12 December 2011

River Crossing by Clemence Makondo

We arrived at the river in the dead of night, a shimmering length of silver majestically snaking through the African plain. The night was pregnant with fatality and the darkness was only slightly relieved by the solitary moon and stars dotted around the grey sky. The sounds of our foot falls were loud — more like minute dynamite explosions as they connected with the half-baked, crusted soil of the savannah — muting now and again the night sounds which seemed to always re-emerge in a disorderly unison. The reflex motion of pulling one leg before the other to propel our reluctant bodies forward had become monotonous and numbed the feeling in our legs. It had been like a journey into eternity testing our physical endurance to the very apex. Our initial bubble of excitement had long burnt out and we were mentally disorientated. Mere talking took an unbearable amount of energy and our conversation had been limited to barely audible grunts. It was beginning to seem like it would never end but the Limpopo River making the distinctive demarcation between Zimbabwe and South Africa had sprung up before us making us freeze in our tracks. Now the Limpopo, legendary in tragedy, fearful to conjure by imagination, and now in reality a spectacle like some sinister omen from the realms of the darkest imagination stood between us and the Promised Land, posing the last challenge. The battle lines were drawn…

Sheer resolve and a determination of will brought about by a lack of alternatives had made up our minds. We had long regarded the tales of the country called South Africa as make believe, specially crafted to momentarily drift the mind from the reeking poverty of our village life. It was the only life we had ever known and trying to imagine that a decent life could be crafted through other means than tilling the soil seemed so unrealistic and intensely unbelievable. True word had filtered to us of the daring who had downed their ploughs and trekked down South. Those who defied the elements, the story was told, and made it across the Limpopo had traded in the unpredictable surfaces of donkey backs with sleek automobiles and frayed overalls with designer clothing. In hushed tones and in the same breath, the crocodiles lurking in the depths of the Limpopo were also mentioned. Legend had it that the crocodiles claimed more people than crossed the river expanse. The crocodiles’ methods of hunting and execution had been portrayed beyond sensationalism making one shudder to imagine being in the clutches of their razor sharp teeth. Perhaps the fear of comprehending the tragic conquests of the crocodiles made many, including us, dismiss the South African milk and honey idea as mere wishful thinking, and nothing more than a fairy tale.

It was when life in the village took a turn for the worse that we slowly began to entertain the possibility. A perennial drought had wiped away our last source of hope. There had been no meaningful rainfall in three years and temperatures had risen to record highs. The seeds we put in the ground were baked by the sun within minutes of being covered, and you could literally hear the creaking bones of our livestock as they stumbled along reaching out for the last available blade of grass. Our bodies had been battered by the elements to hollow skeletal shells leaving us with little resemblances to humans. The unrewarded toil and sweat in the vast fields had slowly edged us to the brink of desperation. The way to a better life we so dearly craved for was through a meaningful harvest in the fields, but the drought seemed bent on preventing this. Inevitably we began to ponder the possible truths in the stories of fame and fortune down South. Our desperation cultivated, nurtured, and nourished, a new hope in us. This was a kind of hope to lean on, that somewhere out there a better future lay in waiting. The feeling of hope kindled in our hearts came simultaneously with heart wrenching fear at the thought of the Limpopo and its fearsome inhabitants. Thoughts of two of our peers who had left us to search for greener pastures in the cities but were in fact rumoured to have braved the unpredictable journey to South Africa, came to our minds accompanied by cold chills up and down the spine. They had not returned to the village, nor as far as we knew made it to the Promised Land. A strong feeling in the village was that their quest had been brought to an end tragically by the river. Despite the crippling fear we eventually figured that either way lay death and death with a trial would at least be the death of a martyr and beyond martyrdom lay paradise; which according to legend was more than worth dying for. Our choices had indeed run thin and we faced the proverbial question ‘To be or not to be?’

A huge marula tree occupying a prestigious central point in my village was our traditional meeting point whenever we hit a crisis. We had met under the tree since our school going days when discussions then were on boyish escapades and other less grim issues than the situation at hand. From that time, nearly ten years ago until now, I was the natural leader of our foursome, calling for meetings such as this one and proposing a way forward when we reached a deadlock. We had always been close friends, taking each step in life in close consultation and harbouring the same dreams and interests. At twenty- eight Stanley was the eldest of us, two years my senior, and also my cousin. At his best Stanley had the build of a wrestler, extraordinarily tall and bulky. The bulging muscles on his arms and chest threatened to burst through his frayed clothing. His imposing frame had saved me from bullies who dared not interfere with me lest they incurred my cousin’s wrath. Being of slender built and a bit withdrawn I was rich pickings for bullies who relished the slightest opportunity for dominance. My strength lay in organising and mobilisation of others towards meeting objectives. I had been nicknamed Professor and by rural standards this was quite a feat. This nickname had stuck to me much more than the name Eric, I was christened with by my parents, and I found myself constantly thriving to live to its billing. Jethro and Joram completed the line-up. They were identical twins I had known since I was a toddler. You could only distinguish between them by a mole below Jethro’s eye until you had intuitive knowledge of them. The twins were a year younger than me and of the four of us were more likely to take up risky challenges without a second thought. A common thread of poverty, which had disqualified us from completing our secondary education, bound us to a shared and burning ambition to change our circumstances for the better. Nearly ten years on this objective remained elusive and this dire state of affairs had culminated in the meeting under the marula tree. It was decision time.

For nearly an hour we sat silent under the tree our heads bowed as we sought for some form of divine intervention .We had been brought up on religious principles and our trust on the power of prayer was deeply profound, although this time around we were aware our faith faced a stiff test. We deliberated on whether to go or not to go. We also explored the possibility of going to the big city of Harare to acquire legal travel documents, but we quickly discarded this idea as lengthy and without guarantees. We decided our best option was crossing into South Africa through an unauthorised entry point. This route was quicker and our circumstances would be changed sooner we reasoned. Though it felt like throwing one’s self in front of a moving train and hoping somehow that the wheels miss you. As the time ticked agonisingly away it dawned on me that a unanimous agreement was doubtful. A leader had to emerge to tip the scale and it all seemed perfectly natural when that role fell on me. Although we knew we did not have a choice in the matter instinct told us we needed a sign to tell us the journey was meant to be. When I produced a coin from my pocket and passed it around it seemed symbolic. It marked the birth of a second language amongst four brothers on the verge of braving the unknown. The coin came back to me and after announcing ‘Heads we go, tails we stay’ I had set it loose spinning in the arid dry air. It landed after what seemed an eternity with an unusually loud tinkle at my feet, heads side up. That night when I joined my friends for the trek to South Africa I felt like what Yuri Gagarin probably felt on his maiden voyage into outer space.

The savannah scorched by the insistent drought presented a plethora of harrowing experiences. On the first night of the trek, fresh with excitement and new found hope, we made light banter and I laced our conversation with some humour to ease the tension. We walked single file with Stanley leading, the twins at the centre and I was bringing up the rear. On our backs hung our backpacks with some hastily arranged supply of food and water for a few days. I had an idea on the direction to the border although it proved quite a challenge staying on course during the night. The savannah was infamous for dangerous wildlife and scavengers like hyenas at night. Now and again I lit matches to scare off any that might develop dietary ideas that centred on us being the menu. That first night we travelled nearly eight hours non-stop and just before dawn we decided to camp and catch two hours sleep before hitting the road again.

We found the perfect spot between two boulders, lit a small fire, and slumped down completely spent. We had barely closed our eyes when Jethro’s shrill scream pierced through the night immobilising us with shock. He had leapt up clutching his right arm and his face twisted in agony. My first thought was that he had been bitten by a snake and fearing for the worst I scurried around looking for some matches. While Joram and Stanley inspected the damage on Jethro’s arm I lit some dry grass and searched around for the possible culprit. I found a rather large scorpion trying to squeeze itself in a small hole in an apparent attempt to flee from justice. I squashed it with the sole of my boot and turned my attention to Stanley who was sucking out the venom from Jethro’s swelling arm. He always seemed to have an admirable knowledge of life skills which he put to good use. After this hair raising situation had been brought under control and the pain Jethro was feeling was the only thing left to contend with I decided we should break camp and continue with the journey. Dawn was breaking and a whole new day of travelling lay ahead with unknown perils.

The second day of our daylight journey was not as eventful. I only had one nasty experience when foraging for berries near a bird’s nest, a large bird with a curved beak appeared from nowhere, swooped close to my head, and sent me scurrying for cover. Save for exhaustion, day travel had few challenges, but dusk was fast approaching and with it came the vivid remembrance of the night before. I was nearly paralysed by fear of the unknown. I kept expecting to see the river every time we turned a corner or went down a rise, but the plains rolled on endlessly. My mates now quiet seemed absorbed in deep thought and I wondered what was going on in their minds. I was aware that each step brought us closer and closer to the Limpopo and I struggled not to dwell on the tragic stories I had heard. I had to keep my mental composure in order to convincingly reassure my mates that everything would turn out all right. I realised what a great deal it meant to them when I cracked a wry joke and forced through an occasional casual laugh. Darkness closed in on us bringing with it eerie night sounds. Since everyone was tired and barely making any progress forward I called our tiny procession to a halt and we made camp. We sat around the fire and I tried to make conversation to bolster our spirits up but fatigue overpowered me and I drifted off to sleep.

I was shaken out of my deep slumber by Joram. Immediately my senses went on the alert. I sought to know from him why he had awoken me since it was still pitch black and we couldn’t have rested the three hours we had agreed on. I could not control the tinge of irritation in my voice. Joram was motioning to me to listen and his head was cocked towards the direction we had come from. We had been listening for nearly two minutes and I had just coined a retort for Joram when some distance away a deep bellow drowned the nightly sounds and sent shockwaves rippling through the ground.

I was startled, and Joram was too judging from the way he clutched my arm and refused to let go. Struggling to rein in my fear I told Joram to help me wake up Stanley and Jethro who were still sleeping and snoring softly oblivious to the danger that lurked near. They struggled up and were about to fire a barrage of questions before I made a sign for them to be silent. We hitched up our backpacks and taking care to be quiet resumed our journey again. My strategy although I couldn’t vouch for its soundness myself was to put as much distance between us and the beast and pray at the same time that it didn’t pick up our scent. I could think of no other better plan and I feared engaging the rest of the guys on this debate would only delay our action and the sound of our voices would be transmitted further and faster in the dark. We moved on barely rested and now with the extra shadow of an unknown beast hanging over us. The bellow deep and bold came again and Stanley and Jethro experiencing it for the first time stumbled and had to stop momentarily to regain composure; albeit rudely they had received the answer to any questions they might have had. I recalled from my uncle, a wildlife enthusiast, that we were in buffalo territory and the bellow I guessed was probably emanating from a bull buffalo. Our hearts in our mouths we soldiered hastily forward re-energised by the lurking threat. The bellow did not come again and that night we travelled the longest continuous distance since we embarked on the trip. When the sun broke in the distant eastern horizon we were battered and disillusioned, and for the first time I started having misgivings about the journey. I wondered if our decision to embark on the South African trip had not been rash and ill-advised.

On the third day I felt intensely weak and dehydrated. Stanley had given me the last of his drinking water and going down my throat it felt like a tiny drop barely doing anything for my thirst. My whole body was aching and my arms and legs felt foreign to me. My backpack was practically empty but felt like a ton and at one time I contemplated leaving it behind. The twins were not doing any better. They were slumped under the shade of a cactus tree heads bowed down as if they were monks in deep meditation. Stanley was pacing up and down his lumbering frame gaunt and his face grim. He seemed to be muttering something to himself and I prayed my cousin would not suffer a mental breakdown because we depended so much on his resilience. I was starkly aware of the need for us to regroup and refocus but overwhelmed by tiredness I dropped beside Jethro and dozed off.

I awoke to a refreshing drizzle of water falling on my face. Stanley was standing before me pouring water on me from his container. Joram and Jethro were also up and their wet faces told me they had received the same royal treatment. He told us that while we slept he had wandered off aimlessly and had stumbled on a small pond with fresh water. I took the bottle from him and hungrily poured the remaining water inside my dry body. We took advantage of the little energy we regained from the small rest and drink to continue with the trek. In single file the procession set off again.

We walked throughout the day and into the night saying very little to each other. We were coming down a steep rise and expecting to see the usual rolling blanket of thick darkness when without warning the river stood before us.

Nothing could have prepared anyone for this uncanny expanse of water and I had to gasp involuntarily. The Limpopo was flowing swiftly and evenly and its waters were a dull silver colour. No signs of imminent danger could be gleaned but as I gazed down at the river a sixth sense warned me that our journey would climax soon. The river stood uncompromisingly before us. It stood as a possible bridge to untold fantasies and possibilities of a heaven on earth. The hour had come and our true test was at hand. Stories of the river I had passed on as mere sensationalism came back with an uncontrollable rush to my mind. In a moment I would no longer have to wonder. I was going to be a living witness if I survived to tell the tale. Our hands found each other in the darkness and communicated a comradeship which had been further cemented by the tribulations we had recently experienced. Intuition told me that this comradeship was about to be given the litmus test by the Limpopo. When I took a tentative step forward my buddies followed suit and we inched close to the river bank. Our reflections, Goliath-like figures in the water, bobbed up and down in sync with the strong current. Still holding hands we sat down beside each other. Once again we had reached decision time.

Half of an hour of a silence that felt thick enough to lean on had gone by. The only disturbance was the sound of water lapping against the river bank. Deep down I knew the eventual decision to cross the river would lie with me and with a sense of foreboding it dawned on me that I had been given the position of judge and juror. This responsibility lay heavy on my shoulders and I found my hand once again slithering into the back pocket of my jeans to curl around the coin we had used under the marula tree. I had brought it along with me like a talisman and symbol of our covenant. Although I was not a superstitious person I felt again the need of a sign. I brought out the coin and I could feel my mates’ eyes bore into me as I released it into the air. It reflected the dull silver colour of the Limpopo waters as it momentarily transformed the blackness, stayed briefly in the air and hit the ground. I had decided that heads would mean a sign to cross and tails would mean going back to the drawing board. My eyes recoiled away from the coin when it hit the ground, in an attempt to delay the verdict. I looked up, uttered a small prayer, and slowly shifted my eyes to where the coin lay. It was heads.

We embraced on the northern bank and as in the law of our unwritten creed our hands shook and held. Stanley’s hands were damp and slippery. He didn’t scare easy and this was probably an indication of how grave the situation was. After a brief discussion which was more about bolstering each other’s confidence, the question now lay on the system to use in attempting the crossing. Having been raised in an area with abundant river systems we had mastered the art of swimming at an early age and had made the rivers our second home. We were all adept at using unique swimming styles suited for different volumes of water and currents. Although the Limpopo was much bigger, we figured that navigating across would not be a problem once we reined in the strength of the current. Our biggest challenge would be on how to deal with any threat lurking beneath the waters, as our rivers back home where fairly safe save for the occasional water snake. We eventually decided to cross in pairs so that support for one another was available both in the water and inland. This decided I took responsibility and volunteered to be one of the first to cross. This show of courage did by no means portray a lack of fear but a responsibility I felt accompanied my leadership role. Jethro was selected to be my partner and I wondered at that moment what was going on inside him. I could not stop my knees from knocking against each other and my mouth had suddenly gone dry. With a final embrace for Stanley and Joram and a promise of an imminent appointment with them across the river in South Africa, Jethro and I set foot in the cool waters.

We negotiated our way forward gradually allowing the current to push us along. The water was up to our knees close to the river bank and we walked, deciding to save the swim for later when the water got deeper. The surface of the river basin was mostly sand with occasional rock outcroppings. Progress was slow but inside my heart I celebrated every inch we made forward. My senses were numb and an attempt to make conversation with Jethro ended in dismal failure with the words getting stuck at the back of my throat. I was afraid, very afraid. As I struggled with the river current, which was gradually getting stronger, the best I could do at that time was hold Jethro’s hand and let my eyes stray across the river. I wondered if the price we were paying to get there was justified. Were we going to get a just reward for our toil? Were we going to make it across? These questions repeated themselves over and over again in my mind like a scratched record.

We had covered approximately half of the river’s breadth when I turned and waved at Stanley and Joram. I could no longer see them clearly because of the darkness but the light provided by the moon was enough to see their hands waving enthusiastically. I guessed they were praying and getting more confident with our progress. They were both standing close to the river edge their attention fixed intently on us. I wondered at the nature of conversation they were having. It was difficult to decide which was the most difficult; being out here in the heart of the river or watching from their position by the river bank.

I was still absorbed with these thoughts when in a split second as if struck by an unseen force I saw Stanley’s huge frame swaying backwards and forwards before eventually tumbling into the river.

In an effort to comprehend what had just happened my mind went into overdrive. The light provided by the moon was just enough for me to see that a desperate struggle in the water had ensued between Stanley and an unknown foe making the water shoot like a fountain in all directions. The darkness made it difficult to follow exactly was happening and the splashing water had obscured Joram from view. Jethro was frozen beside me as if cast in stone. Only his heavy laboured breath told of how petrified he was.

Fighting to overcome the fear that threatened to overwhelm me, I grabbed Jethro’s sweaty palm and sought to oppose the current to go back and render help to our troubled mate. This was a decision that was made without any second thought. I was prepared to put my life on the line for my mates and I was sure they would do the same for me.
Negotiating back upstream was no mean feat and the water kept threatening to sweep us off our feet. We constantly had to hold onto each other for support to overcome the barrage of water pushing back at us. Meanwhile the struggle of survival between Stanley and the unknown continued unabated. My mind was still struggling to figure out what Stanley was up against when the likely answer hit me like someone snapping out of a coma. I had read whilst at school about the hunting tactics of the crocodiles of the Serengeti plains in Tanzania. The competition for prey in the Serengeti was stiff and animals coming to drink in the river were wary of the danger posed by the crocs and would flee on the slightest suspicion of danger. The crocs had devised a means of hiding in the bushes beside the river bank and using their powerful tails to strike their unsuspecting prey from behind whilst they drank. After falling into the river animals stood little chance against the marauding crocodiles. I was almost convinced this was the scenario that had befallen Stanley. A croc lying in wait for prey or just wandering outside the river must have struck my unsuspecting cousin from behind while his concentration was directed in expecting the predators from inside the river. When the fountain of water subsided briefly my fears were confirmed. The stars and moon reflected on the gleaming backside of what appeared to be a huge croc. I thought I could also see its snout which was slightly open and the figure of Stanley thrashing about in the water. I was not dreaming nor was I hallucinating because I could feel the cool water against my skin. In the battle of wits, wildlife had triumphed in their domain over humans. The Limpopo crocodiles had struck.

I could also see Joram now who was now in the water and beating at the crocodile with something desperately trying to break its grip on Stanley. The strength of the current had broken our hold of each other and I was pushing on ahead slightly ahead of Jethro. I wondered how long my cousin would endure until his strength ebbed way. I had once read that crocs won over their prey by tiring them out, drowning them, and finally dragging them to their lairs to feast on. Stanley was resilient and had the stubborn strength of a mule, but would that count against the seemingly determined reptile I wondered.

It was difficult to gauge our way forward because at times the current would overcome us and drag us backwards. I was helping Jethro and gently pulling him along when he let out an ear splitting scream pointing in the easterly direction to where what looked like a log swiftly approaching us. Two shining yellow eyes reflected on by the moon sticking just above the water betrayed the identity of the creature. We were up against another Limpopo crocodile.

Back at school my English teacher had at one time asked us to write an essay on ‘When You Were Afraid’. I had scratched my head then and came up with something unconvincing. I wished now that I survived this incident and the years were reversed. I would probably earn an award for the essay I would write. This was mere hallucination of course because the approaching croc had other ulterior motives and had its sights keenly on us. At this moment I had an insight to what went on in army commanders heads when their armies were besieged by enemy fire. Despite their state of mind they still had to think, strategise, and direct operations. There was no room for finicking. I needed a modus operandi and I needed one fast. I remembered what wild dogs did when under pursuit from a predator where it was obvious they could not all emerge unscathed. A sacrificial wild dog would be selected to delay the predator and obviously be killed in the process while the rest of the pack got a chance to escape. I had to aim for one of us to at least survive the croc attack because its strength in the water meant we had little chance and trying to fend off the attack together could get us killed. Feeling a sudden burst of courage perhaps because of the realisation I had no more options I pushed Jethro downstream and told him to swim for his life towards the South African river bank. He wanted to argue but he let go when he realised my mind was firmly made up. I thought I saw tears streaming down his cheeks when amidst the terror he found time to briefly squeeze my hand and swim away. I stared at him briefly my heart heavy before I turned my attention to the approaching crocodile. My hands came together on my chest in prayer. I decided then that I would not go down without a fight.

I had brought along two weapons, a small but reliable okapi knife stashed away in my back pocket and a large flat screwdriver I was now holding in my left hand. I remained still to make sure the croc remained focused on me and did not follow Jethro and then eased the backpack off my shoulder and threw it in the direction of the approaching reptile. I started swimming towards Stanley and Joram and judging by the splashing around them the fight was still on.

With renewed energy I propelled my body forward and swam for dear life. I cut through the current which had seemed strong a moment ago like a knife through butter. I had suddenly developed a will to survive, a determination that our struggles would not be written off just as a mere statistic. After a frantic several minutes swim I paused to glance over my shoulder and to my horror I discovered the huge reptile was gaining on me. Fighting off panic I started to swim in zigzag fashion splashing a lot of water around in a desperate effort to confuse the crocodile. The crocodile was now making frightening gurgling sounds. I wondered if this signalled annoyance or irritation. Every second was vital now and I could not dare to pause and check the crocodile’s location. It was now a game of doing my best and hoping my best was good enough. I was getting a gasp of life saving air when my left flailing leg was clutched in a vice like grip sending an excruciating bolt of pain shooting throughout my entire body. I knew then that my best had not been good enough.

Struggling to retain my composure I decided the crocodile wanted me to kick out till I was spent so instead I spun my body around in an attempt to stab the reptile. The screwdriver now transferred to my right hand descended on the crocodile and bounced off the thick scaly skin. The crocodile probably more knowledgeable on this type of warfare remained still, the grip on my leg not loosening. My whole leg was numbed by pain and I realized if I didn’t do something fast I would pass out due to loss of blood, the warmth of which I could feel as it gushed out deep lacerations.

An idea hit me then and whilst my other hand continued the barely harmful onslaught on the croc I negotiated my other hand into my back pocket and brought out the okapi knife. I held it firmly in my hand and waited and prayed for an opportune moment. It was going to be a last ditch effort and my only real chance for survival I reckoned and had to give it my all. The crocodile’s long snout stuffed with nearly half my leg was submerged in the water only bobbing up briefly probably in pain when I struck a fragile spot with the screwdriver. I waited for the next bobbing up, my face now contorted in pain mixed with devilish rage. I was angry with the crocodiles, at the unfairness of life and at all the elements that sought to defy us. When the crocodile’s snout moved slightly up and I could clearly make out the yellow eyes sitting snugly in their huge sockets I decided to stab it in the right eye. When my hand with the knife moved, an unidentifiable blur under the moonlit sky to connect with the crocodile’s eye all the rage I felt inside was behind the thrust. The razor sharp okapi knife sank in the eye almost to its hilt and I let it stay there. The croc let out a grunt of pain and relaxed its grip. I wrenched my leg free from its jaws and blindly swam away towards Zimbabwe.

The desperate swim across seemed to last an eternity. When I finally hoisted myself onto dry ground I was gasping for air and my racing heart was threatening to tear through my chest. Struggling to support myself on my one undamaged leg I looked back at the blood soaked trail. It had been a narrow and lucky escape. I was about to look up and say a thankful prayer when I became aware of the unnerving silence. My whole body became cold. The splashing and kicking of just moments ago had stopped and there was no sign of Stanley and Joram. In the waters where I had last seen them was a fast fading red stain. I felt broken and wept uncontrollably. It was difficult to accept that they had lost the fight. I no longer felt any relief at my escape wishing instead to have succumbed to the jaws of the crocodile. The flood of tears rolled freely down my cheeks and had a salty taste inside my mouth.

A determined man’s endurance is long, very long, but like everything else has a limit, one of my educators used to say. I felt now that I had reached the summit of my endurance. I looked up across the river at the forlorn figure of Jethro now in South Africa. He had successfully swum across but his was bitter victory. He was bent and seemed to be sobbing uncontrollably aware of the fate which had befallen his twin and my cousin across the river. Dawn was breaking when I dropped to my knees to say a silent prayer and pay tribute for my fallen mates. Jethro on the other side did the same. This moment tore me with emotion and my body shook visibly. I begged Jethro through signs to complete the journey for us into The Promised Land assuring him I would follow soon. He was adamant, threatening to get in the river and swim back towards me. Convincing him that completing the journey into South Africa was the best option was quite a huge task but finally he turned his back on me and staggered forward, a bent forlorn figure.

The wound on my leg was now caked with mud and the throbbing pain felt like nothing compared to what I felt on the loss of Stanley and Joram. I shredded my shirt into strips and bound it tightly to prevent any further blood loss. I struggled to my feet and cast one final glance at the waters of the Limpopo — the waters of death — and prepared to begin the trek back home. The journey to the river was daunting on two legs and would certainly be near impossible on one leg but someone had to tell the tale; someone had to say it had not all been in vain. One of our very own had made it.

Author’s note

This story although wholly fictional has been inspired by the crocodile killings in the Limpopo River which borders Zimbabwe and South Africa. Many Zimbabweans who cross illegally into South Africa have lost life and limb to crocodiles that lurk in the depths of the Limpopo.

Transitions was written by Clemence Makondo.

Copyright © Clemence Makondo 2011.

Clemence Makondo was born in 1974 and stays in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe where he is the branch manager for Net One Cellular. He has been writing short stories since high school some of which were published in local weekly newspapers and he hopes to eventually settle down and pen a novel.


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