Hidden in a stratum of emotional existence lies Netherworld, a plain where one is lost in a crimson world of agonizing solitude.
A place where a soul rises from the vortices of darkness into the blaring light of life.
On November 1, 2021 a piece I created titled, “Netherworld” was published in Peastsmoke online journal. The art compliments midwife Ann Montgomery’s nonfiction account of sexual crimes against women in The Republic of the Congo.
**A note of WARNING: some description is quite graphic**
Shrieking wails, carried by the churning wind above, deafens me as the darkness steals my sight.
The ocean water is warm and murky. Its salty froth burns my nostrils and stings my eyes. I am surrounded by haunting voices inside and outside of my throbbing head. It’s too loud. I can’t think. All of my waning energy is spent on breathing in the briney air and swimming for my life. My arms claw through debris and foam while my battered body moves with the surging waves, protesting against the shifting current. The evil tempest wants to pull me out to sea, out to my death. My legs are numb — one must be broken but they kick with a fury I cannot explain.
I will live and not die. Not tonight.
Desperate shouts behind urge me to keep going, not to look back, that I’m going the right way. But the further I swim the sadder I become. My home is gone, so is my mother and baby brother. The black water rushed in and took them away.
My throat burns because I swallowed some of the wicked water. Someone like me pushed my head down into it. I struggled to keep them off but they were screaming for help and they couldn’t swim. I saw the hood of a car, maybe white or grey, that swayed back and forth under the water. The floods had gobbled it too.
My uncle beats them off with a piece of plywood and tells me again to keep going. For a moment, I use their limp body to rest but they start sinking and the painful fight against the water is back on.
The storm is fierce and mean: it strips away your spirit, soul and self-respect.
It’s getting harder to breathe and swim and live… My muscles are giving up but my mind wills them to move. The rope tied around my waist connects me to my uncle. He is all I have now. Another big gust of wind rips out of the night sky and hurls us over the steepled rooftop of a weeping church.
Where is God?
My whole town is buried under water.
Will there ever be other children and games of marbles in the sand?
My friends have probably sunk to the bottom by now.
Can they see me?
Are they proud?
I’m swimming for them too.
Uncle is wheezing, he is swimming slower and slower; his growling shouts have become sputtering whispers. He’s coughing up the black water. I know he is tired, his head must be aching. Our ceiling fell on top of him and burst it open, while I hid beneath his belly.
He can’t keep up anymore and I need to check on him. But before I can turn to him, he tells me to keep going, that he’s ok…
I can go faster now, I have a second wind; there’s a light bleaching the darkness up ahead. I believe they can help me and my uncle.
I can’t hear him anymore and most of the screams around me have also stopped. My body glides ahead easily through the bouncy waves. My good uncle untied the rope. I guess he is finally free.
I should give up too, so I can be with my family. I can hug my mother and kiss my brother and run barefoot on the hot dirt roads, racing with my friends. I always won. They always said my legs used to spin like a bicycle wheel. But my uncle’s voice is pounding in my head. It speaks louder in death than it did in life. It scolds me like a warning and I have to listen.
The light is closer but I am still afraid. There are so many bodies floating around me and I will have to crawl over them. Everyone looks like me, blackened by the shadows of the ugly night. They are faceless but we are all the same. We are all dead.
I swallow more water and choke. I fight to keep my head up but it’s impossible, because the wind is beating down hard. An angry tornado swoops in, whipping over the water. Bodies, including mine are snatched up and thrown through the air…
The booming wind bring a scary silence as it spins me like a wooden top. Dizziness, then the blackness takes me whole.
My back and side hurt.
Does this mean that I’m alive?
I land on top of a capsized boat; it drifts in the wasteland of what used to be a marina. I jump off the boat and catch the metal railing of the building it slams into; just before the broken vessel washes out into the ocean. I hold onto the railing with jelly arms and a strong leg. The wet rail turns into melting lard — I lose my grip and my wrinkled fingers open as I fall.
“I have come for you,” the water declares with its greedy mouth.
I close my eyes because my strength has long gone. It is my turn to leave this world. Time was short for me and the storm takes young and old.
Mother’s sweet brown face smiles down on me. My hands reach up for her.
We finally meet again…
The woman who catches me before I die is not my mother — she was a strict teacher from primary school. She pulls me up into her arms, and brings my head to rest on her warm bosom.
She whispers in my clogged ear, “You are one lucky black boy.”