Despite my attempts to sort it out, it was as if some of Schrodinger’s cats were playing hide and seek between my feet while they chased the laces left behind by a pair of boots whose prints were discarded in the cubby holes of my mind.
I stood still looking down on the set of impressions for a minute as the cerebral skitterings distracted my thoughts from any reasoned choice amongst a myriad of possibilities. Both the cats and their hiding places provided scant predictability as to any logical certainty Stemming from past experience, and how it could be applied to the present or future.
Then, as I turned away from the vehicle shed which had protected the prints from the elements, anyone observing the sympathetic swaying of my arms to the slow metronome of my strides, could probably accurately wager as to where I was headed, but they could hardly guess at the randomness of my mental grasping at the straws floating past on my theoretical eddies.
My steps were intended to take me towards the Chitenge and a ritual rendezvous with Idaa, who I knew would be sitting out on the deck overlooking the river having his usual morning mug of coffee.
Actually it was more of a mental sniffing than a grasping, because the sun had just begun to drift up over the rim of the horizon, when, in my mind, Schrodinger’s cats morphed into a pack of dogs. These hounds scented and bay’ed back along the virtual tracks pressed into the multitude of imaginary pathways, which stretched back in time like the criss-crossed wakes of a flotilla on a choppy sea.
Sheeesh, I exclaimed to myself, what sort of chop had pushed these boot prints along for forty years until they washed up on the shores of this remote strand of bushveld.
My slow pensive paces took me the long way around towards the Chitenge. From the sheds I wound my way between the haphazardly parked game viewing cruisers, the tractor, and the structure’s and tools needed to run a self-sufficient lodge in a very remote part of Africa.
From there the route circled behind the ant-hillock whose giant trees shades the laundry and kitchen block. I wanted to let the scenting lopes of the hounds cast about my thoughts a tad more. Maybe they would flush a clue from the thickets of my subconscious..
The only ZIPRA man I knew was a big jovial round faced character with a great sense of humor and a very deep and easy laugh. This made him fun to hang out with, and we had become friends.
He had related to me some of his experiences as one of N’Komo’s ZIPRA cadres.
Like so many of the young men of his generation he had been ispired by the winds of Uhuru which had already swirled across the colonial landscape of Africa for over a decade.
From their Mau Mau origins in the Aberdare Forests of Kenya, the dust devils of these winds had already achieved much success. By the late 1970’s their swirling columns had scattered the Europeans like so much leafy chaff left on the ground of a threshing floor.
The French had been blown out of West Africa, the Belgians out of the Congo, the Portuguese away from Angola and Mozambique, and north of the Zambezi River the British expats had handed over their colonies, or trickled down the continent like ping-pong balls in a Xmas sock, until they were caught in the toe of Southern Africa.
My friend Amos said that being from Bulawayo and a Matabele it was a given that he would join N’Komo’s ZIPRA, seeing as politics is so heavily determined by tribalism.
His group of conscripts slipped across the border into Botswana, where they were slowly moved from one transit camp to the next, with horrors of abuse and hardship at every stage until they reached their training area in Tanzania, which meted out much of the same. Then, as they made their way back down to Zambia to be able to cross the Zambezi and fight, it was even worse. This time the return was via northern Mozambique. He related how they were detained for weeks near Tete by the Mozambiquen’s in terrible unsanitary conditions. Many of them began to die of disease. They tossed the bodies into an old abandoned mine shaft.
– That time in Tete was the worst of it all.
He laughed and slapped his thigh in his telling,.
Then after a pause, he had leaned forward to look at the floor. With his elbows on his knees, and with the huge spread palms of both hands clasped over his cranium like the skull cap of an old Hassid, he slowlly shook his head, as he gave the long drawn out Ahhhhh that precedes much that is heartfelt in African speach…
– The rain, the mud, no food, no sanitation, no shelter, no medicine, the malaria, the disease. The Mozambiquans were alrready favoring Mugabe’s ZANU, and giving us trouble.
– But even worse… Gidi, You know how it is with us, those spirits from the mine shaft , they would come out at night to seek us out.
Amos Malaba was lucky, back then, the war was coming to an end. Rhodesia would soon become Zimbabwe. Upon returning to Bulawayo his astute and wealthy uncle, sensing the soon to be Mashona/Matabele tribal war for the control of Zimbabwe, organized a student visa to the USA, which is where we met and became friends.
One day he would return to Africa he told me, maybe after his daughter finished her medical studies in Boston.
I contemplated the likelihood of my friend Amos wearing just such a pair of boots with its unique inner crosshatched tread as he tossed the bodies of his companions down that old mine shaft. I wonder if the boots worn by the crocodile man had been alongside him. If so how uniquely dissimilar their paths had been. In the one case an astute uncle and in the other… Well that was why my mental dogs were still casting for clues.
The mental peering into the past of my semi- somnambulatory reverie was disturbed by the swish of a branch from high above. This was followed by the chatter of a Vervet Monkey. It came from near the crowns of the biggest trees which crested the termite tel.
I paused and looked up opposite the small outdoor toilet structure tucked into the thick herbacious bushes ringing the mound. Beccause the staff slash and mow the grass right up to the edge of the hillock, from a distance it and the flora of its canopy sort of flairs up from its parklike surrounds like the giant fuzzed up hair of a Rastafarian. The chit of the monkey was not a full on alarm bark, rather it was the possible scolding directed at a young one, or maybe a slight ‘watch-out’ notification to the others.
Maybe one of them had recognized me, as the nasty guy with the slingshot.
I was pleased to see I had been successful in transferring my problem to Idaa. I would tease him about it in a few minutes when we sat to sip our coffee. The monkeys had moved their nocturnal ‘roosting’ spot from the trees above my campsite to the kitchen copse.
At least our problem was, as yet, only with the monkeys, not yet any baboons. If baboons were involved the thievery could and would escalate significantly. These little primates could be a real pest when guests were in camp. No food could be left unattended for more than a few seconds without it being snatched by a cheeky darting scamp. Which is where the sling-shot comes in handy.
Having grown up on a huge spread in the bush of colonial Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), I had won the lottery of life. Firstly I had received a world class education, courtesy of Her Majesty’s government. If nothing else, the British Empire believed in educating its subjects and the quality of teaching, via correspondence, or later at Hartley and Que Que Junior School (now renamed to the equally phonetic frogs croak, Kwe Kwe) was exemplary. I duff my cap to my teachers, these days probably to their souls, Miss Richards, Mrs’s Bath and Bradly, Mr. Griffiths and principle Barker, and of course Woodward who really showed me how to run and jump on the dry dusty sports fields.
Secondly to my African UmFana friends, who on the farm, taught me how to mix maize meal and cook Umpotohai on the lid of a 44 gallon drum, set over a fire. How to catch fingerling fish and fry them on the same lid. How to dip a Matepi stick into a barrel of molasses so that its tar like sweetness dripps onto the crust of the Mpotohai, instead of being sprayed onto the cattle feed, with its ability to tantalize the palate of both kid and cow alike.
And of course how to make a sling-shot, the Uma’legen of the bush, ‘legen’ being the African word for rubber.
A good slingshot is as finely tuned and balanced as the best Rigby side-by-side. Its accuracy is even more dependent on good craftsmanship. The trajectory of its pebble shot is so much more precarious, then a load of lead sliding down the straightness of a mechanically drilled gun barrel. The V of the wooden handle must be selected with just the right gap, just the right thickness of both forks, which must be whittled with a pen knife to exact weighted balance so that its short arms tuck exactly behind the thumb and forefinger of the leading hand. At the same time the stumpy roundness of the base must be so that its weight can be pressed with authority into the palm of the outstretched hand by the curl of the ‘up-yours, ring and pinkie fingers as precisely and gently as the breast of a diminutive and distant lover.
The best ‘felitjie’ leather is from the tongue of a worn out veldskoen. It is cut in a perfect elongated oval so that the pebble shot fits exactly in the middle. It must not slide slightly to the side as it accelerates from the apex of the drawn hand tucked on the cheek bone of a sideways cocked head.
In this way, with the V handle held horizontally, so that the tautness of the upper rubber points along the line of sight to the target, it enables all of the shooters skill to be concentrated on elevation, rather than traverse.
Of course the greatest skill is in finding the red Firestone rubber of an inner tube and cutting the long uniform thickness draw strips. Then using the same big Gillette razor blade to cut the even longer and thinner binding thongs which will wind round and around the arms of the ‘catty’ until almost none of its wooden skeleton is visible. the drawn strips will be cut long enough so that they can dangle down beneath the handle and be curled up and be bound back upwards like long braided tassle’s of a maidens hair.
Thee thieving monkeys had learned the hard way that my ‘catty’ was not just a work of art. My proficiency at making and using a good ‘catty’, had played a buig part in the shift of their nocturnal residence to Idaa’s fiefdom.
Looking up at the tops of the Leadwoods and Accacias I raised my hand and gave the finger to the monkeys watching from their lofty perches.
– Little buggers, I muttered to myself.
I could hear the hippo’s snorting their greetings at the late returnees as they splashed back into the water.
But something unexpected and unusual was waiting for me, as I crossed the small patch of lawn to the Chitenge, Melody stepped from the shadows. With both hands she proffered me with a mug of coffee.
– It has two sugars, and milk, just how you like it Bwana.
Beyond her I was greeted by a smiling ‘Bwerani Bwanji’ from Idaa.
As we both watched Melody glide away through the gap in the kitchen fence, I could not help notice the quizzical look on his face.
Catty – Catapult or Sling-shot
Felitjie – small leather oval which holds the shot of a sling-shot.
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