Isdore Guvamombe Saturday Lounge Reflections
The December sun rose with a perfect smile, imperceptibly licking the tinder-hued grass dry.
A fragrance of something languid gripped the village, with no sign of rains on sight.
Being a drought year, by mid-morning cicadas had broken into desperate songs while clinging precariously on tree trunks.
The trees had started blooming, albeit the dearth of rains, the previous season.
The cicadas sang and prayed for mercy as the sun scorched earth.
They sang again and again, and again and again, in a shifting tapestry of sorrowful vocals. It was a sorrowful plea for mercy, a plea for an early rainfall.
The ancestors seemed not to heed their prayers. Instead, they appeared to have turned the sun’s early morning smile into a huge, cruel and blisteringly hot frown that sucked moisture from the earth and baked the crust to a cracking dry chunk.
Boys being boys, the seven of us set off for Nyambari Mountains, the last vestige of natural habitat for wildlife to hunt on the border of our village and Muzarabani.
In tow were our 16 dogs, the good tried-and-tested hunters of the hare, the impala, the wild pig and every plains game.
Nyambari was also home to a buffet of wild fruits and a multifarious array of bird species — edible or inedible. There mbanje, the illicit weed, grew to big trees and largely remained untouched in fear of their vanguard — Karitundundu — the ageless village autochthon of wisdom and knowledge.
With no shoes and clad in tattered clothes — all that our parents could afford — we went past the white man’s farms, dodging the security guards by using well-calculated routes.
For this villager, there was something uncharacteristic that limited his free movement. He wore a pant for the first time. Yes, for the first time, in Grade seven. So, it hurt. It was uncomfortable and caging. Freelancing inside the shorts was over. It was the end of freedom. Grandmother had bought it from a Jew’s shop, kwaMujuta, probably after realising the dangling bits were getting out of hand.
Most of the boys wore tattered shorts and trousers. Two things were outstanding. The first one is that the clothes were almost never the right size. All of us looked like dwarfs in giants’ robes.
Secondly, the shorts were tattered and torn leaving ashen buttocks exposed. We never minded.
After futile hunting escapade we trickled back home but our obvious past time was swimming in Dande River.
The group of village boys, gathered by Dande River, to play and swim as they bade farewell to another day.
A huge rock stood by the river bank, like the bald head of an old man, tinged greyish brown by an assortment of rock lichens.
The stone had a slope that ended in a pool and that was its biggest crime. Boys took turns to slide down the stone right into the river.
Many shorts got torn there, leaving only the centre hem intact and expose the ashy behind. Pants were a luxury. In fact, none on the group had ever had a pant and you can imagine the dangling bits as the boys played.
Each day, the boys took advantage of God’s grandeur and turned the place into an amusement park and a paradise for sliding, plunging and swimming. It was a natural plinth.
Each boy brought a piece of soap. It was a must to steal some dish washer, that time predominantly the green bar.
The soap added to water and smeared on the stone’s surface, made the plinth more slippery and fast for the boys. Every boy enjoyed it but it was a nightmare for parents, for, there was always the fear for danger and at times death but for the boys it was adventure. Parents had always discouraged their children but boys being boys, would still sneak and play there.
This particular afternoon it was too hot and unavoidable to cool it off by the pool. No one had soap and the surface was a bit rough but still workable.
The boys made a bee line, slid and plunged, despite the discomfort of the hard surface. The pool was too deep and no one had really gotten to its surface.
Never, was the greatest swimmer of our time, and he taught many of us how to do it.
He also had many styles and some of them very dangerous. Given a chance he would have gone international, but who sees a village boy swim beyond the limpid and translucent waters?
Then there was Patrick, a known hypochondriac, skinny, slim, lanky and always looking fragile. When the boys walked he was always the last one on the beeline. In most cases he failed to keep pace with others. In most cases colleagues would wait for him and in worst cases carry him.
But he had a very positive side, he smiled even when things were bad and tough. He smiled where there was nothing to smile about. He smiled, smiled and smiled.
But he was witty and analytic. He always had the extra instinct against pending danger. That instinct made him the black sheep of the group.
At sunset the water became very cold, as cold as the tits of witch. Almost very boy quivered and shivered after each plunge into the river. But no one gave up, except Patrick.
There he stood, hands folded in front, shaking to the lips, cringing his teeth in a posture that said enough is enough, guys.
As the sun left earth like a mothball, darkness started creeping in. Patrick stood by the edge of the stone dais, watching other boys plunge. He had grown goose pumps and there was no reason why he did not put on his clothes except that he was a team player.
Soon Never saw Patrick stand still and without notifying him, pushed him down the dais. There he was lanky and rolling down helplessly and the plunge was uncharacteristic.
He never surfaced by the expected time. Everyone panicked. Never and two other boys, followed and looked around, he was gone and nowhere to be seen.
When elders came after a report was made, they tried and tried, foraged the pool in the dark but found nothing.
Up to today, he has never found again. His mystery lives on.