I held tightly to the branch I was on, not knowing my next escape route. A young lad, the same age as me, was above me on the same branch. In a flash of a second, he was gone. He had dived to another branch, swinging like a monkey, and thus escaped from being tagged. I got tagged instead. I was momentarily frozen from the impact of the picture I saw in my mind. Had the branch snapped, my young friend would have crashed to the ground, several feet below, and anything could have happened to him. In the picture, I could see myself hurtling down instead. I shuddered uncontrollably. For me, forewarning was writ large. I took evasive action. However, for my school friends, their game of aerial tag continued until it ended tragically exactly the way I had envisioned during that premonitory experience high above the ground on top of a jamun tree.
During 1957-1958, my family lived in the Samabula – Lakeba Street area (see Reflection: Confronting Poverty with Stoicism Plus). I was eleven to twelve years old at the time and attending Nabua Central Fijian School with my brother. The track my brother and I, and others, would walk to and from school was across a creek, running alongside the middle to lower section of Lakeba Street and thence across a dairy paddock. A number of kavika ni idia, jamun trees (also known by other similar names, e.g. jaman, jamum etc), grew along the side of the paddock furthest from the farmstead and the dairy shed. Two jamun trees were close together and they offered a favourite climbing place for a group of school boys to play their games of aerial tag on the way home after school.
I was part of the group naturally, as a fellow student and walker. There was also a sense of camaraderie, I suppose, and group instinct prevailing.
Those two jamun trees in particular became our natural meeting place after school and we would play aerial tag there when the weather was fine. Our game of tag started off ordinarily. The boys were erring on the side of caution. But, like most things with boys, testosterone came into play with increased familiarity; and familiarity soon breeds contempt. Some of the daring boys thus began taking more risks than they should have; and were swinging from branch to branch, as if there was no tomorrow, in their attempt to avoid being tagged.
On the day of my premonition, there were two of us on the same branch. I was below Isikeli. The pursuer was approaching me from the bottom. As it would normally happen, the pursuer would tag me and I would tag Isikeli afterwards – he being the nearest to me on the same branch, so all escape routes for him were closed – so I thought. Isikeli, however, decided to be more adventurous this time around. He opted to dive to the adjacent branch – an escapade I wouldn’t have considered for its high risk. For me, this was not only a novel idea, but was also unprecedented.
The swiftness of his dive and disappearance from the same branch took me by surprise. One moment he was there; the next he had gone! I looked at the distance between me and him on the next branch. I looked at the height we were at. My vision was blurred momentarily. The improbability of what isikeli had done was unthinkable. For a moment, I saw myself tumbling down towards the ground. I tightened my grip on the branch I was holding in my effort to reach out to safety. I then realised that I was only imagining my fall.
In that instant of my imaginary fall, I could see my life stretched out in front of me – its vulnerability and precariousness. It dawned on me that this was a message. A message from someone or somewhere. But a message all the same. And I made up my mind in that instant what I was going to do.
I opted for coping by avoidance. I avoided going anywhere near the jamun trees. I avoided returning home from school with the group. Either I made up some excuses for staying back at school late or having to go straight home after school. Much, much later I learned about the adage of ‘forewarned is forearmed’. I was, in all intents and purposes at the time, forearming myself though my avoidance coping.
In retrospect, it did not occur to me to forewarn the group of my premonition. As a junior member of the group, it was not my place to do so. Forewarning was the privilege of the old. I thought. In any case, such an intervention on my part, in the context of the hierarchy of the group, would be interpreted as meddlesome and intrusive. Furthermore, had I intervened, I would have expected many in the group to regard me as spineless. I would then be the brunt of the group’s relentless teasing.
For me, then, that was the end of any aerial tag. For the rest of the group, however, the game continued until it ended tragically when the same young lad, who had featured in my premonition, fell and severely injured the side of his head. The injury, even after external healing, proved life-changing for Isikeli since there was irreparable internal damage. It finally proved fatal a few years after his fall.
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