AKOKO, The Village with A River

Submitted into Contest #98 in response to: Set your story on (or in) a winding river.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction Black Historical Fiction

Looking down outside the pirogue, I saw the reflection of my fizzog in the slightly mucky waters. I inhaled deeply, paused, then exhaled a cloud compressed air inadvertently attracting the attention Okumbo, who was rowing the pirogue.

We had nicknamed him Okumbo because of his forehead. He deserved to win Guinness world title for man with the biggest forehead. It was protruding like an elbow when one folds their arms; thus the name Okumbo, which means elbow.

I didn’t have a canoe, my come-we-stay husband was the one who had a canoe in our home of 2. I had to hire transport from Okumbo. He was a nice man, humble and very famous in the village. Partly because he was okumbo, but most especially because of the lioness of a woman he had managed to woo to become his better half religiously (they were married in a church wedding).

Surprisingly, Mrs. Okumbo didn’t mind the forehead; she also didn’t call him Okumbo, ever; their marriage was a successful one. Twelve children is not a joke!

The river had many turns and corners: there was the laundry area; the men’s open bathroom; the women’s open bathroom; the church (for baptism); the terminal, where I was going; and it would finally straighten out into the ocean.

I had finally decided to leave the village for my parent’s house forever. Mine was a marriage that no one can wish even their worst enemy. Saying I was disillusioned would not explain all I was feeling in the blood-pumping organ of my stout body.

I had contemplated leaving a long time ago, but I was devoid of courage. My parents didn’t like him one bit. They barked and barked like a mutt warning its owner of impending danger; but like most owners, it was late in the night and I was too fatigued to check what was going on. When a woman loves…

What instigated the confidence and strength to leave?

Yesternight after he again landed another military slap on my sorely melanin cheeks that couldn’t display the red effects of it, I realized how ludicrous I was to stay. I could smell the stench of cheap alcohol coming from his brown-teethed mouth.

The so-called marriage – love – had long ended, I was the one forcing issues. We were now living as master and bond-slave. My childlessness had exasperated him making him feel less of a man; thus the coldness towards me.

It had affected me to, but I didn’t take out my frustrations on him. Apparently, it’s usually a woman’s fault. I wasn’t even allowed to bathe with other women in the open bathroom as they feared I would infect them with the deadly disease.

As we passed the first turn of the river, women were washing as they gossiped. The river was the only source of water banked on by the entire village. The laundry area was completely filled with women each with her own physique.

Their husbands were probably in church praying for them – it was on a Sunday. The dirty soapy water was being injected in the river by different women who didn’t seem to care about the aftermath. No wonder the little ones were dying of Typhoid; and we never had fish; if any, they were probably all dead.

Truly, east or west; married or divorced; home is the best. That night, I decide that I won’t let him slap me anymore. I decided to end it. Even a donkey gets tired, right? I packed my belongings and was ready to live early in the morning. I then went to the neighbor’s, the village’s night messenger lived there.

“Please tell Okumbo tomorrow I want transport to the terminal”


“Thank you and goodnight”

“Good night”

He had a thing for me, but didn’t say. I’m his friend’s wife.

We were approaching the men’s bathroom corner. I frantically took a piece of cloth from my wooden suitcase and covered my face – just incase there were non church going fellas bathing. I could hear masculine voices accompanied with maniacal laughter. Okumbo slowed down as he waved and said ‘Hi’ to them. As if noticing how ill at ease I was, he speeded up.

The river was also the only means of transport from the village to the terminal. There were also other pirogues before us and behind us. Staring at the water again, I now saw Okumbo’s reflection. As he moved front and back rowing the boat, I thought, “He is a hardworking man.”

“Honest and loving, faithful to his wife.”


It was Okumbo’s turn to be uneasy. As we passed the women’s bathroom, I saw him shifting his gaze to the other side where there were hardwood trees. Even though I could look and say ‘Hi’, I didn’t. Nobody would return my greetings. After all, I was the woman with the deadly disease, worse than AIDS.

“How did she get it”

“I don’t know”

“Even the medicine man told her it is incurable”

“I heard that the preacher told her that it was a curse from her parents who live in the far away village. You can only get there by garimoshi (train)”, I often heard them tittle-tattle.

I remained downcast observing the choppy waves of the river.

“Jeff! Jeff!”

Only one person called Okumbo with his real name.

He quickly turned and I to in curiosity.

“I won’t make it for lunch today. I am going to the terminal.”

“Who are you taking there?” As if she was blind. DISRESPECT!

“Mr. Landlord’s wife,” he said with endearment present in his voice, ignoring her act of blindness.

“Oh The BARREN,” the women laughed heartily.

My eyes flickered and I went scarlet with furry. From nowhere, sizeable lumps of tears filled my eyes and I sobbed loudly, leaving them all in shock. I had been holding it in for so long.

I was still crying when we approached the place for baptism; we just called it church. The water at the church was the cleanest. It was clear and see through. You could see how the water had fretted away the big smooth stones that made the floor of the river. I didn’t know how they managed to keep it clean. It was a mystery to every Tom, Dick and Harry in the village.

We were now close and I had not yet figured out what to tell my parents. How would I persuade them to accept me back? I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind -- “I would think about that in the train.”


I passed Okumbo my suitcase, and disembarked from the canoe. The terminal was always packed, Sunday to Sunday.

“Listen; am so sorry for what my wife said. Safe journey.”

I said goodbye and we parted ways, never to see each other again…

June 17, 2021 16:13

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