Maimuna lived in Kuntaur, right by the river Gambia and next to a tumbledown warehouse. Every evening when the sun is cool and her belly is full, Maimuna liked to go down to the river to swim with her friends. Splish-splash goes Maimuna, every single day.
One day, as she swam along on her back, Maimuna saw something colorful bobbing on the water. What is that? Maimuna asked. She swam closer to get a better look. It was a canoe! A nice little canoe with pictures of many birds painted on its sides. There was a pitakh, a kumba tin tin, a kacho-kacho and many pretty birds Maimuna did not recognize. Maimuna liked the canoe.
“Maimuna!” Her friends called from the riverbank. “What are you doing?”
”Naam!” answered Maimuna. “I am just looking at this canoe!”
What canoe? they asked.
“This canoe,” said Maimuna.
Maimuna ran her hands all over the pictures on the canoe. It was a pretty canoe. She liked it.
“Mmm, I wonder if the owner would mind if I give it a try,” she thought.
She climbed into the canoe and there she found many big, juicy mangoes.
“Mmm, I wonder if the owner would mind if I eat a few mangoes,” she thought.
She took one mango and had a big bite. The mango was yummy! So she ate it all up and then she had another mango, and then another one, and another one. As she was feasting on the mangoes, the canoe floated further and further away from the riverbank. Very soon, Maimuna’s friends were tiny specks in the distance. Maimuna just could not stop eating the delicious mangoes.
A yellow-billed stork flying high above the water saw the canoe floating with Maimuna in it. He flew all the way down and perched on the edge of the canoe. “Little girl,” he called, startling Maimuna. “Where are you going?” Maimuna was scared. It was a talking bird! “I don’t know Papa Stork,” she said, “I was just eating some mangoes.”
“If I were you, little girl, I would jump right off this canoe and swim home quickly. I know who owns this canoe and you certainly don’t want to meet him,” said the yellow-billed stork
“But I don’t know how to go home Papa Stork, I drifted too far. I live by the river near the tumbledown warehouse. Can you help me get home?” asked Maimuna.
“Well, I can fly up high and see which way your home is. But you will have to swim home yourself. I can’t carry you!”
So, the yellow-billed stork flew high up and came back down and he said, “To get home you have to swim away from the setting sun, this way! But it is very far away”
Maimuna was worried. She could not swim that far. She would be too tired. She tried to row the canoe using her little hands but that just did not work. Poor Maimuna. She did not know what to do. So, she sat there and hugged her knees and cried many tears.
As she sat there sobbing, a crocodile swam by and saw her. “Little girl!” she called. But Maimuna was so busy crying that she didn’t hear. “Hey little girl, talk to me,” she called again. Maimuna looked up and she saw the crocodile. She was very frightened. “Please don’t eat me,” pleaded Maimuna. “I won’t eat you. I just want to know why you are all by yourself so far upriver,” said the crocodile.
“I don’t know Aunty Crocodile. I was just eating some mangoes. I live by the river near the tumbledown warehouse. Can you help me get home?
“Oh that’s easy,” said the crocodile. “Hop on my back and I will get you home, taff-taff. Here, all you have to do is step off the canoe and climb right here on my neck.”
Maimuna was delighted! But just as she was about to step off the canoe, she remembered the story her grandma told her about the crocodile who offered to help a monkey cross the river and then tried to eat the monkey midway. She said, “You know what Aunty Crocodile, I think I would like to eat a few more mangoes. Do not worry, I will find my way home. Thank you for your kind offer”
The crocodile looked disappointed. “Well, suit yourself then. I know who owns that canoe and you certainly don’t want to meet him.” With that, she swam away.
Maimuna was more scared than ever! She sobbed harder than ever. Because she was bent over as she cried, Maimuna did not notice that the canoe was now drifting towards a thick wilderness of mangroves in the distance. Suddenly, something nudged the canoe hard. Maimuna looked up and she wiped away her tears so she could see better. It was a big grey dolphin swimming alongside the canoe. “Little girl”, said the dolphin, “this canoe belongs to the old man of the mangroves, who loves to lure little children to his lair. He makes them forget all their friends and family and puts them to work on his swamp fields forever.”
“Oh no!” cried Maimuna, “but I want to live with my Papa and Yaya and all my friends, right by the river bank and next to the tumbledown warehouse. I do not want to work in the swamp fields. Can you help me get home?”
“Don’t worry, I’ll take you home,” said the dolphin. With that, she ducked right underneath the canoe just as it was about to reach the thick wilderness of mangroves where the bad old man lived.
Soon the canoe was sailing very fast through the water towards home. Maimuna was very happy. Before long, she could see the tumbledown warehouse. She could also see her friends, her yaya and her papa on the riverbank. Everyone was very glad to see Maimuna.
”Jerejeff Aunty Dolphin,” said Maimuna, ”Thank you for bringing me home.” “You’re welcome,” replied the dolphin. “Just do not go climbing into strange canoes next time. Bulkor defati deh”
“I won’t!” Maimuna said as the dolphin swam away, “Please come visit sometime.”
“I will!” the dolphin whistled as it disappeared into the water.
Everyone was anxious to know where Maimuna had been. But when she told them, no one believed her. No one, except Maam Bu Jigeen, Maimuna’s grandma and favourite storyteller. “I believe you Maimuna,” she said. “Come sit on my laps. I will tell you a story about the old man of the mangroves.”
Ah! Before we forget, as soon as everyone left the riverbank that evening, the pretty canoe mysteriously broke free from the log to which it was tied and floated away, down the river from whence it came.