27 – TRACKING CLAW
The wide open treeless expanse of the Shalamakanga dambo stretches back lazily from the river as the Kafue slides slowly South West to the point in its ancient past where it was stolen eastwards from the Limpopo by the Zambezi.
If one were an eagle flying high in the sky it can be seen how, after a few kilometers, the length of the dambo spreads and stretches out into four long sluices, which curved towards the West. The hooked extremity of one of them causes the flanks of the arterial road at its extremity to flinch slightly westwards. It is as if the clawed shape of the eagle’s talons are outstretched to grab at any passing vehicle as it scuttles up along the dirt of the road.
So far so good!
The ease of the tracking allowed my mind, like my feet, to wander along the possibilities.
As I reached the shank of the dambo where it widens out into the pad which spawns its tributaries, a small herd of Puku raise their heads sharply from the grazing in the open grassland. They looked at me with some curiosity, before halfheartedly scampering away to join a few Impala in the opposite tree-line. It was heartening to see how the numbers of these animals around the Lodge had slowly been increasing from their dearth when I had first visited here two decades ago, and they were being subjected to the poacher’s ravages. It was also heartening to see how they had become so relatively tame and unconcerned. They were even now almost accustomed to the presence of humans on foot, let alone in a vehicle.
As I dropped my gaze back down from the antelope the spoor of the boot-prints was quite clear. It took very little effort for my eye to pick out their shallow indentations in the sand, especially if I walked on the verge of the twin tracts as they headed west along the southern lip of the dambo. If I craned 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 in the mornings eastern horizon, like a Banzai flag.
It seemed that the mystery man was simply following our 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, it was almost 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 rescue craft 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, as they are still sometimes 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 I had 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 and it was certain that he knew that the normal small contingent of village scouts were all 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 game 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 two days before I needed to fly out down to Johannesburg. I was scheduled to attend a meeting with the chairman and coordinator behind the program which I was running. The chairman was the director of a German corporation, who was the main donor of our funds.
I could not leave for a week 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 reminded myself to be careful, because out here even though it was the 21st century, this 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 here. I could not out bite a lion, and I could not out run and elephant.
As I moved along the dirt tracks which skirted the lower side of the damboa, 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.