There was once an old man called Dhigidhi. He lived in a little hut in the middle of the jungle. He lived with a young boy. They had both been left behind when the people of their village ran away from some marauding lions that had begun to attack and kill them.
‘Take me with you,’ the old man cried when people left the village.
‘You will only get us killed,’ they said.
‘I may be able to help you some day,’ the old man pleaded, but they wouldn’t listen to him. How could an old blind man help them, the people said to themselves, and they left him there in the village.
After they had gone, the old man wandered about the village alone. He went into the deserted huts collecting food which he put into a sack that he carried on his back. Then, as he entered another hut, he heard the voice of a little child. The child was crying.
‘What’s wrong little one?’ the old man said when he heard the child.
‘My parents have left me alone. They said they could not carry me, because they were carrying my brothers and sisters.’
‘Stop crying and come with me,’ the old man said.
‘Thank you,’ said the little boy.
‘You can thank me when the lions have gone,’ the old man said.
‘Do you think the lions will eat us?’
‘I don’t know, but we have to leave the village very fast. Do you see any hills around?’
‘I can only see a big forest east of us,’ the boy said.
‘Lead us to the forest then.’
‘But isn’t that where the lions live?’
‘The lions won’t look for us in the forest because they know that people live in villages.’
And so the old man and the young boy made their way to the jungle. There, the boy helped the old man to build a hut in the topmost branches of a huge musasa tree.
The two of them lived in their hut for many years and the boy grew up to be a big strong young man. During the day they would climb down from their tree house and go into the jungle to search for food and water and, at night, they would return to sleep. They were quite safe from the wild animals up in the tree. The old man taught the young man some of the things he knew about the people’s ways and how to hunt for honey and little animals like hares and reed buck.
One day, the old man said to the young man, ‘I am getting very old.’
The young man laughed and said, ‘You are still quite fit and strong.’
‘What will you do when I die?’
‘Don’t talk like that,’ the young man pleaded with the old man.
‘Even if I do not talk about it, nothing is going to change the fact that I will die soon.’
‘I wish there was a way to keep death away,’ the boy said with tears in his eyes.
‘There is no way. I shall die one day and you will be all alone.’
‘Then if you die, I will also die.’
‘But you do not have to die before your time.’
‘Then what do you think I should do?’
‘The old man thought for some time and said, ‘I think we should find you a wife.’
‘We are all alone in this jungle. Where do you think we could find a wife for me?’
‘Just do as I say and don’t talk too much,’ the old man said sternly.
To be continued....
And so, on the following day, the two destroyed their hut and went into the jungle to begin their search for a wife. They travelled for many days through the jungle. They slept up in the trees during the night. They trapped for hares, mice and birds which provided food on their journey.
One day the old man stepped on something that felt like a stone and yet he knew it wasn’t a stone.
‘What is it I have stepped on?’ he asked the young man.
‘A tortoise,’ the young man replied.
‘Pick it up,’ the old man said.
On another occasion, the old man stepped on something that felt like a long stick yet he knew it wasn’t a stick.
‘What is it that I have stepped on?’ he asked the boy.
‘It is a gun,’ the young man said.
‘Pick it up,’ the old man said.
The young man picked up the gun and they went on. After several days in the jungle they came to an open plain.
‘Look!’ the young man shouted excitedly.
‘What is it?’ the old man asked.
‘It looks like a village,’ the young man said.
‘Is it a big village?’
‘It seems so.’
‘Let’s approach it.’
As they drew closer to the village, they passed a well where they found two women filling up their water pots. After exchanging greetings with them, the old man asked for water to drink. When they had drunk, the old man said to the women, ‘We are looking for help.’
‘What kind of help are you looking for?’ one of the women asked.
‘Whose village is this we have come to?’
‘It is called the Women’s Village.’
‘The Women’s Village? What a strange name. Why is it called that?’
‘Because there are no men in it.’
‘There are no men in it? How come?’
‘There used to be men here but they were all eaten by the Lion of the Village.’
‘Are you saying that this village was founded by a lion.’
‘No. There were men here before the lion came. But when the lion came, it ate them all, one after the other.’
‘Are you telling me that the lion just ate them and they didn’t fight the beast?’
The women looked at each other as if the old man had asked them a childish question. It seemed to them he was some kind of simpleton, so they didn’t bother to answer him. Instead one of them asked a question, ‘Well you said you were looking for some help.’
‘Yes. We are looking for a wife for my young nephew,’ the old man said seriously. The women laughed, as if the old man had made the funniest joke they had heard in years.
‘Why do you laugh?’ the old man asked.
‘We have just told you that there are no men in our village,’ one of the women said.
‘And so what?’
‘You don’t seem to understand. The lion will not allow any man to live in the village. Very many strong brave men were eaten by this lion.’
‘Maybe that is why they were killed. They were too strong and too brave. Is it possible for us to see this lion?’ the old man said seriously, which brought more laughter from the women.
'Are you joking?’ one of the women asked.
‘Do I look like one who would joke?’ the old man said.
‘We can see that you have a gun and that you are old and blind. The men who were killed by this lion also had guns and not one of them was old or blind,’ one woman said impatiently. She seemed to think that the old man was making a joke of their menfolk who had been killed by the lion.
‘I know, I know,’ the old man persisted patiently.
‘Well if you know, then you will please not waste our time with your foolishness.’
‘At least give us a place to sleep for the night,’ the old man pleaded with them.
‘So that when the lion kills you, your spirit will haunt us, because we let him kill you? No, thank you. Go your way! And we would advise you to leave the village very quickly because the lion will soon return from its hunting and, if it smells your presence…’
‘Don’t you have a headman in the village? Someone we could talk to?’
‘I am the headperson of the village and I am telling you to leave before it’s too late.’
‘Then you have nothing to fear. If anything happens to us, then I shall have brought this on myself. Just give us a place to spend the night and…maybe…you will not regret it.’
Once more the women laughed but to humour the old man and his young nephew. They gathered around and asked them all sorts of questions. The old man knew that the women were laughing at him but he didn’t mind. More than once the you man asked him, ‘Don’t you think we take the women’s advice and go away before the lion comes?’
‘Don’t you want a wife?’ the old man asked the young man.
‘but what use will she be to me when I am dead?’
‘And who said you are going to die?’
‘It’s clear from the stories of these women that lion will make short work of us.’
‘That is the women’s story…what is your story?’
‘I don’t…think we will see the sun tomorrow.’
‘I haven’t seen the sun for over half my life but am I dead?’
The young man couldn’t say anything to this.
Then the women brought lots of food for them. ‘At least you won’t die hungry!’ the women joked and the old man laughed with them.
After supper, the women showed Dhigidhi and the young man the hut in which they were going to spend the night.
‘Lock the door!’ one of the women said and the others laughed.
‘Don’t you think we should take this chance and run?’ the young man whispered to the old man when they were alone in their hut.
‘Have you got the tortoise?’ the old man asked him instead.
‘And the gun?’
‘Good. Let’s go to sleep.’ And, as soon as he said this, the old man began to snore. The young man could not sleep. Whenever sleep drew near him, he thought he saw a huge shaggy lion standing before him and roaring. Then, towards dawn, he did really hear the heavy footfall of a lion. It gave one terrible earth-shaking roar and said, ‘What fool has the cheek to sleep in my house?’
The young man shook the old man and said, ‘It is here, Grandfather! The lion is here!’ The old man woke up from his deep sleep and said, ‘What is it?’
‘The lion! It is here!’
And at that moment the lion asked again, ‘What fool has the audacity to sleep in my house?’
‘And what fool asks such a foolish question?’ the old man answered back.
‘I am the man of this place,’ the lion said.
‘And who do you think is afraid of you?’ the old man answered fearlessly.
‘Do you want to see my beard?’ the lion said as it plucked out some long thick hairs and pushed them through an opening in the door. The lion’s hair was full of ticks. When the old man felt it he gave a contemptuous snort and said, ‘If I showed you my beard you would probably run off to hide in your mother’s nhewe. Let me show you one of the ticks that live in my beard.’
The old man then pushed the tortoise through the opening in the door. The lion jumped back a little at the sight of the ‘tick’ and then he was quiet for some time. So the old man said, ‘Are you still there or have you gone back to your mother?’
‘Do you want to hear me roar?’ the lion responded to the challenge and roared one of its loudest roars.
The women in the village trembled with fear although they were safe in their huts. The young man nearly fainted with horror.
‘Did I hear a mouse squeak?’ the old man called out. ‘I didn’t hear a thing. Put your mouth closer to the hole in the door and roar harder than you did last time, otherwise I won’t hear you.’
The lion then put its mouth to the door and opened it wide to let out a roar. But the old man’s gun roared first.
In the morning the women found the lion dead with its legs in the air, lying outside the hut in which the old man and his nephew were sleeping.
And that is how the old man became the Chief of the Women’s Village and his nephew found a wife who gave birth to the first men who were not afraid of lions.
From One Day, Long Ago: More Stories from a Shona Childhood by Charles Mungoshi