Staying Afloat

Two roads diverged just a few miles away from his house. The one on the left was adorned by slim and tall trees on either side, the tarmac shining brightly under the morning sun. If he would have continued along this road, he would have arrived at his school in under an hour. Instead, he turned to his right and walked along the gravel path that lead into the woods.

Here the trees grew thicker and taller as he moved deeper inside until they loomed directly over him and blocked out the sunlight. Even so, his steps never faltered as he walked along the familiar path. A few minutes later, he emerged through a clearing in the woods and halted as the pond came into sight. His friend Scott was there already.

“You are late,” he shouted.

He didn’t reply. He strode towards the tree at the edge of the pond and threw his bag down near Scott’s. His friend approached him slowly and stood near him.

“They fought again?”

“Every morning.”

They both looked towards the water and gazed at its stillness. The reflection was murky and distorted. It reminded him of some of his mother’s paintings that hung on their walls. She hadn’t painted in over five years. She now worked as a teller at the local bank.

“David?” ventured Scott cautiously. “Shall we begin?”

David gave him a distracted look and nodded. “Of course.”

They walked away from the pond and in the direction of a thick hedge that grew at the entrance to the woods. There, at the base of a particular section of the hedge, covered under a layer of sand, brown leaves and twigs, lay the half-made wooden raft. They lifted it slowly, making sure that the logs remained intact, and carried it towards the tree under which their bags lay. They put it down again and set to work.

“Another day or two and we should be done with us,” remarked Scott.

“Hand me some more rope. This end has loosened a bit.”

At present their raft was a collection of three logs held together horizontally by pieces of rope and reinforced with two logs that were attached at the base.
“How many more logs do you think we would need?” asked Scott.

“Maybe two.Maybe even three.”

“Wouldn’t the base need another log then?”

“It might. You are right. It should.”

They worked silently for a long while, continuously arranging and rearranging the logs, trying different knots with the ropes until they seemed satisfied with the strength and stability of the raft. As they worked, the sun slowly rose higher from towards their left and began to burn the back of their necks and made them thirsty.

David went to get some water from his bag and Scott did the same. As he took out his bottle, he noticed the lunch box that his mother had packed for him in the morning before leaving for work. He suddenly felt hungry and grabbed the lunch as well.

“You don’t want to eat?” he questioned Scott as he noticed that his friend only had the bottle in his hand and was sitting idly by their raft.

“No. I am not hungry.”

“Your mother wasn’t at home in the morning?”

“She stayed out all night. She was tired by the time she came back. It was one of her regular nights.”

David sat down beside him, took a swig of water out of his bottle, and opened his lunch box.

“Here,” he said and held it out to Scott. “Take a sandwich. I cannot finish the whole thing anyway.”

Scott hesitated at first but then gave in. He took a small bite and willed himself to not gobble down the sandwich too quickly. He kept looking towards David and ate accordingly.

“These are really good,” he remarked once in between.

“That is why I got a little late today,” replied David. “My mother was making these and fighting at the same time.”

“Your father is still at home?”

“Hasn’t left in over a month now.”

A strong gust of wind suddenly blew across the pond and carried with it many fallen leaves that rustled and flew right over their heads. Their hands instinctively grabbed the raft and they checked whether any of the knots had loosened. Reassured, they went back to eating their sandwiches.

“Do you think it will float and hold us well?” asked Scott gesturing towards the pond.

“We are working hard enough.”

“I sometimes wish we had a boat. A proper boat.”

“I do too,” smiled David and looked at him. “A proper boat with oars that we could sit comfortably in and row.”

“The pond is not big enough for a boat though,” said Scott and sat up straight. “It’s not even deep enough I think.”

“The river then!” exclaimed David. “The river flowing past the edge of the town. We could have taken it out onto that river and sailed across the coast.”

“It would have been grand. And why just the coast? We could have sailed further and perhaps even explored more towns.”

“Yes…yes..we could have. I wish we had that boat. Maybe we can one day. Once school is done, we could work with the fishermen. Lots of young boys do that. I am sure they would let us row a boat.”

“That would be perfect! We would forever be on water and we would be away.”

By now it was rather hot and the sweat dripped off their foreheads like water. But they suddenly seemed not to feel the heat and sat there with their bottles in their hands, the food in their half-filled stomachs, and they talked about the boat they wished they had but didn’t. It pleased them much and they forgot about everything else for those few wonderful minutes.

“Shall we get back to work then,” said David enthusiastically and brushed the crumbs of his chest before getting up.

“Oh yes! Let’s try and finish this today if we can. Let’s work harder.”

“Okay. We finish today and we row tomorrow.”

“Even if it is just this pond….”

“It’s the pond today. We will make it to the river.”

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