We arrived at the low lying marshy mud bank, and I was eager with anticipation. I bent over almost immediately, stooping low to peer through the mud and grassy weeds, trying to catch a glimpse of what might be hiding beneath. My fear of being pinched had taken a back seat, and now I was groggy with anticipation. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked back, up at my grinning cousin.
“Easy now. You have to be very quiet around here, or else it’ll sense something and never come out of its hole”
“Ok” I murmured.
I didn’t really believe we’d catch anything, but the sense of adventure was too keen to be ignored. Catching a real live crab seemed cool in an exciting way- I almost felt like an early explorer. So when my cousin had suggested we go on the long-promised crab hunt, I jumped up immediately, changed into my shorts and flip flops, and was ready in a flash, fairly bubbling over in excitement.
He, on the other hand, went about his duties coolly as usual- a bit of cleaning here, a little dusting there, and a quick snack of fried yam topped with scrambled eggs. Ordinarily that would be breakfast, but there was no time to cook himself something more suitable for lunch, if we were to make it back on time. I watched him gulp down some cold water and wished he would hurry up.
“Can we go now? You’re taking too long”
He took another leisurely bite of yam topped with fried egg.
“Don’t worry – we’ve a far better chance of catching one when it’s cooler. They rarely come out in this kind of heat anyway”
I looked out the window at the red gates and beyond those, to the street which was quiet as usual. We lived in a quiet neighborhood where nothing ever happened. Well, almost nothing ever happened save for the occasional fracas here and there. And after the fracas, the neighborhood silence descended again heavier than before as if trying to wipe out the memory of the disturbance. Like it was a sacrilege to desecrate the silent whispers of the street with unholy noise. I could almost see those whispers now, building in volume and intensity until they threatened to morph and crash as a crescendo of sound.
My cousin smacked his lips, bringing me out of my reverie and reminding me of our important project. I noticed he was polishing off the last bits of yam and scrambled egg. He stood up at last, sauntered to the kitchen to clean up, get another leisurely drink, and finally! announce he was ready.
“Ok- we can leave now.”
He was smiling and I almost jumped with delight. I leaped off my window perch and shot to the front porch like a rocket, where I waited impatiently while he carefully checked all the doors. I stood on the front lawn alternately watching him and peeking at the road in front of the house.
After a while, we were on our way.
We strolled along and I amused myself by kicking small pebbles into make believe goalposts by the roadside.
“You shouldn’t do that, you know”. He’d been watching me.
“Because you’ll have bad or good luck depending on which foot you kick a pebble with”
It took a moment for that to sink in. I didn’t see what playing with stones had to do with the huge universe.
“Yes. An old lady told me this one day. And she’s wiser than everyone”
I stared at my fourteen year old cousin thoughtfully. He was a lot older than me and one of my favorite relatives, thanks to his calm and sensible nature. Though he could be mischievous when he was with other boys, around me and our other female cousins, he was a perfect gentleman. So I trusted him and listened at times like these when he was giving advice on anything from catching crustaceans to kicking pebbles.
If he said he believed what the old lady told him, then he doubtless had good reasons for doing so, and I was sure I could trust him although I didn’t really want to give up my sport. On the other hand, there was the closer danger of skinning the tip of my big toe if I persisted. That would certainly be quite painful and more alarmingly, force us to abandon our crab quest and head back home. I also had bad memories of the nasty cut and bleeding I’d gotten playing with some pliers which unexpectedly gripped my fingers and cut through the skin.
I decided to stop kicking the rocks just in case.
We were there. The black dirt pooled with the water by the brook’s edge to form a muddy, soggy bank which my cousin assured me housed crabs. He’d actually seen one the other day.
We scouted for a while until he found a little hole by the side of the brook which he said was the crab’s cave.
We waited. The sun unhurriedly descended lower, and a cool breeze blew, bringing a scent of fresh and old leaves, and the heavier smell of mud. I shivered a bit- it was getting colder too. Crickets chirped loudly.
The crab emerged from its hole cautiously, feeling the air with its pincers. It waved them around petulantly, and scuttled quickly towards the bank. In a flash, my cousin picked it up, stowed it in the plastic bowl he’d brought along, snapped on the lid, and we headed home.
A lot later, we were standing around the pot watching the cooked crab. I could barely wait to get it on a plate. My cousin was about to show me the fine points of crab eating.
I cracked the legs open and greedily sucked the flesh out. Delicious. I was about to munch something else when he interrupted me.
“No, that isn’t edible. It’s called the soup pot and usually thrown away”
“The soup pot?” Again, my cousin was teaching me, his eager pupil, some interesting things they didn’t teach in school.
“Yes, it’s called the crab’s soup pot, because it’s where the crab keeps his soup after cooking. Look at it closely- doesn’t it look like a pot of stew? That’s the liquid and you can see how it’s in a little bone crevice shaped just like a pot”.
I looked at my cousin appreciatively. He knew so much and helpfully tutored me in practical things which you definitely couldn’t pick up from school. He was one of the wisest people I knew.
I carefully bypassed the crab’s soup pot and picked some crab meat from the other parts.
It tasted good.