“I thought you might be extra hungry tonight,” she said, and there seemed to be some meaning hidden behind her words. She placed the food on Zamba’s mat and headed for the door.
“Thank you,” he called after her. Turning in the doorway, Zuri gave him a small smile and left. The pouch which had been hung around her chest was swinging from a jagged nail next to the door.
Zamba hurried to the doorway and peaked out. No one was around. He took the pouch back to the mat with him. Upon closer inspection, inside the pouch he found a small flask of water and a flat rock about the size of his hand. One of the edges was broken and jagged, like it had been beaten until a sharp edge was formed. It was the closest thing to a knife that Zuri could have given him. He replaced the precious stone back inside the pouch, along with the melon and all the biscuits, and hid it in a dark corner of the hut. He then ate the bowl of soup, knowing that he would need all the strength he could get for this journey.
Several hours later the camp was dark and quiet. Everyone was inside their huts. Zamba waited until he could no longer hear the soft murmuring of people preparing for bed. The guard who slept outside Zamba’s door was snoring loudly, interrupted occasionally with a grunt. He started to get a little louder, groaning in his sleep. Suddenly, he sat upright, swearing loudly, and took off running in the direction of the pit that the camp used for their latrine. Zamba decided that it was now or never. He had to take the opportunity to escape while the guard was gone.
Zamba tied on his sandals and slung the pouch of food across his chest. Carefully, he left the hut in a crouch. His hut was on the edge of camp, so he didn’t have far to run into the surrounding brush. He quickly ducked behind the nearest shrub, looking around to check if anyone saw him leave. The camp was still quiet.
Looking up at the bright moon that was shining overhead, Zamba uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving. He then began to head toward the dark expanse in the distance, which looked like it could be a mountain range. There would be more places to conceal himself there, as well as vegetation that he could try to eat.
It didn’t take long for Zamba to feel the extent of the weakened state that he was still in. He knew that he had to get as much distance between himself and the camp as he could, otherwise the guards would surely find him in no time. He concentrated on taking one step after the next. Another step. And another.
Just make it to that tree, then you can rest, he told himself. He was strict and kept his rest to only a few minutes, then he was off again. Get to that rock, then you can rest….
The pattern continued for hours. The water in his flask was long gone. Zamba was sure that he had only gone a few miles when the gray light of morning began to color the scruffy shrubs that he drug himself past. He was never going to make it. The mountains were so far away and he was so tired.
A large olive tree seemed to beckon him near. Zamba approached the tree, its low hanging branches brushing the tops of several scraggly shrubs. He couldn’t go any further. He collapsed on the hard earth and leaned against the scratchy trunk. Before he knew it, he was fast asleep, exhaustion taking over his impulse to run.
Zamba opened his eyes again. He was lying on the ground under the large branches of the olive tree, his head cradled in his arm. The sun was blisteringly bright overhead, yet he was protected under the shade of the olive tree. Not two feet away was a little bird looking at him curiously, its head cocked to the side. Its back was a soft green and there was a soft yellow spot at its throat, with a black mask marking across the eyes. It was a Little Bee Eater. It gave a soft chirp then hopped off.
Zamba started to sit up, but immediately stopped when he heard voices nearby. They were rough men’s voices, interspersed with the loud cracking of machetes breaking through the dry brush.
Zamba held his breath. What if it was Matwanda’s men? What would they do if they found him here? He slid himself as far under the scratchy shrub as he could, hoping that they would not come in the direction of the tree.
Check back tomorrow to see if the men find Zamba!