Copyright is held by the author.
JOHN AND I take our large boat down the river. We flow over the wide, gray water at ease, the ripples on the surface spreading in wide circles from us. Soon, our boat slows and we must pick up people from the shore to keep going. The dozen or more we fetch seem to drive the boat forward by their very number.
One morning, I awake to find John has sent our vessel down the right branch of the river unlike we had planned. I ask him why.
“The folk on board insisted,” he says, posted by the boat wheel. “This length of the river has towns they’ve heard about. They believe the places worth seeing for being that well spoken. On consideration, I agreed.”
“But you knew the left branch would be quicker to where we’re headed.”
“Likely it is. However, I wouldn’t worry. We’re going down river all the same.” John gives the wheel a shift. I walk away, unsatisfied.
We find the crowd on our boat resists order. The elderly ones hog space both on deck and in the cabin. The youth roam at will, all hours. And then there are the rich who eat all the food. The poor use too much of the fresh water. The many people, pursuing their many ends, fight for our space and goods. Brawls break out in the cabin at supper. However, the people come to realize that they share the same boat. They compromise. The elders keep to the corners. The youth avoid bothering anyone when they walk. The rich ones eat more modestly. And the poor drink less. The people settle their difficulties as much as they can. My heart eases; the people seem more like companions now instead of opportunists.
We advance down river. The boat hardly catches in the shallows, and, for the most part, we keep to open water. At the towns, we board more folk. I fear the new boarders might overload us. Their numbers fill our deck and our boat can hold just so many. However, I come to trust we may manage because we had earlier. We proceed on our course. The people swarm and mix around the deck as John and I work, pressed among them. Slowly, the people sort. Several go and keep to the benches in the cabin. A group of five settle by the stern. A number take to the bow, commenting on the river ahead. With this new order, we see passages open among the crowd; John and I move freely around our boat again. Our progress continues, we are glad to find.
After many days, we reach the river’s end and pass into the open sea. The water stretches around us empty, rolling into the distance. We face a great void where we know we will meet no towns and no new faces. John and I figure we can go any direction but not which one. The crowd about us grows quieter as the people sense our predicament. I remain silent looking on the unbound waters that have given us more freedom than we know how to use.