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.