I lift a handful of sea water to my face and cringe as it settles into the rubbed-raw cracks underneath my eyes. But I do not feel the sharp stinging I prepared for. I do not feel anything. I look up and squint and hope that what I had just seen was merely a sleep-induced hallucination. But it is still there, and it still shines, a light brighter than anything I have ever seen.
I must be dying.
I scoop up more handfuls of the cool water and this time I wash my entire face. The water shoots painfully up my nostrils and I feel a coppery saltiness course down my tongue. I sink down onto the shallow sea bed and the wet sand shifts to accommodate my bony form. I briefly contemplate praying to the ‘ɛpo sunsum’ but I get the immediate sense that even the sea god cannot command this one away. It feels far too real, far too close. It’s certainly much too late for a prayer.
“Ato, bɛsen ma yɛnkᴐ”, I hear my friend Atta call from beyond the grove of palm trees we lay under to watch the sea at night. I hear heavy panting and the retreating slaps of bare feet against soaked earth as he continues to call for me to join him run back into the village to tell someone, anyone of this light charging steadily in my direction.
I feel it come closer and yet I do not move. I cannot move. It is mesmerizing, this growing brightness. I truly must be dying.
I am humbled by this light. It is brighter than a thousand fishermen lamps held together, faster than Paa Quansah’s paddles during the Bakatue canoe races, scarier than the fetish priests performing the morning rituals and I am humbled by it. I do not move. I cannot move. I simply stare at it.
I am definitely dying.
I decide to resign to my fate. The gods must want me back and I am not about to challenge their authority. I feel the cool water seep into every inch of my cloth as I lower myself with my arms spread out and lift my knees off the soft sand of the shallow sea bed until I am floating. I close my eyes bravely, awaiting the next phase of the dying process.
I feel a sharp jerk and the tender flesh under my arms and above my ribcage throbs. I know that when you die, your soul has to leave your body but I never thought this would be an actual physical process. Interesting. I wonder which other part of dying will turn out to be much different than I imagined.
I hear the garbled commands of a voice that sounds remotely like my father’s but I am not entirely sure. This out of body experience is amazing. Maybe I am at my funeral, and maybe the voice is the last call to my dead body to rise before I am mistakenly buried alive. I hear it happens sometimes. I wish that this call would work, that I can wake up and run into my mother’s arms. She is probably weeping bitterly, my poor mother. I am her only son. But I cannot change the ways of Death and as much as I want to stay, I must leave. It’s funny how I don’t even know where I am headed but I know it’s only a matter of time.
I feel a heavy pressure on my back and it builds steadily with every passing second. Maybe it’s the mud piling up on my back. I surely am being buried. The pressure builds. It feels surprisingly very real, almost painful even. It’s crazy how real this all feels, these processes of dying. I always thought death would be painless when I was alive. The pressure still builds. This is more painful than I thought it would get, this steady thudding at my back.
“Ato, bue w’enyiwa”.
Definitely my father’s voice, a little too coherent, a little too close. He wants me to open my eyes. The heavy threat looming in those three words he speaks is enough to scare me into trying. My eyes open just as his fist crashes into my lower back and I let out a strange, strangled sound. I am not dead.
I follow his eyes to see the light that shocked me into thinking the gods were calling me. It’s attached to a Big Canoe, a looming wooden structure wedged in the wet sand at the shore. In the dark, I make out the figures of other men from our village craning their necks from their crouched positions behind the thick-stemmed palms to watch the Big Canoe.
A thing emerges from behind the light and I hear the quickly gathering breaths of confused people. It looks like a man, two hands and two long legs like my father’s. But it is different. Its skin looks like the inside of a freshly cut yam and its hair runs down its back in waves, just like the sea. It reaches the shore and we stare in puzzled amazement. And then it screams. It did not speak Fante or maybe I haven’t fully regained my hearing because of the water that still stands stubbornly in my ears.
After it screams, other things like it jump down from the Big Canoe and tread towards the shore. The last thing I notice is the different colors of their hairs as my father yanks me up from his lap and drags me along, barely missing the palm trees. On his face is a look of pure panic, possibly terror. I have never seen him look so scared. We speed as fast as our legs can carry us to the house of the king to tell him about the things we just witnessed on the shore. The king must know what they are. He knows everything.