The grass boat bobbed on the surface of the waters of the Chamo Lake, the cool breeze light on the face, Kebede regarded the distance with dreamy eyes. He was the eldest of three siblings and hoped to catch a big Nile-Perch. He was a student of grade ten and studied in the Arbaminch Comprehensive High school. He went fishing on the Chamo Lake on Saturdays and Sundays and borrowed the grass boat from his friend Mekonnen who lived close to the lake. Mekonnen did not go to school, in fact he had left school after grade nine when he failed to get the desired marks.
Kebede liked fishing about a couple kilometres from the landing place where the steamer was berthed. The spot was close to a hill with caves burrowed into the sides. The water was calmer in this area, especially because it was in the lee of the shore, bounded on three sides by a raise hill. A cove that sheltered him from the winds that sometimes drove waves as high as two metres high. His grass boat stood no chance in choppy waters because it was barely floating. Kebede first caught the tilapia in the mornings which he then put into a tin can filled with water. These tilapia fish were hooked on to a larger hook tied to a strong line and then thrown into the water with a sling. Today, he thought he would catch the “big one.” It was now ten in the morning and in spite of the breeze, the African sun was already beating on the surface with an insistence. He took a swig from his water bottle and then opened his lunch box to grab a bite of the injera ad the shero wat that his mother, mama Hiwot had packed for him.
The boat continued to bob on the surface, everything seemed to pass in a semblance of peace. He had strung four lines with hooks baited with tilapia. Today was a special day, it was his birthday, and his two closest friends, Amsalu and Iskinder had promised that they would visit him by twelve noon. He wanted to show them that he could fish, and land a well sized nile perch. But then as he turned his gaze towards the furthest line cast by him, he had a feeling of foreboding! The glassy skin of water was somehow disturbed in the distance, about fifty metres from his fragile papyrus boat. He thought that it was perhaps a log, or a tree branch that was breaking the smoothness of the water. Immediately however, the fragile boat started to rock as if something really huge had brushed against its underside! He was not initially alarmed as he had initially come across incidents where submerged floating trunks of trees had brushed against the bottom of the boat, threatening to capsize it.
Kebede leaned out of the fragile papyrus boat to look into the water and see what had brushed against it when suddenly a snout snapped out of the water, a sleek deadly shape, grey in colour, eyes gleaming at at him with a malevolent glint. Kebede swiftly moved to the centre of the boat, shivering with fear. There was a moment of stillness and then suddenly the crocodile for so it was, lashed at Kebede who was standing in the boat. The tail struck him on the chest sweeping him straight off the boat. The impact with the water drove him into a state of panic and he gulped some of the water. What happened next seemed to happen as if in a dream. The crocodile grabbed him in the small of his back and spun him in the water. Next, there was an excruciating pain in his left leg, it seemed as if his calve was being torn out! In a moment of lucidity, Kebede noted that the water had turned choppy as he observed that he was surrounded not by one, but a myriad of crocodiles that seemed to be tossing him around in the water like the rag doll that his sister Martha had and which he and his younger brother Dawit often tossed before her. The excruciating pain drove him into oblivion. When he came to his senses, Kebede observed that he was steadily being driving towards one of the caves in the side of the hill close to which he fished. The crocodiles seemed to be making hissing noises as they seemed to fight amongst themselves for morsels of the human flesh. Kebede strove to keep his mouth and nose above the water, even as he felt his limbs being torn asunder by numerous vices, the jaws of innumerable crocodiles which had him in the grip of his jaws. The water around him was stained red, and he wondered if all that blood had really come from him. All sense of pain had vanished as he felt himself being tugged and dragged by the crocodiles towards the cave whose floor seemed to be level with the water of the lake.
When Kebede came to his senses, he looked at his surroundings and noted that his torso was on a ledge well above the water while his legs dangled in the water. What had initially been a feeling of numbness had turned into flashes of excruciating pain. There was no sign of the crocodiles in the immediate vicinity, although in the further distance he could observe the turbulence in the water as the crocodiles lead by a massive grey coloured crocodile seemed to be moving away. They seemed to emit a clicking sound accompanied by a hissing sound. Immediately, Kebede sensed that the crocodiles had left him in the cave, only to return later to finish him up. Sensing the urgency of the situation, Kebede attempted to crawl out of the cave towards whatever security the shore would provide him.Each foot that he progressed gave rise to the most excruciating pain from every part of his body. His skin was in tatters from the numerous gashes that the jaws of the crocodiles had inflicted on him. He knew very well that he would have to move really quickly before the crocodiles returned to finish him off. His only thought was of reaching the higher ground on the shore beyond the cave, and that his friends, Amsalu and Iskinder made good their promise and visited him before sunset.
When he came to his senses, Kebede noted that the sun was already sinking towards the horizon. In the distance, the flow of the water was broken by numerous obstacles, the snouts of the crocodiles returning to the cave for their evening meal. Kebede had crawled to higher ground on the beach but then he no longer had the strength to crawl away from the water. All of a sudden a motor boat rounded the cove and he heard his friend calling out to him. Kebede collapsed in exhaustion and the next he came back to consciousness, he realised that he was being carried by two of his friends down to the motor boat. “Thanks, friends!” he croaked and then slipped back into unconsciousness. The operation that took place in the hospital run by the Danish doctor took about five hours. Most of the work involved stitching loose flesh and skin. When he came to the next day, Kebede was swathed in bandages all around his body. The number of stitches exceeded comprehension.
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