Excerpt from : Those days and other stories

Fatima stood with her cousins, giddy with anticipation as she watched the waves descend back into the ocean. Ahmed pushed the girls in front of him and then ran to the dry sand as the waves came crashing back onto the shoreline. Baba had taken them on his fishing trip. They knew not to get their clothes wet so they were careful with their adventures with the water. After a while Fatima’s cousin, Rakiah, proposed that they collect seashells instead. Baba was busy with the other Uncles on the pier.

It was shad season in Port Shepstone and Fatima knew that it was the one time in the year that children weren’t supposed to go on to the pier. There was an unspoken rule between adults and children when it came to shad season. You were only allowed to go as far as the baiting area to tell your Baba that you were bored or tell him that you were hungry but not onto the pier. Baba said that it was because a boy had run onto the pier once and one of the Uncles cast his line without seeing the boy and ended up hooking the boy’s eye. Fatima thought that maybe it was a myth or just a story that Baba made up to keep them safe. As she had gotten older, she realized that Baba told a lot of stories that sounded outrageous in attempts to keep her away from what he saw as harm. But she was too scared to find out if it was true so she never probed about who the boy was or if there were photos.

Rakiah tugged on Fatima’s hand. “I’m hungry,” she said, “tell your Baba I want to go home.” Fatima looked back at her annoyed. She hated it when her cousins asked her to ask her parents things. She knew that it would irritate Baba and she didn’t like it when he was in an irritable mood. Ahmed was sitting in the car now and reading his books. She wasn’t sure why he liked coming out with them so much. He was always keen when Baba asked him if he wanted to tag along but after playing with Fatima and Rakiah for a little while, he would retreat back to the car or to a corner by himself and pull out a book. Ahmed was 12, Fatima was 9 and Rakiah was 6. They were Baba’s brother’s children but Fatima thought of them as her own siblings. When she moved to Australia, she found the concept of cousins being different to siblings a little hard to comprehend. After all, they shared the same DNA and were together for every birthday, holiday and shared the same bed when they slept over at their Dadi’s house every weekend.

“Let’s play on the rocks,” Fatima suggested to Rakiah. She hoped that climbing the rocks that surrounded the east side of the beach would take Rakiah’s mind off being hungry. Her little cousin obliged, taking her hand as they made their way to one of Fatima’s favorite climbing spots. Baba had warned her to never climb on the rocks, especially when the current was high. But Fatima disagreed with Baba about the rocks. She saw no harm in it. She was good at climbing and she had never fallen. Besides, Baba couldn’t see them climbing the rocks from the pier. He would assume that they were in the car with Ahmed. Fatima lowered herself onto the set of rocks in-between the ocean and the bank of sand that hid them from view.

Sometimes, she would spend a few minutes wedging herself in-between the space where the rocks met the sandbank, pretending that she was in a cave.

She reached up and took Rakiah’s hand, helping her cousin onto the rock next to her. “Fatima didi, look!” Rakiah said, pointing to a starfish lying in a rock pool just below them. Before Fatima could pull her cousin back, Rakian reached out for the starfish, losing her balance. The next few minutes were a blur to Fatima as she watched her cousin’s little body bounce between the rocks before hitting the water. Rakiah’s blood had stained the rocks as she fell, creating a trail of maroon. Fatima’s mouth filled with bile and she felt paralyzed. She watched the tide carry her cousin’s body until the fabric of her dress caught onto a rock and pulled Rakiah into a groove. After what felt like lifetime, Fatima finally opened her mouth and let out a shriek.

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