The Boy and the River

The earth under the little boy’s feet was slipping away. On days like this, when the current was strong, you could feel the river washing away its sorrows, little by little, sending them away. The ripples caused by his intrusion painted the silvery green surface of the river into a child’s plaything. The stone skipped once, twice, thrice, before disappearing, the way she had. The breeze ruffled his unkempt hair as the boy laughed with glee. The sun shone lovingly on his high cheekbones and the trees grudgingly admired his innocent mirth. But they weren’t the only ones watching.


His mother wouldn’t call out to him today. And he was happily enjoying every second of this momentary freedom. She had sent him away, for the man had finally arrived. Mother wanted him all to herself and so the boy was sent out, to indulge in any childish activity he wished to. Mother never stopped talking about the man, telling him how great his father was. The boy didn’t understand very well, what a father meant to a child, what he was supposed to do for him. In his seven years he had seen the man, three, maybe four times. He was always away for work, or something. He was uninterested in his father’s whereabouts, the little boy had other things to think about. Mother worshipped the man, and he was content with mother being happy.


The wind roared, but silently, licking the boy’s ears softly so as to not distract him. It was a quiet afternoon in a quaint town, with little to do but whisper secrets to the river. This spot was his own, he had cordoned it off with magic, the smooth stones on the bank forming the boundary walls of his watery castle. The river lapped at his tiny feet, content, just as the boy was, with his nonchalant company. He sat on a stone, his chin on his folded knees, looking out at the coursing river. The river flowed blissfully, travelling and touching the trail of plains, the forlorn lovers, to meet the one it was faithful to, the sea. Secrets lay forgotten in its depths, floating to the surface once in a while.


She wasn’t at ease, there was something gnawing at her, something she had forgotten and just could not seem to recall. The wind howled violent abuses in her face, pulling at her hair and pushing her frail body away. The sun pricked at her skin, burning it with a fervor that felt far worse than hatred. The trees wanted her to leave, rustling in disagreement at her existence. The river rippled, shivering at her touch, cowering from her as she made her way towards the boy. The stone she sat on would have expulsed her had it had any life. She was an intruder, she didn’t belong in that world.


“Go away,” the boy said without looking at her.


“I have nowhere to go.”


“Don’t you have a home?” he looked up at her. He didn’t remember her, and in this small town everyone knew everyone.


“What is a home?” Her blank eyes seemed to say she was perplexed.


“Where your mother lives,” his answer seemed incomplete to the boy himself, as he wondered what a home is.


“Mother.” The girl’s whisper lingered in the air, like a foul scent refusing to go away. A face came to her mind, it was vague, but a warm memory. Does she not wonder about me anymore? The thought saddened her.


They sat in silence after that, the boy could not think of anything else to say. The intrusion of his space didn’t matter, he pretended like she didn’t exist. He resumed his conversation with the river, pulling at the floating weeds that kept knocking into his feet affectionately.


“Will you help me?” she uttered suddenly.


“Help you with what? How?”


“I don’t know. I cannot remember. I know I need help of some kind, I just can’t figure it out.”


“If you can’t tell me what it is, I cannot help you.” The boy pulled out a handful of mud from the bottom of the river and watched it slip away through his fingers.


The girl looked at the mud curiously, imagining herself flowing through those small hands.


“Please. You are the only one who can help. Nobody ever comes here anymore and I can’t seem to go anywhere. I do not remember things, I am so lost. It’ll be like a little miracle. Help me?” The boy looked at her, annoyed at her for not making any sense. Her lip puckered in a sigh of defeat. She had a nagging feeling, the boy could help her, if only she could explain to him how.


The boy got up and waded into the river up to his waist and started splashing at the water. The river delightfully splashed him back, throwing tiny droplets against the sky to form momentary rainbows. She sat and looked at him, waiting for him, waiting for him to do what, she couldn’t fathom.


Hours passed, and the sun had to leave. It said a sorrowful goodbye, with a gentle stroke to the boy’s forehead, as it left. The trees were darkening, sinisterly looking at the girl, who was still waiting. The river tried to grasp at the boy’s feet as he made his way out. He walked back towards home, hoping the man had left. She followed him.


“Go away,” he told her angrily.


“I can’t.” The look on her face was helpless, completely lost. The boy figured that maybe mother could help the poor, demented girl. So he walked on as she traced his steps, her soft feet didn’t form separate footsteps, they traced him like a shadow.


The light was burning bright and the man was standing next to the window. Mother was wrapped around his leg in a plea of surrender. She was probably pleading him not to leave. The ember glow of the fire lit up his face as he examined a long blade, slowly sharpening it with a smaller one. He wasn’t a butcher, what would he use those for, the boy wondered.


The girl stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw his father. She gasped. The man with the machete.


“It’s him,” she whispered, scared.


“Him who? My father? You know him?” the boy asked.


She knew him, quite intimately, for he was with her in her last moments. He had held her frail body as he slid the machete into her chest, perforating her heart, again and again. The fog lifted from her memory, she could now remember everything. How she had been bathing in the river, in the spot where the boy had built his imaginary fort. The sun had kissed her skin then, the river had welcomed her into its folds. But he desecrated her, stifled her screams, pinned her body against the soft grass until he had had his fill of her. The machete was pulled out from his travelling bag, and as she lay whimpering in pain, it had blessed her free of it. She sank, like the stones the boy skipped. The blood flowed away with the river’s tears. Her corpse bloated in the riverbed, ballooning with the secret of her death, the pain of those who searched for her. That was the nagging feeling that she had been having, the feeling of death.


For a second she laughed at the coincidence, the son of her murderer had now led her to her redemption. He looked at her with confusion, child as he was, knowing nothing that went on in the world but the one of his own creation.


“Don’t be your father,” she whispered to him as she stepped closer to her violator. She was free of fear, free of the pain he had inflicted on her. She wrapped herself around his throat and watched as the machete violently twitched out of his hand. Never, she heard the boy scream and she smiled at the miracle that he was. She disappeared like mist being killed by the sun’s bright rays, dragging the life out of her killer from the world and towards perdition.


Weeks later, her corpse floated to the surface. The town grieved, and so did the little boy, realising the truth of the girl. The river was finally free of its secret. But the boy’s innocence was contaminated forever. The silvery green of the river’s surface had turned into a muddy taint of death, no more painted by the ripples of his childish mirth.


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