As the old man pushed away from the bamboo pier, he turned to wave to the two-year-old boy for whom he was making this particular trip to the local government office – two hours down creek.
As he paddled, he took in the scenery. Aside from the seemingly endless mangrove, the odd crane or two that sought for the now elusive fish in the shallows, there was not much to see.
He recalled how plentiful the fish had been in his youth. Back then, this length of creek would be teeming with canoes, the sound of distant seagulls and his paddle meeting the water, would not be the only break to the silence. Back then, the water was clear enough to drink.
These days, the few fish that remained are either floating belly-up in the water, or hidden by the oily slick that covered the creek surface, mangrove roots and branches at tide level.
Disgusted, he spat into the water, mourning the desolation around him. Years of oil spillage had turned the creeks into a graveyard. They had complained but were not heeded. The youths even resorted to arguing with guns, they fought, not to end the pollution, but for a share of oil money.
Change is afoot, so said the politician that addressed them in the Fish Market a few weeks prior.
“For the first time ever, a son of our fathers will seat over our matter. He is not going there just to table our case, but will be the one to decide our fate. He will have the final say, and who says he will not think of his mother’s farmland when he makes that all important decision?” the burly party man had stared them in the eye as he talked, daring anyone to dispute his words.
No one did, so he continued, “you all know that he is a child of destiny, vote for him and he will bring back the fishes, he will clean our rivers and make our farmlands productive again. I tell you, he is one of us and knows our problems. Did he not, like all of us, learn to swim with the fishes before he could walk? Who knows our pain like him, strangers?”
The old man had listened attentively to the party man. Many easily bought the party man’s speech, but for him, the choice was much harder.
Two days before that meeting, his brother’s son had returned from the city with a different argument, equally compelling. “It is true he is one of us, but is he not very much removed from the way things are here. They don’t have to struggle to find fish in the city, you expect him to remember the creeks and what the dying fish portends to you?”
Confusion had reigned supreme in the old man’s head for days. Whom to follow: His hotheaded nephew, not even registered to vote; or the party man, paid for the spit he lost arguing the cause?
By the time he sighted the LGA headquarters, would-be voters had began lining up behind the pier. He stopped paddling and for the fifth time that morning, pulled out a package tightly wrapped in cellophane. He smiled as he unwrapped a voter registration card that bore his smiling visage, name and thumb print. For him, that bit of paper represented a change that might not come in his time, but for the boy waiting for him by the bamboo pier it represented a life better than his.
For the boy, he thought, I hope I make the right choice.