Sorry guys, I don’t write as often as I used to because of circumstances beyond my control. I wrote this story for a competition but since it wasn’t short listed, I figured I might as well bring it here for you guys to have fun with. Read, criticize, make inputs, digest and enjoy…..
Timi sprawled out on the floor at one end of their sitting room listening to his brother and his friends talk at the other end. Whenever his brother’s friends came over, his brother morphed into someone he barely recognized, playing the big brother card like it really meant something. Now, he wished he could join in the conversation, but Dagogo had made it clear he didn’t want him around his friends, always telling him he couldn’t join in their “adult” conversation. Adult conversation my ass, he’s just 3 years older than me. Timi mused to himself. Well, as always, I’ll settle for playing the silent and observant eavesdropper. As he observed the boys, he couldn’t help but wonder how people so different could end up being friends. There was Ib, the kind one. Ib was the only one who went out of his way to be kind to him. Sometimes he wished Ib were his brother instead of Dagogo. There was Jite, the brash one, always giving his opinion whether you asked for it or not. Then there was Nemi, the shy one. Nemi only spoke when spoken to except when he felt strongly about something. Timi was tired of listening to their unending banter, so he thought of going outside to find something else to entertain himself with. As he got up to leave, the word Avara floated to his ears. Avara! Are these clowns out of their minds? What could they be saying? He decided to move a little closer so he could hear more. When he was closer to them, he heard Dagogo say,
“We should at least give it a try, the tale of Avara is just a myth that is used to scare some sense into children, now that we are grown, we shouldn’t let such tales define what we do. Common guys, don’t tell me you guys are afraid of that silly story” This young man can be persuasive, I almost believe the tale of Avara is false.
Timi couldn’t believe his ears but he wasn’t surprised. If anyone had the guts to question the mystery of Avara, it would be his brother. Dagogo was the most gutsy 16 year old he had ever known. When Dagogo was just 5, he’d made a request that stunned his parents, of all things, he’d asked for swimming goggles. At 7, he was already out-swimming most boys his age. Now at 16, the only place he was yet to swim in was Lake Avara.
The mystery of Lake Avara is one that has confounded the people of Ibara long before the birth of Dagogo and Timi. Legend had it that Avara was a very beautiful woman who came to settle in Ibara in the summer of 1921. No one knew from whence she came, who she was, or if she had any family to speak of and when asked, she simply said with a smile on her face, “The earth is big enough for all of us to coexist peacefully without the need to invade each other’s privacy.” It was said that Avara’s beauty was such that whoever beheld her face would be so mesmerized by its complexity that they lost their train of thought as evidenced by their inability to speak for several minutes.
The tale of Avara’s beauty and mystery filtered to neighboring villages that people travelled down to Ibara just to catch a glimpse of her. But there was one man in particular who was consumed by his determination to prove that Avara was something, spirit, human or whatever, he wanted to be sure. So, he decided to pay her a visit on the night of the spirits. The night of the spirits is the one night chosen in a year where the people of Ibara were asked to remain indoors to allow their gods cleanse the land of any evil.
No one knows what actually transpired between Ekine and Avara that night, all anyone knew was that Avara’s body was found face down floating on the Lake bordering the village, and as a way of immortalizing Avara, the king decided to name the lake after her. For years, Lake Avara, was extolled for being calm and clear until Ekine’s body was found floating face down at the exact same spot Avara’s was seen. No one could understand how an expert swimmer like Ekine drowned in the lake. Since then, some villagers both young and old who ventured to Lake Avara mysteriously vanished. Even now, with all the developments that has taken place over the years, parents still tell their children this tale with such embellishment that it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Still, Timi was astonished at Dagogo’s audacity. He thought of going to their mother with this piece of information. If anyone could talk some sense into his obviously crazy brother, it would be their mother, and once she throws in the “I just lost your father 3 years ago, do you want me to lose you too?” line, Dagogo would surely listen. Then again, he caught a whiff of opportunity.
“Dagogo,” he called out.
Startled, Dagogo turned to him and said, “Haven’t I told you to get lost when I’m hanging with my friends?”
Ignoring the sharpness of Dagogo’s voice, Timi said, “If you are going to Avara, I’m coming with you, if not I will tell mom what you are planning.”
Dagogo’s stare hardened, “Why must this little boy always throw a wrench in my plans?” He asked no one in particular.
“Let him come if he wants to.” Ib, said.
“Yeah, let him come, by the way, you already taught him how to swim.” Jite added. They all turn to look at Nemi, who nods in agreement.
“Okay pest, you can come, but you are in no way going to enter the lake.”
Timi could hardly contain his joy, he jumped up and down screaming “thank you thank you.”
“Alright, we’ve heard, you can go now, let the adults talk about other things.” Dagogo said. That night, Timi dreamt of a beautiful lady clad in a bloodied white overflowing gown with her arms stretched out and tears streaming down her face floating atop Lake Avara and beckoning on him to come. A dream that left him both flustered and apprehensive but by the time they left for the lake, he had almost no recollection of the dream.
When they arrived at the lake, they stood for some minutes staring at it, thinking about the gravity of what they were about to do. Dagogo immediately stripped down to his trunk and dove into the water swimming its length with the rest watching petrified from the bank silently praying to the powers that be to spare their friend. After what seemed like an eternity, Dagogo popped up in front of them and with a mischievous grin on his face said “I’m yet to see that which I can’t swim in.” Amidst calls of “crazy you,” “you must have lost your mind,” “I can’t believe we are doing this” and all whatnot, the other 3 boys also stripped to their own trunks and jumped in in hot pursuit of Dagogo leaving Timi behind. Unbeknownst to them Timi had plans which transcended sitting on the bank and watching the older boys swim. He waited for them to swim quite a distance before he too dove in. As his body made contact with the water, he felt invigorated, he floated for a while then he began to swim towards Dagogo and his friends. The older boys were trading jokes and insults amongst themselves when Timi startled them with his presence.
“Have you lost your damn mind?” Shouted Dagogo. “How dare you come in when I expressly asked you not to?” Dagogo made to advance towards him. At that point, Ib intervened, placing a restraining hand on Dagogo’s arm, he said,
“Let him be, he’s already here.”
“But he shouldn’t be.” Retorted Dagogo, his rage boiling over. “If anything happens to him, my mother would not survive it, better yet she would kill me.” He added.
“Let him swim Dagogo, nothing would happen.” Countered Ib.
“Yeah, leave him be.” Jite added.
Nemi then said, “Let the little man have some fun with his big brother, you should be flattered Dagogo.
“Okay, but stay close.” Dagogo told Timi.
Timi smiled his appreciation at the other boys and continued swimming. They swam for about half an hour and then decided to go back to the bank. On getting there, Ib looked around, turned to Dagogo and asked “Where is your brother Timi?” The look of terror on Dagogo’s face was all the prompting Ib needed to dive back in, all the while wondering if the events of today would mar their lives forever.
Ib swam deeper and deeper, hoping and praying that the heaviness he felt in the pit of his stomach would not give rise to a reality he knew quite well they all wouldn’t be able to handle. With each new stroke came despair as he couldn’t sight Timi, no matter how hard he swam and then a few feet from the seabed, he spotted a movement and he vigorously swam toward it. On getting close, he realized it was Timi in a fight for his life. He seemed to be transfixed at that spot as he watched Timi struggle to break free from an unseen force holding him down. In the back of his mind, he knew it was too late. How do I fight that which I don’t understand? He thought but that didn’t stop him from going to help anyways. He pulled Timi with all his strength but Timi was anchored firmly to the seafloor. He placed both feet on the floor and pulled some more but still, Timi wouldn’t budge. The struggle lasted for what felt like forever, as he felt his chest about to explode from the protracted lack of oxygen. Oh my God, I need air, but how do I leave him here? It wasn’t too long before that choice was taken away from him, looking into Timi’s face, he could feel the life slowly ebbing away from it, he caught a reflection of himself in Timi’s almost glassy eye, he saw a pathetic figure who couldn’t even save his best friend’s brother. A small sob escaped his throat as Timi breathed his last. He would have gladly stayed there to provide Timi with as much comfort as possible at that point but his need for air overshadowed the feeling of empathy. Once he broke to the surface, he met 3 anxious faces staring at him.
“Where is my brother?” Dagogo asked?
But even as the question left his lips, Dagogo already knew the answer just from the look on Ib’s face. A look that confirmed his worst fears, a look that told him he wasn’t going to see his little brother anymore, a look that made him realize he had broken a promise made at a deathbed, he had promised his father to always keep Timi safe, no matter what. All these thoughts and feelings coalesced into a fury so great he was afraid that if he didn’t lash out at that moment, the rage would consume him. Before any of the boys knew it, Dagogo was atop Ib, slugging the life out of him. It took the combined strength of Jite and Nemi to get him off. With irrepressible tears flooding down his face, he looked at Ib who was still lying on the floor broken and bloodied and said,
“You convinced me to let him swim, if I hadn’t listened to you nothing would have happened, now that I’ve lost my little brother, are you happy?”
Ib fought for tears, but they wouldn’t come, he wanted to scream, but it clogged in his throat, he wanted to say something in response to his friend’s accusation but it seemed he was lost in the randomness of the nothing that was to become him. At Ib’s silence, Dagogo turned and began what would be his longest walk home. He felt like someone heading to the gallows. I’m sorry dad for not keeping my promise, I’m sorry mum for letting my recklessness and stupidity cause you the life of your baby, I’m sorry Avara for questioning the authenticity of your mystery, I’m just sorry. He wailed on the inside. His mum’s stoic silence after he divulged the news was worse than any beating she had ever given him in his entire life. That night, no sound was heard in the Ebipe household as mother and son tried to handle their grief separately. He felt his mum would always blame him, even if she would never say so. On the other hand Mrs Ebipe couldn’t understand why Avara chose to take her sweet little Timi from her.
The next day, a handful of the villagers including Dagogo, his mum and the other boys gathered at the lake with the hopes that Avara would release Timi’s body but it wasn’t until the third day that Timi’s body was seen floating on the lake face down.
On the day of Timi’s funeral, it was as if a dark cloud had settled over the town of Ibara. People came from far and wide to pay their respect to Avara’s latest victim, everyone except Ib. After the last person had left the gravesite, a lone figure approached the grave. He bent down, dropped the flower he was holding and then traced the words on the headstone.
In loving memory of
Timi Ebipe (1990-2003)
You will always be loved our boy.
He cried quietly for a while, offered up a silent prayer and left.
Timi’s death ushered in a wave of new speculations. Some thought Timi’s ancestry was to blame, others were of the opinion that it was a random event, still some others felt the boys weren’t telling the whole truth about what actually happened in the lake that afternoon. These speculations made the 4 boys quite unpopular, parents cautioned their children not to get close to them as though they were tainted by an unknown communicable disease.
The tragedy affected the boys in different ways. Jite’s family, one of those stuck up types, couldn’t deal with the scandal so they moved with their son to another town. Nemi who prior to this was the least bit interested in reading as evidenced by his poor academic performance became a sucker for books, he breathed, ate and slept books. It was as if his guilt over Timi’s demise was driving him to seek knowledge that not enough books could give. Dagogo on the other hand lost all affinity for water, instead he took up running, a sport that made him feel like he was outrunning his demons. But no one was as affected as Ib. Ib wore his guilt like an albatross. Each time he recalled the events of that day, he experienced the pain and despair all over again. No one could break through to him, it was as if he sought solitude in a mind that was slowly becoming a stranger to him. Even when years later, Dagogo realizing he must have been harsh in his judgement, reached out to him, he only stood looking through Dagogo, until Dagogo not able to withstand it anymore turned and left.
Year after year, Ib withdrew more and more into himself, his parents tried all they could to help him come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t his fault and to make him stop blaming himself, they even flew him outside the country to get in a good round of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy but nothing worked. So they learnt to just be close by in case he needed them. Ib relived the moment over and over again. In his mind, instead of saying “Let him come if he wants to”, he’d said “No, Timi you can’t come”, or instead of saying “Let him swim Dagogo, nothing would happen”, he’d said, “Timi, seriously, swim back to the bank and wait for us” If only.
But something changed the night Ib saw Avara. He had gone to bed later than usual plagued by his thoughts as always. He hadn’t been asleep for too long when he saw a beautiful lady clad in a bloodied white overflowing gown, with tears in her eyes, floating on the lake and beckoning on him to come. He walked straight into the lake with his arm outstretched towards the figure. The more he approached, the more Avara retreated. He was mesmerized by her beauty, her radiance wrapped him in its warm cocoon, he wished she would take him farther away to the point of no return, then maybe he can find that elusive peace. They both moved in a symmetrical line, he was sucked in by the rhythm, he felt it was a dance he had partook in one too often. He was close to her now, close enough that if he reached out his hands, he might be able to touch her, but his arms remained firmly by his side. At that point, she leaned forward and spoke…
The scream that brought his parents to his room was quite loud, but they didn’t mind as this was the first sound their boy was making in almost five years. They soothed him until he went back to sleep.
When Ib woke up the next morning, he felt a rush he hadn’t felt in years, he had a lot he wanted to say. He picked up the pen and journal his parents left by his bedside in case he wanted to write something but which he had never used and began to write.
Before the day that is to remain the worst day of my life, I had always been drawn by the beauty that is Avara, this lake in its iridescence represented a beauty so profound that I felt it infused Ibara with its very essence. I could have sworn that its tale was just what it was – a tale meant to keep people away so as to preserve its aura, but the events of 20th August 2003 changed my opinion. By taking Timi, Avara took my life and instead of a young successful man, it left a broken man in his stead. Powers greater than me are at play and for me to begin to understand it I need to tell Avara’s story in her own words, the same words she whispered in my ears last night…
“I know there are whispers about my origin but even I cannot tell you from whence I came. For all I know is a voice which I presume belonged to my mother telling me “You are special Avara”, a sentiment I repeated to Ekine on the night of the spirits. An Answer he took as a personal affront, he felt I knew but was bluntly refusing to tell him. Maybe it was one of the spirits the gods were chasing that night that took possession of Ekine because one minute we were talking and the next minute, his fingers were wrapped tightly around my neck squeezing the life out of me. I tried begging him to stop but I couldn’t speak, I tried pleading with my eyes but he was beyond reason. I tasted betrayal for the first time for I have always liked him and thought the feeling was reciprocated. My last breath gave way to anger, an anger that erupted like a seething volcano the moment I realized he was going to get away with my murder. No way! I said to myself as I lay in that lake watching his retreating figure. He paid dearly with his life and with that of his progenies for generations to come. I now know my anger was misguided and misdirected, a notion I now want to correct as my name has been linked with evil for too long. I want to hear Avara the beautiful again that is why I want you to tell my story to your people and bring them back to me.”
After hearing Ib read Avara’s story, the people who were gathered at the town hall stood up and walked towards the lake. Some laid out their picnic baskets while others especially the young ones jumped into the lake. Four young men standing off to a corner looked on at the happening with satisfaction and smiled to themselves and if they could, they would have seen Avara standing in the midst of the splashing children clad in a sparkling white gown and instead of tears, she was smiling. A smile that became almost blinding when she heard Ib say “Avara the beautiful.”
Note: Thanks to my editor who craves anonymity