We were just about to pass underneath the bridge when I noticed bodies ganging together and going straight for another. Like they were attacking swimmers one by one. Nubia’s head came up above water, gasping for air but you could see another hand grab at her hair and yank her back down as they attacked. They were really gunning for her and it wasn’t until we sped past the group did I catch at the last minute, her body being flung hard against the pillar of the bridge.
“Wait a minute! She’s hurt!” I yelled. “She’s hurt!”
“BODIE?!” someone yelled from another boat as he turned back, signaling for Honey to stop. You could see the rest swim forward, moving on with the race but we did a quick U-turn when Nubia’s began to produce a lot of blood spreading to the surface. She started to float upward before sinking further.
“Keep em going! Where’s the healer and medic team at?!” Bodie yelled, signaling for the rest to go ahead before he ran across our boat, rocking it back and forth just to dive head first into the water. The rest continued on while Honey waited anxiously. Homer and I were glued to the water, waiting with another boat waiting nearby for backup. Another person decided to jump in followed by a third as we continued to wait. Honey began to tap her foot repeatedly and she looked like she was about to get up and go in next when Bodie’s head came up, holding Nubia’s lifeless body in his arms. Her entire face was covered with blood as he carried her to the boat and helped lay her down. The rest came back up as Bodie signaled for Honey to go.
The rest of the way became more tense as they picked up another lifeless body floating in the water, a young girl with pink braids found with blood clouding around her face and neck.
As the sky became full of lights, homes and traffic, I could tell we were getting closer to Atlanta until we finally came to the end where everybody was waiting on the docks. Same as before. Music, food, laughter and gatherings of family and friends along the banks to cheer the winners on. Honey slowed her boat down as I watched Damien look around. Somebody announced that he was the winner but he didn’t seem to notice because he was obviously looking for his wife.
It wasn’t until moments later when Bodie raised his fist in the air did the entire area grow quiet with sudden silence. Homer and I had no idea what was happening as we sat in the boat, letting the slow current carry us. I looked back at Honey to see her eyes tear up, covering her mouth with her hand as I watched a woman rush down to the water screaming.
“Where is she?! WHERE IS SHE?! WHERE IS MY CHILD?!”
The woman had to take her purse from around her body and toss it back to someone before diving into the water to swim with tears already in her eyes. Nubia was barely moving but the other girl who looked no older than fifteen remained still. Homer leaned in close to my ear.
“I don’t think she made it,” he whispered.
Damien dipped back into the water undetected before appearing on the side of the boat where his wife was and hopped on. Him and Bodie exchanged a few words before Bodie jumped into the water with Honey meeting him. The screams the mother emitted were painful to hear. Bodie wiped his face down with a towel and shook his head, visibly upset.
“What exactly happened?” I asked.
“She was supposed to have a breaking ceremony tonight,” he muttered. “They gotta change how things are done or it's only gonna get fucking worse,” he said as he slammed the towel down, “she committed suicide.”
“Ohhh,” I gasped in a low voice as the mother cried out again, holding her daughter in her arms.
“AYE!? CUT THE FUCKING MUSIC OFF!” Bodie screamed. “Ain’t shit to celebrate! YALL NEED TO CHANGE HOW YALL DO THINGS OR IT’S ONLY GONNA GET WORSE! IF EVERYBODY ELSE IS AFRAID TO SAY IT! YOU KNOW I WILL! IT'S RAPE! IT'S FUCKING RAPE AND YALL BREED WOMEN TO DO THIS SHIT! FUCKING BREAKING CEREMONY! YALL ARE RAPING THESE GIRLS AND FORCING THEM----!”
Honey out of nowhere had to grab him, clamping her hand over his mouth when he snatched it back. She looked terrified but it seemed like it was too late. Bodie showed a different side and exploded with hate that seemed to be building up.
“THAT’S HOW MY MOTHER DIED! YALL NOT SICK OF IT!? YALL NOT--”
Honey grabbed him and yanked him back down on the boat with tears in her eyes as she hit him in the chest repeatedly to get him to stop.
“No more!” she yelled. “No more!”
Just like that, somebody who had the mic, hosting it on this end broke through the tense silence.
“Let’s give it up for my boy Damien!” the man screamed and like clockwork, everyone on the riverbanks cheered and clapped. Music was turned up once again to cover up the woman’s screams and everyone was jumping back into the water to celebrate. The woman’s cries for her daughter were muted as a few came to her side to mourn her while Omni, and Nevaeh and I made eye contact for the first time from our perspective boats.
“All of this fake tradition bullshit they make you believe,” he spat angrily, “they fill yo head up with this and say it's normal. They say it's the right thing to preserve us and our---PRESERVE WHAT?! YALL FUCKING AND MARRYING GIRLS TO GROWN MEN WHO CAN’T KEEP A WIFE WITHOUT KILLING THEMSELVES!”
The music ironically became louder as Honey began to push forward with the boat to get to the edge of the river.
“Aye, you asked what the Water Run is for? Get this shit,” he started, wiping his mouth again, “it's for niggas, grown ass niggas looking to fuck. Break virgins. Break girls in before they get married the next year. That’s why they had me run the race this time because they know people are finally starting to listen to me! They know people are starting to wake up and see all of this shit ain’t what it really seems---”
“Bodie!?” someone yelled out as a guy grabbed him, “you gotta cut it---”
“I’m not with the politics! I never believed in any of this and always questioned it! That’s why they’re scared!” Bodie continued before another man stepped in, having to pull him away from making too big of a scene. Before Honey could even get off her boat, let alone tie it up, they grabbed her as well. You could hear another round of screams as people began to shift and move to one side from a fight breaking out.
“Aye!?” someone yelled out towards us, “yall best be getting on too. This ain’t the place for yall.”
“C’mon,” Homer said, pushing me forward while grabbing his sister. Tucker already had a handle on Omni when we were escorted out into the woods and away from the water. I was able to glance back to see Honey was taken in a completely different direction with a look of terror in her eyes, and where was Nu being taken to? What was going to happen to her? “Pia, watch your step,” Homer said as I almost slipped with him catching my arm just in time, “probably the worst date night you’ve ever had.”
“That, would be an understatement,” I said, looking back over my shoulders as the water disappeared behind the thick trees. We came up on an interstate seeing bright headlights coming in our direction as we saw Honey’s truck parked on the side with a few others scattered along the way like abandoned cars
It was the simple crazy fact that nobody driving home tonight would suspect anything beyond the barrier of trees, let alone anything we just witnessed.