Rustling, the huge leaves hide my position, the anticipation in the air rolling down my face and dropping to the floor in the form of sweat. The creature prowls around the open clearing. My grip tightening on the spear, I ignore the clammy feel to my palms and concentrate on my task.
The smells of the forest fill my nose. They mingle and combine to create one strong smell of the jungle. The most prominent, by far, is that of the earthen floor – covered with moss and creatures of the soil. Musty, dirty fur seems to float along the whispering winds – I know it belongs to my target. Padding lightly between twisted, entwining branches of trees, I tiptoe towards my goal. Chattering monkeys cover any sound I make, but even so, I am careful not to become overconfident.
The spotted buwa seems to be glaring at me. Holding the gaze, I hold my breath, but its eyes pass me by. Its fur is tangled and dirty – it has been in a fight recently. Along its side are three huge scratch marks. The wounds are open and they give the buwa a limp.
Cool air washes over my back, keeping me calm before the chase. My breathing is shallow, but I am aware it is still too heavy.
My mind turns to a family friend that I must see soon. He would appreciate some of the meat from the hide of this buwa. Sunkaru would be pleased with my progress in speaking English. I smile inside when I think how proud he will be of my progress.
* * * * *
When he was younger, white men attempted to capture Sunkaru. With not a thing to his name, he agreed that he work for them, so long as he could buy his freedom later.
Years went by and each day Sunkaru saved money to one day buy his freedom.
Even now, he still carries the scar on his shoulder, showing he belonged to someone. Now he is a free man like the rest of us here in Africa. Although he knew his life would end soon, he dedicated what he had left to teaching English and telling stories to those who wished to be taught.
I was one of those pupils.
* * * * *
My prey turns slowly, picking up on the anticipation dripping from the thick air. It is my turn to make a move. If I do not, it will seek me out. I need the element of surprise on my side – and an opportunity to boyinkango – attack. Breathing deeper, I lift my spear fashioned from the best wood in the forest and the sharpest stone from the caves.
Throwing myself forward, I explode from the huge leaves – breaking out into the clearing. Second-guessing the pattern of defence for the animal, I hold the spear up high. Bringing it down, it smashes against its mark: the neck of the buwa – the monster.
The body falls limp against the earthy foliage growing across the clearing floor. Now, the noisy forest is a seemingly empty, lifeless place. As the sun beats onto my heavily tanned body, I yank the spear from the dead carcase. Hoisting it up onto my shoulder, I begin to walk back to my village, my birthplace, my family and my home: Junjur.
* * * * *
My name is Fumbe – Fumbe Kelso. I am 15 years old as I tell my tallingo – my story. Living in my birthplace with all my family meant I got to see them every day. We were not the closest family – by far – but each of us loved and cared for all other family members.
* * * * *
The carcass is not as heavy as most others, but the trek back home is farther and harder than any before. I keep my pace to a steady rhythm and follow the hard worn trail back to the village.
I am used to the rich, earthy smells by now, but there is a new scent. It is almost indescribable – there is not a way I can describe it other than: it is like wet chicken. I am wary of the new smell. Everything that is safe and can be overcome is native to this area. But those scents are familiar – this is new.
There is a clanging in the distance. It is nothing safe – I know that from instinct. Dropping the carcass into a ditch to find later, I bolt towards my hometown.
Nearing the edge of the forest, I leap through the undergrowth and burst out through the bushes into my home village. Busy family quickly brush past me, unaware of the danger. My mamamuso – grandmother – appears from her house.
“Fumbe! Wha’ be wrong wit’ ya?” Her voice rings out clear through the hustle and bustle.
“Mamamuso! Dere is something in the forest. It smells like wet chicken. It is bad Mamamuso – I know it.”
“We will be fine. The kelela will keep us safe.” She looks around. “Where is de buwa? Did ya leave it behind?” I nod. “Go an’ get it!” I run into the forest once more.
It isn’t long before I find the buwa in the ditch I hid it in earlier. Hoisting it up onto my shoulder, I start to carry it back to the village. The sun is falling in the sky and dusk is approaching. Buzzing around me, flies are attracted to my skin. Batting them away half – heartedly, I jog lightly back to my home. If I do not get it back soon, there will be no time for the buwa to cook.
* * * * *
I find it hard to keep up with the other hunters sometimes. After all, being a girl doesn’t help. I am not as strong or as quick as the others. Usually I hunt on my own: relying on nobody but myself for protection.
It has not always been like this. Before I was born, my fama was the greatest hunter in the village. Many a night he came home with animals that were harder to catch and more treasured than the average kill. When he became ill, as there was no son for him to take over his position in the hunters’ ranks, I started as a new recruit.
For a while our food was scarce, often making us plead with the other villagers that we might share some of their food with us. As time grew longer, I became a better hunter, eventually able to catch and take home to eat buwa almost as well as my fama once did.
Although I was getting better at hunting, those of the male hunters who were below me said that a female hunting as a male should disgrace my family. I became an outcast, left to fend for my family alone.
* * * * *
As I break through the bushes, I hear something happening. There is shouting and loud, sharp noises. Realising the words being spoken are not my language, I drop the buwa and bolt towards the source – my Mamamuso’s home.
A smashing noise emerges from within the hut. I hear screams and pleading – they etch into my mind, sticking forever. The door flies open before I manage to get there. Three people with hard objects in their hands shout at my family, pointing them at their heads. All the other villagers have disappeared – gone in the terror and confusion.
Skidding to a halt, dust takes to the air. My mind is filled with confusion – “Who are these people? What do they want? And why us?”