SHORT STORY: When it’s crazy as it sounds

Friday June 11 2021

Namu cast his net and begun to settle down to wait, but a sudden tug on his net pulled him forward violently... ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


A tiny boat carved from a light, sturdy, single plank of a large trunk of what was once a tall mangrove, rocked on a gently undulating sea. It was early morning, grey clouds rimmed in silver heralding the coming dawn.

Namu, statue still inside the little boat, held one end of a finely stitched net in his calloused hands and waited, his breathing so slow his chest didn’t fall or rise at all.

All around him dotted here and there like the sparse vegetation on a dry savannah, were other boats, varied in size but all similarly carved and outfitted with a singular, ghostly white sail; and in each sat a lone fisherman, still as a mountain.

“Hmm,” Namu exhaled as the sun broke through an assembly of clouds gathered thick on the eastern horizon, scattering warm rays across the sea surface and painting the dull grey water with iridescent colours.

It would soon be time to head back to the village, and by the weightlessness of his net dragging in the water, he would be heading back empty-handed.

Lobster appetizer


A sigh, louder than his, carried over the silence. The other fishermen were disappointed too. Another morning spent out in this chilly expanse in vain.

The village was awake when the fishermen trooped back, only one of the 11 having caught something, a pair of skinny lobsters who’d amount to little more than an appetizer.

Expectant villagers, tiring of coconut, cassava and fruit, and craving the salty sweet soft fish that once teemed in these seas, tried their best to hide their disappointment when they saw the crestfallen faces of the men. They knew the fishermen had tried their best, it was out of their control; one could only ask from the sea, never demand.

The fishermen walked slowly to a broad structure swathed in broad coconut leaves to keep out the unrelenting coastal sun, where most of the village men would spend their days occupied in important businesses; political discussions, theories and postulations on the happenings of life, etcetera.

“Ooh!” it was an old woman, a well-known soothsayer who’d long since been branded crazy by the entire village, her mind being so scattered and her memory almost non-existent, “Help! Stop that chicken!” she screamed desperately as she trotted embarrassingly after a runaway hen.

The men laughed as she crossed in front of them. The chicken stopped obstinately near the fisherman holding the limp lobsters and as she dived for it, he kicked out petulantly, sending it squawking away.

The old woman bit the dust, literally, to the humoured shouts and laughs of most of the village. She didn’t appear fazed by the ill-treatment as she dusted herself and struggled to get up.

“Here,” Namu stepped forward, proffering his arm as the rest of the men sauntered off. He thought she was bat crazy too, but there was no need to be nasty, “Your chicken went that way,” he pointed to a thickly clustered mess of bushes as the woman trained two rheumy, alert eyes on him.

“It will be a fortunate day, for those who go sea’s way,” she paused and spat out a gob of saliva tinged with dust, “On a morning that dawns pink, on a sea that sits still,” she stopped again, coughing and hacking to clear her throat then went on to a bewildered Namu, “But you will be tried… for patience and belief.”

Then she was off, jogging strongly for a woman who looked so old, clucking in a raspy voice, calling to her chicken.

A spectacular dawn

Namu stood rooted for a moment, strangely compelled by her message, then went to where his companions were lounging, repeating her words to them but was quickly mocked into silence. Of late, how many of her prophesies had come true?

Days dripped into weeks and Namu forgot the soothsayer’s words, fishing didn’t get better and now he and a few others had begun to carve furniture and trade instead.

Then one morning, he woke to a dull glow which revealed a spectacular dawn on the verge of breaking, and found himself on his little mangrove vessel despite himself, heading out to sea.

It was an incredibly unusual morning. The sky was pale purple, diffusing slowly into a stunning pink hue that reminded him of the village beauty’s lips.

The sea, always alive with little ripples even on the calmest of days, sat glassy still. So still, that Namu’s boat caused the only waves that disturbed the tranquillity.

The sea mirrored the sky so perfectly that he felt as though he were floating through a magical world bathed in pink light. Stopping, Namu cast his net and begun to settle down to wait, but a sudden tug on his net pulled him forward violently.

“Holy mangroves!” he whistled through his teeth as he begun to pull. A full catch, more fish than he’d ever seen, tumbled flapping and gawping into his tiny boat. He cried out in joy and cast his net, until he saw how the little wooden craft was starting to sag in the water.

He could hardly drag his bounty home and when he returned, sweaty and triumphant, he ignored the clamour, questions and praise.

Walking to where the old woman sat muttering to herself, he handed her the juiciest, fattest fish.

“You were right,” he grinned down at her now not-so-batty demeanour.

“What about my friend?” she quipped, taking the fish and shooting a blank look back at him.