Nwadibia’s lucky escape into the African jungle caused a great deal of angst among the villagers, who attributed the failure of his capture to the lack of experience of the newly appointed police chief, Marcus. It was felt that, with the criminal now at large, no one was sure where he would strike next. Soon after his escape, it became obvious that he had fled with a wild, wicked, black dog, nicknamed Bandit. Bandit belonged to one of Nwadibia’s father’s numerous wives. The news of Bandit’s disappearance came as a huge relief to the children and teenagers living in the neighbourhood. How Bandit came to be in one of Nwadibia’s father’s wife’s possession was not clear, but the general consensus among the villagers was that he was a stray dog, roaming the length and breadth of the village, until she took him in. Bandit was completely out of control, and terrorised anyone and everyone who had the misfortune of living in close proximity. He didn’t run the way a normal dog did, but he was fast, and galloped like a horse at full throttle. He could be out of sight in a split second. This style of running invariably helped him to catch up to his unfortunate, fleeing victims. He could also jump great heights, like an Olympic high jumper. Bandit was even known to jump shoulder high, so as to snatch the handbags that hung from the shoulders of unsuspecting females, before disappearing into the bush. Any female’s pants and dresses that were hanging out to dry on a washing line were not spared either; the equally wild dog owner hoarded all of the goodies that Bandit brought to her. She lived off these valuable items by selling them in towns far away.
Children were not even spared by her dog. They would very often go into hiding when they heard Bandit bark: the sound sent shivers down their spines. If a child dared to venture out, he or she would be torn to pieces. The dog’s owner, who was just as wild, never took any responsibility for Bandit’s actions. He was the meanest and most unpleasant of all the dogs in the village, and was greatly feared. His constant barking could be heard for miles.
A few years ago, a callow and sluggish youth of fifteen was walking to school early one morning. He was unaware of the presence of this menace in the village, as he had only recently arrived in the neighbourhood to live with his aunt. As he turned a corner, this wild beast suddenly appeared from nowhere and began to chase him. He started shouting as he ran. His legs were short, so he was unable to outrun the light-footed monster. In no time at all, the dog had caught up to him and was all over him, biting and scratching him. By the time it was all over, the boy was beyond recognition and covered in blood. It was a gruesome sight to behold. His mother soon arrived at the scene and on seeing her son bleeding so profusely, immediately collapsed. People ran towards the lifeless body lying on the sand, and began crying, shaking and wailing. All of the teenagers, on hearing what had happened to their friend, swore that they would do all that they could to avoid being beaten in a race with the dog. They would spend most of their spare time on the nearby football field practicing how to run fast. It took weeks but, in the end, they mastered the technique of a quick retreat if they were pursued by this four-legged demon.
In the following months and years, as soon as anyone saw the dog coming, they abruptly turned tail and bolted away as fast as humanly possible; for they knew that if Bandit caught them they would be damned. Bandit was an untrained dog, and as such, had neither manners of behaviour nor any discipline. His most annoying habit was tucking into food the moment he arrived in a home, as an uninvited guest; particularly when he saw people eating together and enjoying a meal. Bandit would jump up, put his mouth on the food on the table, begin to eat it and make the most unpleasant noise as he chewed. Recently, an elderly lady called Mma had been living in the vicinity of the dog. She had gone through the wringer with poor health and recent widowhood. She was recovering from a febrile illness which had dragged on for weeks, and was too poorly and frail to go to the market to purchase any food. Mma had been nearly starving for over two weeks, but eventually she was able to go out to the shops to buy some food. On her return from the market, she began to cook. Mma was in a happy mood and started singing and dancing in the kitchen as she prepared her meal. The meal itself went through various stages: first of all, she carefully made a rich fish stew which had a glorious taste and a pleasant smell that drifted into the atmosphere, through her doors and windows. She dished the stew up onto a plate and carefully laid it on the table in her lounge. Then Mma went back into her kitchen to check on the rice she was boiling. Unfortunately, Bandit happened to be passing. He was running from a mother whose child he had bitten on the legs. Bandit never ignored a food smell, so he made a quick stop and leapt through an open window into the poor woman’s lounge. Within a minute, he had completely devoured the stew she had made, tipping the empty plate onto the floor, before making a quick getaway. Carrying her bowl of white rice in both hands, Mma made a grand entrance into her lounge, only to discover that her fish stew was no more. Her rice bowl crashed to the floor as she fainted.
Nwadibia had a particularly good reason for taking the dog with him, although he had never been a dog lover. He hated them with a passion. This dog, though, had nearly exposed him to his enemies, who were waiting for a chance to shoot him. It happened in his family home in the village, months prior to him escaping to the town. They waited, for a second time in many months, to assassinate him as he returned from an errand for his father. They lingered around for hours on end, anxiously hoping that he would show up. It had rained heavily all day, and his enemies, who were completely soaked, began to shiver. Understandably, they were becoming restless and were about to call it a day when Bandit suddenly barked loudly, announcing the appearance of Nwadibia, who was taking the utmost care, by approaching stealthily, in order not to be noticed. Nwadibia suddenly found himself being chased. He was taken aback, and only quick thinking saved him. He remembered that there was a pit latrine nearby, at the back of the compound, that was big enough to take one person. He disappeared into it and, as it was dark, his enemies found themselves chasing thin air. Nwadibia was a most unforgiving being and he would go to any length to retaliate. He was more than prepared to take his revenge out on the dog who had nearly got him killed.
Nwadibia had run into the harsh and uninhabitable jungle whilst trying to escape from the police. There was no doubt in his mind that it was his one and only choice, for the alternatives were too frightening to contemplate: a life in prison or summary execution. The landscape seemed beautiful, in sharp contrast to the horrible character inhabiting it. He was quite aware that it was going to be a long, drawn-out stay in this location, and this made him anxious. Nwadibia was understandably apprehensive and full of foreboding. He looked back at his escape and realised all too well that he was completely ill-prepared for a stay in such an adverse environment, particularly in terms of tools, clothing, drinking water and protective footwear. It dawned on him that he was in for a prolonged, harsh and bumpy ride in the dense undergrowth, but he hoped that having a strong character would put him in good stead. What gave him even more confidence was the fact that he had been in the same forest on several occasions as a teenager, mainly to hunt, and this past experience had shaped his behaviour. He knew that he had to do anything and everything within his power to improve his precarious situation. It was obvious to him that he had to work hard to turn his predicament around, using all the survival instincts he could muster. He seemed to believe that with time on his side, he would begin to get a better perspective on how to eventually make it out of the jungle alive. He was able to look at his situation from a rational standpoint. He also knew that he had to establish a workable plan to make it.
Throughout his first day in the jungle, he admired the beautiful habitat and vividly noted the great diversity of plants and animals. Although he was constantly on the lookout, as he feared the dangerous animals who inhabited the tropical forest. With Bandit in tow, they wandered about aimlessly for hours, but as he began to gather his thoughts, his wandering became more purposeful. He had to locate a spot to call home, far from the numerous footpaths crossing the jungle, so as to avoid being spotted.
Bandit was an uncouth domestic pet, in urgent need of training and discipline, as his constant unprovoked barking could expose Nwadibia to danger. Nwadibia had to tackle this issue as a matter of urgency. On entering the jungle, he had acquired a cane that was thick, long and dry. Each time Bandit barked, he received twelve strikes from the cane. This was repeated endlessly as the day wore on, so that by the time Nwadibia located a suitable clearing, Bandit was reduced to an inaudible, whimpering wreck. He could barely stand. He no longer had any hair left, only bleeding and swollen bare skin remained. Bandit’s rich crop of hair had been ripped off by the prolonged and merciless whipping.
The clearing was surrounded by massive mahogany trees, with branching roots that one could perch on. Bandit lay prostrate on the swampy ground, grunting in pain and was a sorry sight to behold. He looked as if he were dead, apart from the occasional shallow intake of breath. Nwadibia was now completely exhausted and shamefully ill-prepared for his first day in his new home. The ground was so wet on this very cold Harmattan night, that he had no idea how he was going to sleep. It was now pitch dark, because the trees were so high in the sky, cutting out the light from the sun or the moon. As he rummaged about, he managed to pile together enough dry leaves to create a pile thick enough to create an improvised mattress. He was fast asleep and in a supine position when, in the middle of the night, a black snake, five feet long, slid noiselessly onto his naked trunk. The snake needed somewhere where it could warm up because, as mentioned earlier, it was a bitterly cold night. The snake felt extremely comfortable on Nwadibia’s warm body as he slept. Nwadibia could not remember how long he had slept but, being so tired from wandering in the forest for endless hours, he was convinced he must have slumbered for several hours slumped on top of the dry leaves. When he woke in the early hours of the morning, judging by the cockcrow filtering through the air, he suddenly became aware of a cold sensation across his upper chest. He conjectured that it could be nothing else but a snake because of the way it felt on his naked body. His previous experience with snakes helped him to react calmly and sensibly. He knew what provoked them to bite, discharging their poisonous venom. He lay completely still and motionless. His breathing became shallow and imperceptible. He pretended to be fast asleep and waited anxiously.
Time moved at a snail’s pace, giving Nwadibia a false impression, as if a ticking clock had stopped or the world had come to an end. Eventually, the snake came to life as the day broke and it slowly wriggled off his chest. Nwadibia jumped up with incredible agility and, like a bolt of lightning, struck the snake on its head with the stick reserved for Bandit. How he’d remained so calm throughout the incident, and how his thoughts had crystallised on waking up, was marvellous; not to mention the suddenness of his strike. He no longer needed to worry about breakfast as the snake provided a ready meal. He’d eaten a lot of non-venomous, smooth, green snakes as a teenager, along with his friends. The slender snakes were abundant in the grass fields around the village and at times, the teenagers played with them. They knew that these snakes were harmless, and they often tended to slither away when confronted. When Nwadibia and his friends felt hungry, as often happened in the afternoons, they would hunt down these snakes, strike them on their heads with a dry stick and take them to the market square. They would then make a small fire in the open to roast them. When well-cooked, they would share the meal amongst themselves. They found them appetising and regarded a meal of snakes as heavenly.
Nwadibia’s circumstances in his current location were extremely difficult, for he had no means to make a fire. Moreover, he felt that it was not safe to make one because the billowing smoke would lead to his easy detection and eventual capture. So the snake had to be eaten raw, but first he had to get rid of the scales. As he had no knife or sharp object with him, improvisation was the order of the day. He located a stick from a bamboo tree with sharp edges, and managed to remove the snake’s scales. He cut the snake into small pieces and ate all of it, not leaving any remnants for the dog. He enjoyed it so much that he decided to make snakes his staple food while he marooned in the jungle. He began to look out for them and eventually taught Bandit how and where to find them. He was incredibly pleased that the issue of food had been put to one side. It meant that with a source of protein ensured, coupled with the abundance of fruits and vegetables (poisonous mushrooms excluded), there was no way that he could not survive in his current habitat. This gave him added confidence and boosted his morale. Nevertheless, Nwadibia spent the first three months in his self-made prison, working at full tilt on human survival needs. He gradually became a self-actualised individual, which helped him to discover his own strengths. He gradually forged a tight bond with Bandit, purely for his personal interests, although he had still not forgiven the dog. He was only playing for time. Bandit was valued however, for he played a great role in catching snakes for Nwadibia, but more importantly, he would act as a sentry to warn Nwadibia of any approaching intruders. Careful planning was essential, and he knew that he had to prioritise to avoid things going drastically wrong, jeopardising his slim chance of walking out of this harsh environment. And he needed to work on the most important issue.
Nwadibia knew that he would need a makeshift, mobile shelter to help him sleep at night. His intention was to leave no trace behind that could reveal that he was living in the small area that functioned as his home. He felt that it was important that whatever he constructed could be easily dismantled, packed up and hidden away in the morning when he woke up. He was very skilled in handicrafts and well versed in the traditional ways of making things by hand, by using plant roots and other things he could lay his hands on. No tools were needed, and this suited him immensely. He had learnt the trade as a child in the village, as this type of skill represented the history, tradition and culture of his people, and was part of the villager’s lifestyle. He could make baskets of top quality in the space of an hour. He got down to gathering plant roots, palm tree branches, bamboo sticks and dry banana leaves. With these items, he set about making a small bed that could be laid flat on the wet, rough ground and which could be removed every morning and hidden in the woods. This could then be retrieved again at night-time and, with plenty of dry leaves on top of the improvised bed as a mattress, he would fall asleep comfortably, with Bandit on the swampy floor by his side. He decided to live at the top of a palm tree during the day, covered by palm fronds, looking more like a scarecrow. He had taught Bandit to climb and Bandit normally scaled the height before Nwadibia. With both hidden from view and shielded from the harsh sun, they felt safe and protected as the days and months rolled by.