Back in the early 1990s in Tema New Town, in the thralls of deep-seated poverty and illiteracy, just two months before the start of the World Cup in Italy, I sustained a serious wound to my left eye while surfing with a wooden board at a local beach.
Uneducated, illiterate and troublesome, the water became my friend and I spent weekdays at the beach, making a splash in the water. Though my mother, now deceased, detested my constant loitering at the beach because of fear I might end up going wayward and be condemned to a life with no direction, she struggled to keep me in check.
I was just a stubborn kid whose world was fenced around what I saw, at the time. Simply put; I could not be tamed.
While I saw the beach as a haven and an escape path away from developing skills for petty crimes, my mother thought otherwise: she wanted her son’s future to be one away from dancing through berthed canoes and the roaring sounds of aboard motors tagged on canoes coasting away from landing beaches into deep waters.
The truth is, I wanted to become a fisherman. That really was the dream and no matter what vision my mother saw about my life, I could not be bothered. Take your vision and let me follow my heart. Due to incessant visitation to the beach and running errands for some of the fishermen, I got lucky and was invited by one of them. His name was Nii Yemoh.
He was round, bald, small eyes and big belly fella who could pass as a Sumo Wrestle. He had strong appetite for jokes and laughter. He took me under his wings and gave me my first experience at sea. It is common knowledge first-timers who made such expedition often end up vomiting and shivering throughout the day.
Upon my return from fishing, I found my mother sitting at the entrance of our room. She was muttering. Her throat kept making a click sound. It was difficult to tell the exact mood she was in.
She positioned the lantern sitting on a weak wooden table and requested I sat next to her. My mother was opinionatedly rebellious and often insisted on speaking her mind, even at the peril of her own life. She was loving but beneath her gentle and loving spirit was the punch to knock off potential stupidity that ever showed itself.
“I’ll rather kill the foolishness before it takes you down,” she used to tell me. We had such a strong bond and told her anything and everything. What I couldn’t tell her was my hidden secret; fishing. I kept all to myself.
The time soon came. The day started with light rains. It was also a week before Cameroon took on then reigning World Football Champions Argentina in the opening of the World Cup. Diego Amando Maradona’s name was on the lips of soccer fans. I did not know who he was but jerseys with his name embossed on the back was the favorite among most people, especially fishermen.
Unsurprisingly, most of those who wore shirts with his name didn’t know who he was. For those who know the culture of fishermen in this country, jerseys of football clubs are common apparels. There was a group of fishermen who wore Accra Hearts of Oak rainbow colors to work. It did not necessarily translate into allegiance or anything, it was simply branding.
The day started well. The dawn breeze was without the foul smell from the nearby collapsing public toilet. I quickly arranged the accruements for the expedition, put them on a four-wheel truck and made my way to the beach, a little over a kilometre away from a shack I shared with my mother and young sister. It was around 4am. My mother was away at a late Uncle’s funeral in Prampram, so the timing was just perfect.
After wheeling the truck to the beach and offloading the items into the canoe, we pushed it into the water. There were three of us. Being the youngest out of the crew, I was overly anxious and could not wait to paddle the canoe away from the sight of those at the shore. Canoe paddling was such a joyous experience and despite the amount of energy that leaves one body, the thrill was and still is magic.
As we kept melting out of everyone’s sight, I kept wondering if and when I will vomit. I waited and even, at some point, stashed my four fingers down my throat with the hope of letting out something. It did not work. My seniors were shocked I did not vomit and upon our returned, I told everyone what happened. Obviously impressed by my seemingly heroic attitude at the high seas, I was promised another expedition.
My break had finally arrived, I said to myself. I did four more trips. They all happened in the absence of my mother, who was still in Prampram. Three days after returning from our hometown, she became unwell. She was confined to bed for nearly a month. Though I was hurting by her sickness, I knew she couldn’t work. Though young and with no experience in the world of work, I saw my fishing expedition as an opportunity to fill in the gap until she was well and could get herself back, again.
Then one fine morning in the haunting darkness, I sneaked out of the house for another exciting expedition. It was sadly my last trip and one that nearly took my life. I was going through canoes at the main yacht when another fisherman, holding a cutlass, mistook me to be a thief, chased me down the alleyway.
I danced my way through the piles of canoes right into the water and swam into the deep end of the water, away from the landing site. I had cheated death. I was cold and terrified but extremely happy I escaped with my life intact. I later recounted the incident to one of my seniors who went in search of the said fisherman, who was well known to me. He went straight to him and without uttering a word-unleashed barrel of punches to his face, leaving his face covered in blood and lips oozing with mixture of blood and saliva.
It took the intervention of onlookers for him to release the fisherman. It was a triumphant end to what might have ended my life and one that would have shattered my mother for life.
Anny Osabutey is Prime News Ghana Editor at Large and native of Prampram. He is a Documentarian, Photography junkie, lover of satire, Arsenal Football Club fan and The extract is from his book in progress, Memoir of a fishmonger’s son.