My father thinks it’s a good idea to row through these floods. To move a paddle and be above the water, finally in control of our bodies—that is to say, not drown.
But sooner or later, we’re all going to fall, because we can only stand so tall before we’re sinking: to our legs, to our knees, to our torsos, to our heads. Till there’s nothing left and we breathe in particle dust and water that draws too much like ogbono soup. Water that’s mixed with the leaves and the soil and the garbage I didn’t throw away properly. Water that isn’t water.
So I can indulge this feeling my father has. I can understand these spur-of-the-moment decisions when we’ve been waiting so long for the promise of dry land and all the water wants to do is rise.
He’s always been the person with big ideas, weird reasoning. The person who suggests this over family dinner with a fire in his eyes, demands it while he paces around the room, hooked on the lust of his dreams.
“No,” my brother says, pulling him back down to earth. Joseph, who helps provide for the family with Mummy, who’s friends with important people. “Why would we do that?”
To our feet, to our ankles, to our ribs, to our throats . . . .
“Haven’t you ever wanted an adventure out on the open sea?” My father laughs, pacing around the room. We move with him, our steps familiar as we trail the blue carpet back and forth. That’s how we make the food digest.
“It’s not an open sea,” my mother adds before going back to her food. She never takes sides on these ideas, just points out the most clear information.
“Figuratively,” my father counters, shooting her a deadpan look before returning to my brother, who folds his arms and raises an eyebrow.
“Okay, okay,” my father laughs, taking a deep breath. “Facts. You just want facts. We can’t drive a car in these times. Even using those suction shoes that help you stay on walls are dangerous if you lose enough friction or don’t come into contact with any buildings or places you can stick yourself to. With my idea we can actually start to get more work done again, you know. Look at us, not knowing much about what goes on outside this community . . . . We can’t live this way.”
“Mummy,” Joseph asks. “What do you think about all of this?”
“I think your father already has the canoe,” she says, leaving her plate of unfinished food on the table, then walking up to her room.
“And,” my father continues. “Once I start making money again, we could get a small ship or . . . you know, something more feasible.”
I shrug. The rain outside makes my body run cold; I can actually hear the floods swishing all around us through our thin walls.
Thin enough for the ceiling to give out above where I stand, water splashing through. It soaks me so much that my clothes are see-through, stuck on me while my teeth chatter. Joseph runs into the kitchen to get a bucket and a mop. He cleans up and I go to my room to change into a fresh pair of clothes.
The rush of water persists and the container under the hole is half full in the minute I take to dry off and come back.
“Get up early tomorrow so we can go in the morning,” my father says, scrolling through his phone, relaxing in the comfiest chair.
“Go?” I stutter, running the towel through my hair.
“Out in the open,” he says, smiling with plaque-filled teeth. “I heard no objections.”
I give no protests. I say no words, because when I look at all the holes in the house where the water comes through, I think that everything is falling apart, and I don’t have an answer for that.
Before we go out, my mother gives us three things: coats, umbrellas, and boots. When she’s not looking, I trade my umbrella for a spoon. Life’s more interesting that way.
Spoons are great. I used to be obsessed with them a few years back, playing with them in all their shapes and sizes. They can be drums and help dig the soil, little wheelbarrows for transporting goods. Spoons can be everything, and they remind me of a time of no fear, only adventure. Which is what I want. What I need.
We stuff all our things in huge hiking backpacks, keeping our hands free to lift the huge canoe above our heads. I hide the spoon in my pocket.
“You won’t come with us?” my father whines, frown lines unnatural to his face.
“No. My mother pushes the coat to his chest with such force that it’s like she hates his presence. She walks upstairs and slams the door shut. My father fumbles around like he doesn’t know what to do anymore.
“She’s probably in a bad mood,” Joseph says, nudging Daddy.
“Every damn day,” he mutters as he opens the door for us.
Floods of water come screaming through, thick and muddy.
Outside, each step is a promise of going under, the disappearance of our bodies under muddy reflections. Each step brings back the memory of exploring the shallow far ends of our community three months ago and seeing bloated dead bodies floating in the stagnancy. Each step is running, running while the water draws me back into its thickness, running before we’ve even started—
I go too fast. I slip on ground that’s barely solid. My head hits the water hard, breaking the surface, the impact reverberating in my skull as I go deep down under.
I can’t breathe. When I open my mouth, I get the rancid taste of sickness, of cholera and dysentery, of swallowing bugs and mosquitoes. My lungs are filling up. I can’t scream but only fall deeper into the dreariness, like weights are on my feet. My eyes widen; I can’t blink in this space, can’t do anything but die.
Strong hands pull me back to the surface and I breathe. And breathe. My chest relaxes and I vomit all the water that tried to enter me. All the disease and sickness that ever touched my tongue, the pollution and sand and ugh. I still don’t feel right. I still can’t live right.
“What the hell just happened?” My father shouts. He grabs my shoulders.
Don’t touch me, I want to say, because my knees feel weak and his body weight only feels like it’s pushing me down, taking me back to the deep.
“This was a bad idea,” Joseph spits, shaking his head, “I think we did our best, but it’s not going to work. We’re already seeing bad signs.”
“Nooo,” my father says, holding me tighter, smiling at me, pushing the canoe to my chest like he’s made my answer for me. “Just some bad balance. Uti, you still want to do it, right?”
“Sure,” I say, but my brother isn’t convinced, so I smile. I don’t believe myself either, but I’ve lost my sense of adventure, my sense of wonder, and I need that back. I need this idea of fantasy, that none of this will break me, because I can’t deal with it anymore. There’s nothing left to sustain me but the heartbeat in my chest, so painful and incredibly fast, palpitations upon palpitations, and I need more.
Joseph shakes his head, then tugs my arm. “We should probably go back. I’m doing pretty well with this online business of mine, and we can just keep receiving our packages and paying our bills and—”
“And I’m doing nothing!” my father screams. The canoe falls out of his hands, its full weight going into mine.
My brother grunts, arms folded, his face turned away from us. It’s eerie to watch him go limp, face slack and full of disappointment, eyes accusing. In that moment, he is exactly Mummy, and he knows my father can’t handle that.
“What?” My father starts, his face folding into lines and lines of anger, veins of temper and pain. “Is it just four years in Alaska to study IT on scholarship that made you start challenging—”
I let the canoe fall so it smacks the surface of the water. It’s enough to get their attention. I consider that a victory and raise my spoon to the sky like the hero I’m not, my legs shaking. “How about an adventure, guys?”
A world of obstacles lies ahead of us. Soon, we’re paddling out of our neighborhood, into the depths of other roads we wouldn’t dare step foot in on a normal day.
Into the mutation.
My brother starts whispering to me, clearly pissed off as he paddles. “I just think it’s silly how he just led us here to sort of soothe his bruised ego and fragile mascu—”
“Let’s keep going.” I cut him off with a smile, rowing faster, and shift away from him. I don’t want to deal with any more drama.
We enter this new place, and the smell that quickly fills our noses is a welcome, for you have been gone so long, stayed within safe parameters, and now you are out in the big open world; the stink becomes part of us within minutes. Makes our insides feel like they’re rotting and falling apart.
But in all good adventures, it is important to leave your comfort zone, so I remind myself that this is all a journey, and in the end we go back home.
I’m grateful that I can return to a community that’s not full of diseased sea creatures stalking for prey, that I stay in a place with reasonable communication and transportation services, so we can always get our food packages, pay our bills, and call our relatives. What we have right now is pretty good, is stable, is worth everything.
Other humans pass by, all of us vulnerable without solid ground.
My father, Joseph and I don’t talk. We are studying this new environment, expanding our understanding with every direction we look in.
This new community is smelly yet vibrant, loud and exciting. It’s what I’ve never seen before: vendors carrying goods on their heads with water up to their chests, chasing boats. Garbage floating around in neat little piles—some people managing to rest on top of them, the world’s pollution the newest source of transportation. People breezing by on larger vehicles than ours while afrobeats, loud and violently Nigerian, play in the background. People jumping into the water with ropes tied around their waists, latched to their boats as they repeatedly bring up trash. People splash in the water as they swim through the filth and garbage, covered in boils and scars, disease and infection.
That was once me swimming, a long time ago. With innocence and purity, during floods not as bad, my little hands trailing the depths of our community, and then outside our area, with glee on my face. Carefree. Before our family locked ourselves in one place. I remember that time and I think, who was that? Not me.
But I hope to be what I once was again.
I spot a crocodile dancing in the depths, its shadow eventually rising from the surface of the water, covered in greasy film and toxic waste. Rubbish that has . . . congealed and grafted to the animal’s skin—oh my goodness—like an infection sewn and healed onto the body. Like an operation done to make all living things abominations.
It passes by me with what looks like hunger in its eyes, and I know that somebody is going to die today. Someone is going to fall into its mutated jaws, and I pray it won’t be me because I’ve already had my dance with death today and I don’t plan on another.
To our toes, to our waists, to our shoulders, to our eyes . . . .
“Uti, you just might want to paddle away from the gutters,” says Dad.
“Huh?” I snap out of my trance, for now.
Joseph points to the lopsided car submerged between what was once a road and the verge. People are diving around it, picking it apart.
Humans are vultures, I think, the way we decompose dead machines by taking them to bits, leaving the useless parts for the earth.
We do recycling and environmental sanitation in our community every Saturday, our part in helping to fix the world. Our elected community official praises us and tells us that by sometime in the next decade, all the trash in our area will be gone.
We may not have that long.
Till our eyes can only blink in mucus and particle dust . . . .
“Why not go near the gutters?” Joseph asks. “It’s out of most people’s way.”
“The trash used to go in there a lot when there was land, so that it created a blockage. Plus, what lurks in there can easily kill us all,” says my father.
We look down and catch the shadows we haven’t noticed before. The shadows of animals merged with glass and plastic, mosquitos breeding, insects mutated by industrial waste and chemical reactions.
My brother nods like he’s actually impressed. “That’s some good looking out.”
My father rubs his hands and licks his lips, staring out into the wasteland in front of us. “This is what I’m talking about! We’re finally out of that community. We were hermits and now we’re reintegrating back into society. So, who’s ready to get to business?”
“This boat is really . . . primitive.” Joseph hits the side of the canoe and the wood groans, reminding me of the pitiful nature of our vehicle compared to the jet skis and mechanized boats, the advanced water craft that we don’t have. All the things better suited to our survival. That we lack.
“Our days are numbered,” I say.
They give me a concerned look, the we need to talk about how you’ve become so obsessed with death look.
But I don’t want to discuss that, so I change the subject. “Yeah, let’s trade.”
We get home and go our separate ways. My brother goes to work. I play chess on our spotty internet service, holding the router above my head so I can stay connected to my online opponent. They win.
I trail the slow internet. I know exactly what I want to look at.
Drowning. Horror movies where people just keep getting eaten by sharks and animals.
I’d like to want to survive, but I’ve almost given up. If I can just desensitize myself enough, maybe it will feel less painful when the inevitable happens.
No. No. I hate the way I’m thinking so I shut my laptop to try and force myself to engage. I sneak into Mum’s room but she’s too engrossed in a stuttering program about unhappy marriages. She doesn’t turn my way, her headphones blocking me out. I close the door.
I don’t actually need to deal with that. I know I’m supposed to be there for my parents, but I can’t. I need to focus on trying to stop spiralling.
So I run towards my brother’s room, desperate, thinking, where’s my adventure? Where’s the story? Where is the actual damn plot to this movie that is my life. Because all I’ve been doing is running around, watching walls collapse, waiting to die.
I burst into my brother’s room, drenched in sweat and breathing fast. “What are you doing?” I say.
He looks at me. “Are you all right?”
“What’s that on your table?” I say. I read the brochures and blueprints on his desk. “Underwater living facilities? Oxygen suits? Enhanced deep sea living experience? Decontamination pods?”
He smiles at me and his eyes catch the light. He looks so like our father that I want to listen to what he has to say, because he’s never looked this passionate about anything.
“We’re looking at a hopeful future,” he says. “Better opportunities, a higher standard of living; a life underwater, free of pollution—very far away from here.”
“In how long?” I ask, not expecting much because it’s always an estimate, always ‘in a decade’ and ‘in the near future’ and ‘many years later’. Hope is never now.
“Soon. Eventually. And I can’t tell you much because it’s just a lot of discussing with friends who are under strict NDAs, but, yeah, they might have a space for us. It’s been in the works for years. I think we’ll be fine.”
I’m lost for words but what kills the silence is the bleep in both our pockets. A text from Dad.
“We’re going out in search of meat tomorrow,” I read.
Joseph laughs. “Figures he’d try to opt out of this vegan lifestyle as fast as possible. He’s looking towards the now, survival . . . which is a perspective, I guess.”
Animal products haven’t been transporting well, and prices have risen with the water levels, so we don’t ask for them anymore. We tried fishing once but it didn’t work; the fish that do come into our area are mutated. We won’t eat them, won’t try, no matter how adventurous Daddy is.
But since we’re journeying, going out in search of things, I dream of bacon and fat running over juicy slabs of beef, the sound meat makes when it hits the pot.
We row towards the markets and vendors we saw yesterday, in the mutated areas.
We, a modest family without a proper seafaring craft, row towards a market seller, using our paddles to shove aside sticks and huge piles of rocks.
“Wetin you get?” My father starts, way too excited not to use pidgin. In our community, it’s generally frowned upon, so my father only uses it when chatting with maids from the village.
The woman pauses, hands on her lips. “We get um . . . croc, jellyfish, fish worm, bongafish, catfish—”
“Catfish!” Daddy replies too quickly, reaching into his pocket, then looking uncomfortable.
“I’ll pay,” Joseph offers, pursing his lips as he fishes for his wallet.
“I didn’t ask you to.” My father’s voice is cold. “We just want to examine the goods. Madam, let me see what you’ve got.”
The woman hands over a piece of sliced catfish that’s an unhealthy brown colour. It rolls in my father’s hands, covered in a sticky slime. Greenish-black dots grow inside its mouth. We try to peel them off but they grow back again.
Bile rises in my throat and I almost gag.
“No, na,” my father hands it back to her. “Not this one. Normal catfish wey no get all this . . . yama-yama.”
“Yama-yama? Contamination?” The woman feigns surprise, like she’s never heard that word when hello? It’s all around us. “I no sell that kind product. This one, na me spice am self. I just had to preserve am well for customer.”
“Thank you,” my father says, irritated, and throws it back to her. He whispers to us as we leave: “All we have to do is network and we’ll find someone that knows where to get good products. Someone . . . like those two!”
He points at a man and a woman collecting trash from the water, digging deep and organizing it into neat piles on their boats. The ropes around their waists are attached to the boats. My father nods in approval.
We row up to them.
Daddy puts on a smile and runs a hand through his hair. “Can you imagine? I tried to buy things from that woman and she tried to convince me that yama-yama was normal.”
“They never admit it,” the woman replies. “One time, you could even see all the glass and stone buried inside the fish the woman was trying to sell me, and when I showed it to her, she just doubled down and said ‘all na spice.’”
“Well,” the man joins in, “Nigerian hawkers are the best lawyers you could ever have.”
They share a laugh while Joseph and I share a look, shrugging and folding our arms as we watch this unfold.
The man stretches out a hand to our father. “I’m Mr. Abalaka.”
The woman goes in for a hug. “And I’m Mrs. Eneyo.”
My father smiles. “I’m David. And these are my sons, Joseph and Uti.”
We wave and greet, just enough for it not to feel uncomfortable.
Joseph shakes their hands, craning his neck to look into their boat. “That’s a lot of equipment you have there.”
I take a good look too. There are many weapons in their boat: spears, guns, nets, traps. I’m actually comfortable seeing all of that, because to me it screams protection, and survival.
“So, what do you guys do?” my father asks, his eyes wide like he’s taking notes.
“Oh, you know,” Mrs. Eneyo replies, her pleasant demeanor fading. “A lot of side-work. Helping to clear up this place, fishing work. Just . . . anything to live.”
“We take our jobs very seriously,” Mr. Abalaka adds.
“Oh yes,” my father says. “You know, my wife does actually grow some food using spores and artificial nutrients, so we could get some for you.”
Mrs. Eneyo frowns. “We already do that, but with yams and carrots and cassava, so unless you have anything else?”
“Um,” my father says, trying to recall. “I think we also have garden eggs.”
Mrs. Eneyo makes a face “Hmmm, I’m not—”
“But we can try them!” says Mr. Abalaka.
“Well, how much are they?” Mrs. Eneyo says, exasperated.
“Oh no,” my father says, laughing, settling into a comfortable position. “No price. We’d just like a job so we can have enough money to get something like that boat of yours.”
“This beauty?” Mr. Abalaka chuckles, patting his vessel tenderly. “We just like it because it runs on trash juice.”
“Unfortunately,” Mrs. Eneyo says, steering the conversation back to the point, “we don’t really know of anything at the moment. Nothing’s available. Sorry. But we could get you some fish. The good kind.”
“That would be great,” my father says. They exchange contact information. The three of them laugh and joke some more while Joseph and I sit quietly in the boat like the good children that we are, trying not to disturb them.
Eventually, they leave.
“That was fun,” Joseph yawns, stretching his arms in the air.
My father nods, distracted. He taps our arms. “Better stretch those arms well, because we’re following them.”
“Why?” I groan, rubbing my lucky spoon, feeling around its edges.
“I want to see who they give all that trash to—see if we can get some of that hustle too,” says my father.
“It’s always nice to know that trust is the one thing you can look forward to in today’s society,” Joseph says, his voice dry, his expression deadpan, but Dad ignores him.
“Probably looking out for themselves, those two, and that’s what we have to do too. Uncontaminated fish for garden eggs isn’t a fair trade, and we don’t even know if they’re going to use that as some sort of leverage later on. The way I see it, we need to get jobs so we can have good money to negotiate with. This is how we do things.”
“They could easily spot us,” Joseph sighs, grabbing a paddle.
“That is why, today, we learn of other routes,” my father says, chest out and proud. He looks happier than I’ve ever seen him, a pirate in open air.
This is the adventure I’ve been looking for, and I’m grateful that I’m here conspiring with my father, too tired to think about drowning.
To our surprise, we don’t get caught. My father makes us wait until the man and woman are some distance ahead, and then we follow slowly. We watch as they haul trash and animals into their boat.
We crack jokes and I laugh, forgetting my thoughts of death, feeling the wind in my hair, having a good time.
It’s getting dark as Mr. Abalaka and Mrs. Eneyo stop in front of a large house on stilts, wooden and sturdy despite its rotting wood. It is painted a welcoming colour of blue and green, faded and moldy.
They get out of the boat and exchange their trash and game with a woman for stacks of money. My father’s eyes widen when he sees it and he smiles like a hyena.
Mr. Abalaka and Mrs. Eyeno shake hands with the woman and get back into their boat.
We duck. Are they turning back, coming our way?
Luckily we don’t have to deal with that stress because the two of them head further down the road in the opposite direction.
We wait thirty minutes in the dark. I doze and dream of legs that stop kicking, of going underwater . . . .
I wake up. My father and Joseph are asleep. I tap my father’s shoulder and he jolts awake.
“Can we go and meet the woman they were talking to?” I ask.
“Sure, sure,” says my father, still sleepy. “Paddle! Let’s get this over with.”
I wake Joseph up and we paddle slowly towards the house. My father gets out of the boat and knocks on the door.
Dad knocks again, harder.
An old woman storms out, her grey hair in curls, her dark skin covered in powder. She is wearing a long shirt and screaming at us in a heavy Yoruba dialect, each word thick and vicious like a curse.
“Ma,” my father says, trying to placate her, but he backs away when she tries to slap him. “Please, we just came here looking for work. Any job, please, we’ll do it.”
The woman pauses for a second, thinks. “I only have two workers. They’re good, sturdy—”
“But not enough,” says my father, smiling, trying to sell her on the idea of us.
“The problem is that they keep on getting rid of everyone I hire.” She sighs, putting her hands to her chin. “You see, when I hire new people, the price goes down and their pay goes down, so . . . .”
“I understand,” my father says, and sighs. “Sharing won’t kill them.”
“Okay, look,” the woman says, yawning. “Whatever. They’ve proven themselves to be worthy of all I’ve given them, but I could be making a much bigger profit with more people. And my own employers will like having more of all these goods. So, I’ll tell you what: I won’t say anything about you guys to them. As long as you don’t get discovered, you have the job.”
“We won’t accept the offer, but thanks anyway,” Joseph spits, but Daddy only looks more decided.
“We accept,” he says, and he and our new employer exchange numbers.
We row some way in silence. Joseph and Dad’s faces are red and flushed.
“You know,” my father starts, “our house is falling apart. We have a chance here. And we’re doing so good here, that I think this could be our new life: downsized, out in the open air, near the sea—”
It’s not a sea,” Joseph corrects him, rowing faster. I can practically see the smoke rising from him, but I don’t say anything. Nothing I do will distract him.
“Metaphorically,” my father adds quietly.
“Leave me out of it,” hisses Joseph, “because my part in this adventure is done.”
Our mother is waiting for us at home. I’ve missed the classes she usually teaches me, maths and science and geometry, but I think Dad should get the crap for that. My arms ache.
Dad starts telling Mummy that she needs to increase her plant portions for her new customers, Mr. Abalaka and Mrs. Eyeno.
I follow Joseph to his room. He paces around, knocking into things. When he’s stressed and angry, he cries. The tears don’t stop running.
“If I could leave today, I would,” he says. “The underwater program’s not ready yet, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and watch our father make a fool of himself every day.”
I stay silent. My brother looks at me. Too closely, like he’s searching my soul. And I flinch, because I don’t want him discovering all the baggage inside me.
“Do you actually still want to go with Dad?”
“It’s an adventure,” I say quietly, trying to make myself believe it.
“B . . . but . . . what is wrong with you? He’s out of control. Why are you even thinking like this?”
“This house is falling apart,” I reply, my voice barely a whisper.
“We’re going to leave,” he yells. “We’re hoping for a better future.”
“Hope is never now,” I mutter under my breath.
Maybe it’s better to just float into oblivion, to row above the water till the moment I go under. Till the moment I’m nothing but fodder and infection, another rotting body in the stagnancy.
I can hear my father shouting at my mother in his room. I go out into the passage and he storms out, practically hyperventilating.
“What’s going on?” I ask, and it feels like I’m the adult and he’s the child.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
I try again.
“Your mother doesn’t want to join us in the canoes. And your brother thinks he’s too good for us. But we, we are the ones who survive, who go the distance, who have adventures. Right?”
“Right,” I say, my voice hollow.
“I’m going to sleep on the couch,” he says. He goes downstairs.
I go into his room to find my mother. Her face is expressionless. “Is everything all right?” I say.
She gets out of bed. She drinks from the bottle of water at her bedside. “Do you know why I don’t like to say anything to your father’s ideas? He just . . . has this way of making people be the bad guy, the nag, and he sort of punishes us for it and enjoys doing so, being that person. And now that I’m silent, he hates it, because I’m refusing to engage, not playing my role. I was a little worried you were too much like him when you were growing up,” she continues. “I was afraid I was going to have two of him in the house. I almost considered leaving. But you’ve made a personality for yourself and . . . I don’t always understand you, Uti, but I think you’ll be fine.”
It’s late and I go to bed, but I can’t fall asleep in this house of broken relationships.
For a few days, I don’t join my father when he goes out in the boat. I need to process things.
When I rejoin him, my father holds me close and brings out something from his hiking bag. I shriek when I see the gun.
“It’s good,” he tells me, but his eyes look fearful. “For protection. This one can take more bullets than you’d expect. And—” He flicks a button. “It has a silencer. A silent killer. This is for some cold-blooded killing.”
“Hi there!” A voice calls out to us.
“Hide the gun,” I say. An unpleasant chill runs down my spine.
I turn to see Mr. Abalaka and Mrs. Eyeno waving at us, a little distance away, a big bubble floating in their hands full of . . . fish. Corporate companies hand out free samples of these easily disposable bubbles for storing things. We row towards them, and I feel an unbearable tension in my heart, yet my father’s happy expression forces me to plaster a thick, fake smile on my face.
We come up alongside them, and before they say anything, they pop the bubble and the fish falls into our boat. Fresh-looking, uncontaminated, pure fish.
“Oh, wow, that was fast,” my father says, too quickly, scratching his head, nervous. “We haven’t got the eggs yet.”
“Oh, hey, no, we’re not pressuring you; take your time,” Mr. Abalaka says. He laughs and waves a hand at us.
“As long as you bring it,” Mrs. Eyeno adds.
We are silent.
“How’s work?” My father asks.
I feel like shrivelling up into a ball.
“It’s good,” they say, simultaneously.
I force a chuckle, trying to look relaxed.
“We’re actually hoping for a promotion for all the good work we’ve been doing,” Mr. Abalaka says.
My father and I share a look.
“Yeah, you know, at the end of the month,” Mrs. Eyeno says, sorting a piece of trash.
“Wow, that’s fascinating,” I say. “But I actually think it’s time for us to go. Right, Daddy?”
“Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for the fish; good looking pieces of meat. We’ll get those garden eggs to you soon.”
We watch them row away, and we’re finally able to breathe.
My father looks at me and nods in approval. “Listen, that was great. Especially as I just got a text from our employer asking us to catch a crocodile. We’ll just have to stay out of their way till it’s time for us to meet the boss tomorrow.”
“Won’t they also be dropping off their goods then?”
“Oh no. Our employer changed their drop-off date. She said they were suspicious, but she thinks it’s fine because they won’t find out.”
I nod, putting all my effort into rowing the boat single-handed as we go around the markets looking for parasitic feed and hunting equipment. While my father prices and bargains, I rub my spoon. It feels like my last claim to innocence.
“Are you ready?” My father asks me, and I shrug.
We row towards the nearest gutters. I feel so different from who I was when we started doing this, now that we are throwing caution to the wind.
“So, you’ll do the luring and I’ll kill,” my father tells me, handing me a pair of high-tech binoculars. I aim them at the shadows that swim in the water, trying to identify a crocodile.
I lower the baited trap into the water. I try to breathe and relax.
“Now,” my father says, “we wai—”
The crocodile jumps aboard, snapping and angry, and almost submerges our boat. The wire trap pokes into its skin as it roars, its breath disgusting, its large teeth reaching for me. Large pieces of glass stab into the beast’s head and broken cans stick out of its body like piercings. Nylon bags are draped over this creature that is trying to eat me, and I scream and scream. I feel like my heart has stopped. Memories of my hollow existence overwhelm me as I wait for the moment I have been dreading.
Death is coming.
My father shoots it in the head, his hand steady. The crocodile jerks, spurting blood, then lies still. Daddy looks rattled, terrified, and I am a bloody mess. “We did it,” my father says.
Immediately when we get home, I storm into my brother’s room, leaving my father to hide the crocodile’s body in the garage, letting Joseph see me in all my wretchedness.
Joseph leaps up and reaches for me and wraps me in his arms. “Oh my God! What the hell happened?”
“He’s out of control,” I say. I can’t stop crying. I’m a snotty mess.
“Now will you listen to me?” says Joseph.
“No,” I say, pushing him away. “We need to help Dad. You, especially, have to be there to ground him and make sure this doesn’t happen again. We need you. Come back.”
He says nothing. I hear no objections. I believe it’s agreement.
The next morning, I worry my brother won’t show up as I wait downstairs. But Joseph does come, and I feel like I can do it knowing that he’s with me.
He and Daddy look at each other, the silence between them distressing.
But my father gives a nod of approval and we set out relaxed.
My brother lays down the law and gets Dad to put the gun away, telling him we should just concentrate on the trash after all the trouble he caused yesterday. Joseph still doesn’t look too happy, but at least my father stays silent.
Instead, Dad spends the time trying to call our employer, who isn’t picking up. The boss communicates on her terms, not ours.
I tap my brother’s shoulder just as he’s about to dive into the water again, a rope around his waist. “Aren’t you going to let me—”
“No,” he says sternly. “You’re not doing anything after what happened yesterday. Just secure the rope to the boat.”
I attach the rope in silence and just wish for this day to be over.
At last, the day ends. My brother and I row over to the house on stilts, our arms sore. We wait while my father knocks repeatedly. I notice a boat sticking out slightly at the back of the house. I rub my eyes.
Mr. Abalaka and Mrs. Eyeno open the door. Their clothes are covered in blood, their hands hidden.
We stare until if feels as if the silence is going to kill us.
“What-t-t are you doing here?” My father stutters, doing his best to smile.
“We thought we’d rest in our new home and wait for the people who caused our schedule to change,” Mrs. Eyeno spits, then smiles.
“We got that promotion we were talking about,” Mr. Abalaka says.
My father nods, looking petrified. Joseph slowly reaches for the paddle.
“You know,” my father says, his voice too desperate as he reaches for the gun bag, “this is all a big misunderstanding.”
“Right,” they say.
They’re quick. Mrs. Eyeno has a pistol. A bullet to the head and Joseph collapses into the water. I scream as my father grabs his gun. Mr. Abalaka’s spear stabs into his gut before he can fire. He follows Joseph into the water.
Into the water, into the water; everything dead and into the water. Water red with blood.
I scramble and I scream. I piss my pants. I think, death comes, as they approach the boat. I’m so full of grief and anger and terror.
They are going to kill me. Am I prepared?
To our legs, to our bones, to our muscles, to our eyes . . . .
I reach into my pocket. I pull back my arm and stab the spoon into Mr. Abalaka’s eye.
He screams and drops his spear. Mrs Eyeno tries to stop the blood.
I jump into the water and start swimming away. I swim so hard in all the mutation and infection, all the things that have tried to drown me, all the things that have tried to kill me.
I can’t breathe right. I can’t live right. My brother and father, gone into the water.
But I can’t drown. I can’t fall, I can’t stop myself escaping.
Because I need to get back to my community, I need to tell my mother about Joseph’s dreams of underwater living, about his hopeful future that better come quickly because I’m done waiting.
I’m alone in this vast, polluted space, but I know which direction to go in. I’ll find my way home.