So, imagine you sitting by the river. It’s one of those perfect days; sunny, dry breeze blowing. You enjoying the blue sky, the warm stones, the sound of the children laughing in the clean mountain water. Nobody around but you, your family and birds calling in the thick trees. It’s what it’s about; life.
Then suddenly a man comes out of the bush, down river. Just appears from the deep green into the sunlight. Your heart catches in your mouth. Where’d he come from? He’s tall, slim, dark skin. His hair is all natty, uncut, sticking out in clumps. He looks wild. His shorts are ripped, no shirt, skin smooth and shiny, and a long staff in his hand.
You sit up straighter. But what you going to do? How you going to protect your family; your wife setting out the picnic lunch, you pickni glowing in the sunshine? And the road, a good ten minutes away, through the bush. You lean forward, just in case you need the knife for the orange, or the bottle of juice, that would be heavy enough.
But the man, he ain’t paying you no mind. He’s just walking. You, you’re watching him hard. How light he is on his feet, balanced, agile over the stones. He walks over the stones like he own the river. You know the staff is more than a walking stick. You don’t move but your eyes follow him, and as he’s getting closer you realise he’s strong yes, but he old. There’s grey in his long beard, in his natty locks, on his bare chest. His muscles are tight like a bantam fowl but the skin is thin.
Your shoulders are back now. He’s strong but he’s old. You have a chance. You relax a bit as he reaches you. He glances over. You nod.
-Afternoon papa, you say. And blink your eyes from the sun to try to see his face.
And he? He just nods, and walks right past you, nothing else.
So you watch him go, and in a few strides he disappears round the bend in the river. It’s as if he was never even there. All you’re left watching is bamboo hanging over the river. And maybe, for a few days after, you ask yourself, which part he came out from. Might even have asked yourself where he was going. But I tell you what you never asked yourself.
– how he living in the bush so?
Never crosses your mind, not once. How he does live in the bush, old but strong, light-foot but worn, smelling of the forest.