The Weth Chronicles: Flashback

The wind was angry, howling like someone deranged. I was scared. Within seconds of my waking, I saw stark naked fear in Mother’s eyes.

“We have to go further.” Father said, paddling rather furiously against the tide.

Ruziezi gaped at him, mouth wide open. He stopped rowing and turned to face the old man, so the pale light from the clouds flirted on his bearded, youthful face. “But father, it’s getting late; besides our fishing baskets are full. Shouldn’t we—?”

“Cast the net and help me row towards the North. I can’t do this alone.” Father cut him short. He grunted and spat into a small plate he kept beside his leg.  “Adi get the black bag and unpack one basket of fish into it. That should give us a place to dump the new catch.” Without taking his eyes off the throbbing black water, he said to me, “Ohmston, help your mother.”

I moved to Mother’s side. Her face was drawn, her eyes tired. But she did as her husband bade, not minding the mosquitoes that bounded heartily around her ears and legs.

I looked at my elder brother.

Ruz was the only one who dared challenge Father. He looked away, paddling with a furiousness that came close to rebellion. If he couldn’t say a word who was I to voice my complaint. So I obeyed and began the tedious task of emptying one basket of fish into the sack.

As if he could read our minds, Father broke the silence.

“I know you all are tired. I know. But we have to take advantage of the crisis currently in the community. You all have seen how much, the soldiers who came in those huge metal trucks like our wares, especially our fish. I hear they are leaving Umudhe tomorrow. If you noticed this morning, several of them were loitering at the river bank awaiting the return of the fishermen. I already have three Lieutenants who want to buy a basket of fish each.” He patted Ruz on the back. “God willing, you and Ohmston will have money to go back to school tomorrow.”

Ruz smiled, hiding his face.

“But don’t you think we’ve come far enough?” Mother asked.

“Patience, Adi. I feel the net bulging already.”

“Ok.” My mother said, resignedly. “But we shouldn’t keep Asi waiting for too long.”

At the mention of my sister’s name, a huge grin broke out on my face. I could picture her in the blue frock she had worn that morning, seated by the small fire at the river bank, waiting patiently for our return. She would have amassed a crowd of buyers for our fish before we got to land plus the steaming fried fish and roasted plantain she’ll have ready for us. I couldn’t wait to run into her arms.

While we worked, the sun began a slow trek into the horizon, leaving behind a thin, fine mist of darkness. Birds soared in flocks, fading into the distance as they cooed and chirped excitedly at another day now gone. Other fishermen, with whom we had set out early that morning, turned and began their return journey to the village. But not Father: he kept on, willing the fishes into his net.

I slapped my ankle; the mosquitoes were unbearable.  Strong wind kissed my face. It was refreshing at first but it soon whipped up into a windstorm. The air howled, making angry yowls into the night. I snugged closer to Mother, who wrapped her arms around my shoulders.

“Are you scared?” she whispered.

I shook my head. Ruz had told me so much about his fishing expeditions that my first time held little surprises, or so I thought.

She cradled my head on her knees and then unwound her wrapper, throwing it around me to keep me from catching a cold. I caught her shivering slightly as the wind seeped through the thin fabric of her patari into her bones.

“Mother you are cold.”

“Don’t worry about me, Ohmston.” She peered at me, her eyes big and bright. “Are you cold?”

“No.”

“Then, I’m not cold.” She pulled at my cheeks.

I smiled.

My eyes travelled the darkening plains, searching for the patterned copse that signalled the countless estuaries that ushered the muddy water of the creeks into the black river. My village lay beyond the copses, surrounded by creeks, stretching languidly on the river bank like a big foot stamped against a sand dune.

Umudhe was a small fishing village nestled amid two rivers that never met. Weeks ago, the village on the opposite side of the River Umu suddenly began claiming ownership of the two rivers, forbidding natives from Umudhe to fish from either river. A fight had ensued, resulting in the death of so many fishermen from both communities. That was when the government brought in a battalion of soldiers to restore communal peace. Days earlier, I overhead Father telling Ruz that the government had oil reserves in our land, hence the President had mobilized soldiers to keep guard over the nations investments before the communal clash got out of hand and the pipelines leading to the oil wells got vandalized.

Pipelines, oil wells, oil reserves . . . these were strange words, and, though Father’s explanation didn’t make much sense at the time, it was enough to make me admire the armed men who gallantly guarded my country’s investments.

My heart leapt for joy when Ruz and Father heaved yet another worthy catch into the small boat.

“Time to go home,” said Father, triumphantly.

 Turning around, we headed back the way we had come. Mother lit the lamp to guide us on the treacherous river, although I was certain Father knew every inch of the swirling, vast blackness. I gazed at his face, marvelling at the way he hung his head, listening to the music of the River. He slapped his knee. Bending, he cupped a handful of water and drank hungrily.

Most natives of Umudhe thought Mr Weth an odd man; he walked over ten kilometres every Saturday to St. Joseph’s Catholic School just to wash Reverend Father Ohmston’s car, clean his house and cut the outlying bushes; chores he had taken upon himself after his baptism by the white man. The title ‘odd’ further stuck when he had named me after the revered priest. Though the villagers thought him odd and a little insane, Father was my god. And as I watched him wipe his hands on his trousers and throw his head back to the wind, I tried to imitate him. I failed. My head was always coming up inches too short and my shoulders were not as broad and square as his were. I gave up, hoping to one day try again and be like him in every way.

A sudden lurch made me start. So preoccupied was I with my thoughts whilst enjoying the comfort of Mothers knees that I had dozed off.

The first thing I saw was Father’s stony face. He hurled one basket of fish into the river, reaching for the next one when Mother stopped him. She pointed to the shore. We could see the fires burning brightly, made haughty by the whirlwind.

My feet were soaked. I looked down only to see water pooling into the boat. Thunder clapped, shaking the clouds till I thought they would fall. Lightening streaked across the sky, brightening the night in surreal light. Mother held me close. Father looked helplessly at the crack that had appeared at the bottom of the boat. A mad wave tossed us against yet another wave, widening the crack on our boat.

Immediately, Ruz snatched the paraffin lamp. He raised it and began waving it frantically in the air.

The wind was angry, howling like someone deranged. I was scared. Within seconds of my waking, I saw stark naked fear in Mother’s eyes.

The heavens opened and down came rain. In torrents like a gale, the raindrops smashed against our faces, blurring what little light, night shed.

We were soaked.

I shivered.

“Help me!” Father called to Ruz. Together they threw out two more baskets of fish.

“Grab the oars. Now!”

Mother stood up and began bailing the water.

Father and son rowed, paddling feverishly. But it was futile.

We were sinking.

And we were still too far away from the river bank to swim to shore.

Father could have, maybe Ruz too, but not me, not Mother.

Up ahead I could see powerful torchlights seeking us from the shore. I heard the powerful engines of a speed boat stutter to life. A violent wind came at about the same time, capsizing our boat into the black river.

“Mother!” I screamed, holding on to her leg. Quickly, father was beside us. He held me up and made to turn the boat when Mother’s hysterical flails caught his attention.

“Ruz, come hold your brother.”

Ruz swarm expertly to Father’s side. He took me into his arms and watched Father disappear into the darkness.

It was the last time I saw Father.

And mother too.

Ruz could not carry my weight for long. Against the waves, we were tossed like dry leaves in the harmattan. He battled to keep me from drowning, holding my head above water, while he swarm against the jostling tide towards the river bank.

But my wild thrashing didn’t help his progress. Instead it weakened him, confusing his strokes, pushing him farther away from the shore.

The rain pelted my face with tiny stones, blinding me. My little feet kicked against the waves and soon I found I was gulping water with the speed of a thirsty skunk. Slowly I felt myself drop into the water, thrashing wildly my small arms and legs. I tried to call to Ruz but every time I managed to get my mouth open was an invitation for yet another large drink.

I felt life slowly ebbing out of my limbs.

My vision darkened.

Then I felt a strong arm pull me into the rain.

And everything went blank.

“Colonel! He is awake sir!” An unfamiliar voice floated from faraway.

Seconds later, I felt someone standing over me.

“Mother?” I whispered.

The figure knelt and held my hand.

“Mother?”  I called out again, a frantic note crawling into my voice.

“Please calm down.”

The voice was soft, musical to my ears. I forced open my eyes. I was in a tent of some sort, made bright by a kerosene lamp placed beside me. The face of the figure kneeling over me swam in and out of focus.

I closed my eyes.

“Get his sister.” I heard him say.

I felt his hand stroke my brow.

Then I heard that soft baritone a third time. “I am Colonel Dimka Ibrahim and you are safe.”

 

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One comment

  1. Wonderful weaving of the story. Totally awesome!!! Keep it up bro. U gat me hooked already

cool good eh love2 cute confused notgood numb disgusting fail