We were giggling hard, the four of us. Perhaps not as hard as we were trying to keep the fishes between our fingers. But hard. We had to hold tight to the fishes, so none of them slipped. Each of us held a fish in our hands yet we didn’t immediately want to drop them in the bucket by the shore. Omole, the smallest of us was chortling excessively and soon the fish he held dropped. It shook its tailfin, as if grateful for returning home alive, then evanesced quickly under so we could not see it again.
‘Now see how you people made me drop my fish’ he had a mournful look on his face, yet he was trying to hold back laughter with his fingers pressing his lips
‘Who told you to be laughing when you’re holding catfish?’ Faleye chuckled revealing his scanty dentition. At ten and only a year younger than I, he had lost most of his teeth. He ambled to the edge of the small stream and dropped his fish in the bucket.
‘But why were you laughing like that?’ I couldn’t help laughing myself at the face Omole made. It was that of muffled amusement, like he wanted to look angry and it wasn’t working. I followed behind Faleye and dropped my fish in the bucket.
‘Don’t you know that thing is tinkling?’ he scratched his palm
I slapped the water as I burst into another round of laughter.
‘It’s not tinkling, it’s tickling…kl…say ‘kl’’ Segun was the oldest of us and the most brilliant. At least in school he had proved so much.
‘M-mm bro Segun.’ Omole shook his head ‘It’s tin-k-l-ing. My teacher said it’s tinkling.’
Segun gave one of his throaty laughs and his head bobbed ‘Ah, Omole. Your teacher didn’t tell you anything. Besides I’m in Primary six and you’re in primary three. How would you know what the correct word is?’
Segun headed for the shore to drop his fish just as Omole dropped his head, staring at the water seeking for the fish that had escaped his arms.
I waded through the stream. I liked the feel of water on my legs. It was here that we laughed with abandon, shared tales of school and helped support our family’s means of livelihood. Apart from the greens and a handful of fruits mummy harvested from her farm and sold, this was the only other avenue through which money came into our house. Yet we enjoyed every bit of it.
‘Come, let’s try and catch some more now’ Segun called from the edge of the stream. ‘Let’s go to that side. It is somehow deep and I can see some fishes moving there’
‘How many are there bro Segun? In the basket.’ Omole asked
‘Ah, only six?’ I exclaimed.
‘Yes now. You didn’t know when you were laughing?’
Segun moved over to where Omole had stood a moment ago ‘Okay Omole, stay on the shore with the bucket’ Omole looked disappointed. He obviously wanted to get back the fish he had lost
‘Faleye, you can come and join me here. It’s like there are a lot of fish here.’
Eventually, Segun and I got one each. Faleye didn’t catch any so we all headed home. Omole led the way, cradling the bucket of fish in his arms and sniffing them at intervals. Segun trailed behind him. I sauntered at the far back with Faleye right in front of me. Faleye stalled at some point, where he bent to pick up some abandoned pages of a magazine and a plastic bottle.
‘One day I will be a big fisherman. I will catch plenty fish and sell and be rich.’ Omole announced.
‘Which kind fisherman is that? When people want to become doctors and lawyers and engineers’ Segun countered
‘Bro Segun, me I want to be fisherman’ Omole beat his chest with pride. The bucket almost slipped from his hand but he balanced it soon.
‘Me I want to be somebody that will invent something with all these things I am collecting. Mr. Maduka told us that Nigerians don’t invent things, that we bring everything from abroad. Me I will invent something that…something like…like car that can fly and still move on water.’ Faleye dismembered a peak milk tin he had just picked up.
We burst out into laughter. All except Faleye. The laughter sounded like balls bouncing.
‘Bro Faleye, which day would you now build that one, and what will you even use?’ Omole was asking
‘Okay, stay there. You will see.’
There was silence for a while then Segun blurted out ‘I want to be a doctor in future, so I can treat Daddy’s eye. I will now treat all the people that have bad eye in the world’
Nobody laughed. Segun’s ambition was serious. Daddy had had eye problems for as long as I knew him. He couldn’t see well. Mummy never discussed it with us but it was something that needed a whole lot of money to treat, I knew. We all knew. Money that we could never afford.
We had arrived at the house when Faleye asked ‘So you, bro Gbenga, what do you want to be? I felt everyone’s eyes on me. They were waiting for my answer, but it was something I couldn’t give.
‘I don’t know’ On the contrary, I knew, but it was way too silly, especially when compared with what Segun wanted to become. Even Faleye’s ambition was somewhat more lucid.
‘How would you say you don’t know’?’ Segun looked perplexed
I shrugged and let it pass. As they entered the house, I sat on the chair with the broken arm in our verandah and mused. I wanted to become a sailor but I would be the laughing stock of my brothers if I told them that. That I wanted to see water all my life.
I stood up and ran out of the compound. I was heading for the stream.