Story 97

The river, this black, inky vein, did not flow. The waves that licked the sides of our small wooden boat rocked us lazily. With no wind to direct our sail, we were cradled from side to side, falling asleep, forgetting our course. The sky was calm but empty, its lights veiled behind faint clouds. The thick, broken water revealed nothing, and with no moon to place us, we paddled aimlessly through the mute river.

The thin outline of the river gradually blended into the horizon. Someone said that the river widened as we sailed, and so we could no longer see its winding edges. Do not worry, they repeated to themselves, the river surely ends somewhere.

We waited. We rowed and we rowed and we waited. There was nothing. There was no one. The water stayed the same; the sky dissolving from light to dark, dark to light. There was light sometimes, but no sun. There was often darkness, but no stars. No moon. The air melted into my skin as we drifted. My mouth was always parched, tasting salt on my lips, on my tongue, falling from my eyes.

The river dragged no garbage, the sky brought no birds. There was water, but no fish. No islands, no castaways. No hints of life, no trace of wind. Anything that dropped into the water simply disappeared. A child once fell overboard so seamlessly that its mother barely remembered she once answered to that name. We had no food left, but it mattered little. We had enough water to drink and drown in.  

I lay flat on my back, feeling the edges of my bones on these wooden planks. Laying on the surface of the steady tide that moved under me, I looked up at nothing and tried to make out memories in the colourless sky. There were steps around me, but no clear voices. Someone moving the ropes or dropping the nets in the water out of habit. Some silent splashing. I closed my eyes. I imagined I was the vessel. I capsized us and we sail through the river upside down. The light that reaches us through the water is faint and splintered, weak rays making their way to us unevenly. Our movements, sluggish through thick water, slowed down time. Our fishing nets come back as empty as our traditions. The flat shadow of our boat below the surface of the water, amorphous, cloaking us from sight. Another wicked trick of the river.  

With eyes closed I circled the boat three, four, seventeen times, drawing long spirals with my steps across the boards.

We had nothing we could count that might tell us how far we had come or how far we had yet to go. Not even an instinctive sense of passing time. The stories we recited painted pictures of the land that would welcome us, soon, soon, just down the river. Just down the river there would be trees and fruit, and green. Never-ending green. I think of trees, remembering the tale that uprooted us. Promises of things we could not even imagine then. Promises so sweet we dove into black waters to taste.  

Slowly, we ran out of words. The waves around us interrupted conversations and stories, its rhythm discording with the music we carried with us. I preferred to listen with my back to them, looking into the river. I have seen the stories dissolving in the water. The narrator did not seem to notice the tale had changed, that her words were warped, that her notes had drowned. Deaf sounds. I look down again, but the inky water is the same. No trace of language lost.

At some point we stopped gathering to hear the dream story, the story of green that pulled us out of land into water, the story of promise. The colour of the stories disappeared from our lips. And as the tales that had kept us together fainted, we became faceless; strangers to each other. Under constant erasure. Tongueless. We lost our words to the sound of the water singing us to sleep. We once had names for each other and for what we could see and feel, and for our memories; there used to be words to remind us of who we were and what we did and why. Sounds we heard and uttered and recognized, linking us to our surroundings. But we did not need them anymore. All we saw was nothing, and nothing does not need a name.  



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