I had always felt a call for the beach. This wasn’t the normal wanting to be moved by and caressed by a moving encompassing being that enveloped you completely and threatened to penetrate your lungs and internal organs. This was more like an obsession, a love for something I was unconsciously afraid of, a running towards the very thing that would kill me because I could not bear the suspense of wondering which of the two of us would come out alive.
Name it, I’d tried it or done it. Parasailing, free hang gliding, parachute jumps over the ocean, surfing, kayaking, everything. I lost consciousness twice while learning to water ski (behind a speed boat). It didn’t deter me. I was in too deep in my chase of my thrill. It also felt good to have all the white girls drool over my African bricklayer body as I strode boldly for the edge of the ocean, board in hand, setting sun catching the ridges of my ripped abdomen.
Today the wind was different. Not different per se, more like absent. I didn’t observe the incongruity between the windless beach and the dozens of kite flyers I saw around me. Maybe it was because today was the first day Aghogho had agreed to go out on a date with me.
Aghogho was my girl even though she had never said anything to that effect to me. All my claims over her and my expressions of affection were always met with a coy smile and a stony silence as if my words had escaped unnoticed from the prison bars of my proud heart. No search party sent after them, no flicker of interest beyond a soft laugh, like she didn’t believe I would stay till the end, or could finish what I was trying to start.
Maybe that was part of why today was different. Today she was actually talking, talking a lot, and not about the usual mundane things her family and friends were going through. She was telling me her dreams and plans for the future. I was rapt and in slight awe. They said still waters run deep but I was not ready for this surprise. Nor the next.
At first it felt like my boxers were down around my ankles. I felt a feathery restriction to my walking around my feet. My girl kept walking without breaking pace and I found it harder to keep up with her. It felt like I was losing her, like she was slipping away. I was so panicked by the thought of her walking away from me that I just forgot about looking down to see what the sea weed was about and tried to run after her, frantically kicking off whatever it was stopping me from running.
Aghogho was walking into the sea. And I was running after her. At the same instant I noticed a huge wave heading for the shore, I tripped and fell. It felt like I fell into a gravity bowl, not on my face in the sand. There just was no more ground and I was sinking with my head first, falling through a vertical corridor with no obvious eddies or torrents.
I should have been panicking because my head was underwater but I was breathing fine. I could also hear Aghogho’s voice as clearly as it had been when we were walking on the shore. I was descending fast below the photic zone, where the sun’s rays penetrated. It was quickly becoming dark and the current was becoming slower, surer, stronger, more sinister and ten times scarier. Just that I was not afraid.
Suddenly I descended to an open clearing where several creatures were seated and waiting. The first panic wave swept over me as I suddenly realized how fast I was falling. I was stopped from crashing right into the centre table of the gathering by two guards who looked like they had been deskinned and scalped five minutes ago. My second shock followed immediately after. Aghogho was right there at the head of the table, seated on a huge chair made out of elephant tusks twisted like an iron throne from Westeros.
She was speaking about her life and her plans like she had never stopped. It was her voice that had guided me somehow to this watery forum of gods of the sea, where she reigned supreme. I started fighting the guards and trying to breathe, trying to get back to the surface somehow, like I had always done after a breath holding episode as a 7 year old learning to swim in Abraka river. They held me in place for a minute before Aghogho stopped speaking and called my name.
“OBA AWON OKUN !!!”
This time her voice echoed in my head. Even if I closed my ears with my hands I knew I would still hear her. She said it with the disdain of a scorned baby mama who was reporting the runaway father of her 5 children to her village. What had I done? What was all this? I had never even in my wildest drea…
I had been here before. Many times. In my dreams where I snorkeled under water, exploring dying reefs and disguised manta rays on the sea bed, I had seen this hall arrangement before, just without the stern players that held me in their withering gaze this moment. Soooo it was not just a dream?! It was a memory? Or was it?! Where the hell was this place!?
“WHO AM I?!”
The question from my unopened lips shocked me as much as it amused the people around the table. Aghogho stood up and walked around the table to where I stood between the two guards, who had left me since my name was called and I was inexplicably calmed. She stepped in front of me, placed her hand on my beating heart and looked me straight in the eye.
“You are my Oba, you are the love of my life. You are the one I have been waiting for”, she said with her eyes, without her lips moving. At that point I must have lost consciousness in shock. Because when I opened my eyes it was with flaying arms and to an anxious crowd staring at me like I had lost my mind.
“NO! I CANNOT STAY HERE!!!”
I caught the last words of what I must have been shouting in my sleep. Everyone jumped back as my eyes opened, everyone except Aghogho, my vision of beauty. I sat up like a hot rod had just been rammed up my spine and stared at her as she stared back, unblinking, smiling subtly like the Mona Lisa we had met at in the Louvre. She looked confused and relieved at the same time.
“What is dead may never die.” That voice again, audible to only two of us, was all it took to drive me mad. I got up stark naked, leaving my boxers behind on the beach and sprinted into the darkness in no particular direction.