Chapter Twenty Three

The day was a blur filled with eating, drinking and reconnecting with friends and family. As the sun set, he had told his story dozens of times, but he didn’t mind.

He had caught up with his mother earlier in the day but had been whisked away by the good intention of others. She too had been busy coordinating the food for the festival. It was late when they finally got a chance to talk.

“You’re different Joma. There is an air of surety about you,” she said. The two sat side-by-side overlooking the sea. Around them, villagers had settled into small groups and were talking among themselves.

“You’ve always been able to read me like a book,” he joked before taking a sip of his drink.

“I hope it’s not temporary, but it feels like I have a much better grasp on things now. My perspective and views have changed – I understand that life is cumulative. I don’t need to know all the answers, that’s part of the mystery. And I don’t need to achieve certain things to be worthy,” he reflected.

“Spoken like a true sage,” his mother said with a wink.

“So tell me, what follows Joma’s Journey?”

“Joma’s Journey has just begun! I haven’t decided what I want to pursue. Instead, I’ll contribute as best I can in every way I can, building my skills. Maybe one day I’ll focus on something but for now, I want to learn as much as I can and get lost in the process,” he replied.

“If you catch me taking life too seriously or falling into old habits, tell me. Maybe we can have a secret word like…milkfish, for times when you notice me slipping up,” Joma said light-heartedly.

“That, I can do,” his mother managed, containing her laughter.

“So,” she said, gathering herself. “Tell me about your adventure”.

And so he did.

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Chapter Twenty Two

The rest of the day’s fishing was called off and the flotilla made its way to shore. The chief declared a festival. Word spread through the village and preparations began in earnest.

The day felt like a dream. As he looked at his home town, it was with fresh eyes. The community had organised a festival in such a short time  – a sign of their love and respect for Joma.

“Either my eyes have failed me, which is possible, or that’s a completely different boat!” Mariusz exclaimed as he rigorously shook the boy’s hand.

“Err, our boat was redesigned somewhat…to kindling that is,” Joma replied sheepishly.

“Ha ha! As long as it played its part in your trip then it did its job,” Marius said, holding Joma at arm’s length.

“I better leave you to it,” Mariusz whispered as he hinted toward Maria moving through the crowd.

“Thanks. For everything Mariusz,” the boy said meaningfully.

He left his old friend and was soon engulfed by Maria. “Joma,” she said holding him tight.

“Maria…” he squeezed out.

“Sorry,” she laughed, loosening her grip.

“I made it back only to be crushed by the Mighty Maria!” Joma joked and the two burst into laughter.

“Maria, I’m sorry I took you for granted. You have always been there for me. From now on, I’ll always be there for you,” he said not caring how cliché he sounded.

The two hugged once more and made their way to the village centre.

Chapter Twenty One

It was dawn when he recognised the familiar beaches of his village. In the distance, he could make out the fishing fleet going about their business.

He beamed when he caught sight of a burly man moving about one of the larger boats conducting his crew with the utmost efficiency. Joma headed toward the chief.

The fishermen noticed Joma’s craft. At first, there was confusion – his boat looked foreign compared to the skiffs of his village. Though, upon recognising the young man on board, cheers rung out on the open waters.

Men blew their signal horns, usually reserved for a sighting – like a pod of dolphins. Boats closed in and shepherded Joma toward his father’s larger craft.

“Good to see you lad! It hasn’t been the same without you,” Manny called excitedly.

“Good to see you too Manny!” Joma replied, adjusting his sails one last time.

His father, recognising the commotion, called a stop to proceedings on his boat. The crew threw a rope to Joma, allowing him to secure his boat. Joma clambered across and was met with a barrage of handshakes and slaps on the back.

“My boy!” his father exclaimed, wiping away tears.

“Father…” Joma said as he was swept up in a bear hug. He tried to say more but the chief squeezed the remaining air from his lungs.

Chapter Twenty

Babo’s prediction of good sailing conditions was accurate. Apart from a few passing showers, the seas were smooth.

Joma navigated the waters using nature’s compass – the behaviour of birds, the position of the sun, and most importantly the stars, guided his journey.

The idyllic conditions coupled with ample supplies left Joma with time to reflect. He recognised the irony of his trip – shipwrecking on a village much like his own and realising the treasures of life lie in the simple things – contribution, community and a strong sense of self-worth. He understood that value came in the process, like building a skill, not the final outcome.

He felt foolish – it had been a dangerous learning experience and placed an unfair burden on his family.

Though, the journey produced the result. Perhaps he wouldn’t have reached these conclusions otherwise. This alone was worth the perils of his adventure.

He couldn’t wait to get back and apply what he had discovered.

Chapter Nineteen

Building the new boat didn’t take long. Joma and the villagers worked tirelessly in their spare time.

The locals knowledge of the region proved invaluable as Babo had predicted. Joma doubted his craft would have been seaworthy, had he built it alone.

For once, Joma trusted Babo completely when told it was time to set sail.

“Joma, my friend, it has been a pleasure,” the big man beamed.

“You are a great man. The way you have adapted to your plight is remarkable. You possess many good qualities and I hope you have begun to recognise this,” he said seriously.

“Thank you for everything Babo. Please thank the rest of the village too; I don’t know what I would have done without you all. I have learned a lot, I just hope the lessons stick,” Joma replied candidly.

“You’re a clever boy, I’m sure what you have gathered will stay with you. The village thanks you in return. Just as you’ve learned from us, we’ve learned from you. Passing on your own unique knowledge will help us move forward as a community. Here is a token of our appreciation and something to remember us by,” Babo said as he handed Joma a finely crafted knife.

It was beautiful.

“Thank you,” Joma managed, hugging his friend. Joma realised it was the first time he had initiated a hug and it felt good.

Chapter Eighteen

Joma was having difficulty keeping his eyes open during the morning’s gather.

Babo, noticing this, asked, “Joma, are you sleeping poorly?”

The boy declared this was not the case but Babo insisted with his line of inquiry, attempting to get to the root cause. “The other villagers notice you don’t rest after lunch but go out into the jungle,” the big man stated.

It was true. Joma had been collecting materials to construct a boat. Although life was good, he couldn’t stay here forever.

The search for materials was taking longer than expected. The jungle was foreign to him, making it difficult to find suitable items for boat building.

Upon explaining this to Babo, the man with a big belly sighed and patted Joma on the back. “Joma, my boy, have you always been this stubborn?” he asked with a wry smile.

“Why did you not ask for help? We know our land. The job would be nearly complete by now,” he chided.

Joma, looking at his feet, replied, “I didn’t want to burden anyone. You have all done so much for me as is”.

Babo said firmly, “Joma, you are part of our community. We work best when we work together. There is no need to go at life alone and isolate yourself”.

Joma always found it difficult to ask for help. Babo made him realise the error of his ways. Or maybe it was the multiple blows to the head he had received.

Babo resolved to hold a council to plan for Joma’s return home. “Now, you get some sleep,” said the big man slapping Joma playfully on the back, “Or we’ll all end up eating the weeds you’ve been picking,” he joked.

Joma blushed and thanked the man. He made his way back to the village for some much-needed rest.

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.

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.