or examination done, and they had spoken for a while.
From there the pair of newcomer tracks led out towards the road, where I could see a fresh set of vehicle tracks cutting in and stopping at the entrance of the quarry. I surmised that the vehicle had picked up the newcomer and the woman, but not my mystery man.
Interestingly I noted how his track had stopped a few meters away from the vehicle. How they turned back across the quarry to lead off into the Bush towards the east.
I was unsure how long they spent here. A conservative guess would be a half an hour.
The girl’s tracks were relatively stationary. The other two sets had milled around hers. Was this because she was a submissive and non-intrusive wife, or relative, as is the case with many relationships out here. Was she hanging back while the men interacted, or were they examining her?
Whatever was the case, I assumed I was now only two hours behind my target.
As the track led off into the trees towards the east, it was still relatively easy to follow. Now the most obvious indication was the way the longer grass had been bent forward and then crush to lay in the direction of the Walkers progress.
The trail through the bush didn’t last long. It emerged out into the open beginning of a large dambo.
I recognized this as the one that loops in a wide clockwise sweep across the top of the talons clawed complex of the Shalamakanga. Then it runs parallel as its bountious breadth is squeezed by the bush-line into a ribbon which dribbles further upriver into the Kafue.
Out here my tracking progress was slower. The dambo grasses were shorter and coarser, and their springy toughness more resistant to the snapping and crushing, which had been easy to follow in the longer etiolated grass under the trees of the bush, even though it had been sparser.
Also, along the bush-line in this section seemed to be a favorite resting place for the Puku that I could see dotted across the grassy spread further down the dambo.
Here, these medium sized antelope had lain on patches of grass and compressed them, so that the tracks hardly made any further disturbance. I needed to carefully search from one flattened Puku mitten to the next.
By now the sun was angled steeply above the horizon. Its rays were heating and herding the patches of air more emphatically as it formed and nudged them into a breeze. These puffs stumbled across the dambos from the north east like a dormitory of school kids rousing from their sleep.
The increased difficulty of tracking the disjointed continuity of the track, meant that I was not paying much attention to my surroundings further away. But suddenly a distant and faint cracking snap of a branch in the background caught my attention.
I stopped and listened for a minute or two before slowly resuming my scanning the grass and stubble for the track.
I moved cautiously, with a heightened awareness for the sounds of the bushland.
Then a short while later another distant snapping crack drifted in on the wind from deeper in the bush in front and slightly to my side.
By now I had followed the track of the mystery man to that point in the dambo’s sprawl where it angles to the southeast towards the river.
I knew that sort of sound, of large breaking branches, could only come from one source. . A herd of elephants was feeding up ahead.
The Elephant herds in this part of the Kafue are sometimes some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. They comprise a single matriarch and up to 50 cows, calves and young bulls.
The groups here formed huge clusters. Maybe they had learned that to survive the ambushes of the poachers they needed the experience of the oldest and wisest of the cows. And there were not many of these around after the decades of poaching.
I was acutely aware that I wasn’t the king of the castle out here alone in the bush. I didn’t want to get myself downwind from them.
The young bulls in the Kafue area had learned that the best defense is offense. They are aggressive. They would not distinguish my scent from that of a poacher. We would all be dealt with in the same manner.
The elephants were ahead of me, working their way along the tree line on the edge of the dambo. They had been down to the river to drink and now were slowly working their way back inland. They were heading directly towards me.
To avoid them, I couldn’t cut to my left into the tree line. I would be heading up wind, and be scented.
The only option was to jog back fast and then cut across to the other side of the dambo, There I would wait for them to move past, presumably and hopefully keeping to the current overall direction, which was back along the path which I’d been tracking.
This I did.
Then keeping inside the tree line on the opposite side of the dambo, and downward from the big herd, I slowly moved along to a point beyond the last stragglers.
I was about to cut back across the dambo, when looking down at a small sandy patch where the shade from a dense clump of trees had starved the grass, I saw the boot-print of my target.
I was astounded by my luck. What seem to have turned out to be a big set-back, time-wise, if not tracking wise, with the herd of elephants potentially trampling and obscuring the track, had turned into a good jump along the timeline of his progress.
I cut through the Bush line following the track. It then proceeded to cross directly over the shank of the Shalamakanga dambo.
From there, the track turned back onto the tracks of the strip road near to where it had started.
His prints followed once again along the twin dirt tracks of the access road. But this time they were not moving out towards the junction.
Each time I had earlier deviated, such as where I had moved off the road to look at the green pigeons, the track of the mystery man followed my own.
With a mental start the obvious struck me.
I was being tracked..
The hunter was being hunted!
There was an imperceptible simplicity in the way the cross pattern of the traction pads of the prints pressed their faint uniqueness slightly deeper into the sandy outline of my own..
Standing transfixed, I looked down at the twin sets of imprints, as my mind scurried over the implications. With thoughts still scrambling through the shards of a fractured plan, I quickly realized that the big loop had been a set up. A way to get the better of me. It had succeeded.
So what now? I had been led into a potential trap. Was it an ambush poised to be sprung. My advantage was that with the elephant induced short cut, I was ahead of the game. My stalker would probably not yet know that I had discovered the deception. What was the stalkers intention, once I was dead to rights.
Crouching to inspect the tracks I noticed the little inverted funnel scrape of an ant-lion in the sand of the road ruts. An ant had fallen into it. The ant-lion, still hiding under the grains at the bottom, had begun to flick sand over the ant. It would not take long before the ant was buried under the suffocating flicks, whereupon it would succumb to the ant-lions voraciousness.. I could not help my empathy when I broke off a stem of grass and helped the ant clamber up and over the walls of its imprisonment. My commiseration stemmed from a sense that I was also at the bottom of a much larger blight. That it would not be long before I felt virtual flicks over my head. But for me, there would be no savior to drop a rope from the skies, allowing escape in the middle of the broad grossi dambo.
If I was to get out, it would be with my own resourcefulness. Surprise the surpriser. In adversity or conflict, I had learned the hard way that the most aggressive usually won.
But something didn’t add up. Was this aggression I was facing? Had the mystery man been leading me into an ambush, or was he messing with my mind.
If it was an intended ambush, why had it not been sprung at the quarry, when there were two of them? Or maybe even three. I wasn’t sure if the girl was there willingly or not.
Why had he done a complete loop? A loop which allowed me to come up on our tracks, to let me know that I was being followed.
Was this deliberate? If so, why? Was it a mind game?
It didn’t make sense.
My instinct was to enter the mental-set of an enders-game when following human footprints. A mental frame formed of necessity, decades ago, when the conclusion was a deadly catch or be caught drama. But now both my stalker and I were no longer marionettes, dancing at the end of long invisible strings being manipulated by the dictates of political ideologies blowing across the landscape of Africa.
The only similarity to those long ago dramas was that once again, it was being performed on one of Africa’s insignificant little stages, set in grassy glades, or thicket groves, and between the rock kopje ills of the bush, with no audience. In this drama I noted that there had been ample opportunity for the mystery man to inflict physical harm.
It could be that his tactics were insidious. Possibly instilling a sense of increasing mysteriousness to events, to give an appearance of the magical, which would play to the superstitions that lay under the surface of many of the bush beliefs.
So what to do? Keep following the tracks to catch up from behind?
Or double back and confront him unaware. That would work best if I could get back quickly enough to run frontally into him, before he found the merge of our tracks, and that I had discovered his ruse. Or simply back track slowly and wait in stationary ambush assuming he would keep following.
I looked more closely at the tracks. I drifted my eyes back over them as they progressed along the road. As I watched, a thin stem of grass imperceptibly rose up from where it had been impressed into a footprint. The torsion in the stem pulled it up from where it was held in the moist stickiness of the soil. The print was less than half an hour old. Somehow I had gained an hour and a half. It meant that I would be more likely to surprise him if I kept following, rather than doubling back.
I quickened my steps so that I paced along the dusty ruts like a speed walker. My eyes automatically picked up the sign of the footprints. I let my mind drift.
I was lucky, gaining an hour and a half on a moving target is not easy when it is moving. He must have proceeded down to the river and then headed back to the road line through the thick Bush. He hadn’t counted on the elephants forcing me to cut across his big loop and thus tucking close behind his progress.
What was also possible was that although he had taunted me into following, he probably didn’t know that I could track reasonably competently. Most likely he counted on me being a Muzungu, with limited bush-craft ability. It seemed his assumption was that he could easily make me lose his track. That was why he had headed out of the quarry towards the east through the difficult lodged dambo grass.
Anyway, speed was of the essence.
I looked up as a Bateleur eagle rocked its way across the skies, with its wings set in its characteristically deep dihedral. Almost vulture like in its habits, in some ways it was an even more magnificent flyer than a vulture. It barely flapped its long pointed wings, and when it did, they were short bursts of fast stiff winged flicks. I wished I could cover the ground as rapidly as this wild creation, and be able to see ahead as far as it could. It certainly wasn’t sweating as much. Nor was it feeling the weight of a water bottle rubbing its weight uncomfortably into the small of my back, as its heaviness took on the cadence of my rapid strides.
I followed the spoor without conscious effort.
Glancing up I noted that the eagle had crossed the wide spread of the dambo, as it continued to speed its pointed winged progress through the skies like an acrobat moving along a tight-rope.
Bateleur! I mouthed the name. It was another disappearing relic of the old romantic Africa. The new Ornithologists would call it a ‘Short Tailed Eagle’. What an unimaginative name! How Le Valliant, the flamboyant Frenchman who named the eagle in the 1770s, must be turning in his grave as political correctness favor the East African name, now that southern Africa had politically rejoined the continent.
Despite the rapid panting hurry of my progress, my eyes continued to unthinkingly follow the signs in the dust of the twin tracts.
At the same time, my thoughts remained caught in a reverie on political correctness and Le Valliant. He epitomized the disrespectful travesty of the current social correctness. If anything he should be lauded by today’s African politics. In his day, he bucked the trend. His public mistress was a beautiful Hottentot mulatto, at a time where open interracial affairs was frowned upon.
It was because my mind was wandering across the quicksand of political correctness that it took a few seconds for it to pick up what my eyes had already registered.
There was a third track in the dust.
It had a boot print like no other I had seen, for a long time.
With my mind now fully engaged on the signs, I backtracked a few yards. I found where the third set of tracks joined from the Southwest.
This change the picture completely. I had a fighting chance if it was only myself and the mystery man who I would potentially confront, but two of them. No, this wasn’t someone willing to simply mess with my mind. It would be foolish to find out what would happen if I caught up and confronted a pair of them.
I assumed that there had been another individual in the car at the quarry. Possibly it was him who had joined the mystery man for some reason. Whatever it was it wasn’t worth my while finding out, on my own.
I turned on my heels and cut into the Bush to the south. At a half jog I began to move as fast as I could back towards the lodge. At least there would be less likelihood of a duo luring me out alone.
The heat and my thirst caught up. Despite the urgency, not wanting to risk any muscle cramps from dehydration, I stopped, took the water bottle out of my backpack. Raising it high I began to gulp the soothing liquid. As I swallowed I searched my memory for the new boot print. It was familiar. But why? It escape me.
By draining the bottle, I could move more comfortably at speed. At least it would not be digging into my back as I ducked and dived under low branches and around the outstretched clasping fingers of thorn trees.
Hoisting the backpack, from not too far away, came the snap of a branch.
The only things that break branches in daylight in the bush are elephants, and the herd of elephants I had run into earlier were heading in the other direction. The other animal that does this is the human animal, only if they are careless or moving fast.
Someone was following, and I had to assume they were moving fast. Out here in the Bush only the city dwellers are careless.
I turned and began to half jog, half run where it was appropriate, where the bush wasn’t quite as thick.
As I ran I began to think of how I could make a stand if I saw anyone catching up. I was past my prime,. What if the new prints belonged to somebody in their late 20’s peak? Someone as old as I had been when I had chased men through the Bush. At my age, I could not out run a fit young pursuer.
My mind was racing over what to do if I didn’t make it back to the Lodge, before I was caught.
Then, suddenly, it came to me. I remembered the print.
I stopped running. I turned around. I slowly walked back along my tracks.
There was only one person I had ever seen with such boot prints.
Moses had always worn boots with that unique print.