The sun is old. Shadows are long. There are cool whispers in the trees. Slow paced, the children make for home. In silence? No. Never. Daily, as the orange haze of the setting sun engulfs the plateau, the children make their way home lest their mothers notice their absence. On their heads, they carry a pot filled to the brim with chilling water from the river. Water for mother to use for supper’s stew.
At the river, many leagues away, the children are happy. Happy because there is no one there to blurt out chores to be done. Heads only turn to get water splashed on their faces. They swim. It is merry. There is laughter. There is revelry. Everything goes swimmingly.
At the river she is happy. Mostly she watches the others play in the water. She likes to watch. On that day though, she did not just watch…
There never was silence as they walked home. Like a swarm of bees there always was a hum going around; a sort of mild hubbub. Banter about this, that or the other. On that day there was none. In the space of silence between their footsteps one could almost hear a pin drop. Heads were bowed low. Low enough not to let the water in the pots spill. The pots had to get home full, especially hers. She had six other siblings who having tilled the land all day, would now be waiting ravenously for mother to cook up supper – but only with her water!
She felt the gravity of her task and the thoughts in her head today, weighing down on her. Pushing each of her steps further into the mud, much like how the heavy pot did. Her thoughts were neither here nor there; they seemed to be almost everywhere. He had died. Right in front of her Kimeria had died. Chocking on the river water, throwing his arms every which way, trying to keep his head above the water, he had submerged.
“Kimeria!” she had let out a scream that pierced the late afternoon air.
Getting on her feet from the rock she always sat on, she had dashed, fully clothed, into the water; her eyes fixated on the ripples left on the surface by Kimeria’s sinking form. The laughter going all around had faded in her mind. In its place was a rising searing shudder that worked its way from her neck and exploded into all the nooks and crannies in her head. She had swum frantically, the other village boys following in tandem.
“Can anyone see him?” she would nearly scream every minute she’d come back up for a breath of the now windy and chilly evening air.
Repeatedly. Diving back under, making their eyes dance with the motion of the water – they searched for him.
“The current must have swept him off with it,” one of the boys, an awfully quiet, observant one had finally said, frustrated at having to tread water frivolously for such a long time.
In a swift singular motion, they had swum downstream, fanning out like peels from a banana. Five minutes of successive alternating deep dives and two of the boys were heard shouting:
“We’ve got him on the river bed. He’s too heavy to carry!”
Peacefully placid and pleasant his face was. She had stared at it. Pale and lifeless. Arms limp and chest bloated, full of water. A tear had welled up in her left eye – her crying eye she’d liked to think. At such a young age, she wasn’t sure where to place what she felt at that moment and towards Kimeria. On most of those playful afternoons, sitting there on her rock, she’d liked to stare at him. Look at him. Look really closely at how his lips moved when he spoke to the other girls. How he grinned. His laughter. How he would stick to the shallow parts of the river as the other boys ventured towards its center, where the current was stronger. She liked his caution and how none of the many taunts Kimeria got from the boys made him lose his cool. In her eyes and in that cool water, he was cool.
Her drilling long stare. His motionless body. His motionless body is what stuck onto her mind’s “right-eye”, her non-crying eye she liked to think. They’d covered him up, closed his lifeless eyes and some of the boys had roped together bamboo to carry his body back to his father’s homestead.
As the ones carrying pots of water walked back home, a uniform thought lay unexplored in their minds.
“This was the last sunny day by the river, you know that?” a short stout boy named Kiumbuku says to no one in particular.
“No more swimming or playing in the water for us,” she replies, eyes staring at her feet, as she half drags them along the dirt road.
“You never swam or played in the water.”
“Sadly,” she half whispers, almost lifeless.