Mukondi Djata slipped out of her leather sleeping tent with a spear and machete in hand. A gold sliver of sunlight crept up from behind the eastern plains to stain the twilight sky red and warm the sleeping women's camp. Despite this heat growing outside, streams of dread colder than spring water coursed within Mukondi's veins. Her spear's iron point ran longer than her feet, and she would need every inch of it for the test of womanhood that she would begin this morning.
The rest of the Djata clan's camp stayed asleep in silence. Not even the most excitable of the little girls scampered between the tents before their older sisters, mothers, and aunts woke up yet. The crimson arrow-shaped head of Sambu the Allosaurus, the Djatas' symbolic animal, emblazoned each tent. When she noted the emblem's jagged teeth, Mukondi gulped down a mouthful of air. The last thing she needed now was yet another reminder of the First Hunt which lay just ahead for her.
The throaty and hoarse blare of a hollowed animal horn shattered the silence. "Mukondi? Are you coming?" It was her mother Dyese calling.
Mukondi jogged to the fat baobab tree which towered in the heart of the camp. Two other women, her mother and her elder cousin Azandu, awaited below the tree's shade. Having reached her own womanhood six rainy seasons ago, Azandu looked exactly as Mukondi and every other Djata girl wished to look: tall and lithe, with firm muscles under skin as dark as a moonless midnight. Rings of fangs and claws from Azandu's kills hung from her neck, something Mukondi also wished she could earn in years to come. As for Dyese, the hide shawl she draped over her shoulders marked her rank as the Djata clan's matriarchal chieftain.
Dyese smiled as she patted Mukondi on the shoulder. "You can do it, my precious," she said. "Oyosi Herself sees to it that you will." She tilted her wizened face up to the sky where Oyosi Djata, the clan's great ancestress, rested.
Mukondi pulled her mother's hand off. "You told Nzinge that very same thing, didn't you?"
"Don't mention her again!" Azandu banged her spear's butt against the ground. "You are smarter and wiser than your big sister ever was, Mukondi. You'll succeed where she failed, trust me."
A quivering Mukondi folded her arms together. "How can you feel so sure of that?"
Azandu groaned. "Look, do you want to be dropped off at a men's village and grow crops in one place for the rest of your life? Or do you want to become a woman?"
"I am no man!" Mukondi pounded a fist onto her breasts.
"Then don't whine like one. Now, while scouting last night, I spotted Sambu drinking from the river to the south." Azandu pointed towards the southern horizon. "He might still prowl over there." She laid her own hand on Mukondi's shoulder. "When you meet him, you know what to do."
"Aim for the breast or brain," Mukondi recited. She sucked in a mouthful of air to swell her chest upward and smiled.
"One more thing before you leave, daughter." Dyese pulled out from her hide belt the animal horn she had blown earlier and handed it to Mukondi. "It goes back to my mother's mother. Blow it, and you shall lure Sambu towards you."
"Isn't that cheating?" Mukondi asked.
"Not at all, but use it sparingly," Azandu said. "Blow it too many times together and Sambu will figure out what you're up to."
Mukondi slipped the horn under her own belt and bowed her head to Dyese. "I owe you so much for the gift, mother."
Dyese wrapped her arms around her daughter in a gentle embrace. "You owe nothing at all. Now go forth on your First Hunt, Mukondi. You leave our camp a girl, but you shall come back a woman, with Sambu's teeth in your hands. May Oyosi bless you."
Mukondi hugged her mother back with all her strength while more tears dripped from her eyes. This could have been the last time in their whole lives that they would see each other. Mukondi rested her head against Dyese's breasts while her mother in turn stroked her dreadlocks.
“If I do not come back alive, I shall always remain in your memories, mother,” Mukondi said.
After Dyese withdrew her warm arms from her daughter, the chill returned to sting Mukondi's blood. Nonetheless she jogged away from the camp, looking back only once.