The Weekend Read

Inyang

By Mary Ononokpono



2nd Nov 2018

Inyang
‘Abasi Inam, God of Wealth, had been generous…’ Read ‘Inyang’ by Mary Ononokpono…

I was stirred from my dream by the song of a mosquito. I had dreamed of a drop of dew that contained a world, a moon, an ocean. In my dream, the world within the dew drop drifted towards my face, and I could see clearly that its ocean and moon were red. The red world disquieted me, provoking a feeling of deep unease, then I heard a high note, felt a sharp prick, and the image of the crystalline drop turned to one of a drop of blood. Agitated, I slapped at the mosquito, finding my cheek instead, as a drop of what I took to be rain, rolled down my face. I opened my eyes and looked around, in an attempt to place my surroundings. It was black as the pitch used by my father’s men to seal his canoes. For a moment, I was unsure of where I was. I could hear the roar that signified the presence of a large body of water close-by. This was creek country, cloaked in night. I had fallen asleep outside. As I sat up, shuddering, memories of the day returned in a tangle, from which I unravelled a thread.

 

The dawn had broken as the dawn before it. The sun rose high, lifted on melodic notes provided by a solitary sunbird poised for flight; her ascent, as the oozing of a ruby yolk, whose bleeding essence warmed all it touched. We had escaped the house early, my sister and I, to catch the sunrise. Being the elder by three years, I was charged with her keep. I took my responsibility seriously, for though we had many, many, siblings, we were mother’s only children and therefore shared the strongest of the bonds of blood.

I called her my little shadow, and she lived up to the title, mimicking me as I absorbed the colours of the changing sky, which softened from charcoal to the same blush as the flamingoes which erupted now in flight. We inhaled at the same time, breathing deeply the heady scent of sun-ripened fruit mixed with the unmistakable pungency of the sulphurous creek.

Soon the morning was peppered with the sounds of logging, the floor of the surrounding forest groaning beneath the weight of old majestic trees, felled by men who wielded their blades with the same precision as they wielded their brand new muskets. The sweltering night rolled into sweltering day, the stillness punctured by the sigh of the dying trees, a sound which had become all too frequent over the course of the last few weeks. Mother had told us that the mosquitoes were increasing because the trees were being felled. Because the creeks were drying up and once-sacred pools were stagnating. Because spirits who carried fell diseases brooded and roamed. As mother was fond of embellished words, we paid them little heed; that is, until we noticed a marked increase in the amount of bites on our skin, until one day our bodies resembled the spotted coats of leopards, not dissimilar to the pair of cubs that we had recently befriended in the bush. The sun’s rays became prickly, and an intense blanket of heat that drove practically all residents of Afaha Obutong to the edge of the coast.

The rest of the women rose early, scenting the air with prayers to Abasi Urua, God of Trade – for it was market, on the eighth day, in the morning. We bathed in the yard, having collected water the previous day in anticipation of market, before running to join the other children, our bell-skirts chiming, alerting the world to the approach of innocence. We ate hot, sticky dodo as we ran, a blur of brown bodies, laughing and goading, leaving our compounds to explore salt-water swamps and the dense tropical forest. Babies wailed while women gossiped as they set up their stalls by the edge of the watery superhighway.

The length of the coast was soon bustling. We watched as toned men ferried bales of sumptuous cloth on large canoes. I didn’t realise then that those canoes had been carved from the felled, ancient trees, even though evidence of their second life was all around us: their transformation into a harbour and small piers, and strange, angular, two-storied houses, imposing and decked; things of peculiar character, built of wood and baked ochre mud bricks. I yearned to enter such a grand house, if only to taste its forbidden treasures for myself. But I was a child of caution and was naturally distrustful of the pale-faced men who frequented the rival trading houses by the harbour. We, the children of the creek, knew all too well of the peril that lurked in the haunts of merchants.

The men ferried whisky and brandy and exotic trinkets for yams, grains and bronzes. A cannon boomed and I jumped as the noise scattered my spirit, until I realised that another winged-vessel had anchored downstream, off Parrot Island, in the mouth of the great river.

I held my breath for the replying cannon, fired from our own harbour, the signal that a man would be sent from the big house to begin comey negotiations.

Afaha Obutong had changed. The water was our lifeblood. It was the road that had opened all roads. But now the wetlands and plains of the surrounding areas had been altered irrevocably by the God of Trade. The pace of life had quickened and even we children were aware of it. Our quiet corner had been unshackled. It felt as though the whole world lay on our doorstep.

As we sauntered toward the bank of the creek, mother called us back to her stall, handing me a manilla that she unhooked from the many heavy bangles that adorned her arms. I stared at the copper ring with reverence. My older brothers regularly boasted about their hordes of the recently introduced currency, but they had never deemed me worthy enough of entrusting with one. Mother interrupted my thoughts.

“Nne, take your sister and fetch a barrel of sea water,” she said. “I need to replenish my salt. Tell that greedy Asukwor that he must send the remaining barrels promptly, or the women of Iban Isong will hear of it. There is more than enough for eight barrels there but I need you to bring one for me now. I need to boil salt. Don’t tarry, sobidem!”

She waved us away. We wove through the tightly clustered stalls, all overflowing with the bounties of Abasi Urua, absorbing the sights and smells. The enormous platters piled with fresh fish, baskets spilling with plantain and newly imported cassava. Tomatoes, grains, nutmegs, and spices from exotic lands that lay far across the spirit sea – all these populated the market. Abasi Inam, God of Wealth, had been generous.

We delighted in the variety of colours, ignoring the hawkers that attempted to force their wares. We picked our way through a group of men arguing outside the Ekpe lodge, distinct in feather-plumed cavaliers and robes patterned with Nsibidi. They easily switched their vernacular, mixing the language of our forebears with foreign, nasal tongues; languages that I would later learn were Portuguese, Dutch and English.

“Eyen akpara!” said one of the men, as we walked past, and I paused, thinking up an equally disdainful retort, until I realised that his gaze rested upon a group of boys dressed like the strange white men. Ignoring them, we lingered and gawped at a stall that sold coral beads, combs, and bridal adornments of rose-bronze and solid gold; that was, until we were shooed away by the proprietor, her painted face contorting, ample breasts swinging like sun-baked gourds as she reached forward to give me a sharp slap. She had been more surprised by our presence than anything, for she had been distracted by the white man nearby dressed like a peacock.

He stood leering at her full breasts, ripe for the plucking, with his filthy trousers bulging and straining, his blood level rising, as she expertly reeled him into her net. I smirked as I saw her swipe the pocket watch that dangled from his velvet burgundy doublet, and laughed as his wig slipped while he lunged at her fleshy, chalk-patterned thigh. Seizing the chance, I snatched a golden comb from her stall and ran, pulling my sister after me, pushing through bodies that smelled of sweat mingled with spices and perfumed oils, only stopping when the woman’s foul-mouthed curses had been swallowed by the noise of the market and the cries of gulls that circled above.

“Akpara o! Akpara o!” I shouted as I fled from the stall, until, satisfied that she was no longer following me, I slowed to a walk, grinning as I tucked my prize into my newly threaded hair. I made my way further through the riverside market, my sister firmly in tow, sidestepping women with babies tied to their backs, hopping over chickens and spilled stock. At one point I spotted a mother-of-pearl button, forced by someone’s foot into the bank. As I stooped to pluck it from the mud, my mother’s manilla fell from where I had hooked it onto my wrist. My sister retrieved and examined it, running her small index along the smooth copper curve.

“What are we supposed to do with this apart from wear it?” she asked. “Eat it?”

“Trade it,” I said, “for yams or salt or whatever you desire.”

“Why can’t I just trade something of mine for something of yours?”

“Because you get more of what you’d like for one of these than for any one thing that you own.”

“It’s silly,” she said. “It makes more sense to just give me a yam if I give you some salt.”

“That’s what they used to do. Old Edet told me.”

“So why do we need these things?”

“They’re called manillas.”

“Ma-nil-la,” she repeated, palming the small bracelet, feeling its weight in her small-girl hand.

At that moment a sand-coloured streak grabbed the manilla from my sister’s outstretched palm and took off like a wind sprite in the direction of the creek. I didn’t think twice, nor did I consider my sister, who stood wailing in the street as I took off after the thief, her cries fading as I pursued him into thick undergrowth by the trees. He was all legs and arms: as strange a person as I’d ever seen. But he was fast.

Though, not as fast as me, for this was my playground, and I knew it as intimately as kin. For years I had frolicked upon the hidden paths through the trees. I knew which roads led to watery chasms that housed families of pythons. I knew which paths the crocodiles were fond of crossing. I knew which herbs could heal the sickness brought on by the tsetse and the mosquitoes that increased without ceasing. I knew which plants brought pain and those that brought healing.

This was my home. I had felt acutely the pain of the dying trees. I could see the coming destruction that would spell our demise.

Although I had not used my sight for many seasons, I recalled now the playground of the Gods. In chasing the crook I noted our passing of the place where Old Ukana still dwells, sleeping, undisturbed by the troubles of this world. We passed the place where Atim Okpo Ebot is said to roam, attempting to restore sweetness to waters that have long ceased flowing, turning their sacred, life-giving nectar into spirits of destruction, whose deathly fingers stretch far and wide. We passed the place I had first seen a mermaid who had questioned me angrily before putting scales on my eyes. She had told me to run in a straight line, unsighted, which is precisely what I did, and I had found myself on my bed the following day with no recollection of how I had got there, other than knowing I had no desire anymore to consume any type of river creature.

The thief and I retraced the footsteps of the Gods, his flight drawing me deeper and deeper into the forest, deeper than I had ever been. I cursed him for we had long passed the threshold that mother had forbade me ever to pass, long passed the beginning of the road to the fabled Spirit Sea. I pursued him through the place where the very old trees dwelt; the place the heartless loggers were fond of frequenting. We passed sacred sites littered with ageing Ekpu, passed Nnam stones crowned in lilies and effigies erected for Abasi Inam. I was surprised at how many shrines we passed. Scores of them, even: creek country had grown fat, enlarged by the fingers of the Gods.

 

Eventually the thick brush began to waylay the thief. As he moved deeper into the forest his movements grew increasingly burdened, limbs trapped and slapped by branch and bush. He began to slow. Grave peril was but a misstep away, it lay all around us, and the thief seemed to know it. I too knew it: that the forest was a thing alive, a dangerous thing, a bristling thing. From that point I tracked the thief easily. He left clues strewn about like toys spilled in the tantrum of an overgrown child. Following his path I soon heard the familiar tinkle of a brook, and as I emerged into a sun-dappled clearing, he was upon me, appearing as if from thin air. He leapt from a tree and straddled my back, furiously trying to bring me down.

“Ino!” I yelled, the feather-weight, impish thing clawing at my shoulders. “Ino! You will not slay me today thief.”

He was roughly my age, but I overpowered him easily with a move I had learned from one of my many senior brothers. As he lay on the mud near the brook, I picked up a stick to strike him. He would not get up for a while once I was done with him. But soon he whimpered, and I took pity on him, casting the stick aside and wresting mother’s manilla from his pale grubby hand. I stared at his face and hair. He was a strange looking creature, with skin the colour of the golden sand found on the banks of azure inland pools; eyes the colour of their waters. His loosely curled hair looked soft as silk and as bright as golden flame. I felt a prickle of friendliness within me.

“What is your name, thief?” I asked.

“They call me Robin,” he said.

I helped him to his feet, eyeing him as he eyed me right back. He wore pale-coloured stockings underneath breeches with stripes that seemed to elongate his legs. He wore black leather shoes, with bronze buckles singing in the sunlight. His puce shirt was torn near the throat. He would look like a vagrant were it not for his beautiful brocade doublet that was stained the colour of the waves. This creature appeared to have emerged from the fabled Sea. He was altogether odd, altogether delightful.

“Why do you stare at me?” he asked, cautiously.

“Because you stole my mother’s manilla,” I said. “Ino.”

“I beg your pardon, I truly do,” he said. “But you can stop calling me thief.”

“But you are a thief,” I said. “What does a person who looks like you want with thieving?”

“What does a person who looks like you want with thieving?” he retorted. “I saw you steal the comb glittering in your hair. It’s not as though you need it. I know who your father is. He could buy you the entire market if you asked him.”

I felt my shoulders slump and my demeanour change. “And what do you know of it?” I asked, though it was apparent that he knew an awful lot about me.

“I’m sorry,” he said, knowing he had gone too far. He looked me in the eye. “What is your name?”

“I don’t give my name to thieves,” I snapped. I had had enough of this probing child, so I turned and began retracing my steps. My sister would be worried by now, but if she had any sense – which, admittedly, she didn’t always exhibit – she would make her way to my mother who would now be livid with a combination of fear and rage.

I stayed close to the sound of the water on the way back. I could hear the thief with wildfire for hair was following me, but I ignored him. He probably only needed to know the way back to the river. I tried to distract myself from his presence, and the fraught interaction we had just had. So as I walked I recalled the stories that my mother used to tell us about the forest, and about the guardians that roamed these sacred woods: of leopards and sprites and other indwelling spirits; of the sylphs of air that diverted the paths of wars and the migrations of our peoples. I thought of the fabled Ocean, the great bridge that separated our world from that of the spirits, of which I had heard many tales, but never seen, though I was told it was but three days’ march away.

I walked until I was weary. Standing at a fork in the river with which I was not familiar, it dawned on me that we were lost. I sank to the earth at the river bank and lapped at the water, quenching a thirst I didn’t know I had. Exhausted, I collapsed in a heap where I knelt, wondering how many miles I had followed the river in the wrong direction.
The shadows were beginning to lengthen.

I turned to the boy, who was still following me, but keeping his distance. “Do you know where we are?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “I was hoping that you did.”

I put my head in my hands and sighed, letting the noise of the river – a great, oddly-distant roar – fill my head. How could I get so disoriented? I had to restore myself somehow to find my way home.

Something thudded beside me. I turned and saw that Robin had thrown a mango at me. I took it in my hand and regarded it, until he sauntered up to me and produced a flick-knife like the one I had spotted my brothers playing with. He carved up the sweet flesh and handed chunks to me, which I consumed ravenously as his face reddened. I wondered at his change in demeanour as he sat down next to me and proceeded to portion up another few mangoes that he had procured from somewhere.

We sat quietly, savouring the succulent fruit. When we had our fill we cleaned the sticky juice from our fingers in the stream. The day was beginning to darken, but the heat of the sun only gave way to a damp humidity. Robin stripped to his britches to cool down after the day’s travelling. He folded the rest of his clothes into a neat pile, and sat down on top of them, facing me.

“I hope I haven’t caused you too much trouble,” he said, “with your mother and all.”

I laughed at him. “Well, Mma will give me a scolding to last at least two market weeks,” I

said. “I shall never hear the end of it.” I turned to him and frowned. “What do you care anyway? I abandoned my sister because of you. I’ve never done such a thing before. She must have caught a fright.”

His face betrayed no emotion. “You shouldn’t go round thieving from people’s mothers if you don’t want them to thieve off you,” he said, matter-of-factly. I was stunned. When I found my words again, they came out in a tumble.

“Uyai? The one the women call akpara?” I could hardly believe what I was about to ask this pale-skinned boy. “She’s your mother? How? She’s dark and she’s a beauty and you’re, you’re…” My voice was swallowed by the thunderous sound of the water.

“I’m?” he coaxed me.

“You’re… you’re one of us?”

“Yes,” he said, not smiling. “But I don’t look it. I take after my father.”

It dawned on me. “That was your father? By your mother’s stall? Did he arrive on winged ships that crossed the face of the Spirit Sea?”

“No, no,” Robin said, abruptly, his eyes downcast. “That man is my father’s first mate. My father is a captain.”

“Oh.”

His voice was suddenly soft. “But he did arrive from across the sea.”

I stared at Robin. Immediately I felt guilty. “Were you outside the Ekpe lodge earlier?” I asked.

“Yes.” he said. “You shouldn’t let people call you eyen akpara.” I said.

“They say it anyway,” he said.

An awkward silence ensued. From the corner of my eye, I saw a red ant scuttle across his doublet.

“That cloth is beautiful,” I said, breaking the awkward silence, as I pulled the comb from my threaded hair. “Here, take it,” I said, and returned the comb. He placed it carefully into his breast pocket as I wondered out loud. “But why wear all that cloth in this heat?” I asked, puzzled. “It makes no sense.”

Robin laughed. “I know,” he said. “They’re ridiculous. But my father says that they’re the mark of a distinguished gentleman, which is to be my destiny, so I had better become accustomed now.”

“Why do your father’s people dress like peacocks?” I asked.

“Because it is cold across the sea,” said Robin.

“I’ve always wanted to see the sea,” I said. “I’ve heard of it but never glimpsed it. It sounds like a marvel.”

“But you are close to it,” he said, suddenly jovial. “You’re so silly! Don’t you know we have followed the road to the sea? You can hear them now, the waters.”

“But that is the sound of the great river.” I pointed to the fork in the river. “Right there.”

“No it isn’t,” he laughed. “That stream can’t make all that noise by itself. It’s the sea. Listen to her. She’s breathing.”

I stood and listened as the waters breathed evenly in and out, as Robin walked to the base of a very tall palm. He scuttled up it as one touched by the God of Lightning, his speed stunning even the lizard that traced his steps. He reached the top in a blur.

“Can you climb trees?” he shouted from his place among the fronds.

“Of course!” I shouted back. There were many climbable trees around. I selected an old, enormous iroko, easily scaling its sturdy trunk, hauling myself up by branches heavy with leaves. The leaves restricted my vision, so I proceeded with cautious steps, until, all at once, the leaves gave way at the top and I could see out over the canopy. The view took my breath away. It was something exquisite. I had emerged on the side of the tree that overlooked an ancient creek, which watered the river that spread out and broadened before me. In the estuary I saw them perched: these majestic, winged vessels, mirrored in the multicoloured waters that danced with enchanting lights. Their wings stretched tall and white, their bodies sleek and dark, bobbing gently in the cool, glassy waters.

I followed the line of the bank with my eyes and then I saw her, vast and regal. One who inspires awe. And dread. I surveyed with my own eyes one of the Mothers, the ancient ones; she who watered the earth at the dawn of days; her terror, might, and splendour only matched by the fullness of her beauty. Life-bearer, life-taker, I glanced upon Abasi Inyang Ibom herself.

God dwelt in the waters, and I looked upon her face.

Dusk descended as the dusk before. But never had I glimpsed a dusk as spectacular as this. We watched the light of the sun fill the great, vast sea and I let out a peal of delight. It was just as I imagined it. A redding sun I had dreamed of countless times, slowly being swallowed by the ocean. I laughed, for what was the world if not an enormous drop of dew? And what would our precious home be if not sustained by her life-giving waters?

“Abasi Inyang Ibom,” I whispered. “Sosongo, Abasi sosongo.”

At that moment I locked eyes with Robin as he perched in his palm, and the fire of kinship was lit. In that instant the two of us sealed our fate and became inseparable. As the sun set and night fell we descended our respective perches and slept entwined within the arms of the other.

 

When I woke night had long fallen. I felt another drop of rain on my face. I had dreamed I was a drop of dew that would raise the floor of the ocean. The sky above me swarmed with mosquitoes, attracted by the scent of mango skins still strewn haphazardly next to me. I started as a voice called down from the tree closest to the bank of the creek. It was Robin. He was dressed once more in his torn shirt and sea-coloured doublet. I made my way towards his perch, half-crouching, aware that there were more dangerous things than wild beasts that roamed this wood at night.

“Stay away from the water.” Robin said. “She’s deep and her current is powerful.” I joined him on a neighbouring bow.

We lay face down, stretched out on branches that overlooked the waterway which raced along below. It was pitch black, and we were blinded awake, but the voice of the water betrayed its proximity. My bells tinkled and clouds gathered overhead, but the moon hovered over the face of the ocean at the point where the waters had swallowed the sun.

“I may be wrong,” Robin whispered, “but I am sure that there are traders that anchor nearby.”

“But won’t they take us for miscreants?” I wondered out loud.

Shh, speak quietly.” He placed his finger to his lips. “The trees have ears and eyes.”

We watched the surface of the creek as it danced with the sprites of the moon. “There are voices on the water,” he said as he stiffened upon his branch. And he was right: the water carried a variety of voices towards the vessels that barricaded salt water from sweet. I stiffened as Robin had done, growing aware of the sound of a vessel cutting through the face of the water. There were voices carried upon the wind, too. The moon shone upon the creek below.

It appeared unexpectedly, the body of a tree of gigantic proportions. Bark still covered most of its trunk, which was hollowed to accommodate a vast number of bodies, borne swiftly on a current that poured into the waiting ocean basin. Wind whipped my face as I heard the bodies’ muffled whispers carried on the currents of angry air. A storm was approaching. Electrum-hued ribbons caressed the skies, but no thunder followed. It dawned on me that something was askew, Abasi Obuma was silent.

I saw them when the first rain fell: faces in the water. Faces carried in the canoes that cut across the face of the deep, causing their faces to appear as scores upon scores of small dark islands, dotted in pitch waters illuminated by the distant lights that troubled the heavens. Some of them saw me as they passed beneath: a small child, suspended amid overhanging leaves and clothed in nothing but the bell-skirt and bangles customary for girls of my age-set. But the faces could not call out, for their mouths were bound. As my heart thundered in my ears, overcompensating for the chilling lack of sound coming from the heavens, they implored me with their eyes. Never had I seen a more pitiful sight than that of these creatures, shackled by little more than crude twine and interned in the water that had once been their lifeblood.

How cruel are the webs of Abasi Atai to ensnare us in the very things that would give us power, but from which we are unable to draw. These were people of the creek, powerful fishing folk, who for a living, harnessed these self-same waters with which they shared an affinity.

As the first canoe glided towards the estuary I counted the ensnared. Eighty-nine, mostly men, but women and children scattered among them, notwithstanding the retinues of slaves which rowed the monstrous boats, or the drunken potbellied men attired in white man’s clothing, swigging brandy and palm wine from large drinking horns and polluting the skies with the crudest of songs.

There were roughly one hundred and forty on that first canoe, but it was not the last. I counted eight boats, then lost count, as the flotilla kept coming. I had seen unfortunate captives before – our homestead was practically run by them – but this was different; these were destined to be taken across the face of the Spirit Sea, to the realms of the living-dead, never to return to the land of their birth. A fate worse than death. Among the bound I saw faces that I had recognised: many of my senior brothers, twenty, forty, all garbed as white men and overseeing the rowing of the great canoes. A mother and her boy from a neighbouring town, who had that morning come to Afaha Obutong to trade. Greedy Asukwor, from whom I was supposed to fetch a barrel of seawater. Unbeknownst to me, he had been grabbed as a pawn for defaulting on a payment, at the moment my mother found him, to knock him and curse him for waylaying her eldest daughter.

Among the bound, lay the unmistakable figure of my uncle, my father’s junior brother who had recently provoked a war. He implored me with his eyes now, trapped between the water in his canoe and the relentless flood of the heavens. I wept as I watched him drowning and looked away from the rowing slave boys scrambling to reduce the water. They propped up the bound who still struggled to breathe as the God of Rain emptied the heavens. There was wailing on the water, a wailing carried from the belly of the deep. I was shivering but I couldn’t feel it, entranced as I was as the source of my family’s great wealth was laid naked before me.

And there he stood. Proud. Regal. Surveying his newly acquired wealth with the eye of an eagle. Etubom, Father of the Canoes, his new title never more befitting than at this precise moment as he surveyed his vast domain. A great chief and his wealth. I watched him. Attired as both Obong and white man. My father. As the blue moon emerged from a thunderous cloud he seemed to intuit me, glancing in my direction and meeting my eye. Lightning struck our tree. My father’s face turned aghast as I shrieked and fell. Horror was stamped upon his expression. My father’s grief-stricken face was the last thing I saw before hitting the raging waters.

Our lifeblood had become my doom. I was swiftly pulled to the mouth of the estuary. Locked in a powerful current from which there was no escape. I struggled, choking, drowning, my life force ebbing, against the ferocious tide, as I was churned in the rough swell of the seas. I resisted until I could resist no more, and I surrendered, but not before thanking the lady of the waters. In my surrender to Abasi Inyang Ibom, I discovered I could breathe.

I became the ocean. I became the watcher of the water. I became the mother of the wellspring of life, she whose waters house constellations and multiverses yet unknown to humankind. I became the keeper and releaser of souls, she who has swallowed civilisations unnumbered, whose ruins populate her depths which spring from the core of the earth. And I saw figures in the waters. Figures rising from the bottom of the deep. They called for vengeance for the desecration of their bonds of blood and they implored the Lady of the Waters. As they cried, sending up a shout to the heavens, they began to ascend. I became them, tortured souls, a million strong, even as the ocean was turned to blood, victims enmeshed in the great web of Abasi Urua, whose wheels would keep spinning no matter the ultimate cost. But the God of Trade is the offspring of the Lady of Waters, and her mother’s flesh cries out with the blood of the children of Abasi Isong.

You must return and stem the tide. The voices repeated their instruction even as I was spewed out of the ocean and onto dry land.

“I dreamed I was a drop of dew that raised the floor of the ocean.” I said to to the strange boy with wet flames for hair.

“You caused me an awful fright,” he said. “You should be dead.”

I sputtered, vision still awash with the imprint of enormous stone effigies, temples of gems and precious metals, wrought, perished and swallowed by the waves, the last vestiges of civilisations long forgotten.

I became aware of a commotion approaching. It was my father and brothers.

“I never told you my name.” I whispered.

“Well? What is it?”

“Inyang.”

“The name is befitting of you.”

“God is in the waters,” I said, as he brushed the weeds from my face.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published in the Short Story Day Africa ‘Water’ Anthology by New Internationalist Books (2016).