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  • Writer's pictureGeorgie Davis

Swamp Life

Banana trees grew on the other side of the fence next to a small Bassa community, and a magnificent swamp landscaped our neighborhood. The pepper bird awoke the mornings, and Bertie and I morphed into white fairy princesses who often waded through the swamp waters on the backs of African boys.

I always wanted to obey, but Bertie often drugged me into the perils of wrongdoing.

Saturday and Friday were brothers, named after the very days they were born on. They walked through the open gate one morning and asked if we wanted to play in the swamp. They promised to cook kissmes—snails for us if we’d go fishing with them.

Mommy warned us about the swampy waters and forbid us to go in. If our feet touched the mud-caked marshland, we would undoubtedly get a spanking, except I never remember Mommy carrying through with her threats. On the other hand, Daddy would send us into a bush to cut our own switches if we disobeyed.

I always wanted to obey, but Bertie often dragged me into the perils of wrongdoing.

“Georgie, let’s go. Mommy and Daddy aren’t home.” Bertie said.

My rebel-born sister persuaded me to go along with the boys down the hill to the murky waters. She followed them, and I followed her—through the front gate and down the narrow path to the pond's edge.

I gazed longingly at the vast chocolate lake. The air was thick with the sounds of croaking frogs and buzzing insects. I turned to run back to the house. But the brothers motioned us toward the waters.

“Our Ma said we can’t go into the swamp,” I shouted.

“Don’t worry. We won’t let you get wet.”

And then Saturday squatted low to the ground. “Bertie. Jump on.”

Bertie placed her arms around Saturday's neck and climbed onto his back. Saturday stood, cuffed his arms under Bertie's knees, and walked toward the shallow water.

Friday got on all fours, his hands and knees touched the ground, and he beckoned me. "Georgie, climb up."

I couldn’t resist either, so I hiked up my dress and straddled his back, and he pulled himself to his feet.

I squeezed my first and second toes around the thong of my flip-flops to keep them from falling off.

Bertie and I held on for dear life while the two brothers stepped into the thick mire and shuffled through. Our legs dangled just high enough from the surface to keep our feet from touching the top of the slush. As we moved deeper into the swamp, the ground grew softer and more unstable, causing the brothers to sink deeper into the muck. I squeezed my first and second toes around the thong of my flip-flops to keep them from falling off.

The boys carried us from one dry spot to another and set us down on islands of scorched mud while they fished for kissmes. Saturday took the tin cup hung around his neck by a string and handed it to Bertie. He pushed his hands deep into the muddy waters and pulled up a handful of gunk. Bertie held the tin can away from her body, and Saturday stretched as far as he could toward her and plopped his findings into the cup.

I squinched my nose to rid my nostrils of the stinky water. “Yuck.”

The boys laughed and continued to fish for the slimy snails. I wondered what they would taste like.

“Georgie... Bertie… come home!”

I heard our names come across the top of the water and looked in the direction from which it came. My sister, Rosy stood outside the iron gate at the top of the hill, waving her arms in the air.

When Bertie was ever my tempter, Rosy became my redeemer.

Rosy and Becky fussed over us like mothers, and Rosy doted on me. We would be in trouble if Daddy and Mommy came home and found us in the swamp, and Rosy didn’t want to see me get whipped.

The brothers worked fast and pulled up more dirt than snails until the cup overflowed. Saturday put the now-heavy tin can back around his neck, and Bertie stepped off the island and onto his back. I climbed onto Friday and traveled again across the swamp, careful to keep my toes in the air, for by now, the water had risen.

With each step, the boys struggled to pull their feet free. This time, our heels dragged through the mud. One of my flip-flops fell in. I wasn't going to risk getting any dirtier to retrieve it, so the slipper stayed stuck in the mud. When we reached the shore, I scrambled to my feet, heart pounding, and began to run as fast as I could up the hill and in the direction of the house.

Rosy flared her arms. "Georgie, why did you girls go into the swamp?

I could hear the drumming in my chest. I looked back and pointed at Bertie.

On the west side of our yard, just under the kitchen window, Saturday washed the snails with clean water from the spigot. Friday gathered a small stack of sticks and placed them on smooth stones. I ran into the kitchen and grabbed a box of matches from under the cabinet. Becky’s hands were in the dishwater. She gave me a side-eye and pointed her finger at me. I kept my head down and ran back outside. We needed to get the kissmees cooked and eaten before Daddy and Mommy got home.

Saturday got the small fire going, and before long, the water and the snails in the tin can were boiling. At first, we didn’t know how to eat the long slender snails, but the brothers showed us how. “Put the butt end of the snail to your lips and suck out the meat.” They shouted, “Kiss me. Kiss me,” as we sucked in the slimy snail. And we all laughed hysterically.

The forbidden marsh brought Bertie and me a world of adventure that day, and many adventures followed.

~ an excerpt from WIP memoir

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