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Guma finished rolling tobacco in a leaf, picked up a stick from the remains of the fire over which he had just finished cooking his evening meal, lit his ‘cigarette’ from the stick, puffed once, twice and lay back on his rough bamboo lean-back chair and stared morosely into the fast settling darkness.

After a while he got up and in squatting position, his leaf cigarette dangling from one corner of his mouth, a far-away, dreamy look on his face, he served his simple meal of beans into an old plate and placed it on the pile of boards beside him to cool. Then he lay back in his chair and thought about his wife and two children a hundred and fifty miles away in Ga town.

What wouldn’t he give to be with them right now! For a miserable four pounds, ten shillings a month he was sitting like a man cast into the bush with the devil’s disease, guarding a State Works Department roadside camp, a road which ran right through the jungle. ``What for do?’’ He thought gloomily:

She had to eat and they had to eat- the two kids and their mother. Not that the loneliness in the jungle mattered. He had stayed alone and worked for two years on his forest farm, besides he had had his share of lonely jungles in India and Burma when the colonial government sent the West African Frontier Force, to go and fight for the white man.

What worried him was the strange sound he had been hearing for the past few weeks. Not that he was a coward; the war had hardened him against anything like that, but there was something strange about the sound, something he could not put into words. It did not resemble any sound made by any animal he knew and he knew many, being a hunter. He picked up the plate of beans from atop the board and began to eat slowly with a fresh leaf.

Gradually with the increasing darkness, the jungle opened up with a language of its own. Monkeys chattered up among the trees, twigs snapped, a thousand million insects began a steady staccato of sounds, a hundred other sounds were undistinguishable.

A path led from the camp to the main road which though only two yards away, was cut off from view by the thick trunks of jungle trees. Occasionally, a truck roared up the road from the great city a hundred and more miles away to the south drowning the strange sounds of the jungle momentarily, its sounds fading as it drove toward Ga Town, and then the incoherent language of the jungle would resume.

This, reflected Guma as he finished his simple meal and drank a tin-full of water, is the life of jungle road camp watchman. He smiled bitterly to himself and his thoughts switched back to that strange sound. The camp was made up of a one- bedroom brick hut roofed with iron sheets, with a verandah. It was meant for the overseer but had stayed locked up since it was built. The overseer had made one visit a year in the past three years and on each occasion, he had left almost immediately in his jeep with the same silent nod and handshake.

A few yards away from the brick house, stood the store shed where road-building materials were stowed away. It was against the bamboo-log wall of this store house, that Guma now sat. Another small log hut served as a lavatory. The camp was fenced with fast-rusting barbed wire and had a low bamboo gate that led out to the path and then to the main road.

By the time Guma had finished his after-meal cigarette, thunder rumbled in the distance and lightening revealed nimbus clouds in the night sky as Guma peered upward through the dark. He lit the lantern that hang from a nail in the wall of the store house behind him. As an after-thought, he took the lantern from its nail and shook it to make sure there was kerosene in it. Then he replaced it and sat back, and almost immediately there was a tat-tat of rain drops on the roofs of the store- hut.

Guma made for the verandah on the brick hut opposite, as the store shed had none. Then as the drizzle developed into a downpour, and the gentle wind became more violent, he grabbed an iron sheet from a small pile of old sheets and covered the unroofed poultry house in the garden at the far corner of the camp. He made for the more convenient shelter of the store house, taking the lantern along with him, lightly covering it with the old army coat he was wearing.

He fumbled with the bolt for a while, the rain pouring all around him, then he was inside. In one corner was a small pile of flat boards over which a blanket was spread.Guma found a place for his lantern and then fished around for his cudgel, bow and arrow; these he stood against the wall. He bolted the door and went to lie on his hard ‘bed’, listening to the violent whistling of the wind and the over increasing downpour outside. After a while he fell asleep.

An overwhelmingly strong desire to`` water the grass’’ woke Guma shortly after mid-night. To his horror, the store-room was in total darkness. He groped around for a box of matches, cursing all the while. When he had found it, he re-lit the lantern and poured in more kerosene.

Picking up his bow and arrow, he unbolted the door and stepped out into the wet cold, night, the lantern in one hand, bow and arrow in the other. A gust of cold wind hit him and he shivered slightly. It was pitch dark. There was the drip, drip, drip, of water from tree leaves all around him. The night was quiet but for the occasional chirp-chirp, of a few insects.

Guma stood the lantern at the entrance and made for the back of the shed and then he heard it suddenly when he was in the process of ‘watering the grass’. It came from the direction of the bamboo gate in the fence.

Hastily adjusting his pants, Guma spun round, a cold chill starting from the base of his spine and running up the nape of his neck and seemingly into his head, so that he thought his head was a dozen times its normal size.

His eyes probed the darkness and then he saw it. A dark silhouette, darker than the night, swinging clumsily over the bamboo gate. I must be dreaming, thought Guma, walking and dreaming. Wake up, he told himself.

He blinked and blinked hoping that it was an optical illusion. But sure enough there was the thing approaching slowly and almost unsteadily, with a sort of clumsy gait, and as it moved, it made that sound Guma was now familiar with.

A wet sloshing sound punctuated with a soft ‘thump’: Slide, thump! Slide, thump!’ and the thing came on. Surely such things existed only in children’s stories. On a dark night like this, the lantern with its dirty and oddly mended globe did not give much light. Guma stood transfixed, his brain numb, and the size of his head seeming to magnify many times over.

Then the desire to live came alive and he moved, grabbing his bow and arrow and crouching low, his eyes fixed on the dark figure coming slowly but surely. The thing was now about thirty yards away and Guma saw that it was the size of a fully grown man, covered with a thick layer of hair, hair everywhere except for a bald patch atop the almost square head.

A gorilla? No, not like any gorilla he had seen or heard about. No, it was a man.., no, a gorilla... His mind worked furiously as the thing came slowly, its great square shoulders hunched. I am mad thought Guma desperately, I have been brooding too much and now I am going mad. Slide thump! Slide thump! Guma’s knees shook and threatened to give way. He who had faced blazing guns in the Burma war!

The thing was now scarcely twenty yards away. Still crouching low Guma let go the arrow but his hands shook violently. It hissed past the head of the thing missing widely, then the thing stopped abruptly about ten yards away and two fire balls that were eyes stared at Guma.

Guma threw the bow away backed towards the door, then turned and dashed through the door knocking down and extinguishing the lantern in the process. He banged shut the door and pushed the bolt home, his heart pounding like a machine gone wild and his head reeling as if he had fallen through space.

It was quiet outside and the whole jungle seemed asleep. The sound started side, thump! Slide thump! and faded into the distance. The overseer won’t believe me; nobody will believe me thought Guma, as he fainted.

Exactly a week later, a determined Guma rode an old, rusty and creaky bicycle into Ga Town and to the District Commisioner’s Offices. He recounted the events of the previous night and tendered in his resignation to a baffled white commissioner and an even more baffled overseer of Public Works who after listening to Guma’s story kept muttering ‘can’t be true’.

The Governor too repeated several times something about a ‘mysterious continent’ and ‘superstitious natives’. An office clerk went out to hunt for a new watchman for a roadside State Works camp andGuma was paid off.

{COPYRIGHT RESERVED: This tale of the supernatural was first published more than 30 years ago, in the 12 April, 1979 issue of The Mirror. George Sydney Abugri is a journalist, author and poet.}