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On the day we met, you wore an oversized poncho with dungarees and yellow, rubber boots. You looked like a duckling and, in the trees, I laughed. The clouds studied us and in their rumination grew hot, fraught with unsettled woes. In their horseplay, nimbus trampled and lightning reigned over temperate moisture. The ground supplicated: it heard the braying and the gnashing. Freight trains tumbled from their iron conduits and that was when the floodgate opened.
I remember the park, where we played on the Fourth of July. There, our parents talked late into the night and we smelled of sulfur, our ears ringing with the incessant peal of fireworks. The playground stayed there, to our behest. The slide shone yellow and the monkey bars glistened red.
When we walked, the gravel made this crunching sound—and the smell of the place was as wet earth. Later, I learned that the scent was ozone. Where the rain fell, it left its signature. One omen, in the muck and mire, had been written sloppily.
“Watch this,” you said. With a childish gusto, you scooped the worm and held it—the vermiform body writhing, its segments pulsating. Then you let me try. To this I said, “Yuck.”
For a time, we continued playing in the rain until we were no longer dirty and the soot fell from our hair. Then, I became aware that I did not know your name. We introduced ourselves, and you told me yours though I soon forgot it, and we climbed the trees that bordered the playground. They were big, strong trees the likes of which no longer grow in Oakland. Without any clear purpose, we continued unhindered, climbing the great boughs and venturing afar from the roots of our civility. To be chaste and modest is an illusion, and through our carefree excursion I became aware of this atavism. Wherein such, we resounded back to infancy and returned to that glorious state of being.
Our adventure brought us far. Once, you were stung by a hornet. I eased the pinprick wound with crabapple balm. I chewed the fruit, then spat it out, and lathered the mixture on your knee. Despite my lack of medical knowledge, my care subsided the burning, you said.
Betwixt and between the last oak in the park and a house was a creek, and it was in this rivulet that we swam. The crayfish pinched as tadpoles tickled. The minnows nibbled our toes. The whitewash frothed at our ankles and we did not hear our parents. We could not, for we were out of sight of men and civilization. Our hope became the construct, and our accompaniment was naivety. We did not feel lonely—even when it rained and you felt cold, impeded by a shortness of breath.
A man came to us—or rather we came to him—on a beaten road.
He sat cross-legged and quiet, like he had seen something he did not want to discuss. Also, he wore pinstripe garments, white and black with shackles around his wrists. You felt shy, so I spoke.
“Hello there. What’s your name?” I hollered out loud and confident, the way my father taught me to.
But the man just sat there. He chewed something brown that colored his teeth. And so I asked again. This time he acknowledged us, and stood up fast. His long hair billowed in the wind, gray at the temples. For a minute the wind took unkindly, but the mighty man braced this.
“You ought not ask questions you do not want the answers to,” he said. Formidable as an oak he was, but he smiled in a very gentle manner and then I knew him kind.
“Let me tell you a story.”
I glanced back along the road, from which we came. The road was no more, and in its place the sea roared. Rocky shoreline vanquished the midsummer night as the watery crests reared their heads. In place of the man was a great bear—a bear with the girth of two men and the height of ten. But in its eyes I recognized the man and his countenance, so I did not fear. We rode on his back away from the ocean, inland.
He told us stories. Most went like this:
“One day Anansi promised Rain God that he’d watch his sheep, the clouds, while he was away. Of course, Anansi was not a good keeper of promises. He fell asleep and many of the sheep wandered away. Upon returning and learning of this, Rain God grew angry. He sent a bolt of lightening down, so that it might smite Anansi, but it missed. Instead it hit the beach, and turned the sand to glass.”
At last when the stories had finished, the man posed a question.
“Are you sailors?” he said, deep and resonant.
“Yes.” We said in tandem, “We are.”
“And where have you sailed to?”
“Very Far, you say? Excuse me, but where is Very Far? And how far, in fact, is it?”
I pointed back in the direction of the beach, which had now been usurped with vegetation and fern fronds.
“You see that?” said I. “Out past the horizon.”
“Beyond the sea,” you said.
The man snorted, in acquiescence.
“That would be very far indeed.”
Throughout our duration of time upon the isle, we listened. We had felt the strength of the many waters, tasted of their brine, and climbed the mountain. We shepherded clouds and fought great fish. But the world we construed was make-believe. Given this frame of mind, we were not ready—no, not prepared—to be jolted back into the reality where our parents talked, and fireworks smelt the air. We were not ready to play within the prisoned playground.
But the time came.
Though adorned as a King in yellow, and the leader over the animals, you wept.
When, at last Father asked us where we’d been, I told him.
“We’ve been listening,” I said.
Eric-Anderson Momou was born in the Ivory Coast in Africa. He lives in the Midwest, and is a current student at UW - Milwaukee pursuing a degree Literature.