121. The Tide at Grand Cess.

By Peter Fraenkel

In some ways it was a wonderful place for our honeymoon – Grand Cess, Liberia.  Sun, sea, sandy beaches. But there were problems.

Merran was the first white woman seen there in many years. There had once been a Lebanese lady, the wife of the one and only Lebanese trader, but she fled back to the Lebanon. Probably she objected to her husband’s “outside wife” or wives. Or perhaps it was the escort, that inescapable escort. Merran, too, always had four or five little black boys trailing her. Sometimes there was also a small girl. We nicknamed her Snotty Mary.

Such escorts were awkward since toilet facilities at the Nebbo house, where we had found quarters, were extremely primitive: merely a large bucket in the corner which a small boy came to empty every morning!  Merran would have preferred to squat down discreetly somewhere along that long golden beach. But how to escape the escort?

At one point rocks jutted out toward the sea. There the broad   golden beach dwindled to a narrow path. Here I stood guard, like Horatio defending the bridge, and stopped those kids following her.

A little further along the beach a circle of rocks made an ideal natural swimming pool – however, the incoming surge of the ocean was very strong. That made it hard to swim across – until I realised that if I waited for the return-surge I would be carried across with very little effort of my own.

Of course our escort of naked little boys had sussed that out long before I did. Even Merran, who had earlier protested she could not swim against these powerful incoming waves, soon learnt to take advantage of the return surge.

Several rivers came down to the sea on either side of the hamlet of Grand Cess. They brought golden sands with them and heaped these up at the point where they met the ocean. Further inland, these had been deep rivers. Here, where they joined the sea, they could be forded easily.

I accompanied the Rev Nimne on one of his pastoral visits along the coast. A carrier balanced his suitcase on his head and carried his umbrella in his hand. If we had walked a mile or so inland we would have had to swim across deep rivers. By sticking close to the sea we only needed to wade in shallow waters. These rarely reached much higher than our ankles.

Once I met a postman. He carried a single letter in a cleft stick! I’d heard about cleft sticks but had never seen one in use.

At the next village lunch awaited us. Had it been a talking drum that had warned them of our approach? After lunch I bid Nimne and his carrier farewell to return to Grand Cess alone. However, I soon found I was not alone. A vulture was circling over me, keeping close company. Did the bird see me as potential carrion? An ugly beast – I threw a stone at it, then another. I tried shouting at him, or her. The beast was unperturbed.

To prove my fitness, to both the bird and myself, I stripped and dived into the sea. But before long I had had more sunburn than I could take. As soon as I got back to the Nebbo house I collapsed into bed.

My wife told me next morning I had kept her awake. In my sleep, I had kept shouting at that vulture. Again and again.