The wind stopped howling in the dark night and the flail of the waves had become softer. The boat now gently rocked on the waters, moving with the tide. Nikika opened her eyes and looked at her little girl.
Wrapped in a bundle of all the clothes she owned, the girl was asleep. Like the rest of the boat, she smell a mixture of sweat, vomit, blood and hopelessness. It was a miracle that she was alive.
More than twenty people had died since they left the shores of Morocco. Their bodies sadly and silently dropped into the ocean, to make the boat lighter. No one had mourned; they would mourn when they reached their destination. Nikika wanted to go to Europe so much that she nearly sacrificed her life trying to.
Now in the middle of the journey that would change her life forever, she got cold feet. She wanted to go back to her country. She wanted to face poverty again and battle it long and hard, try to get something out of it. She wanted to go back to her daughter’s father.
She was ready to take the beatings, sleep hungry and work like a donkey if that was needed for her daughter to live. She wanted to go back and die in her father’s mud thatched house. Her lips were dry and cracked.
Blood had clout in between the cracks and it hurt when she opened her mouth. Her throat was dry and hot; she thought a burning coal was in there. She had prayed to Jesus and the Virgin. When her prayers failed, she prayed to her ancestors, then to Allah and at last to the spirits of the sea. She wished, she hoped and she made vows like never before. When the boat nearly capsized, she cried for what she thought was the last time, holding her girl.
When her sister could no longer hold on, Nikika’s tears failed her. She did not cry. She watched as the sister struggled, swallowing water, coming up, hands frantically searching for something to hold on to and then her head going down as she drowned. Nikika watched and swore that will not let that happen to her daughter as long as she lived. Nikika’s fingers were numb, her eyes blood shot and she was a skeleton of her former self.
She felt dead than alive. She couldn’t remember how long they had sailed but she could remember every face of the dead ones. She recalled the rising winds, the biting force of the water on the boat and the fear that rose among them like a mountain on a plain. She could still hear the wails of those who fell aboard, the helplessness state she felt as she watched them try to swim, stretching their hands out. She could not stop looking and she saw it all. They went down after a short while, came up and made the last effort to live before the angry ocean swallowed them. She had watched the trail of blood that followed the boats as sharks feasted on the dead.
Now, the sharks were nowhere in sight. The angry ocean was calm and everything seemed at peace. She turned and looked at the remaining seven people on the boat. They were all asleep. Tired of trying to fight against the forces of nature. They were all ready to embrace death.
They slept, waiting for it, praying for it. She raised her head up and looked at the wide expanse of the ocean. Her head ached, her neck pained when she moved it. She stretched as she looked. At the edges of the horizon, the night seemed gray.
She gently rubbed her eyes in disbelief and quickly removed her hands when she felt the salt penetrate the eyelids. The pain was forgotten as her breathing became rapid. No, she thought. It couldn’t be land.
Could it? She sat up and looked hard in the night. She saw lights.
She screamed with joy. The others woke up, startled. Nikika was pointing and screaming ‘land’ over and over again. She picked up her girl and hugged her so tight that the six year old started crying. They all looked where she pointed. Then, they all started speaking at the same time while hugging each other in joy. The boat tilted dangerously. They stopped their sudden movements and silence once again reigned in the boat.
An old man picked up an oar. Nikika looked at him, put down her daughter and picked another oar. The others followed suit. They started rowing, slowly towards the lights. The little girl looked at the lights unimpressed and sighed. She looked at the excited adults in wonder and went back to sleep. The boat
slowly crawled on the thick dark waters as they paddled. Nikika’s every muscle ached, she felt her body strain with every push but she still rowed. The old man started humming a tune.
‘Nkala, nkala sallah
Luka ole ntala lah’
‘Trouble, trouble everywhere God,
please look at me now.’
A younger man started singing the song. His voice was soft, like the sound of a flute; it soothed away the pains and brought tears to her eyes.
As he raised his voice, their speed slowly increased and tears flowed freely. They cried for the dead, the hardships they endured. They cried for yesterday and tomorrow.
‘Luka ole ntala lah,
Poleh koha aha’
‘God, please look at me now,
I am coming home soon’
Their spirits rose with every row, their pains seemed less with every centimeter gained. They rowed as the chorus.
‘Luka ole ntala lah,
Ole ntala lah’
‘God, please look at me now,
Please look at me now.’