Our story today starts like any other. In a sun-drenched part of Africa. No, not South Africa, not Kenya, not Ethiopia either.
It’s the lush tropics, a small sleepy village in Nigeria, West Africa, on a sandy stretch of land close to a vast river. It’s exact location however, I will not say. Some things are better left untold.
Five children, bare-chested against the heat, are kicking a round leather football, popularly called “Tanko” by the indigenes of that region.
It’s an interesting scene, all five players earnest in their efforts, little feet moving almost in a blur, everyone showing off dribbles and trying to put the ball past the sixth child at the goal post.
Oh yes, there’s a sixth child. Quiet, focused entirely on the ball, he is the goalkeeper, tasked with preventing the ball from passing between the sticks spaced out behind him.
One of the children, particularly skillful, manages to dribble the last opponent and seeing an opportunity, seizes it and takes a shot.
Together let us watch, as the ball leaves the sand and flies through the air, coming quite close to the goal but not making it, it continues it’s arc, finally reaching its limit a fair distance away, loosing momentum and falling back to earth, only it doesn’t fall on earth, it falls into the river behind them.
“Giwa, shey we warned you not to fire a shot? You see now it’s in the river. How can we get it back?”
Giwa doesn’t reply, simply stripping, he looses his shorts and underwear, running to the river, he jumps in, cutting smoothly into the water, graceful and elegant as a dolphin.
A few quick strokes bring him within reach of the ball. He grabs it, throws it to his friends at the water’s edge. Then he swims back and puts his clothes back on.
The children don’t approve of what he has done, you see, it’s the market day, a day when no one is to take a dip in the sacred river. Everyone knows this. They are very vocal about their disapproval, but Giwa shrugs it all off. He’s a strong swimmer, confident in his abilities. He doesn’t mind the taboos and superstition.
A river is a river, and a swim is a swim.
Before long, the football match resumes, and the children struggle to score once more.
A small, fair-complexioned child delivers a mighty kick, one that sends the ball sailing once more into the river.
Again, Giwa strips and goes to recover the football. As he throws the ball, he goes under for a moment and the children watch petrified. Then his head breaks through to the surface and he swims back to the river bank where they pull him out quickly.
The child who warned Giwa at first about “firing shots” berates him, talking loudly about how foolish he was to have jumped in the river twice and didn’t he know today is the sacred day when no one should swim?
Giwa shakes his head furiously as though the words are water that he is trying to get out of his ears and runs off to kick the football. His friends follow him and in the manner of children, his errant behaviour is forgotten.
Now the sun is about to sink behind the horizon, the heat is non-existent and the football match winds to a close.
Stubborn Giwa, frantic for another chance to swim, picks the ball amd kicks it willfully into the river. Then he runs after it and dives in, despites the shouted warnings of the other children.
Giwa has kicked the ball farther than it ever went that day, and has to swim quite a distance to retrieve it. He is able to reach the ball but in his way back to the river bank he jerks suddenly.
He goes under the water. Children cry and scream and Giwa bursts out. He throws the ball and it makes it back to the children gathered at the river bank. But Giwa does not. The last they ever see is his right arm outstretched, as if he was trying to grasp a lifeline only he could see, and then it falls back into the river.
Giwa will never be seen again.