Sunday came too soon. We had planned throughout the previous week about the trip to the sacred Shakashe forests for a hunting expedition. I was excited about the possibility of bringing home part of the catch, day dreamingly a kudu or my childhood favorite the rabbit. When dawn befall our small dusty village, the voice of old Jim, the lead hunter broke the dead silence as he called upon his fairly sized four mongrel dogs. Fear suddenly replaced my excitement, as day dreaming turned into reality. In a wink I was up, fully dressed in my black torn shorts and a white golf t-shirt. I grabbed my filthy grey canvas bag which l had packed the previous night with weapons, which comprised of a small battle axe, a spear and my late grandfather’s double cutting knife.

I called my two dogs Cheetah and Mafia. Muttering a prayer to the heavens I left our homestead without passing some goodbye pleasantries to Tafara my little brother, and our mom. The big purple leafed Muhacha tree adjacent king Mashamba’s kraal was our meeting spot. I was relieved to be just on time. There were seven of us. Old Jim was the most experienced hunter, famed for his bravery. The lone survivor of the famous Elephant hunting expedition that claimed the lives of the village’s best, his greying hair suggested that age had started to get the better of him. And so was his declining physicality albeit he was still a force to be reckoned with. The heavily built Mhari was the second best in our village. He was one of the King’s policeman. A no-nonsense dark skinned man, he was the perfect definition of an African man. Middle aged Chisaru, our neighbor, was the most popular figure in the team. He was known for his wisdom. Together with Hendu, he was the king’s advisor. Hendu was the porter. A tall skinned grey haired man who was well reserved in personality. He was famous for his eating habits. Some say he shared his meals with the deceased due to the amount he consumed whilst his skinny frame suggested otherwise. Completing the team was my agemate Leroy, a tall handsome young man in his early twenties.

As the journey to the Shakashe forests was a bit longer than we anticipated. We left the village via the narrow road on the west, and had to negotiate the slippery and terribly rugged terrain of Mikari mountains. It was a tough call as we traveled barefooted. It was part of our tough village life and in all probabilities we had grown accustomed to it. For large parts of the journey we walked in silence. Misery awaited us. The Shakashe forests, apart from being our hunting ground was the most dangerous part of the whole Mzingwane area, which comprised four villages, including ours. It housed some of the deadliest animals and reptiles on the planet; the likes of lions, dangerous snakes and leopards. It was also the location of the famous Manana pools. Tradition had it that a golden stick floated in the pools and thousands white colonial settlers vanished in the pool as they attempted to lure that golden stick. Weird trees with human features completed the setup. It was one of those places where you could not just utter a word or comment on the weird things you could come across. For young beings in my shoes it was a suicide mission.

It was almost midday when we finally arrived. A few meters in, a big black mamba crossed our path and had a scuffle with the dogs but it vanished in the rocks nearby. I nearly uttered some words as I shook my head in disbelief. My grandmother used to say it was a bad omen to see a black mamba upon entering the forests. Old Jim shouted that we had to be brave and we took heed. We had a successful mission, judging by past standards. We first caught three rabbits and a baboon. We however, failed in our attempt to bring down a Kudu. Another chase on an antelope was also unfruitful.

The antelope chase brought us to the Manana pools. It was as if someone had drawn it by hand. The pools were square. As we got close the golden stick appeared from nowhere. It was possibly the most precious thing I had ever seen in my entire life. I looked at my mates from old Jim to Mantashe the Potter and they seem to read my mind; try luck to lure the stick. Before I could say a word Leroy had jumbed into the pools. It was the last time we ever, saw him. It was as if the pools had swallowed him. Fear and disbelief chased across our faces. The whole mission has turned into smoke. The earlier sight of the black mamba confirming what had just befallen us.

Old Jim suggested the mission was over. We had to leave the forests at once. Maji, the traditional healer had to be sought straight away in a bid to bring back Leroy. Exiting the forests was the hardest part of the mission. We did not even take notice of dark clouds that had gathered in the sky like a thick black blanket. Soon heavy rains poured as if someone had opened a big river from somewhere. Thunderstorms accompanied the heavy downpours such that we could not walk for hours. It was as if we had just pressed the wrong button and we were facing the consequences. Whether we had done so or as the elders used to say had ‘offended the ancestors’, it was a topic for another day .

We sought refugee at a nearby cave. Little did we know it was home to a big python. The sight of the big snake had us rushing in the pouring rains as we sought refugee under a Muhacha tree. It rained for a couple of hours. It was dark when the rains stopped. Walking through the nights was our worst nightmare. We did manage to reach the village. The news of Leroy’s dissappearance was untimely. The traditional healer said the heavy rains confirmed that he was accepted in the land of the dead, hence he would not return. We all sat in silence lost in thoughts wondering what would have been had we returned upon seeing the black mamba. In reality it was too late.