Clinging to life in a dream

Friday July 01 2022

Samud battled waves which had suddenly grown three feet high, forming troughs which swallowed him and blocked the horizon. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG


A fire crackled and sizzled satisfyingly, throwing up flames that danced mesmerizingly against the pitch blackness of the night. Samud sat rocking back and forth gently, his rheumy eyes glazed as he stared at the fire, deep cobwebs of wrinkles stretching from his squinted eyes as he watched the flames, red wispy arms stretched then withdrawn, two tongues of fire morphing into one then splitting into three and so on, a pattern so erratic it was spellbinding. But Samud stared without seeing, his mind a vast distance away, lost in past years, on a hot beach under a blazing afternoon sun, looking out excitedly at a roiling foaming sea.

“Samud catch!”

Samud ducked as he dove to his right, his arms out-stretched, not bothering to look where Mensa tossed the coconut, trusting his instincts, hearing Mensa’s voice reverberate to his right, sensing the whir of the heavy coconut as it came flying through the air, mingling with the sounds of the waves as they crashed rhythmically along the deserted beach. He laughed gleefully as he caught it mid-air then rolled dexterously to his feet on the warm soft sand.

“Show off!” Mensa called from behind him. He was clamped around the tip of a tall coconut tree like a crab, holding onto the thin swaying trunk with his feet as he picked ripe nuts and threw them down to where Samud stood. Then, as agilely as he had clambered up, he slid down, landing on the balls of his feet like a monkey.

“Well?” Samud asked as Mensa walked over to where he stood staring at the incoming tide, “Shall we?”

“Uh,” Mensa wasn’t keen on risks, unlike his best friend. Born on the same day to women who’d themselves been childhood friends, they were inseparable, similar to a fault except in one thing. Samud was way more daring, he launched himself into things, as he had done just now to catch the coconut, without hesitation. Mensa, though daring and boisterous in nature too, was a bit more reserved. But today was different, today with Samud cheering him on, he’d been the one to scale the coconut tree and pluck the liquid filled nuts from it, instead of standing below to collect them on the beach as he usually did. So with a wink, Mensa dropped the coconuts cradled in his muscular arms and ran shrieking into the sea, leaping like an acrobat over a breaking wave and piercing the frothing waters like a swordfish.


“What the…?” Samud’s mouth dropped open but it was only a millisecond before he himself was streaking like a mad-man into the sea.

The sea was warm, much warmer than the creek where they’d learned to swim and which they bathed in every evening, a creek that was glassy, still and coloured gold by the setting sun; very unlike this sea, which even waist deep felt threatening, a mass of powerful water that was alive as it pulled, tugged and tossed you.

“Not too far Samud!” Mensa yelled as Samud whipped passed him as if propelled by an engine, his strong legs throwing salty spray up as high as the waves.

“Race you just over there,” Samud stopped away from where Mensa bobbed up and down in the water, standing on his tip-toe’s to show Mensa that the water reached only up to his neck, “It’s not that deep, the creek is deeper!”

It was on Mensa’s tongue to say that this, was not the creek. The sea heaved, moved in swells, it was strong, with currents that lifted your feet off the grainy sandy bottom and dragged you several metres as you fought it for control. Their creek was subdued, with a lazy soft current that flowed slowly out to sea, waters so serene one could float on their backs, fall asleep and wake up on the sandbanks of the tributary, peaceful and well rested. But his confidence bolstered by the coconut tree and at a sudden whoop from Samud as he crashed headfirst into a powerful wave, Mensa dove after his friend.

The sky was a messy meshwork of patterns in blue, lavender, lilac and the beginnings of hints of pink. The sun was setting and it was incredibly stunning, but Samud wasn’t looking to the sky. Frantic, panicky beyond reason, terrified past all logic, he battled waves which had suddenly grown three feet high, forming troughs which swallowed him and blocked the horizon.

“Mensa!” he yelled for the countless time, treading water with legs that were cramping and arms that did nothing now but flail weakly in the swirling water, “Mensa!” he couldn’t tell which way the beach was, but with a sob and another cry out to his best friend, he fought with the wildness of an animal clinging to life, clawing and sputtering to stay above the waves. But with each second breath he screamed out desperately, “Mensa!”


Samud stared as a light hand touched his bony shoulder and shook him gently, and he shook his head in surprise to see a roaring fire before him and not a pounding sea.

“Who’s Mensa?” his grandson, strong and tall as he once was, asked.

“No one,” Samud replied sadly, wearily. He’d grown tired of reliving the past.