Swandi is back from the well, carrying a bucket to bath at his half-covered village ‘junkongho’. It was his second coming to the village life.
He is a schooled urban young man who was born in the village but left at six grade at the age of 11. A difficult kid he was. Everyone struggled to get him to be sociable, at least to society’s expectations.
During his childhood days, the only time he gets to listen to people talk is at school. Some said he suffered a mental problem, others said he was possessed by the unkind ‘jinns’ of Malibanta, a mighty shrine in the village of Nyalankan Baara.
Times were tough but he, unknown to others around him, is quite comfortable in his skin. He was merely living the life he was wired to live. As weird as it were to act robotic in a community where everyone shares his life, someone tried to understand Swandi.
It was his father. He did not have to talk to him. He felt his connection, his energy, whatever that was. But even he couldn’t explain his behaviour. Perhaps, that was how it ought to be.
‘Perhaps there are people who are not to be understood,’ guesses Khalifa Ceesay, Swandi’s father.Swandi likes to pass his time reading or working at his garden. But even when Khalifa tries to get him to explain his concerns about life, at least so he can know what he wants, he could only chuckle and stare into his eyes.
One fine evening, Swandi took a walk to the village stream. Chilly evening it was. Such times, it was a habitual thing for villagers, to walk to the outskirts and enjoy the serenity. For Swandi, he likes to listen to birds sing. He likes the cuckoo. Cuckoo is an amazing bird that sings very well, he thinks.
On one side of the stream were people, mostly women. They have come to launder their clothes, others their husband’s or children’s. And on the other side were children. For them the stream is a small river.
They often go there, especially on non-school days, to swim. The depth is two meters when it is at its brink. The stream is only full to the brink in the rainy season.
At 20, Swandi could not see sense in how the children who appeared quite happy could enjoy swimming in the stream. And he has swam in a pool for much of his time he spent in the urban area. Nevertheless, the fact that the kids remind him of his own childhood days was exciting for him.
Swandi walked few feet pass the stream and sat under a tree at the Northern side. As he enjoys the kids playing, something caught his attention. It was a young girl, presumably 18, singing.
The girl’s eyes were closed. It is perhaps an emotional song, Swandi thought. It could be a song of some past loss or perhaps of lust or of love. Whatever, if it were of memory, it is clearly dear to her.
The young man now turned and sat facing the girl. They were now sharing the feeling. Swandi likes complex thinking. Anything he could not understand challenges him. He likes challenges. For him, this is some complex mathematics or philosophical puzzle that he must solve.
Meanwhile, the darkness started consuming the light. The girl did not move nor did Swandi. As minutes passed by, the voice was becoming louder. The children and the women have gone home.
The only sound by the stream was of one performing artist and her spectator. But as it gets darker, the moon and stars also shone through the trees. The birds, except a few, have stopped singing.
Swandi was only realizing that, in fact, he came to listen to the birds. The girl’s voice was lowering and as she got up, Swandi edged closer. She was 6 feet tall, fairer with a dreadlock about 12 inches long.
As the girl prep to move, Swandi was closer. ‘Hey,’ he reached out. Taller than him a bit, she turned around and saw someone.
‘Hi’. It was a compliment. She was surprised someone was at the stream. She taught she was the only one there.
Swandi bowed his head to avoid the girl’s eyes and extended his hand. ‘Swandi,’ he managed to say ‘it seems like an emotional song. You lost someone?’
The girl chuckled, exposing her white teeth. Swandi had never engaged a woman like that. This one was miraculous. ‘Native?’ he asked.
‘No, I was born in Santo Su but I grew up in Tulunsu,’ the girl said.
Tulunsu is a town 50 kilometers from Nyalankan Baara. That was where the girl schooled. That was where Swandi also did his 12 grade class. He did science but it would turn out that she senior her one year.
It was three minutes of intro, Swandi would not release the hand. He wasn’t aware he still held onto it. ‘I am Nakaddy, Nakaddy Ceesay,’ she said, looking down on Swandi’s clenched fist.
Embarrassed, he just realized he held onto the girl’s hand for too long. She was visibly inconvenient. ‘Sorry,’ he said, withdrawing his hand.
Whatever the hell just happened, Swandi passed his first test that he too can socialize. ‘Why have you come out here?’ asked Swandi. ‘And what was that song?’
Valid questions but she decided to let it pass.
For the night, the two who have just met stood and stared into each other’s eyes. For two hours they exchanged words deeply defining of self. It seems, as Swandi, Nakaddy also finds a companion.
It was getting late and she had to walk a kilometer to her village. The two villages are very close and both use one stream. As they parted company, the two agreed they will meet again the following day, in the evening.
The duo walked home feeling happy. They have someone who they exchange words with. Though Nakaddy did not explain her reason for coming to the stream and yet sitting distant from everyone, Swandi’s understanding was that she also have problems understanding the society’s ways.
They were both being taught to live like (others) and not live as (created). In such a complex situation, some don’t feel a sense of belonging. They are not simply wired to do it the society’s ways and they are not allowed to have their own ways. As a result, they belong by not belonging.
Meanwhile, Swandi arrived home happy. He was different that night. The whole family noticed that difference in him, the energy. He had lot more self-confidence manifested in him that night than he had managed his entire life.
On day 2, Swandi woke up to the noise of children playing at his backyard. It was a joyful night. He slept above normal. Perhaps, it was because he had a good night. But he still had to go to his vegetable garden.
It would be a long day. Time does appear stagnant when one needs it fast. Even his parrot, Chally, could not cheer him that day. He loves Chally. It used to be his only friend but it appears he now has another.
After watering his garden beds, he slept as he rested under a mango tree. Chally knew when he wakes up and he would wake him.
At pass 6, Chally was all over the place. It was to be the final night of confession. The two would meet late evening by the stream.
As they sat sighting the night sky, both of them were looking at the Sonkodou Lolo. The North Star, it is call elsewhere.
‘You know what it is,’ asked Swandi, pointing at the sky. ‘That shiny star.’
‘I love it and I come here to look at it every night. I sing for it. I consider it my friend,’ said Nakaddy.
Swandi got excited. He also love the Sonkodu Lolo. It has been everyone’s friend, the friend of the generation. For some it has served as a god. It represents vision but there is something else.
‘What do you love must about it,’ she asked.
‘I… Yeah. I like it,’ Swandi hesitated. The intended statements were not revealed. Nakaddy knew he was holding a lot back than he was saying.
‘Don’t worry if it makes you uncomfortable,’ she said.
‘We call it Chodiri Lolo. It helps those who are lost to identify their locations,’ Swandi said.
She shook her head. She felt like Swandi did not say everything. ‘So you think it has some godly features or is god?’
‘No,’ Swandi said hastily. ‘I think it represent human. I think is a natural metaphor for person to person chemistry,’ he said.
Nakaddy was more interested now. How does a star serve as a metaphor for person to person relations? God must be a lovely creator to leave a symbol of love on the sky! Nakaddy felt puzzled.
‘We all see our way home in someone. Everyone carries a torch visible to perhaps only one person. Your light,’ Swandi said, looking at Nakaddy in the eye.
‘Hmmm, I see,’ she said, looking away. They both took a break from the discussion. The two are now back at staring at the Star. It was now about to disappear.
For thirty minutes, they have rested their backs on the grass, stirring at the sky. It would seem as if the Star was now drawing closer. It wasn’t. They are just loving the moment.
Swandi edged closer. He could hear her breath, every bit of it.
They both are imperfect creation who have come to understand the meaninglessness of perfectibility. Both have hoped to be what society wanted them to be. They just realized they don’t need to be perfect— perfection is an unattainable dream. And in fact imperfection is the gemstone of nature that is why everyone has it.
This night out for the North Star!
By Mustapha K Darboe, author of Playbook of a Tyrant, the story of Gambia’s two decades tyranny