This is a work of fiction.
The two men laughed as they drove the bicycle cart away, and I was left standing alone at the edge of the precipice. For a few seconds, I considered jumping off and joining my daughter, but my wife might still be alive, and I owed it to my daughter to find her mother, or at least to try.
I looked around, but didn’t see anything that had belonged to her. She must have either left it somewhere or she’d only had what she’d been carrying in the bag I’d glimpsed strapped to her back.
Had the male Leader of Worship truly given her a ride in his bicycle cart? I would likely never know the truth, but I hoped he’d just been talking out of his backside. I had to accept that he really had seen her drawings, given the fact that I’d found thirty-two of them in the temple. Had he commissioned them? If so, why? If not, then who had?
My mind bubbled and foamed with endless questions as I searched for food. At last I came to an abandoned shelter where I found some preserved food. Before consuming any of it, I went to the nearest occupied shelter and asked a young man if he knew who had lived there.
“There was a family there, but they left two days ago. They were going to try and find a place where they could raise crops. This place is quite safe, but barren.” I nodded sadly, doubting they’d managed to find such a place before the storm struck.
“Why did they leave food behind?”
“I think they might have left something in case others needed shelter.”
“Thank you. Do you have enough?”
“Yes, thank you.”
I stayed only until the weather cleared, which took it only a day and a night. In the morning, I rose early, packed half of the remaining food, made sure the shelter was clean, and closed the door. Then I began to walk.
For ten days, the weather was clear, and preserved food sustained me, although I longed for fresh fruit.
At midday on the eleventh, I consumed the last of my food and walked on.
On the fourteenth day, I found an empty bicycle cart. I searched for several hours, but found nobody to claim it, so I climbed in and looked in the storage area at the back. What I found stunned me. The storage area was filled with preserved food. Why had this cart been left? There was no one to ask, so I kept going down the mountain side.
The weather became warmer, and layer by layer, I shed my winter clothes like serpents shed their old skin.
On the forty-first day, I came to a flat place where bushes grew thickly in black earth. I yeled with delight when I saw plump red berries and pushed handfuls into my mouth as fast as I could. I ate them for myself, for the sweet refreshing taste, but also for my daughter, who would never enjoy them again.
As I walked, I noticed how flat the terrain was. When I paused to listen to my surroundings, I thought I heard the sound of water running. Yes, surely a place like this would offer a clear stream for drinking. I headed toward the sound, which grew in volume.
A while later, I emerged from a clump of bushes and looked upon a vast open space. It was carpeted in grass, and dotted here and there with houses. At the far side of it wasn’t the stream I’d been expecting, but a river. I could see people swimming and playing in it, as well as some others washing clothes, so I gathered that it was shallow for quite some way out.
I walked until I came to a deserted spot, took off all my clothes, and proceeded to wash them as thoroughly as I could. I hung them to dry, unstrapped the bag containing my daughter’s sketches, took out the folder, and laid it on the grass. I took the bag into the river and washed both it and myself. It didn’t take long for the sun to dry everything, and soon the bag of sketches was strapped again to my chest, and I was dressed in my lightest layer.
I walked around and enjoyed another meal of red berries, and then I offered to help a man build a house if he would let me use his tools to build mine.
Once his house was finished, he said that I could have his tools as payment, as he no longer needed them. I thanked him and began the construction of my own abode. Once it stood ready, I moved in. I found that there was no lack of work for me, and I throve. I earned meat and fish, delicious herbs and nourishing roots, and fine clothing, but all I wanted was to find my wife.
One day, I found her. I’d almost lost hope, but then there she was, eating the same red berries that I so enjoyed.
“My wife!” She popped a large berry into her mouth and turned to gaze at me. She was a little thin, but otherwise, she appeared to be just as she always had been.
“My husband,” she whispered. “I have been searching for you and our daughter. Have you seen her?” I couldn’t bear to tell my wife that our daughter had been pushed to her death, so I shook my head. That was the only time I can remember lying to her.
She joined me in our new house, and a few days passed in peace and comfort.
One morning, the river seemed louder than usual. I think that a few people noticed this, but nobody paid it any attention; we were all too much occupied with enjoying a clear, warm day. My wife stayed to wash our clothes, while I went in search of red berries. As I picked, I scarcely noticed the sound of the river, but when my sack was full and heavy upon my shoulders and I had turned towards home, I did perceive that the river sounded quite a lot louder than it should. I felt no fear as I walked down the hillside. No dread pitted my stomach, and no anxiety quickened my heart.
I walked down the steep path and stepped into water that was ankle-deep. As I stood there, the water crept up my calves and I saw people running in and out of houses, trying to prevent their possessions from being washed away by the rising river. I looked at the sky, and saw only blueness. Had it rained while I’d been away? But no, that was impossible. I stepped back up, out of the water, and looked frantically for my wife. I had a clear view of the whole area, and what I saw terrified me. The houses that were mere steps from the river’s edge appeared to be completely under water, and I saw clothing, branches, toys, and tools floating and being carried downstream by the current. My heart thundered against my daughter’s sketches. Where was my wife?
“My husband!” I looked left and there she was. Her arms were full of my tools, and she had a bag strapped to her back, which I guessed contained clothes and food.
“It’s dry up here,” I said. She came to me. Her legs were soaking wet, but her shirt was still dry. I breathed a sigh of relief. We could move to higher ground and rebuild our home. If others had lost their clothes and food, we could help them.
She put my tools down and groaned. “Are you all right?”
“Yes. I’m only tired and your tools are heavy.”
I heard sounds, and saw a man climbing up toward us.
“Hello,” I said. He didn’t answer, but ran up the slope as fast as he could. “Sir, it’s all right, you’ll be safe up here.” If he didn’t stop or turn, he was going to run right into my wife. He didn’t slow or change course, so I moved to pull my wife to safety, but he got there first, grabbed her, and then I saw his face. It was the man who had cursed me. He pushed her, and then both of them went rolling and tumbling down the precipitous incline, and straight into the rapidly rising flood. I couldn’t swim, and I had no boat. I went down after them. I was a tall man, and I intended to rescue her before the water came up over my head. What made that so much harder was that he was fast, and she was weighted down by the large bag that was still strapped to her back.
“Here, mister!” a boy’s high, piping voice called. I looked and saw him sitting in a canoe. He threw me a rope, which I caught, and then he jumped out of it and ran up the hillside. I called out my thanks, pulled it to me and got in. It was quite long and there were two paddles. I had no idea what I was doing, so I let the current carry me along. The man who had cursed me was just disappearing into a house, and he still had my wife. How long had her face been under? How long before the river filled her lungs and trapped her spirit forever? The current pulled the canoe closer to the house, and I looked into a window that was fitted with the kind of wooden bars to keep children inside or thieves out. As I watched, the door opened, and the man who had cursed me entered the room, dragging my wife’s still form behind him. The water was almost up to the roof. He came right up to the window, his eyes met mine, and his lips formed themselves into a grin.