Rangi Ya Bahari – Four

Sapphire

Shakwe dropped from his perch, wings a thrumming of urgent beats to stay aloft snatching the spicy fritter offered at the end of Ativa’s outstretched arm. The toe of one web-foot hooked the red and black bracelet Ativa had tied around her wrist sending a scattering of beans and seeds that bounced and skipped about the smooth stone porch and into the house and into the street and into the frothy grey flow of the rough stone gutter.

Ativa stared at the naked threads …but I am fearless …then her thoughts interrupted, words for Shakwe caught in her throat, enchanting verses of adhan from the Riyadha mosque forced recollection. …it’s time, the market …and as she loaded a wooden barrow and secured the ill-fitting harness to Punda’s ever-nodding head, Ativa’s aunt knowing the young girl, reminded her well.

“…go straight …market …no stopping …feeding …and make sure …Ativa are you! …and to school …no.

But the words that reached Ativa were not her aunt’s, but the weighty caw of the crow that then gently swelled full to a siren’s song. Head full of dreams she had already set sail in her own secret world where she was Shah Rukh Khan, a flamboyant hero, a dramatic sea rescue, some long-lost archipelago showered in song, dance and colour.

Their musky odor reminded and the acrid fragrance of urine hung in the spaces between the stone walls that separated earth and sky leading from one end of the maze to the other. Some three thousand donkeys lived and worked on the island and now Punda joined the caravan of carts and flat-bed wagons in a stream of early morning commerce, a life’s blood that lead to the heart of Lamu. Ativa knew most of them on sight, had fed the tired and neglected with fresh produce from the back of her own family cart, but of the striped legs of the ass before her now she had no recollection.

to be continued…

Rangi Ya Bahari – Three

Cadet

the previous evening

Punda covered the distance in an hour, the seven kilometers or so from Lamu to Matondoni, a trip Ativa made at the end of every week encouraging the old donkey. It was not unusual for households to be fatherless, and it was Ativa’s mother that operated the small farm, but it was on the back of Punda that each round trip made a profit, and it was that back that bore the weight of overlapping burlap bags full of maize, cow peas, cassava, bixa, tomatoes and kale for Ativa’s aunt, and for sale at the market.

A coconut-sized conch shell reflecting pink-orange hues had washed up on the beach, quite a find for Ativa as she weaved in and out of the water’s broken edges on a solitary evening stroll. So now she stood there, pondering the vagaries of the sea, deep in thought about the precious find before her. Meandering about the mashwa and rough-looking assortment of hori and canoes she had reached that point where her own dhow lay dormant and neglected on the sand, the sail worn and weathered, a patchwork of thinned and thinning, hull propped up on stilts nailed to its ribbing …one day that sail …will be me as before, …sailing again …a sail she had labored so hard four years ago to fashion by hand.

If she had not been looking back over her shoulder at the curiosity of her own bare-foot prints back-filling with seawater she would have missed the shell completely. So in the end the shell was not placed before her, but rather behind, and as it rocked in time with the rhythm of the tide it was apparent that it was not the footprints at all, but a sweet melody woven within the lace of ocean breeze that had turned Ativa’s head. A melody as light as the scent of jasmine that had followed Ativa from Lamu to Matondoni that now seemed to be coming from the bite of the conch. Shells, shillings, needle and thread, she would be able to sell the prized shell within the square on her way to school. She would be able to repair her sail.

Ativa’s return to Lamu that Sunday evening was as the sun was setting and a shawl of lavender twilight cloaked the old stone town. Beneath that cloak, bone weary, soiled cotton skirts clinging to her calves, bare-feet padding silently in the wistful powder of dirt and manure that never seemed to leave the bricks of the main street, Ativa could only smile at the now familiar tune.

…that melody, again what it is …my imaginationAtiva did not bother to look back this time, but if she had she would have seen them escape the bell of the horn, the very notes, as they rang out in muted concert for the stars.

now morning

Screee-aah screee-aah, simultaneously bobbing and rocking a broken alarm clock of this way and that and side-to-side.

At the sound of the high-pitched cry Ativa looked up from the rust colored liquid that filled her cup, finishing that first careful sip, testing the temperature.

“Ah, there you are, I was wondering, wondering that it’s Monday.”

Observing Shakwe’s dishevelment from the baraza of her aunt’s house Ativa sat cross-legged in a corner beneath an open window sipping her morning tea and watching her younger cousin Iffat crush freshly chopped hot pilipili with the cold stone bluntness of mortar and pestle. Soon bajia would be sizzling in a pan of hot oil releasing the aroma of onion and garlic into the morning’s fabric, a warmed wealth of spices and fried chickpea flour would stitch the air. Before long Ativa would be on her way to market, a trip she made every Monday morning, on her slow circuitous march to school.

Rangi Ya Bahari – Two

Grey

Shakwe sat perched on the edge over looking the alley-way keeping a keen eye on the happenings below. His pride was ruffled his back ached and he badly needed to wash away the persistent cloy of feral odor. Appetite was edging out dignity, comfort and personal hygiene at the moment however, and though he preferred fresh fish first thing in the morning, one or two of the deep-fried disks would do. His morning shadow agreed as it shrank before the sun and hid directly behind him.

Cats were overrunning the place and matters were getting out of control. He had been at the market when the sun had first set fire to the horizon and it was also then, just as the fish were being counted and weighed, that things had slipped back into predawn darkness. Passing up the larger kingfish and caranx Shawke shuffled amongst bins of rockcod, mtumbuu, songoro and rabbitfish until he found the mackerel and to his delight the shimmering shape of sardines.

It was the case, more often than not, that several sardines had slipped the seine netting as it was being dumped into the plastic crates. That number now lay wide-eyed on the hard pack floor, mute in the dirt and dusted with a fine red silt. Though seemingly out of nowhere, the attack had come from behind a basket of crabs, and much to his embarrassment Shakwe was caught off-guard, knocked senseless from the blow and forced to leave without his usual breakfast.

But for now the warmth of the early sun on the coral rag blocks beneath his feet provided some comfort and as a familiar sound tickled his finely tuned ear he tilted his head in that direction. Detecting the trace of grey soapy water as it bubbled its way down the old stone drainage from up the way, Shakwe cried out to Ativa not once, but twice exposing his presence and announcing that the neighbors too had begun their day.

Nuuk and Maarit – Episode Four

Abyss

“Where are you?” Nuuk singing directly into the black smoker. Six-point-zero kilometers below the surface skimming of seagulls and a complete absence of light.

Drawn to the depths by the music produced by the old pit mill at Deep Bight. Where Nuuk was separated from his pod.

“Where are they?” Now to the giant tube worms protecting the vents. Holes in the fabric of the deep ocean silt and sand shifting sediments. Only shimmers and wiggles, a lack of response.

A disturbance tickled Nuuk and he rolled for the view.

“Where have you been?” to Maarit as she appeared shining light.

“My mother knows.”

“She always knew that’s the thing,” from Nuuk. “Tell me, what do you see?”

“A right and a left.”

“Or a right and a wrong,” Nuuk contemplating the vents of the Laurentian Abyss.

“Europa or Enceladus?” Maarit always knowing the thing.

to be continued…

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Rangi Ya Bahari – One

Azure

Ativa was the finest sailboat captain in all of Lamu. Up the mast, flawless straight, cleat the boom, nine meters long and with Shakwe alert at her shoulder she was unbeatable. Maulidi was Ativa’s favourite time of year and this year a warm offshore breeze blessed the annual celebration and the famous race as it graced the surface of the Indian Ocean. Proud, bold and feared, she had come from behind again, stealing that breeze with an artful tack and with a crisp snap of the hand-stitched mainsail gained the lead and the final buoy. A lead she would not relinquish under any circumstance.

Ativa’s father was a skilled craftsman and boat builder and had presented the mahogany dhow to Ativa as a birthday gift and with the help of her father had hand carved the ekki stem in the image of a broad-bladed sword. This was back home in Matondoni when Ativa was just eight years old, where she learned to sail off the main pier and before her father disappeared. Ativa had hand stitched the cotton sail herself.

Back turned to her competitors, hand resting on the scimitar shaped stem Ativa sliced open a lane towards the finish line. Spectators and tourists, men and women, arrived from all corners of the globe to catch a glimpse of the young mariner, to hear the stories, or perhaps catch a bit of the magic. At twelve years of age this was Ativa’s one and only dream.