Agada got up from his bed like he had done all his life; when it was still dark, and when the chickens had only started to crow in the morning. Noisy things, those chickens, he thought. But he needed them. In Abisa, everyone had chickens. His wife was sound asleep beside him. Today will be a special day. Today, Akroma, his daughter, will follow him to the sea to fish for the first time.
He still remembered the first time his father walked into his room in the morning to wake him up to accompany him to the sea to fish. Just like his daughter, who had only just turned eight, he couldn’t sleep all night. And when his father came into his room that morning, when he was only just a boy, he was up, ready for the big day ahead. He pulled out the fishing rod and fishing net from beside his bed, a bucket of crawfish in one hand and walked to the sea with his father.
His father was a fisherman, like his father before him, and so when the time came, he became a fisherman. And that was what he had done all his life; get up in the mornings and go to the sea to fish. Except, of course, on Sundays. On Sundays when he was growing up, he only went to the sea for a swim and to play with the other boys. Now, on Sundays, he took his chair outside in the evenings and stared at the river.
“Are you ready?” he said to his daughter, almost in a whisper. Excitement filled her eyes, and he could tell that she hadn’t slept all night. “Refill the kerosene lamp and wait outside,” he said to her, as he grabbed the fishing net and rod and line.
When he was growing up, they didn’t use the fishing rods. Then, the fish swam their way into his net. But his father always took it anyway, and so did he.
They walked fast, Agada and Akroma to the sea. Usually, they needed to get there before the others, so they could mark their spot on the sea, and stand a chance of catching bigger fish. But since the oil company came to their island and altered their quiet lives, promising to turn it into a megacity and build schools for their children and make electricity available all through the island, they have had a more pressing reason to get to the sea earlier than they used to. It’s been ten years since the company arrived on their island, and the schools haven’t been built, and they only get electricity when the engineers needed electricity.
The company set up their camp in the forest. And their big machines destroyed their traps, set to catch bush-meat. And the plantain trees that hung all over the island are now mostly dead. The company told them they will be compensated, and the governor visited once, when they had just started drilling the ground, and he assured them they will receive money monthly, and their children with work for the company, and never have to work again. “It’s the chief,” Agada had said to his wife last week, after a long day on the sea. “They gave him our money and he ate it. It must be him.”
His daughter jumped with glee as they trekked to the sea, a bucket of craw fish in one hand and the other hand holding her father tightly.
“It’s too early to play Akroma,” Agada said to his daughter softly. “People are sleeping.” But on days like this, she hardly listened to him when he spoke to her. Once, when the children of the island visited the company and their drilling systems, when the company just arrived, she played with swings in the quarters, set-up for when the children of the engineers come visiting. When her father told her that it was time to go back home, she didn’t listen to him. She didn’t want to leave. Today was one of those days.
When they got to the sea, there was no one else there. “We are the first,” Agada said to his daughter. “This is a good sign,” he smiled at her.
“This is our boat,” he said to his daughter before they got in. In the whole of Abisa, theirs was the oldest. It was his grandfather’s and then his father’s, and now, it was his. He carried her with one hand into the boat. She looked at him, seated, giggly. Swaying from one side to the next. “This boat will be yours too,” he said to her. And it filled her heart with joy.
Since the company arrived, many of them who were born in Abisa, and had only known Abisa all their lives, had moved to Bakana, where there was no bridge, and where there were no companies drilling by the sea. And then they returned on Thursday evenings with bigger fish, like the ones his father used to catch. The ones he hadn’t caught in long time.
Agada paddled the boat till he was deep in the centre of the sea. When he had gotten to a good spot, he casted his net. It was quiet and he could hear his breath as he waited for his net to be full.
“See Papa,” his duaghter said pointing to the net. One fish just got in. “That’s too small to sell,” he said looking at her. He drew the net back inside his boat and when he touched the fish, he saw that it was dead. “Let’s change our spot,” he said to her, paddling his boat away. When he had gotten to another location, he casted his net again into the sea. “Papa,” Akroma said pointing to a fish in the net. “Let’s give it more time,” he said to her. Then he picked up his rod. Akroma gave him the bucket filled with craw fish. When he had hooked one to it he threw it inside the sea. After it had been in the sea for a while, he pulled the rod out and the net out. There was no fish this time. “Are the fish still sleeping?” Akroma asked him. “I don’t think so,” he said to his daughter. “Then, why aren’t we catching any ones Papa?” “I don’t know,” he said.
“There’s oil in the net,” Akroma said to her father. Agada held the net firmer and felt it. It was indeed filled with oil. Then he took the lamp closer to the water. He couldn’t get a good view, so he jumped into the sea, leaving Akroma in the boat, staring into the darkness. Then he saw one fish floating, and then he saw another one, and another one. But they were also dead.
“Did you get any fish?” his daughter asked him, when he got back into the boat.
“No,” he said to her. “They are all dead.” And so he paddled his boat back to the shore. Akroma was fast asleep. He dumped his fishing net and fishing rod and bucked of crawfish in his boat. He carried his daughter in his hand back home. “You are back early,” his wife said to him when he got home, half asleep. “Yes,” he said. “The fish are all dead. In the morning, I will buy from the people that went to Bakana and hope I can resell them,” he said to her dumping his shirt by the door.
He laid down on his bed, bone tired, and shut his eyes, back to sleep.