This story is by Blessmore Chikwakwa and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Timmy ventured into the forest, ignoring the village headman’s advice. The forest looked small and he decided to explore it alone. He had been fighting with his dad, Jonathan for years now, ever since his parents were having problems and had decided to be separated for some time. When they got back together again, Timmy censured his dad for the family problems and for abandoning them.
They were on a trip in Africa. Timmy didn’t bother to conceal his feeling towards Jonathan. They had just fought on arrival at the village; they had gone to for hiking and the headman told them they could not go into the forest with their hearts heavy. They were still angry with each other, and no one was allowed in the forest in that state because they forest was sacred. So they set up camp, the three of them despite the head man offering them accommodation. Timmy’s mother had sent them on this trip so that he would work things out with his dad. His sister Cathy wanted to come along, this was a welcome distraction since he didn’t want to be alone with his dad.
Timmy had better things to do than go trekking in Africa with Jonathan but, he was only doing this for his mother. He got into the forest well aware of the things he was not supposed to take with him. He did not believe in such things as ancestral spirits or ghosts as far as he was concerned the headman had ancient thoughts and was absurd.
They expected to finish the hike before it got dark. When they couldn’t go into the forest, they transferred to their tents, to hide from the African summer sun. When, it was serene outside, Timmy packed a lighter backpack and set in the forest, at around eleven in the morning. Jonathan and Cathy had lunch together and they waited for him, but he did not come back. They told the headman that they could not go into the forest without him. When the time was three in the afternoon, they notified the headman that they would adjourn the hike.
The headman offered them a tour of the village. They walked past the mud huts, past boreholes where the Villagers drew their water. Women with buckets balancing on their heads and children were playing chanting and laughing. The headman invited them to his house where they met his family and had a home cooked meal for dinner.
When, they finally got to their tents they were sure that Timmy would be back, his sister went calling his name towards his tent but there was no answer. She kicked the tent, still no answer. She decided to open the tent and it was empty. He was not back yet; they used the logs they got from the headman’s homestead to build a fire. They sat by the fire talking and singing, they stayed up late hoping he would come back, when he did not, Jonathan announced that he was going to sleep, maybe he was not coming back because he did not want to face him. Cathy stayed up alone, in the middle of the night cell reception was good and she used data bundles to surf the internet. She updated her social media until about four in the morning when she decided to put out the fire and go to sleep.
The following morning there were voices talking outside, she heard her father talking to the headman and got out of the tent. Her father told her that her brother had not come back. When, he didn’t come back, Jonathan went to tell the headman that he had last seen Timmy, last morning when he went into his tent. The headman said he would find out where he could be. Someone, a kid came forward and said that he had last seen Timmy going into the forest.
The only way to get into that forest and be able to come out was if he had asked permission to go into the forest from the keepers of the forest. He also needed a guide once inside, his heart was supposed to be light and he was not supposed to bring coins, a camera, phone or modern snacks. “He is never going to get out of that forest,” the headman told Jonathan, “you will never see your son again”. “He has infuriated the ancestors”. Jonathan and Cathy were devastated apparently there were anecdotes of people who had not followed the rules of the forests and they were never seen again ever, locals and tourists.
The forest looked like a small spot, they went around it in a car calling out his name in a matter of a few hours but they did not find him. The headman told them that the forest might look small but if you go inside without a guide, you will never get to the brink of it. By the time they circled around and came back to their camp, Jonathan and Cathy hoped they would find him back in his tent, but he wasn’t. They were warned they couldn’t go into the forest because it was late, but they could do it early the following morning. The headman thought they could stay inside after all that had happened, but both Jonathan and Cathy preferred the tents in case he would come back, which he didn’t.
The following morning the headman performed a ritual with a big clay pot and a cow’s tail as they asked for permission. They were told that they would know if permission was granted if their guide showed up. In the mean time the headman checked their bags. After, thirty minutes the headman told them that they could enter the forest. To their surprise no one had arrived, so they thought maybe the headman himself was going to accompany them. “There is your guide,” the headman showed them a snake, one they had never seen or heard of before. It was white, long and slim, it looked at them for a long time, then it turned to go.” follow it,” the headman urged them.
Stepping into the forest was like stepping into another world. They followed their guide cautiously as they saw all kinds of animals going about their business. Then they came to a tree trunk that lay crossed, blocking the road. The stump was so big and the tree must have had fallen during a storm. The snake paused before the tree stump and they waited behind it. None of them had said a word after entering the forest. There was a sudden rustling sound coming from their right side followed by the biggest snake they had ever seen, a python actually. It went under the stump and raised it to one side. It cleared the road for them and went on its way. There were animals, flowers and trees they had never seen and some water bodies were blue and yellow.
In the mean time, the headman resumed the rituals asking the ancestors to have mercy and to bring the boy back. They reached the end of the forest and the snake turned to take them back, but they had no clue they were going back. The forest magic prevented them from seeing that, only the guide could tell the way. The spirits of the forest were impressed by their bravery and fortitude, they had not talked, pointed, or screamed at what they saw and they showed mercy. They unexpectedly found themselves back where they had started. Before, they could say anything, they snake turned and left.
The headman was stooping over something or someone with his back on the forest.
“Dad” Timmy jumped to hug his father and then his sister, something he had not done in a long time.
“I’m so sorry”
“Timmy, you do not have to apologize,” I am the one who should apologize, Jonathan replied.
“No, Dad, I should apologize. I blamed you for everything, I ignored everything you told me, and I, I said some bad things, can you please, forgive me,” Timmy begged between sobs.
“Of course, I forgive you my boy”, Jonathan hugged his son.
“I’m glad you are back, I thought I would never see you again son. Are you okay? What happened in there?”
“The spirits bestowed me a second chance, they foresaw my future, they told me it is a great one, but first I needed to respect and love his parents because that is where the most blessings come from”.
The headman explained that they could not divulge secrets of the forest, they should remain a secret.
They knelt and clapped facing the forest as the Headman performed a ritual to express their gratitude to the ancestral spirits, the keepers of the forest for showing mercy and bringing back the Timmy unharmed. The overjoyed family thanked the Headman, packed their bags and left even though the sun was going down.