Jako was soaked through. He wasn’t quite sure where he was, but he thought he may be opposite the northern border of South Africa, or in the country to the north-east of that - Mozambique.
After all he had been through, he was buggered. He came across a dirt road sign that named the region as Mahlangulu. He recognised it as Zulu-sounding, not Portuguese, the predominant language in Mozambique.
Eventually, he came across more of a main road (even though it was dirt), but there wasn’t a car or truck in sight, so he continued to walk.
Finally, he heard a car in the distance and wondered if it would stop for him. He put out his thumb and the car rolled to a stop.
“Hello, where are you going, uncle?”
“Hello. Get in, young man. To the nearest town around here, which is Manguzi. It’s a few minutes from here. What happened to you?”
Jako explained briefly in the time that it took them to get to Manguzi.
“That’s rough,” the driver sympathised.
Jako thought and thought about making a call to leave a message for Chris. He remembered a reliable person he knew from school. His only hope was to reverse the charges.
When they got to the medium-sized village and he saw a phone box, he said: “I’ll get out here. Thanks, uncle.”
He picked up the phone and turned the handle. “I’d like to make a call to Scallyclare, please. And reverse the charges, please.” He gave the number.
The operator responded in a cheeky, girlish voice: “I’ll call you back in about two or three hours.”
He was still worried about whether the late skipper, Captain Gregory, had managed to tell anyone what he had done.
It was midday and he didn’t dare leave the phone box. He waited for what seemed at least two hours. Then the phone rang.
“You’re connected to Scallyclare, sir.” Jako loved that girl’s voice.
He again gave the number to the Scallyclare operator. He heard the operator asking the other party his name, and whether he would accept the charges from a number in a small town in northern KZN. He accepted.
He answered the phone and, upon hearing Jako’s voice, said: “Where are you? You’ve left without telling anybody!”
Mindful of the time constraints, Jako got to the point fast. “Could you ask Chris to meet me at the… ” Jako looked at the road signs, and said what roads they were on. “Have you got that?”
His friend gave the road names and the town name obediently.
Night crept over the village and Jako was starving. It was late summer and he knew there would be some fruit on the trees, but he still had to find a fruit tree.
He scoured the streets until he found some trees bearing fruit. He checked for dogs and waited to make sure there were none around. He climbed over the fence and helped himself to oranges, apples and loquats - a small, sweet, yellowish fruit.
Jako stuffed his pockets until they were bursting. The fruit would have to last him through the next day. He wandered in the moonlight and until he found an old shed. He made himself comfortable and quickly fell asleep with a half-full belly.
The brightness of the hazy day woke him early the next morning. He yawned and stretched the sleep out of his body.
He looked around at the rusty shed in which he’d chosen to sleep. Jako thought he must reek a bit. Actually, a whole fucking lot.
Days went by and he hung around that corner, or within sight of the intersection, but there was no sign of Chris. Nothing. He survived on a diet of fruit, vegetables and water. He loved the juicy, ripe tomatoes.
After trying to get a job in the local garages and gardens, he became frustrated and longed for some meaty food. He dared not delve into rubbish bins that held the food he longed for, so he kept on with his diet of fruit and raw vegetables. Still, he returned to the corner of the roads where he had arranged to meet Chris.
Then, after several days, he saw a familiar figure. “Chris... ” Jako shouted when he saw Chris from down the road as he was approaching where the roads crossed.
Chris waved to indicate that he had seen his friend. They exchanged Zulu greetings.
“What happened to you?” Chris asked in Zulu.
Jako recounted the events of the past few weeks: The crash that resulted in him losing all of his family; the job on Adventurer; the ship wreck, and the journey that led him there.
Chris shook his head and said: “I’m sorry for your loss, baas. I had to get my pass to travel.”
“I know what I must do,” Jako groaned. He’d thought about it. “I must go to Gaborone. There is where my uncle lives.”
He saw that Chris was eager to return to Scallyclare.
“I’ve got some fruit and tomatoes to eat on the way,” Jako claimed proudly. “I got it from a garden near here... ” He pointed roughly in the direction from which the fruit had come. “Let’s hit the road.”
“Yebo, ngikulungele, Yes, I’m ready.”
The road, it seemed, was a never-ending, torturous one. Long and straight, clumps of bush edged the makeshift bypath.
They had walked for at least five hours and not seen any cars. Chris had suggested that they go the more direct route, which would take them close to the Mozambique border. Jako agreed, but he was worried about the closeness to the border and terrorists.
Jako and Chris stopped and drew deep breaths.
Chris exclaimed: “I’m fucked!”
The evening air was filled with the utterances of the wildlife. There were the sounds of cicadas, and Jako could hear lions roaring and squabbling over a large near-dead animal (or was it human?). It sounded as though they were close enough to touch.
The boys were struggling. They hadn’t eaten since the last of the fruit was consumed, and they had only quenched their thirst when they had come across some brackish water.
They heard gunfire in the far distance, across the Mozambique border. They were in the east of South Africa. “Fuck those terrorists!” Jako said.
He thought about poor Kate who had given up and died in the orphanage. He cursed the officials that had caused her death and taken away his sister. “Fuck those people!” he grumbled under his breath.
Jako saw Chris out of the corner of his eye.
The wind shifted and the shooting grew a bit louder.
Jako felt a bit strange.
The sound caught them off guard as a group of terrorists suddenly appeared. They readied themselves, but the group were suddenly on top of the pair.
“Bulala – kill!”, one of the group of five terrorists shouted.
“Aikona – no! We can keep them for isihlengo, rushwa, ransom.”
Jako shat in his pants. He also picked up the crossing over from Zulu to Swahili, and finally, then to English. Swahili was the language the person would have had the chance to pick up in Uganda while they were doing terrorist training.
“Aikona, no, we must kill them. They’ve seen us now. They might give us up.”
“Tula, wena. Be quiet, you!” The not-yet-out-of-his-teens nduna, or boss, was exerting his authority, and he was under threat from the younger one, who Jako thought was about 16. There were murmurs from the other terrorists – who were about two or three years older – of condemnation or agreement with the 16-year-old.
They led the pair into the bush on the side of the road. Jako felt his bowels let loose once more. He was feeling the effects of the distasteful water.
“Come, let’s have some fun with them,” the younger one suggested in Zulu.
“Yebo, yes,” the other young man agreed.
The terrorists took turns beating them.
It was getting dark. They were beside themselves with hunger and thirst. One by one, the terrorists fell asleep. Despite the fact that their hands were bound, Jako decided this was his chance to escape.
Mortars were being fired in the distance, and he assumed that was in Mozambique.
He nudged Chris awake and signalled that he was getting ready to leave – once they had untied themselves.
Using the moonlight as their guide, they crept quietly into the surrounding bush, being careful to avoid the branches and twigs.
They crept like that for what like felt an hour, before they heard something disturbing in the branches nearby. Jako froze. Something was making a hell of a noise. He heard shouts from the terrorists from whom they had escaped.
He kept as quiet as he could and signalled to Chris to be still and not move. His stomach was letting him down. He again felt an escape of liquid, which he smelt at once. They could have smelt it, too. Thankfully, he realised he was downwind from the terrorists.
Jack breathed a sigh of relief, despite the shit feeling in his backside area.
He heard the sound of movement in the trees about 100m away. Those people were making a racket. He signalled to Chris to be still.
Then the sound got closer. He estimated it was half the distance away, about 200m away.
He dared to look. There were five terrorists, heavily armed with AK-47s. One of the people lugged a mortar. Jako was horrified to see that they were aiming it in their direction.
They did not have the best hiding place in the knee-length grass, so they kept very still. They didn’t dare move for fear of being captured. Jako heard the terrorists setting up their position, and he was surprised how much noise they were making. The wind was drifting his way and he heard them whispering in a Portuguese-like language, but it was too unclear and he couldn’t understand it anyway.
“Shit,” he thought, “it looks like they’re setting up to fire the mortar.”
Suddenly there was a thump as the firing mechanism was struck, and a whistle in the air as it approached. It landed almost on top of them.
Then they lost consciousness.
Jako woke slowly and noticed that it was getting dark. His first thought was: Where are the terrorists? There was no sign of them.
He checked to see whether he had any body parts missing. Chris was stirring, too
Jako looked down. No, but my legs are really hurting. He saw that he’d been hit by something and that his legs were covered in blood. His pants were in shreds. He gingerly probed his wounds.
“Fuck, it’s agony!”, Jako moaned.
It was rapidly getting dark. He was worried his wounds would become inflamed in the searing heat and humidity. What am I going to do? he wondered. He was miles away from the nearest village or town.
He noticed a buzzing sound, and then another. The flies were attracted to the smell of the blood. “Fuck off,” he said to them, to no avail. They kept returning.
He remembered the conversation that he’d had with Mike, about that the Mayans of South America used maggots to heal their wounds.
Therapy with maggots, which are fly larvae, involves introducing live, disinfected maggots into the non-healing skin and soft-tissue wound of a human or animal. It is supposed to clean out the dead tissue.
Jako whispered quietly to Chris; “I’ve heard that military physicians observed that soldiers whose wounds became colonised by maggots had a lower mortality rate than soldiers whose wounds did not become… ” Jako hesitated while he thought of the word, “colonised.”
“You’ll try anything, baas.”
They waited for about 24 hours for the maggots to grow. They encouraged them to eat from the wound, and Jako slept fitfully.
He woke in a blur and saw Chris by his side, waiting for him to wake up. He saw that the terrorists had disappeared.
“That was touch and go.”
Jako had made a decision. “I’d like you to have this bracelet. You have been by my side all of these years and I’ve caused you a shitload of worries.”
He started to take it off. Jako could see that Chris was in two minds: Chris felt obligated to accept the bracelet, but he wanted to refuse it because of his friendship with Jako.
Chris reluctantly accepted the bracelet. “Ngiyabonga, thanks, baas.”
Chris fitted it, and he kept still and closed his eyes for what seemed to Jako like a minute.
Eventually they happened on a path. “Look, there’s a pick-up stopping.” The two men climbed in and Chris went on the back. They were travelling on a filthy truck, with one broken window winder and rubbish lying on the floor around Jako’s feet. He’d had to make space amongst the trash.
The two men made themselves comfortable. Both Jako and Chris fell asleep. They were exhausted.
“I didn’t wake you both as you looked buggered,” said the man who’d given them a lift. They were close to Scallyclare, but still in KZN and more than a day’s drive to Gaborone, Botswana. Jako would need to leave the car and get another ride - or several more - to reach Gaborone.
The truck stopped on the side of the road. The driver signalled to Chris through the dirty back window of the cab that he should get off the vehicle. Turning to Jako: “It’s the closest that we’ll get to that place... What’s it called?”
“Yes, that’s it. Scallyclare.” The man waited a minute for Jako to say goodbye to Chris. Jako mockingly said: “Have you got your dompas?”
The driver laughed and Chris looked embarrassed.
Jako let himself fall asleep again. He slept most of the way to the next stop.
He got a lift all the way through the border to Gaborone. The border authorities passed him without asking incriminating questions. That must mean that Captain Gregory had not reported him and that he had indeed been killed by that shark.
Jako needed to walk to Kobus and Magda’s home. It was a mid-week afternoon and he decided to go directly to their home, rather than to the garage, as it was far closer.
Magda opened the door and took a moment to absorb the sight of him. “My God... ”
She ushered him inside and made him comfortable. “I apologise for taking the Lord’s name in vain.” She closed her eyes and turned her head to the heavens. It seemed to Jako that she was saying a prayer to ask for forgiveness.
“Goodness gracious, you look like you’ve not eaten, but you’ve got a good tan. Let me make you something to eat. Your family disappeared last year.” She gave him an alarmed look that said: What happened to you?
Jako did not know where to start.
“I’ve got some tragic news. You’d better take a seat.” He waited for her to be seated and saw that by the expression on her face that she was preparing to hear bad news. “My entire family was killed.” He looked at her.
“Oh, no.” She shivered and broke down in tears. Jako crossed the room to her, bent down and held her tight.
“I’m sorry to bring you this awful news.” He continued to hold on to her.
“Shirley, Anton, Kate and Mike are all gone?” Magda held her hands to her face in horror.
“I must phone Kobus and break the news to him.” She wiped her eyes. “I know he’ll be devastated.”
Jako remained standing while she made the call.