Chapter Seventeen

Joma slotted into village life seamlessly.

In the mornings he gathered vegetables and herbs while at dusk he joined the fisherman to scour the seas. He learned about foraging like what was edible and the medicinal qualities of certain plants. Similarly, the fishermen taught him about fishing the region.

He spent his evenings in the kitchen helping as best he could prepare meals, in particular the freshly caught fish. Joma was surprised that some of the poisonous fish could be prepared to allow for safe consumption.

As the days passed, his relationships grew stronger – life was good. It dawned on him, living here was eerily similar to his own village. What allowed him to appreciate this place compared to home?

He had taken his home and everyone he knew, for granted. The old adage was true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

He was ashamed by his second realisation – the perception that, those around him were restricting him – though no such examples came to mind. Upon reflection, they provided nothing but support, working with him toward a common goal, whether it be Mariusz teaching him the craft of boat building or his mother in the kitchen.

At this point, fatigue consumed the boy and he drifted off into a fitful sleep.

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Chapter Sixteen

It was still dark when he heard people gathering outside. Babo was there coordinating.

“Janko, you search the East Bank for herbs. Be wary of vipers, I noticed a few eggs last time I was there, the mothers will be aggressive,” Babo said softly.

Babo noticed Joma peering out of a hut, “Ahh, our new friend,” he said waving him over.

“You’re welcome to sleep boy, it is still early. I’m organising the villagers for the day’s gathering expedition if you’d like to join,” Babo enquired.

He was tired, hungry and intimidated by the eyes of the strangers around him. “I’d love to come,” he forced himself to say as he stepped out of his comfort zone.

Joma joined Babo’s group. Their role was to search the central zone for vegetables. Joma asked why they didn’t farm the land to provide for the community. Babo explained that the village had lived this way since the beginning. With the population remaining constant, there was no need for farming. The benefit of gathering ensured variety in the villager’s diets and a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

It was Babo’s turn to question, “Now that you’re rested, do you remember where you were going before you crashed upon our shores?”

Joma explained himself. He was surprised with how easily everything flowed out.

Babo chuckled, “Everyone is searching for something,”

“The challenge of life lies in its simplicity. It’s a paradox really,”

“You see, deep down we’re all trying to create a better world – whether it be simply for yourself, your family or the wider community,” Babo explained.

“We all have unique attributes to achieve this,”

“It’s not always going to be fun and rewarding, in fact, a lot of the time it’s hard and mundane. But it’s contrast that allows us moments of joy,” the big man said sagely.

By now, the baskets were nearly full with wild greens and root vegetables. The walk back gave Joma a chance to reflect – it all made sense but had taken a stranger to make him see this.

Chapter Fifteen

From what Joma could gather, the village was smaller than home. It was poorer too, with the huts created from lesser materials. The wood used for construction appeared to be from salvage jobs based on the crude cuts.

Babo noticed the look on Joma’s face, “Different from where you’re from eh?” the man queried.

He went on, “The surrounding lands are not ideal but we make do”.

“The trees are not strong enough for building purposes, especially considering the many storms which affect the area. As a result, we rely on salvaging shipwrecks,” he explained.

“Food is an everyday battle too – though it may not look like it!” he chuckled while slapping his rotund belly.

“Many of the fish are poisonous so we rely on foraging vegetation”.

They reached the largest hut of the village. Smoke puffed from its chimney and a pleasant aroma emanated from within. The little girl, Elta, rushed inside while Babo and Joma took sat at a table. They had barely sat down when a middle-aged lady delivered a bowl of hot stew.

Joma hated stew but his stomach was indifferent as it grumbled loudly.

He was glad for the hospitality – it was not the time to be fussy. He sipped at the stew with a wooden spoon. It was decent. The flavour was earthy with hints of spices he did not recognise.

Babo looked at him expectantly, “What do you think?”

“It’s very good, thank you,” Joma replied appreciatively while nodding to the cook.

While Joma ate, Babo filled him in about village life. He talked of the many wrecks and how Joma had been lucky to survive.

Joma finished the last of his soup when the big man asked, “Where were you going anyway?”

“I don’t know,” Joma winced, recognising how foolish this sounded.

Babo laughed, “You need sleep. We’ll talk tomorrow”.

Chapter Fourteen

It was dark when he woke.

As he was stirring, he was aware of light footsteps jogging away from where he lay. He sat up and removed the light blanket which had been covering him. An unconscious groan emanated from him, he was sore all over and his head ached.

A pitcher of water sat on the table beside him. After smelling the fluid and performing a quick taste test, he guzzled the rest down gratefully.

Upon wiping the spillage from his chin he realised how calm he was. The situation was bleak but he found himself unafraid. He had spoken too quickly. A jolt of angst coursed through him as he saw bobbing lights moving towards him.

“Ahh, our young friend has awoken from his beauty sleep!” bellowed a man’s voice. Through the trees a man emerged with an enormous belly. A small girl accompanied him. She must have been the one keeping a bedside vigil.

The man was completely devoid of hair, wore no shirt and had strange markings on his body.

“Sorry about the rough introduction,” the big man said guiltily. “We had to find out if you were a threat”.

“One of our lookouts witnessed your ordeal out near the western reefs but a scout reached you before his message got round,” the man explained.

“Come, you must be hungry,” he said while slapping his belly which appeared to be surprisingly firm.

The three walked down a well-trodden path when the giant man stopped suddenly. He turned quickly to face Joma and said, “How rude! I haven’t introduced myself”.

The big man beamed, “I am Babo and this is Elta,” he said while indicating to the small girl who smiled shyly and hid behind the big man.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Joma,” he replied politely offering his hand, which the large man turned to mush with his handshake.

The trio continued their walk and Joma found himself trusting the strangers. He thought, why did he trust complete strangers but found it difficult to believe those most dear to him back home? He would change this. If he made it home, that is.

Chapter Thirteen

Joma awoke with a coughing fit and the unenviable taste of seawater in his mouth. His ribs ached but was otherwise unscathed. He was lucky to have survived, he thought.

The storm had passed, though its path of destruction was evident. It had laid waste to the beach he found himself on where trees lay strewn on the shoreline. Then there was his prized boat. Or, what was left of it.

The hull had been shattered and resembled firewood more than anything else. Of his supplies, only a small fraction had survived. Some was better than none, Joma thought as he salvaged the remains.

The robust main sail had endured the carnage and with it Joma formed a shelter slightly inland with the help of some sturdy trees. Hunger soon pervaded his thoughts. It had been some time since his last meal.

Recognising the gravity of the situation, Joma rationed fresh water along with brined fish and dry biscuits. Never had such a plain combination tasted so good Joma reflected as he ensured not an iota was wasted.

With his stomach satisfied, it was time to explore his new home for resources or his escapade would be a short and sad one.

He wondered if the island was inhabited. It looked to be devoid of human activity but the same could be said of regions of his village. Then there was a noise, a light crunching of sand. A footstep. Joma turned quickly. He was too slow, and for the second time in a matter of hours, everything went black.

Chapter Twelve

Joma was still acclimating to his updated boat when the gloom set it. Conditions began to worsen in a hurry.

As a precaution, Joma took down the main sail to avoid potential damage. He would rather slow down and preserve his primary form of locomotion for the rest of the trip. He double-checked everything was secure too.

As the seas swelled so did the anxiety within him. Upon recognising his unhelpful thoughts and feelings, he reassured himself. He had all the skills to combat a storm like this. Besides, he was searching for an adventure and had found one.

The rain began to lash down and stung his eyes, while the waves continued to grow. Joma manoeuvred the skiff as best he could and found himself enjoying the challenge. He worked his way around the wet deck and began to navigate his way to shore. Shelter was his best option with the storm growing in intensity.

The shoreline grew nearer though the sea seemed to sense this and bristled angrily as if trying to prevent him from reaching his destination. He was close now and the waves began to break. The boat was taking on too much water.

It began to roll uncharacteristically thanks to the loss of balance and Joma heard a grazing sound. Reef, Joma swore to himself. This time there was a thud and crack and the skiff hung in the air as if deciding whether it had the will to continue or give in.

A large wave had the final say as it came crashing over Joma. Then everything went black.

Chapter Eleven

Conditions were ideal. The surf was small, a gentle breeze was blowing and the day would be mild.

Joma had said all his goodbyes over the past few days. It was difficult, with many attempting to persuade him to stay, but this only strengthened his resolve to leave.

His mother, father and Maria had recognised the importance of his mission and although apprehensive, had shown nothing but love and support over the past few days. They had come to see him off despite his objections.

The chief came up to him first. Laying a strong hand on the boy’s shoulder said, “I’m proud of you son. I always have been and always will be. If I have burdened you with expectations, forgive me, that was not my intention. You have grown in to a great man”.

The older man embraced Joma in a bear hug, “I love you and take care”.

Joma managed to choke out, “I love you too”.

Next was his mother’s turn. “You’ve always been so stubborn, just like your father. I hope you realise that you’re more than enough and don’t have to impress anyone. You’re your biggest critic. I love you Joma, come back safe”.

After a kiss and a hug, Joma thanked his mother also. There would be no tears from her in front of him. She was as strong as they came.

“Who am I going to tease and bully now?” Maria said playfully. She then became serious, “You mean a lot to me Joma, more than you realise. I can’t wait to hear your stories. Come back soon”.

There were tears in the girl’s eyes as she hugged him firmly. She held on and Joma resisted the urge to cut it short, partly because he knew the moment was important to Maria and partly because he felt comforted.

After some last minute advice and well wishes from Mariusz, the old man helped Joma push the boat out to sea.

Finally, he was on his way to nowhere.

Chapter Ten

The day had nearly arrived.

Despite constant objections and attempts of persuasion, the appropriate modifications had been made to Joma’s boat. It had become clear that he would leave regardless and those closest to him were better off ensuring he was adequately prepared and safe, rather than put the journey in jeopardy out of stubbornness,

The boat was almost unrecognisable. Protruding arms had been added for stability while every spare area had been turned to storage.

Of course, his Mother had ensured a substantial food supply – fish in brine, dry bread, water as well as preserved fruits and vegetables occupied his stores. She had educated him about the need to find fresh food where possible to lengthen his provisions and to keep him healthy.

“We’ve done a tremendous job with the boat Joma. You’ve learnt a lot about boat building. Your application and dedication is impressive,” spoke Mariusz while admiring the craft.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” Joma replied shyly, waving off the compliment.

“I mean it Joma. You’ve picked up skills and techniques quickly. I’m proud of you,” said the older man placing an arm on Joma’s shoulder.

“Thanks Mariusz,” Joma blushed.

The boy had been complimented in the past. His Mother was regularly applauding his efforts in the kitchen while Manny and the other fisherman spoke highly of his ability on the seas.

Despite the praise, he had difficulty believing what they were saying was truth. He thought, perhaps they were simply being nice or trying to fill me with confidence or simply gain sway because I’m the chief’s son.

Or maybe the simplest explanation was most likely – they were telling the truth.

Chapter Nine

It was festival time once again. There would be fish and knot tying competitions while the streets would be scattered with stalls offering crafts and decorations for the home. Practical items like fishing rods, spears and accessories, would also be on offer. And of course there would be food including delicacies and crowd favourites.

Joma had opted not to compete and instead was helping his mother with her stall. His assistance was sorely needed given the popularity of the food on offer including her precisely cut raw fish and sweet breads, which she was constantly tinkering with to find the best, most unique flavours.

It was mid-morning when Joma noticed Maria walk by. The stall was at it’s quietest before the lunchtime bustle. His mother followed Joma’s stare and insisted he go talk with his long time friend. Despite his objections, eventually he went to catch up with the girl.

“Maria, Maria!” he called as he closed in behind her. That was odd, he thought, she was not responding to his calls. He caught up and tapped her shoulder. The girl turned around sharply and said, “When were you planning on telling me about this trip?”

“Ahh…” Joma was lost for words. He had planned to tell Maria but a good opportunity never seemed to arise.

“What do you hope to find? How long will you be gone? How will you know what to do?” she rattled off these questions in quick succession almost pleading with Joma.

“I will figure it out on the way I guess. I’m going nowhere here,” Joma replied, conscious of the tears welling up in the girls eyes.

“You still don’t get it do you? You’re not going to find a magical key that makes everything clear and life easy. Life isn’t meant to be easy,” she said sternly.

Joma said nothing but looked to the ground and nodded slowly.

“And what about us?” she asked hopefully.

“What do you mean?” Joma replied clumsily.

Maria didn’t respond but gave a vacant stare, like she was looking through Joma. After a few moments, she dropped her gaze, turned and ran into the swelling crowd wiping at her eyes in the process.

“Maria, wait…” his voice trailed off.

Chapter Eight

Joma was spending more and more time at the boat yard and found himself there once more on a windy afternoon.

“No, no, no!” exclaimed the old boat builder as one of his workers brought him a number of planks of lumber. “This timber is too rigid. The boat will be prone to snapping under the strain of bigger waves. Bring more pliable wood please,” he told the worker with a dismissive wave of the hand.

The two were working on the sail. The additional thickness of the fabric made progress slow. As the worker left, Mariusz spoke, “You know, you shouldn’t compare yourself to your father”.

“He built his life under different circumstances. They forced him to adapt to become the man he is today”.

“Besides, you don’t know his full story. You two are more similar than you think”.

Joma chipped away at the stitching not saying anything for a few minutes. Eventually he replied, “I can’t help but feel the weight of expectations Mariusz”.

“I get the impression from the villagers that I must fill his shoes”.

The old man nodded slowly as he angled the fabric in order to stitch the corner. “It is normal to feel this way Joma. One thing you must realise is that the only one who is applying pressure is you”.

“Your perception of reality is not a true representation but is skewed due to your own beliefs and biases”.

Joma looked up for a moment at the old man and forced a smile. “What else do we need to do to get this mighty boat ready?” Joma asked lifting his mood and changing the subject.

Mariusz chuckled, “Still plenty of work to be done my boy!”

“There is storage to think about…”

The old man began to ramble off the pre-requisites as Joma thought about what he had said. He knew he wasn’t looking at the world through an objective lens but didn’t know how to change this.