18 November 2012

Tanzania: Paulo, the Decorated Colonel


I WILL never forget the day I mowed down five highly versatile enemy commandoes who cornered me in a dense jungle that July morning.

My battalion commander, a brigadier we all treated with veneration, had sent me on a solo mission to track enemy troops in that jungle. Brigadier Wambura armed me heavily before departure. He laid in my hands a high-velocity machine pistol, a sharp 38-inch-blade combat knife, two powerful hand grenades, a pair of binoculars, two Berretta pistols and, of course, the requisite array of bullets.

I also had other field paraphernalia. I was dressed in combat fatigues complete with a bullet-proof vest and a hard helmet. The brigadier also gave me two fast-poison capsules with which to kill myself in case enemy troops captured me. "Look Paulo," he barked. "You must swallow both capsules with one clean sweep and drop dead. This will save you from enemy torture and pitiful death," he said.

"And, whatever the case, never betray my trust," he ordered wagging an admonishing finger at me. So, I wandered deep into the jungle to look for enemy positions. I dug my way laboriously, slashing creepers with the knife to clear the way for my feet. A rabbit flashed from the undergrowth startling me.

It plunged into a cluster of thickets as a dove alighted from a nest. All went well until I reached a clearing in the largely dense tropical jungle. A troop of monkeys saw me and scrambled for cover in thick foliage. An owl boomed its pride in the distance. I was trying to disentangle my boots that were snared in a mass of creepers when I saw a cigarette butt. I stooped low to examine it. Someone must have been here, I thought.

As I picked up the smouldering butt I spotted a fresh army boot print in the damp soil. I turned around to appraise my surroundings rather nervously. Wham! I saw him. A member of the enemy forces! A commando! My heart took a somersault. I scowled at him as our eyes locked. It was eyeball to eyeball. Then I saw four more armed men. In fact I was surrounded and skillfully trapped by five enemy commandoes.

Now, if you think I swallowed those stupid fast-poison capsules and dropped dead, you have another shocker coming. I hit the ground at lightning speed and rolled over for cover. I hid behind a thick dead tree and primed my mind and my weapons for a vicious fight. This smart combat tack must have dazed my adversaries, for they remained on their feet transfixed. But they all had their guns pointed in my direction. I brought down the guy on my left with a burst of machine pistol fire.

The man, grunted, leapt into the air and fell down groaning. His gun flew out of his hands. It dawned on the other men that the fight was real. They ducked behind tree trunks but I could see the knee of one man projecting. I sunk a slug into that knee with pinpoint accuracy. The soldier flinched offering his chest to me on a silver platter. I now took a sniper shot without bothering to aim.

I hit him with clinical precision. Two things happened simultaneously - the man dropped dead and the other soldiers fired a salvo at me. Most of their bullets whizzed past me and whistled into the wilderness. One bullet singed my left shoulder. At least ten bullets nicked my helmet. Those were killer shots, I thought. The men held their fire to study the situation. Well, I was making headway, anyway.

It was two men down now. But I still had three more combatants to tackle. The men were hiding conveniently behind tree trunks awaiting the opportune moment to strike. Intuition told me to attack again. So, I lobbed a hand grenade behind one of the trees where a well-fed man was lurking. The explosion brought the man flying towards me. Again, my machine pistol barked.

The man fell down and lay still in a heap. I counted him dead. The fourth man should not have come to this killing field. The foray was exceedingly dangerous for him. He was a coward and a naïve sissy. The guy lost his nerve, threw down his rifle and fled like a maniac. He unwittingly sprinted through a clearing giving me a clear line of fire. I brought him down with a single brain shot.

That left me with only one enemy soldier -- the most ferocious one, perhaps. I now wasn't sure where the man was lurking. I lobbed a hand grenade behind a suspicious-looking tree but, as fate would have it, the grenade overshot its target and rolled into a pond. It didn't explode. So, I hit the tree trunk with a flurry of bullets sending a cloud of dust swirling into the canopy. Much to my bewilderment, the guy didn't respond.

An eerie silence ensued. Sensing danger, I crawled on my stomach to a different position to scour the undergrowth for the soldier. Here, I lay still for a moment and then raised my head stealthily to scout for danger. I was shocked by what I saw. It was, indeed, a bewildering scenario. In fact I had been wasting my ammunition fighting that last man. When I saw him, the slob was busy dying -- much to my delight.

He was gasping for air desperately. Nature had already fought my battle and won it. A large jungle python had captured the man and was mercilessly tightening its body coils to suffocate him! The reptile must have been very hungry. It was licking him at the same time! After wetting him and making sure he was dead, the serpent would swallow him. I stood akimbo and watched as the unfortunate soldier went through vigorous convulsions.

I knew very well that the man would not survive. So, I didn't shoot him. The reptile saw me. It fixed me with a hard stare but I couldn't read the expression on its long frightening face. It remained silent flicking its jet black tongue continually. The dying soldier had military boots, bulky combat fatigues and a hard helmet on. I could also guess that the man had hand grenades, knives, pistols, and other implements of war in his shirt pockets.

I wondered how the snake would get round to swallowing him. But nature has its own ways of solving problems. I remembered seeing a similar python swallowing an antelope that had sharp horns and hooves. But the antelope disappeared into the snake's belly smoothly. In nature, I thought, one creature always dies to nourish another. It was this soldier's turn to nourish the snake.

Of course, the other dead soldiers would nourish hyenas and other carrion eaters that would come foraging at nightfall. I picked up the dying soldier's AK 47, which was lying near the tree trunk. I also collected the other soldiers' weapons and stashed them in one of their military rucksacks. I walked back to the command post singing halleluiah. I became a decorated soldier after the war.

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