At the river there was a lot of fish.
A whole lot. So much infact that it was a quite common sight to see fishermen straining, veins clearly outlined and muscles bulging, as they hauled in a heavy boatload of fish. What was rare was a fisherman who had caught nothing. The town was prosperous.
It was at this river that Aminat waited patiently, again, as a small fishing boat drew close to the riverbank. Sitting in it, cross-legged, with a full net of fish, was Bello. He was smiling at her and all was well with the world.
The boat gently touched the riverbank and he disembarked, grabbing a rope which he then used to pull the boat ashore.
“Hi.” Nothing more needed to be said. It was plain, each was quite happy to see the other. Bello tied his boat to a thick mangrove and lifted the full net of fish, slinging the burden over his shoulder as he started his return journey.
Aminat quickly found the pair of slippers she had earlier discarded and wore them, lengthening her stride to meet up with him, falling into step, matching his pace with a mischievous smile fixed firmly in place.
“Anything for me today?”
“I don’t have any honeycombs today. But if we get home, I can have my mother make you something to eat.”
“I don’t want food.”
“What do you want then?” At this she kept silent. The true answer was “You. This thing we have. This contentment, walking down the bush path on our way home. The shared honeycombs. Little jokes and jibes. The togetherness.”
But then, one does not go about saying such things, even when they are felt, so she kept quiet. One day, there would be time for it. So she waited patiently, secure in that knowledge. And as is often true when one enjoys the company with which one is walking, the walk ended all too soon and they were there, at his father’s compound. She could enter, but she would not. Bello was strange, true, but his father was even stranger.
A huge, imposing man, he wasn’t one to be found in idle chatter. He spoke carefully, only talking when it was necessary, to the extent that most villagers joked that he hoarded words like a miser hoards gold.
Also generous, he had given so much to the village. Why, just last harmattan, after a wildfire ravaged Chijioke’s farm and ruined his harvest, he had given him two hundred yam tubers to start again. Two hundred! And when the poor man fell to his knees, crying and promising to work hard enough to repay the debt within five years, he had helped him to his feet and told him not to bother. It was a gift, a dash and need not be repaid.
Like Aminat’s family, the Bellos were settlers, having migrated from the harsh north to settle in the vast south, to work hard and earn a honest living. After eight generations on both sides, both families were considered more or less part of the community and had intermarried so much that the northern traits they brought with them had been thoroughly diluted. The only reminder of their heritage was in their names, and the infrequent bursts of rapid fire Hausa that members of both families sometimes greeted themselves with.
They were a part and parcel of the land, true sons and daughters of the soil. Weren’t they?