When I was young, my father used to take us out for rides on his motorbike. We could wake up every morning, take a bath, pack some food, and put them in a basket. Me and my sister Jane used to enjoy these moments, but I cherished them more than anything. The memories are embossed on my mind.
He would take us to see the Shire River and watch the fish swim. Sometimes we would take with us a fishing net and catch some Utaka (A type of fish that was commonly found in the river) in the safe areas. In case a net was not available, we would take a fishing line and tie it to a hook, cut some reeds, and use them as a fishing rod. We would then make some fire and roast the fish with some cooking oil. When my father described how the fish tasted, you would assume he was talking about food from heaven.
“They are so sweet they make your mouth water and bones melt”, He would say. However, this never changed how much I loathed Utaka. I enjoyed catching the fish more than eating them.
” He scared they might start swimming in his belly,” my sister would tease.
” A man that doesn’t like fish? What kind of an abomination are you?” my father would snap.
” I don’t like them things, just look at their bodies the way they wriggle like snakes. I would rather drown myself than eat them” I always replied.
And my father and sister would laugh at me.
I used to enjoy going to the river because I had a chance to admire big boys swimming like some Utaka in the river. They would jump from the highest river bank, do double summersaults in the air, and make huge splashes in the water. They seemed to have fun, but my dad never would let me get in the waters.
” Come join us, little brother,” they said one day when they saw me staring at them open-mouthed. I told them I wouldn’t dare swim with them, my father would beat the black out of me if he found me in the water. But on that day I rebelled, took my clothes off, and jumped into the water. I wasn’t a natural at swimming, just floating and making uncoordinated strokes, but it was fun. I felt like I was part of a shoal of some Utaka having nothing to worry about in the world, just drinking dirty water mixed with some urine. That’s when it all happened.
First, I heard a young lady shouting above the bank, “Something……is in the water!”
One big boy screamed back, “Is it your boyfriend!?” and the other boys burst into laughter, and I almost choked to death laughing as well.
Suddenly, the water which used to be milky started turning crimson, and I heard the scream of one of the boys in pain: “It has caught me”. A sudden chill raised the hairs on my back, I turned my back to look where the voice was coming from. All I could see was a gashed head and something green with a masculine tail. I could tell the boy was in pain from the way his eyes turned dark as if his soul was already gone. The crocodile had gripped his right leg as if its whole life depended on it. It was a horrifying sight and yet there I stood and did nothing.
The boy struggled and called for help from me, and there was nothing I could do, I was petrified. Suddenly, the predator disappeared with its prey back in the water. The boy was still struggling. It disappeared once and reappeared at a far distance, and the boy gasped for air. It dived the second time, and the water turned muddy and bloody from the struggle. The third time it appeared, there was no life left in the boy. I could tell from the headless corpse glued to the predator. I couldn’t believe I had witnessed a murder. I felt like I was sinking, it all happened in a heartbeat. My senses came back to me and I swam towards safety before it changed its mind and came back for me. Adrenaline kicked in my body in the blink of an eye, and I swam with all my strength away from the blood and horror.
I never believed till today how I swam from the river to land. By the time my father caught up with me, I was out of breath and my heart was no longer in my chest, It felt like it had found refuge in my head and my toes hurt. The other boys were nowhere to be seen, and the usually quiet river was alive; the crocodile attack had caused a commotion. Some said it had caught two of the boys, and some said it was a kid it had taken. I knew what had really happened but I was really terrified to say anything.
” What were you thinking? That could have been you. Thank God you are still in one piece, no more swimming for you, young man!” My father almost broke into tears and my sister just stared at me quizzically without expression.
I took my clothes and dressed, though I was so cold, I felt my heart had stopped beating. The news had spread so fast that in a few minutes, village men and some policemen had gone to hunt the predator. My father carried me to where the bike was parked. My feet had melted and were so sore I couldn’t walk. As we were riding back home, the sun was setting and the last ray hit me on the head. It was after some weeks that I stopped having nightmares of that fateful day and I made a vow to never swim those waters again.
24 October, 2023