The Island and the Sea




The lucky among us live on an island. There’s you, there’s me, our children, our friends, and some of the people we’ve rescued from the sea.

The island isn’t much of an island. There’s the sun, there’s rain, and I suppose there’s wind too but those things are everywhere. On the island, if there are palm trees, or any other sort of tree for that matter, then neither God nor nature put them there. And if there is sand, it is because one of us willed it to appear.

The sea too, isn’t really a sea. It isn’t strictly a large body of water with fish and sunken ships. However, it is possible to find a sunken ship, or two, or three, and water does feature frequently and often undesirably. There’s water when it rains. It remains on the streets in puddles, and sometimes the drains clog up so enthusiastically that the adventurous use it as an excuse to go kayaking. And sometimes there’s water even when it doesn’t rain because pipes do burst from time to time.

When a pipe bursts on an island, it’s fixed within the day. Islanders are a bit like gods. No effort is spared when shaping and molding our island to our standards. Men come in ships, some times from another island and sometimes from the sea to deal with it. The men that come from an island typically charge more. Their ships are clean and air conditioned so we islanders feel safer around them even though they may not do a better job than the men who come from the sea. But this is to be expected. Islanders have been known to flock together.

It isn’t too difficult to move from island to island or traverse the sea. All it takes is a ship, a couple of minutes, or hours; depending, on the roughness of your route, the time of day, an important figure passing by, anything really. When it comes down to it there is no logic to the sea routes here. Whatever we meet we take it just like that. And we don’t really complain. An islander’s ship is as close to an extension of their island as he or she can make it. It’s always reasonably new, and even when it isn’t it’s well maintained. But, it is impossible to tell an islander from a dweller of the sea simply by looking at the quality of the ship. You see, some dwellers of the sea have learned the formula and implemented it. Some of their ships are just like ours. This is why mothers tell their daughters, and fathers their sons, that it is only by titles and deeds that we may know the true measure of a man.

All islands are alike, but that should not imply that they are equal. Just as it is with all things some islands are better than others. Some are individual forts with more than enough agency to feed a village. Others are not so. People often pool their wealth to build an estate that matches the largesse of their betters but what they gain in comfort, they lose in solitude. These ones usually call their estates something that sounds like the antithesis of the sea like, Troy Court, or Goshen, or Living Gold. And even among these there is inequality. Some do not quite manage to stay unscathed from the scourge of the sea. There’s one called Dolphin, although it was once the haven of many an islander, time and circumstance have reduced it to something less than an island. Both its streets and its buildings are now largely indistinguishable from those that float on the sea. All it has left is its name and its reputation — Dolphin, the island that once was.

Islands are also safer than the sea. Situations that could be fatal on the sea aren’t on the island. Of course if you get shot in the head, then it doesn’t matter where you are. Dead is dead. Dead as a door nail or dead as rabies. But I once heard of a man — an island man, who fell from the penthouse of his island home. He smashed his face on the pavement, and if witnesses are to be believed, his brains just about spilled out from his nose. Everyone thought he’d die. He didn’t.

He was airlifted to a place where there are more islands than seas and was never heard from again. He didn’t die. I know that because bad news always travels. I believe he remained there, for they say his island in that new place is a lot better than his island here. Those that know his name don’t speak it often, because people from islands don’t like to explain how it was that a fellow islander pushed by no one fell 4 floors. The malicious say it wasn’t a fall but a jump, and once that’s considered the mystery of it makes sense. I do not believe it possible that an islander, no matter how gifted with rhetoric, could explain to the people from the sea whose daily experience is suffering that the comforts of the island were not enough to stop one of their own from from wanting to die.

The sea and the island are metaphors but at the same time they are not. I cannot speak of all the places that have them, but I can tell you that my city does. I was sailing home the other night through the overwhelmingly dark sea. I heard later that a pipeline had blown up somewhere, ending the supply of the stuff the steel angels rely on to guide the sleepless as they navigate the sleepless sea.

Mile after mile, I sailed on in the dark, avoiding unseen craters and fellow travelers, trusting that my familiarity with the route and the radiance of my floodlights would be enough to lead me. I continued like this until I got to the gate of my island; a lighthouse in the desolate Lekki sea.

Happy Days,
Afam

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