BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
Under normal circumstances when a missing child is found alive there is a feeling of overwhelming relief at the happy outcome for everyone concerned. None of these feelings would surface however when the child first locked eyes with the man, the only person she had seen during the last 8 hours. In this situation there was only a sense of trepidation and fear.
The paddocks at the riding stables were huge, not 10 acres, 20 acres huge, more like 100 square kilometres huge. It wasn’t usually a problem finding the horses that were to come in as they would never wander more than a few kilometres away from the gate. Food in the paddock would consist of rare patches of dry grass growing from the nutrient rich but arid ground. The horses understood that coming on to the yard was advantageous because they would be given hay and hard feed. Furthermore the water trough was near the gate and it made no sense to wander from the only liquid source in such a vast area.
The horses that were abandoned by their owners would eventually give up grazing near the gate as there was nothing to be gained from staying. These unfortunate animals would wander off and die of dehydration or starvation, which ever took them first. The carcasses would be devoured by jackals, warthogs and birds. Whatever was left would be reduced to bare bone by a million maggots. The bare bones would be cleaned of marrow, before being dispersed by nature, dust to dust, ashes to ashes … the horses simply disappeared.
The horses that did survive the hunger and thirst could unfortunately end up in a snare, Jane would on occasion come across the traps and deconstruct the thin strong wire loops that were attached to the buffalo thorn trees. The snare had two purposes, the first would be to capture the animal, the second to cut the neck as it struggled to get free hence killing it. This will all sound very barbaric to those people used to finding their meat neatly packaged on a Tesco shelf. The snare itself throws up some very unsettling scenes in one’s imagination. But those too poor to shop at a super-market were unlikely to be able to afford a high powered rifle.
Moreover, in this part of the world poachers could be shot with no questions asked. In this part of the world a black man with a gun could be shot no questions asked unless he was wearing a uniform. There were simpler ways to capture an animal.
Jane shouldn’t have been in this paddock as little girls were normally shielded from the horrors that could lie beyond the gate. The stables employed yard hands to do the mucking out and everyday tasks. But for whatever reason Jane’s pony had not been brought in for her that day. This is why she wandered off to the paddock without telling anyone her intentions. It only became clear that Jane had disappeared when later in the afternoon her Dad came to pick her up from the stables. There was some shock when the yard owner realised Jane had not gone home already, and she had not been seen since that morning.
The child was declared missing.
Little white girls going missing in this part of the world could potentially create a very dangerous situation within the community. Jane’s Father was like every other man in this small town and had been drafted into the reserve police and armed with formidable weapons. Jane herself had been taken up to the firing range every Saturday morning and taught to operate a Belgian FN rifle. Her father’s locked cabinet also contained a Mossberg pump action shot gun.
It is unclear why Jane lost sight of the paddock gate but once she realised she had, there was nothing to do but keep walking to try and relocate it. With the onset of heat stroke and dehydration Jane became disorientated and her mind became muddled. She became terrified the jackals, warthogs and birds would eventually cause her disappearance as well. On reaching the boundary fence Jane climbed over and continued walking ever deeper into the African bush. Her scalp became frazzled from the Sun and her socks were so wet from sweat that her jodhpur boots were rubbing her heels raw. Jane could feel that her feet were bleeding, but knew she’d never get her boots back on if she was to look. Flies that seemed to lack all sense of self-preservation were intent on sitting on her salty face and the constant batting them away was enough to cause insanity.
Only by the grace of the Universe was Jane lucky enough to stumble upon a rudimentary road that was nothing more than a dry sandy track. It’s at this point she spotted a tall black man, and as the man spotted her they both locked eyes.
He was tall and thin, the bottoms of his trousers were frayed and his dusty feet stood on flip flops that had seen better days. He wiped his face with his hand in what seemed an attempt to wipe away the vision before him. He shifted his feet uncomfortably and for the briefest moment looked panic stricken as he looked up and down the road.
When people say a situation is awkward they have no idea what awkward can really mean.
With a sinking heart the little girl understood why he was acting nervous. She had already seen and experienced more things than the average little girl should in this part of the world. Jane should have felt relieved that she had stumbled across an adult, but she already knew he couldn’t help. Both the police force and the reserves would be armed, everyone looking for her would be carrying an automatic rifle.
It may pose an unusual sight and perhaps instigate an unfortunate situation if they were to find this black man walking down the road miles from anywhere holding the hand of the lost little white girl.
He quite rightfully wanted nothing to do with her.
Jane still begged him for help but he would only reply in the Bantu language of Shona and gesticulated that she should go that way. Jane didn’t want to go that way alone, she was frightened, tired and didn’t want to get lost again. But the man remained adamant and continued pointing down the road. Jane set off with the little water she had left in her body streaming down her face. After a couple of minutes she looked back and it gave her some comfort to see the man was following her, but with a good distance between them.
As the afternoon was drifting into evening Jane realised the distant rumbling she could hear was the sound of an approaching car. She stopped and waited as a police Land-rover came into view kicking up the dust of the road as it bounced along the rugged arid track. The car came to an abrupt halt and two policeman jumped out and ran toward her, one of them scooped a very grateful Jane up into his arms. While Jane was being carried back to the car she looked over the policeman’s khaki clad shoulder to wave goodbye to the tall man in flip-flops …but he had disappeared from view.
Deborah Jane Nicholas has been around horses for nearly 40 years and has worked within the horse industry in a number of roles. Deborah’s other passions are her 2 dogs, countryside walks and writing, which she does here.