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The Parting

May 28, 2009, 9:09 AM | Article By: Isatou Dumbuya

On the far side of the harbor, on the wharf, stood two men talking. One was a stout pleasant man highly represented by his domineering height and affable manner. His moustache was shaped like any other decent man's, but it was his beard that was unruly and nearly covered his face, this was caused by many years of living at sea. It could lead a child to think that he was Santa Claus rather than 'Le Capitain du bateau'. His men fondly called him so even though they were English. He was the type of man who was very welcoming and held his sailors like they were his own family. On his right was a young man with whom he had sailed around the four corners of the world ever since he was a mere boy. His ship had just arrived on the calm waters of The Gambia and just minutes ago docked at the harbor in Banjul.
The rest of the crew went to stretch their legs on land and were more than eager to suck in fresh air far away from the salty sea and to find food. Not that they didn't have food on board, but they were fruits and food they gathered a long time ago mostly from other lands. And fresh food wasn't come by that easily everyday when one is a sailor. 'Monsieur le Capitain' knew very well that he too should be doing so, but his legs were weakened. Weakened by this separation from this boy he had come to hold like his very own over these past years. He brushed an escaped tear from his cheek with his index finger and held the boy's hand in a tight grip. Ebrima Sawaneh was well into his mid-twenties, but to Captain Morduant he would always be the teenage boy he took in nine years ago.
Ebrima who was fondly called Sawaneh by his fellow sailors was a finely built young man, tall and with a tone no one would mistaken not to be an African. His handsome features always turned the heads of women and men alike wherever he went. At one time, he was mistaken as a Sudanese when they sailed to Sudan. Captain Morduant has completely made this parting difficult, he thought. This was what he had been dreading: to leave the man and his friends he had held like family. But the time had arrived for him to leave for home, marry and have kids. This was what was expected of him back home. And he knew that he wasn't getting any younger. It was years ago when he had come to this very harbor where ferries and canoes transported, and still carry, people and goods to the other side called Barra as a young boy full of dreams. And it was on this very harbor that he saw Captain Morduant and completely fell in love with his ship.

The ship was outstanding in shape, colour and size. It was not the ones he normally saw on these parts. That was what made him know that it was a foreign ship. He later came to learn that her name was 'The Angel'. When Captain Morduant saw the willing, determined and eager to learn boy he took him on immediately when he asked to be a sailor. Sawaneh thought that he was dreaming and he went sprinting home to tell his parents the good news, like the little boy he was. But before he went Captain Morduant told him in his strong Irish accent 'Mind me lad, the ship's leaving this afternoon and me and me lads can't wait fer ya.' But deep down Captain Morduant knew that he and his crew couldn't leave without this boy. He must give the boy credit because not all boys could be so up-front to ask for a job from a 'Toubab,' he told himself after Sawaneh took to his heels. Over the years, he had shown great expertise with his hands and legs at sea. He had even come to be a very good swimmer, but with much persuasion and effort from the captain.

Sawaneh could remember his first baptism at sea; it was clear as if it were yesterday. The wave hurriedly came greeting his feet enthusiastically, like a child who was eager to play with a new friend. But Sawaneh was non-too-enthusiastic about it. He was frightened of its electric-like wave, but he would rather die than admit it. He went further and realized that the further one goes the deeper it became. When he was knee-height deep in water, the wave came embracing him non-too-gently. Several chills ran down his spine as he braved the waves and went a little further. He allowed himself to float as he threw his hand forward and held his breath. Joe, one of the senior sailors, told him to trust him as he taught him how to swim. A smile would have crept over his face and a cute little dimple revealed itself under different circumstances. He then faced the situation at hand as he looked into the chubby face of the captain that had wrinkled over the years. 'Aw lad, miss yer we are gonna do, the lads and me. I assure yer,' he said.

'I know captain, and I will always remember you and your kindness in my heart,' Sawaneh said all the while fighting off the tears in his eyes, because he believed that real men don't cry. But deep down he knew whenever he got the chance to be alone he would shed as much tears as he could. His English was fluent over the years with the help of staying with English men and he spoke like one of them. 

'Yer know yer can come back any day yer want and call us wherever yer are. I won't hesitate to turn around and pick yer up. 'Cause yer know what lad? We have always stuck together like leech,' Captain Morduant said, while a tear came streaming down his chubby wrinkled cheeks.

Stifling a sob, Sawaneh managed to say 'That won't be necessary you know.'

They laughed together like old times and embraced for the last time. He didn't believe that he was leaving and so did the other sailors. They had persuaded him to stay the night before when they were together in his cabin, but he just couldn't. It was time to leave for home and to do what was expected of him as the first son. He immediately turned and walked towards home. One thing he knew was that the world has advanced and that he was going to marry an educated wife. He wondered how old would be Fatim his youngest sister. And would his parents be that old? Would his family be happy to see him? Different thoughts came rushing to his mind as he confidently marched on familiar, but yet strange soil. As he went by, the sun seemed to be going with him as it coloured the evening. It too was going home to call on the moon to take over for the rest of the day.