Moyo Mukamba, short story by Nick Adigu Burke at
Unreal Airtist

Moyo Mukamba

Moyo Mukamba

written by: Nick Adigu Burke


Mr Mukamba lived in an old ranger’s lodge overlooking Lake Kariba. He lived there alone, except during the Summer months when his brother Tafadzwa visited from Bulawayo. Together they hunted the antelopes that came down from the hills, to graze by the water. Those beasts were soon fat by summer, providing the brothers with enough meat to see them through the winter.
Mr Mukamba kept a simple life. He woke at seven, with rare exception, and ate his steaming porridge on the front porch, lapped by the silver lake. In the evening he puffed on fat cigars and drank rum in the fading sunlight, and spent the daylight hours fishing for tilapia and bream.

Hunting had not always come naturally to Mr Mukamba, it was a skill nurtured in time. However, now he loved it. Even joking, on drunken occasions that he loved it more than men love the curves of women.

It was during his war days, during Zimbabwe’s fight for independence that saw his passion begin. For days, sometimes weeks, his commanders stationed him in the bush – there to hunt the British enemy. Under-rationed, his supplies did not last, forcing him to eat the bitter wild melons and figs that abundantly grew in the jungle and too, when he could, the rugged marula nuts, which he opened with heavy rocks. He set traps to catch rabbits and steenbok, but sometimes shooting them was the only option. Wasting ammunition in War’s unforgiving incinerator, unwise, but as he often joked, hunger is a beast without wisdom.

Mr Mukamba swung his legs over the side of the bed and lit the half-smoked cigar, resting in the ashtray, it, crackling as it burnt. The smoke hung its earthy flavour in the air while he dressed into his hunting khakis. He then forced his feet into a pair of heavy black boots, which, akin to his war-name, Tendai Mugabe, were still with him, two decades on from the conflict.

He smiled as he carefully inspected the laces of the battle-scared boots. Mr Gwanukwa, his former drill sergeant, was correct, “look after them and they will look after you is,” his mantra. Although they had seen more soles than Saint Peter, Mr Mukamba would often remark.

With a groan of old age, Mr Mukamba wrapped the long thick laces around his slender fingers and reigned them in like unruly colts. He then tied the loose ends into triple knots and slowly stood.

Into a battered brown rucksack, he packed biltong and a sandwich bursting with ham, and cans of Castle lager to quench his thirst.

He slung the rucksack on his back and retrieved his rifle and ammunition belt from the gun-cabinet by the door. As was customary, before a hunt, he kissed his crucifix, then strolled onto a porch awash with the golden hue of dawn.

He lingered upon those timbers for a moment, listening to the vundu, catfish, surfacing for morning air – a sound placing a smile upon his face. Their rhythmic splashing stirring up childhood memories.

It was in those youthful days that his father Clarence taught him and Tafadzwa how to fish. During the school holidays, they’d grumble away in their old jalopy, up to Lake Chivero on the Manyame river, to fish for black bream and barbel. His fondness for those days still burnt within him. However, he had grown a lot since then. He had seen life through many prisms. He had seen it through the innocent eyes of a child, and through the angry eyes of a youth, hating the Rhodesians. He had seen it through the nervous eyes of a soldier and through the venerable eyes of a war veteran. He had seen life through the petrified eyes of a man battling cancer, and through the conquering eyes of a cancer survivor. He had loved and lost his wife Theresa and lost and found God. His once black hair and beard were grey, and his laughter lines and crows feet cut a little deeper. He walked slower and more hunched now old age was upon him, and his eyes no longer shone with the optimism of youth, but with the pessimism that Death was glaring his way.

Mr Mukamba felt his head and frowned ‘hutyapa chembera mbudzi – careless old goat,’ he muttered and wandered back into the lodge and plucked his fisherman’s hat from the peg.


In the shade of a fig tree, Mr Mukamba rested. A green and lush serenity surrounded him and above swayed his cloth sack carrying three dead scrub hares – hung on a branch, away from the jaws of crocodiles and jackals.

With a long yawn Mr Mukamba stretched the stiffness from his back and cast his eyes to the grand lake.

Half hidden beyond the reeds, he watched a stork, wading in the smooth water. The ripples of the morning had gone now the wind had lost its bluster.
The lake reminded him of a looking glass, of sorts, reflecting the cloudless sky, reflecting the beauty of the heavens, or so he thought. Soon, both, stork, and that thought took flight.

He thought about his late wife Theresa. The heavens had blessed her with the same placidity as the lake, the same beauty. She had those hidden depths and the power to fascinate even the most lifeless of souls.

Life was often calamitous for Mr Mukamba, steering him from one erroneous decision to the next, however, chasing Theresa wasn’t one of them. She was truly lovely and the most handsome of the beautiful Nyambo sisters. That beauty, however, didn’t just confine itself to her face or the contours of her curves – she had wisdom too. She was a real all-rounder, she could’ve been anything, she could’ve been with anyone, but chose to be his soul-mate, to be with him. He smiled.

Some evenings he’d sit on the creaking jetty of his hunting lodge, begging Nyami-Nyami, the Zambezi river god, to end his misery, but mostly begging for Theresa’s resurrection.

He’d found a kindred spirit in that particular deity. Nyami-Nyami had too shared the terrible heartache of losing his wife. As legend tells, the river god had lived a tranquil existence with his wife, Kitapo on the Zambezi. During the dry season, his wife had travelled into the Kariba Gorge to answer the people’s prayers and bless their crops. In her absence the White man came to build a monstrous dam across the gorge, dissecting the great Zambezi – Kitapo forever trapped downstream, the couple separated for all eternity.

At sunrise, when the mist blew west across Lake Kariba, Mr Mukamba often thought his prayers had been answered. The breeze carried Theresa’s voice, he’d swear. The echoing of his name,

“Tashinga, Tashinga,” sailing across the water, waking him.

He’d call back, crying, “Take me! Take me!” but she never did.

With a finger Mr Mukamba banished the tears that had clouded his eyes and from his rucksack retrieved his heavy sandwich wrapped in a cloth napkin. Carefully, he placed it on his lap, then dug out a can of lager, dripping with condensation.

He smiled as he rolled the cold tin across his cheek, then flinched at the spray as he opened it. He placed it on the patchy turf beside him and thought more about Theresa and that beautiful smile.

He remembered the day her breast cancer diagnosis came. He remembered how that smile shone with less lustre thereafter. Her deteriorating health tortured Mr Mukamba. The pain he tried to dissolve by devouring rum from dawn to dusk. He drank like a drowning hippo, without a care for his own health or sanity. Of course Theresa curled her lip and used much profanity, arguing there was little point in them both dying young. Eventually sanity and sobriety returned. “Drink is never the answer, it diminishes the anaesthetic of time,” his grandfather Abel used to preach.

For Mr Mukamba, drink led to self-loathing and when one enters that conundrum they’re little help to anyone. What’s more, it made the days blend into one. It shortened the time he had left to spend with Theresa. The demons of drink have that effect on a person. It makes one forget. He didn’t want to forget her. He didn’t want to forget that smile, the way she closed her eyes and bit her lip when they made love. He didn’t want to forgot her shy laugh or the way she twirled her hair whenever nerves stirred. He wanted every day to last forever and be unforgettable.

He remembered that dreadful day. Thirty years old, her age, on the day of her passing. That was far too early. From that moment he had to endure the rest of his days without her.

Prior to Theresa’s illness complacency was the devil on their backs; they thought they’d have eternity together. If only he’d known the future, he bemoaned, he would have made more of his time with her. If he could only go back, he would’ve loved her with greater zeal. He would’ve been the shadow that never left her side.
In the end, Death came quickly for Theresa. It was a hidden nemesis, of sorts, akin to a lioness stalking a limping gazelle from the tall grasses of the Savannah. It waited for her strength to wane, then pounced, remorselessly ripping her from Mr Mukamba.

Shortly after Theresa’s burial, he sold the home they’d shared in the Harare suburb of Avondale, it housing too many ghosts for him. It was a tinderbox of memories, igniting a heartache he could not extinguish.

Mr Mukamba made himself comfortable and began to unwrap the fat sandwich. The essence of ham and slightly charred crust tickling his salivary glands. With both hands he lifted his feast to his mouth, and when his jaw widened, he gasped and dropped his lunch in the dust.

He sprung to his feet and entered a madman’s dance, leaping about like an embattled mongoose, patting at the ants swarming him. They began to nibble the sanity from him, and for a moment he toyed with drowning them in the lake, but feared only satisfying the hunger of a submerged crocodile instead.

Soon all the ants had been expelled, except for one bothering his wrist. He carefully plucked it from his skin and held it between his thumb and forefinger. He angled it to the light and brought it closer to his eye. For a moment he watched its legs frantically shin the air for escape, and when he was set to scold it, his mouth fell open. He flicked the ant away and cursed his lager soaked sandwich and the guilty can lay, almost empty, next to it. He shook his head, cursed some more and threw that damn sandwich to the jungle.

Mr Mukamba scoured the lakeside and found a friendlier fig tree to sit beneath, free of insects. In his new shade he took the edge off his hunger by chewing on biltong and downing the remaining beers.

As the warmth in his belly spread to other parts he remembered the time he blew up Theresa’s kitchen. This made him chuckle. Theresa had always found his calamities amusing and her ribs would’ve ached by laughing at the swarming ants and drenched sandwich. However, when he destroyed her kitchen she wasn’t amused. In fact, she refused to talk to him for a month, or at least it felt as long.

The disaster unfolded, a few weeks after their move to Avondale. One evening, Mr Mukamba stumbled through the door full of the life of liquor. He had ideas of brewing his own beer. The seed, sown by his friend Goodwin during the Highlanders’, Zimbabwean Cup match against Harare City.

On the back of a beermat, Goodwin had scrawled the ingredients and full instructions, and knowingly urged Mr Mukamba not to cut corners. A few weeks later Mr Mukamba swore to Theresa that he had followed the instructions to the “T,” when she returned home to find the kitchen window blown out, the new work-surface in rubble and the walls and ceiling painted with hops and barley. He’d failed to fully ferment his brew and as a result endured a scorned woman for the rest of summer.

Mr Mukamba flinched and glared at the green leaves rustling above. He bit his lip and slowly placed his hand on his rifle. Then turned with greater urgency when the ground thudded behind him. He looked up to the green leaves, now still, then down to the patchy grass surrounding the tree, but could not see what had fallen from the branches. The noise was such that it must have been something heavy, he thought. Not a fig or a clumsy hornbill, but something that needed his full attention.

His grip tightened around his rifle and he rose. He craned his neck to peer behind the tree, but still he could not see. He rounded the gnarled and twisted trunk and froze. His eyes widened and his mouth fell open. He lifted his trembling rifle and took aim at the largest black mamba snake he had ever seen. Its grey skin shining like wet leather, a killer with a primeval capacity to execute an entire village.

Mr Mukamba’s eyes billowed as the mamba began to rise, rising as though usurping the lion as King of the Jungle. Five feet from the ground it reared, its coffin shaped head reeking with intelligence, its puffed throat ready to explode with venom.

If he were a young man Mr Mukamba would’ve run, faster than a thief in the night, but all he could do was shuffle his ridged stance backward and watch the mamba’s flicking tongue, tasting his fear.

Mr Mukamba’s finger twitched on the trigger, as the serpent began to sway like Marvellous Marvin Hagler, its black, boring eyes excavating the courage from his soul.

“Enda, Satani! Enda, Satani! – Go away, Satan! Go away, Satan!” he screamed, over-and-over, but the snake just opened its black mouth with an inflammatory hiss. Then torpedoed itself forward.

The din of gunfire followed, obliterating the silence.

For a moment the mist of gun-smoke hung there and as it faded, the mamba’s tail disappeared into the jungle. Mr Mukamba spluttered and stumbled backward like a punch-drunk prizefighter, with a neck burning like hell. “No, Lord,” he finally gasped and fell down. His head thudding against the dusty ground, then cried when he lifted his hand to the bullet hole where his right ear had been.

He gasped again, his ears ringing like hell. He coughed as he swallowed the blood that had pooled at the back of his throat. The pain came and went in waves and his screams rose and fell on those crests. He prayed to a Lord that was not listening, then urged the reaper to wield his grim scythe and take his life.

Soon his body rose and fell in the dust. His brother’s face came to him, from a place he did not know, and when he tried to speak to it, it vanished. Mr Mukamba’s eyes narrowed and they twitched before he fell asleep.

When he woke his face felt numb and the pain hurt a little less. A buzzing came too, bothering his remaining ear. He thought a fly had crawled in there, but quickly dispelled that when no tickling was forthcoming. He clamped his white teeth together and tried sit- up, but could not move. It was as though a nzou, elephant, had sat on his chest. He could do nothing but lay still.

For a while he stared at the reeds, every so often fingered apart by the breeze.

Each time those reeds stirred, Mr Mukamba trembled and his breath quickened – the prospect of becoming a croc’s next meal, at the forefront of his mind.

When the sun sank into the lake and the twilight rose to darken the sky, the breeze blew a little stiffer. This is when Mr Mukamba turned his head and watched the lake’s placidity ripple away. He then smiled as his name came to him on the breeze, “Tashinga. Tashinga,” it kept on coming, louder than it ever did. When he fought for breath, the reeds rustled again and he was not scared. His eyes widened, then shed more tears. He tried to speak. His dry lips quivered and they were stilled by the delicate hand of Theresa’s.

He did not know how she came to be there, as she knelt beside him. She shone like the stars, appearing as heavenly as he remembered. She took up his hand and smiled upon him, whispering, “Death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more.”

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