The sea slid up the sand, brushing his toes.
“Welcome home,” he heard in his head. But it wasn’t his thoughts, it was somebody else, in his skull, saying things.
“Not right,” he mumbled, shaking his head.
“Shhh,” Mama said. She was staring hard at the water, as they finished their last few steps. Staring at it as if challenging it to a fight. “I keep my promises,” she said. “Every year, I come here and give thanks for my son.”
“Amen,” Tata said.
Awethu said nothing. He was looking at his feet, which were feeling deliciously cool as the water stroked his ankles, ran over his Achille’s tendons. It felt so good. He wanted to dive right in, feel it over his back, along his arms; wanted to soak his head, blow bubbles out his nose. This is what I’ve been missing, he thought.
“Closer,” the breeze said, as the voice in his head whispered, “Come in, come in.”
His hands began to slacken their grip, while his parents tightened theirs. For a moment, he was seized with the urge to throw them both off, to plunge himself into the sea–
“Awethu,” Mama hissed. “Snap out of it.”
Tata turned, and grabbed Awethu’s shoulder with his free hand. “I think you’ve had enough, son.”
He wanted to argue, but before he could, a large wave sprang up out of nowhere, rushing forward like a runaway train, before it crashed over their heads. People began screaming, but Awethu simply smiled up at the sky, as water streamed from his head and coursed down his body. It felt perfect. Exactly as he always imagined it to be. Something in his head clicked, as if a missing piece of himself had slotted into place.
“I’ve got a towel!” one of his aunties bellowed.
Awethu wasn’t paying attention. He was busy savouring the delicious feel of the water. But then his parents were dragging him back, towels were being tossed over him, on his head, over his shoulders, wrapped around his waist, as relatives grabbed an arm, a leg, whatever they could lay their hands on, rubbing him down.
“Get him dry! Get him dry!” Mama shrieked.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” he told everyone, but nobody was listening.
“Get those shorts off him,” Mama ordered.
“Eish,” Besana said. But before Awethu could stop him, his cousin was yanking his shorts down as his uncle wrapped a towel around his waist.
“Your shirt,” Mama said. Her tiny hands tugged at it, not even getting it as high as his pecs.
“I’m fine!” Awethu grabbed it from her, and yanked it over his head. He tossed it at Besana’s grinning face, smacking him good.
“Hayi!” Besana snatched the shirt off his head, and tossed it on the sand.
“Pick that up!” Besana’s mama said.
Awethu smirked as his cousin scrambled to do as she said. But his amusement was short lived, as his mama said, “We’re going to take him back to the house.”
“Mama, stop. It’s–”
“Awethu!” Mama’s voice sliced through his ribs. She stared up at him, eyes wide and defiant. “I did not pray to God for 17 years for a baby just so my child could grow up to disrespect his mother.”
“No, you apologise and say you will do as you have been told.”
“Yes, Mama. I’m sorry, Mama. Of course I will go back to the house as you have told me to do.”
As he followed his parents up the path, he could hear Besana bellowing with laughter.
Some birthday this is, he thought.
Tell us: The beach is fun, but can also be dangerous. A main rule is: Never turn your back on the sea, in case of unexpected big waves. Do you know other safety tips for having fun safely around water?