Two youngsters went out to check out their fish traps. The older of the two, Kolo Igodo, eleven years, had borrowed his father’s canoe. His companion, Odema Okula, nine years, had taken a wicker basket along with him. Odema sat astern, on the steering platform to control the direction of the canoe as they paddled to the southern end of the river. Aduoghe Lake was adjacent to the water body they were stationed at. In quick order they had finished checking out their traps, and had yelped with joy at the success of their hunt when the ogbolo drums sounded announcing the imminent arrival of a storm. The vicinity in which they were was clear, the sky was blue, white clouds partly covered the sun, and it was pleasant.
Having heard of the dangers of the storm as told by their parents, they decided to abandon whatever they were doing, and turned their boat for the homeward journey. At the middle of the river, they heard a whistling sound and the rumble of thunder. A slight drizzle had suddenly started. Soon after, they heard a whoosh as of a mighty wind. It was the unset of the storm, building up from the north end of the river. The blackness of the clouds sent the chills through their bones so they straightened up on their seats, took firmer holds on their paddles and increased their efforts and made for the western bank of the river. About five meter from their position the storm reached them. It was a major one.
It took fifteen minutes for the wind to build up its forces as it came in gusts and gales; it whistled, churned and roared at the waters they paddled on. It spun their boat around, yanked their paddles from their hands, and took control of the canoe. The boat dipped, bobbed and shuddered at the buffeting it received from the wind, and they hung on for dear lives. All of a sudden it stopped, and they breathed in deeply, relieved.
“How are we going to paddle home?” Odema asked tearfully, as he searched on the frothing water for his paddle.
“Don’t worry, we will paddle with our hands,” Kolo replied in an effort to douse the tension and fear he felt.
The boys had hardly taken a bearing on what to do when the thunder rumbled and a four meter wave lifted them from the water. They crashed down to the trough of the wave, and were lifted sky high, with the boat barely staying upright. Kolo saw the crown of a fresh water mangrove, reached out for it and held on as the boat hurtled through the branches amid the water. The branch he was holding on snapped as they crashed to the root of the tree, on the water logged ground. Breakers from the waves crashed at them and were carried off on the crest of a new wave, pushed out to the main water body, and were left afloat at the middle of the river. Soon after, the water suddenly lost its fury, and the rains poured down in torrents. The storm had blown over.
It was quiet as they had floated past the communities of Ogbogolo to the mouth of the river. At this junction, it branched out into Nembe Creek on the right hand side and formed a confluence with the Sombreiro River at Degema by the left. The rapid waters of the Sombreiro pulled their boat on to the widest river they had seen. They floated uncontrollably past Degema, Abonnema and Obonoma, and at nightfall were at the bank of the delta of Sombreiro River. The delta was divided up by three creeks. Kolo found his paddle tangled to the root of a napalm. They moored their canoe to the branch of an afromesia, and sat down to wait out the night.
At the village, soon after the wind had blown over, the gong sounded and the entire village assembled for a roll call, at the village square.
“All families should gather together and identify those that are missing,” the Obenema said, as families looked for their loved ones and began to gather in groups.
“Families with missing members should come forward,” Chief Egesi Ologi said, and four families moved up front and gathered in groups.
“Papa, I am here!” A fifteen year old boy yelled out, as space was created for him to pass through to his parents. Another woman was identified and reunited with his family of five. Everybody else lapsed into silence.
“Did anyone see the son of Otei and Okozo Igodo before, during or after the storm? Also, the son of Ogoh and Inne Okula? If you did speak up.” Chief Egesi said. There was a movement at the back as a young lad of seven made his way to the front.
“Kolo and Odema went to the Southern end of the village near Aduoghe Lakes to check out their traps, just before the arrival of the storm. They did not return.” Inah Osai reported.
The chief beckoned on two men, Edum and Osai, to the front, where the elders were seated and they held a brief discussion. It was quickly agreed that the two of them would go out in search of the missing boys. Silence descended on the crowd and their mothers wept quietly.
“ Edum, Kolo is my only child, please find him for me,” Okozo pleaded as tears rolled down her cheeks and she slumped down. The women went to her and lifted her up. But she could not be consoled.
“O my God, what am I going to do? And what will I say happened to my son?” She wailed as the rest of them joined her and more tears flowed freely. An old crone walked up to her and reached out a helping hand.
“The boys were raised up in a water environment. They shall live. Get up and wipe your tears.” As she helped Okozo from the ground. The crowd quietly dispersed. Even the children did not go out to play as the night fell.
Edum and Osai went out in a search party; they agreed to sleep over at Ogbema waterfront in a friend’s house. They went through looking for night fishermen, but no one was about. The river was quiet. At Okoboh, they saw a man and his companion paddling through.
“Have you been about since the storm started?” Edum asked in Abua language.
“Who goes out in that kind of weather? Why do you ask?”
“Two youngsters got lost in the storm; we are trying to find them.”
“My house is just by the river. I saw a canoe floating uncontrollably about at the end of the storm. It looked like it was painted white in some sections. Wanted to go out and get it for myself, it appeared lost.” The fisherman said.
“Thank you,” said Edum as they made for Ogbema waterfront nearby. Soon, they arrived at Kikpoye Obuge’s camp and were welcomed in. They related their mission and Kikpoye gave them words of encouragement.
“It is going to be alright. Let’s have dinner and you can set out very early. It is uncertain which direction their boat will float into. If they were to enter the Nembe Creek which is just twenty five meters wide, your task becomes easy. But should they float into the Sombreiro, they could be anywhere between Abonnema and Ekulama. The delta of the Sombreiro makes it worse. You really might end up going back and forth, without success. They could actually be in the sea right now,” Kikpoye said.
“I agree. The currents of the Sombreiro are very strong. They are likely to be pulled into it. But it is uncertain which direction they would have gone. Assuming they are alive.” Edum said, and noticed that Osai’s eyes glistened with unshed tears.
At day break, Odema woke up with a rumbling stomach. He looked at Kolo who slept on the floor of the canoe and cupped his palm to take in some water for a drink. But he spat out the water. It was salty. He sat down unhappily as Kolo stirred, rolled over and opened his eyes. Scrambling up, he stared at Odema.
“Where are we? What happened?” Kolo asked in embarrassment.
“I do not know. What are we going to do?” Kolo waved him off, and reached for his paddle. They paddled over to one end of the delta and looked at the creek. They noticed that the land on which the plants grew was a marsh of gooey mud that swallowed up everything that landed on it.
“This mud is called liika in our language. It will sink and swallow any weight placed on it. Let’s find another place to land on. “ Kolo said.
“I am hungry,” Odema whined.
“Drink some water,” replied Kolo, but Odema shook his head and said, “This water is no good. It is salty.”
They paddled over to the creek on the west side, but were not satisfied as the creek was too far from the bank of the river. They chose the last creek, which banks were nearer to the eastern bank of the river and went in.
The sight before them after going down stream for five hundred meters was breath taking. They had just paddled into a U shaped cove with a white sandy beach on the eastern side. The western bank of the cove was not visible from where they sat. Coconuts grew on the eastern bank like it was a plantation. They were excited and Odema screamed out in pleasure.
“Kolo look! It is beautiful, and there are coconuts all over!” They moored their canoe against the sandy bank as they pulled it up to prevent it from floating off, and came out running around in excitement.
“I cannot run anymore. I am hungry.” Odema complained as he slumped to the ground breathless.
“Get up, lets follow that trail over there, maybe we can find some fruits, especially banana to quell your hunger,” Kolo said as he helped Odema from the ground.
They followed the trail into a depression in the forest and were soon assaulted by the odor of decaying fruits. The guava was laden with fruits. Its branches drooped to the ground with the weight of the fruits. Many of them were ripe while others were not. Lots of the fruits littered the ground and Odema went to pick up a handful.
“Don’t pick from the ground, they will contain worms. Pluck firm ripe ones,” said Kolo, and they sat to a breakfast of guava fruits. The sun was up.
Edum and Osai woke up and were fed by their host who bade them good luck. They first went into Nembe Creek with the belief that if the boys had floated in there, they would be safe. In short order they arrived the first camp and the men in a huge canoe were taking out kegs of palm wine.
“Friends, did you see a couple of kids who strayed into the creek yesterday soon after the storm?” Edum asked in Nembe language.
“No. We were indoors by that hut over there. You can see that small boys can easily get into camp even if they were left without their paddles.” The stranger replied guessing correctly what might have happened. Edum thanked them and they continued unto the next camp with the same result. Unsatisfied with the look of things, they turned around and returned to the Sombreiro River.
At the delta, they were confronted with the three creeks, and they agreed that the liika was too much to support any weight on the banks of the creeks. “Why don’t we follow the flow of water to the western side of the river and go through the western creek?” asked Osai.
“You are right. The river flow angles swiftly toward the west; the creek at that side is wider than the rest. Their canoe would be drawn into it.” Edum replied as they went through the western creek and came out into the cove shortly after. On the western bank of the cove, there was no beach, but a cliff nearly five meters high with a clear surface of clay. They paddled for one kilometer and the waves of the nearby sea was making their trip bumpy so they crossed over to the eastern side of the cove. “Ooo! Look at that beach!” Osai exclaimed, as Edum increased his effort and paddled faster.
Osai peered up front and the grim determination on Edum’s profile gave him encouragement. Osai could not hold it down anymore.
“They may have gotten to this beach you know.” But Edum hissed and said, “Paddle faster and faster.” And the canoe flew as if it was on wheels.
At the forest, the boys finished their meal of guava fruits and walked back into the trail. “This trail leads somewhere so let’s follow it,” said Kolo and a few meters away they found a pond that was host to several birds: Wrens, sunbirds, black kites, gulls, swans, swallows, doves which drank from it. There were squirrels, monkeys and baboons too.
As they got there, the birds flew off, and the primates and squirrels clambered back into the trees. “First taste it, this water could be salty,’ said Odema, but Kolo waved him off and said, “No need to taste it, the birds will not be drinking if it was salty.”
After drinking the water, they were on their way back to the beach when a low growl called their attention to the right hand side of the track. A pack of wild dogs laid down in a crouch watching them closely. Kolo took the lead as he stepped through in soft slow steps. The leader of the pack made low growling sounds and took tentative steps towards them. The others came behind.
Kolo stopped and heard his name being called from the direction of the river and Odema spoke in a whisper. “There are people calling out for us.” But they could not move, as every step they took attracted the dogs’ attention. The lead dog snarled with its fang bared. The pack followed every move that they made.
“If we are still, they will not react,” said Kolo, and they stopped, still and unmoving. The dogs gradually lost interest. The mother in the pack, a huge bitch with its tits dripping with milk, howled, turned its head and sat down. The rest of the pack took a cue from her and sat on their hocks. The leader of the pack yawned and sat down, licking its paws.
Edum and Osai were excited as they saw the boys’ canoe, so they called out for Kolo and Odema. They became worried when there was no response, so went to the boat and traced the footprints on the sand to the foot path when the bitch howled. They looked at each other.
The dogs had lost interest in the chase, so Kolo extended a hand to Odema, took a firm hold and together dashed on to the trail as they ran towards the beach. The dogs felt deceived and sprang up in full chase snapping at Odema’s heels.
Just as the boys burst out on to the beach with the lead dog in hot chase, Edum who out of excitement had forgotten to drop his paddle, swung it at the snout of the lead dog. It reacted by retreating painfully, whimpering and howling as the rest of them stopped, turned around and took off into the forest. The lead dog came in the rear.
Edum and Osai grabbed the boys in protective embrace as they fell on the beach rolling and laughing, at what seemed to have been a hopeless search.