She was my crush. She had just arrived from the ‘township’ for the Christmas season with her family. They lived close to my grandma’s compound. She possessed an oval face, beautiful brown eyes, a contagious white smile and a developing body.
They came over—she, her parents and her siblings. Her elder brother and I shared an English name and that bonded us the more. After exchange of pleasantries, we tried catching up on the year’s activity; how good or bad it had been, our achievements and failures.
Then came the conversation that we’d live never to forget. A conversation that centered on visiting the river for a swim. Taking permission from our respective guardians, we set out for the river. She, her brother and I journey down the river. Our journey was a smooth ride, especially for me who got to know more about my crush with chubby cheeks.
The green grasses waved towards the heavens. The leaves of the trees on the bush path danced to the rhythm of the breeze. We arrived the river with dust smeared on our feet, pulled off our clothes as stares from the locals suffocated us.
I dived into the river and my friend followed suit. The splash of the light brown water had a cooling effect on our skin. I navigated my way like a fish, stroked my hands and burst up from beneath the water. I watched my crush walk in. She seemed cautious to place her foot tenderly. She swam just beside the kids. I laughed and taunted her. She ignored me and continued her antics.
I swam out, walked towards the tree that covered the deepest part of the river. There, on top the tree, we practiced our swimming stunts. I climbed and somersaulted into the river. The ovation was loud, my crush clapped when my face hit the surface.
Then I got closer to her, encouraged her to move towards me. I held her hand and got her to the middle of the river. Then left her. She stood as the water touched her jaw. She was ecstatic. Her joyous glee was immeasurable. She dipped her head, nodding in and out of the water like an agama lizard.
A bucket of smiles crept unto my face. With that, I left her to explore her new found freedom. I went for another acrobatic move. I was comfortably seated on the tree, waiting for my turn to jump when I saw it. The fast movement of her head in and out the river, her reddish eyes, the gulping and vomiting of water. I was alarmed.
“Stephen!” I screamed. “Your sister is drowning!”
He didn’t hear the first time but did after the third attempt. He launched towards her, his feet moved like a tilapia, his hands like a lifeguard. I jumped into the vast river, eyes open like a shark gauging its prey. We swam close to where we saw her earlier but there was no sign of her. Anxiety slithered down my spine bones, muscles and sinews.
Has the flowing river taken her away?
Where had she gone?
I dived deep but saw no traces of her. Confusion filled us. Her brother broke down, his flood gate of tears flowed.
“Chinenye, nwanne m. Chinenye, nwanne m,” he cried.
“See her over there!” someone called out. We followed the pointed hand to see Chinenye being tossed up and down by unfamiliar waves at the end of our own side of the river. She was no longer in control, the river controlled her locomotion.
The other side belonged to another clan. It could only be accessed by going into their clan. Their route to the river was a few metres away. We swam towards her but couldn’t get to her before she crossed. I was mad. Who send me? How do I explain this?
The run to the other side of the river was a race of my life. Her brother stayed. He watched as she floated through the tunnel-like passage to the other side while I sped with schlong dangling and emitting water.
Fortune smiled on us. Before I got there her body was already out of the river. Her belly was a tank filled with water. Her eyes were open but lifeless. Water gushed out of her mouth as we applied pressure on her stomach.
An hour passed. The sun was preparing to take a nap yet there was no sign of consciousness. We carried her lifeless body, calling all the spirits and gods that owned the river to save her. Silence was all we got for answer. We laid her down, checked her pulse but heard nothing.
That confirmed it. She was gone with the wind.
Our cries was thunderous. It echoed into the darkness that was illuminating our paths. Her brother ran into the river and asked to be drowned. He punched, slapped and kicked the river. I joined him in the river to console him.
“Don’t touch me. You caused all this!” he barked.
“How … me?” I stuttered.
“You should have left her where she was. No, your I-too-know attitude will never let you. I’ll never forgive you.”
I tried to talk but the words never left my mouth. Tears rather flowed in abundance. We stared at each other for what looked like an hour, then we heard a faint voice call,