After breakfast was finished, the washing-up done – a chore Awethu was always excused from, birthday or not – the family began to prepare for a day at the beach. In addition to baskets and coolers of food, including the cake, there were umbrellas, blankets, Frisbees, soccer balls, buckets and spades, sun cream, goggles, boogie boards, surf boards (despite Besana’s insistence that the water would be too calm) and beach chairs galore.
Everyone was carrying at least three items, even his tiny grandparents, as they trundled down the path from Awethu’s uncle’s home, to the beach. Awethu thought they looked ridiculous, like a wayward nomadic caravan that had lost its camels. But at least his large size allowed him to carry the heaviest coolers, along with four beach chairs plus an umbrella strapped across his wide back. Might be a ‘snowflake’ in water, but on land, I’m a thunderous avalanche, he thought.
A gentle breeze wove itself between the members of the family. As it brushed his skin, he felt a tug. “Awethu,” the air whispered. “Come home.”
He glanced around, looking to see which cousin was pulling his leg. It couldn’t be Besana; he was far ahead of the rest of them. Inami wouldn’t pull such a stunt; she was too kind. Khonza and Ndikho might, however. And the little ones? They were always up to something, but this seemed too slick for them. When they tried to prank, their whispers were louder than a train whistle, and if you gave them the side-eye, they’d break into giggles, unable to keep a straight face.
“Awethu,” the breeze whispered again. A part of him felt drawn to it, like to a magnet, as if a missing piece of himself was tugging him towards the mysterious voice.
“Awethu!” This time the voice was sharper, closer.
He looked up ahead, but didn’t see anything unusual – except for that large wave, bigger than the rest. It charged in and broke, sending a massive amount of water sliding far up the sand. Squeals filled the air, as people scrambled to save their towels and picnics.
His mother sucked her teeth. “That’s why nobody should sit too close to the water. The ocean can’t be trusted.”
“It’s not that bad, Auntie,” Inami said.
“Eish,” his mother spat. She glanced around, her eyes landing on the youngest children. “Would any of you walk with lions?”
“No Auntie,” the children replied.
“Then why would you want to swim with sharks?” she said.
Everyone blinked, as if they had nothing good to say, so were wisely keeping their mouths shut. Except Awethu, who sighed. “Mama, if you don’t want to be near the ocean, then why don’t we do something else? There’s a place in town doing 10-pin-bowling, mini golf and go kart racing – something for everyone in the family to do.”
“I want no disrespect from you,” she said. “I gave my promise to God and my promise I will keep, so help me Jesus.”
“Amen!” his auntie and uncles and Tata all replied.
Awethu shook his head, but didn’t say anything more. He just wanted this day to be over. To go back to the city, where he could, in a small way, be less of a freak.
Tell us: Do you think one of Awethu’s cousins are playing a prank on him? Or is there something else going on?