The two trudged on silently with Ebrima holding the lantern over his head, both wary of surprise mud puddles, and the sharp blades of the tall grasses bordering each side of the footpath. Mba had followed his nephew laggardly, curious to know all about this new technique of using light to catch a bounteous shoal of freshwater fish.
Docked on the river were two large canoes stuffed with cast-nets, one having an outboard motor affixed.
Ebrima pointed to the smaller dug-out rocking gently on the river as he set the lantern down beneath the thwarts, “Let’s use this one”. From the giant jute sack he had brought, he took out the incandescent headlight resting on a piece of styrofoam. After, he set the jute sack down at the river bank.
“We don’t need this bag. Its weight will drown us.”
Mba’s eyes followed his nephew impatiently. He tossed a stick into the water. It was swiftly washed downriver. He knew the current would be slightly fierce in that season of rain. He longed to call off their short expedition, yet a side of his conscience sought to appease his orphaned nephew. Ebrima was to be the heir to the role of chief of all the fishermen, but for his loud mouth made worse by a fight with the government over his use of barred fishing methods he had learned from illegal Chinese trawlers.
Ebrima gripped the oar’s shaft firmly and waded towards the canoe to comfortably position himself on the stern seat. “Is the Chief Fisherman afraid of the water? He can’t swim anymore?” he teased.
“I know your bones are old. You haven’t done any fishing in decades.”
Mba shrugged off his nephew’s incessant witticisms. The water was dark, save its glistening movements captured in the beam cast by the orb of night. Mba shook his head before perching on the bow seat of the canoe, directly facing a smirking Ebrima.
“Row”, Mba ordered. “Let’s be quick.”
Ebrima rowed with sturdy strokes, splashing downstream while avoiding violent lurches. The old man would not fancy an upend at this point.
“Now see magic!”, Ebrima gloated, perhaps prematurely, for his headlight bulb would not light, even after slapping the battery compartment a few times and biting down hard on the lithium batteries.
Mba was upset. It was almost midnight; the best time for light fishing, as Ebrima had insisted.
“I am sure the batteries are not making proper contact,” He tried to buy time; a commodity his uncle had run out of. What Mba had was frothing anger at his nephew’s boyish pranks, and in a futile dash to snatch the oar and row ashore he tripped on the first thwart, plunging himself into the cold waters before Ebrima could reach out.
“Uncle!”, he cried.
Mba treaded the water awhile, then gulped and gasped for air as Ebrima watched on – perhaps mummified from shock, perhaps indifferent- before the current began drifting the old man farther from the canoe.
Ebrima grabbed the oars and rowed quickly towards his Uncle, who was now wholly submerged beneath the river. He stood, watching the calm waters for any sudden movements. He felt a lurch. It was his Uncle’s grip on the canoe’s hand hold.
Ebrima held on to the oar’s grip. He was ready, or so he feigned, for as soon as his Uncle came out of the water, severely air-starved, Ebrima fell back into stupefied nothingness. His conscience was trying to overpower his will.
Suddenly, without any hesitance, he lifted the oar and struck his uncle twice on the head with the blade.
Mba loosened his grip, and slowly sunk under the dark waters.
Before heading back to the village feeling his way through the tall grasses, intently avoiding the muddy footpath, Ebrima was sure to bury the contents of that jute sack in a pit; the life-jacket gifted by the Asian fishermen, a kitchen knife, a bottle of DDT, and several stones of carbide.