There was once a caravan on the other side of the river. Surrounded by trees and puddles and sheltered under the raging sun. Smoke came out its chimney and continued to fill the sky until whatever was being cooked inside had filled dinner plates. It had arrived in the beginning of summer. It had not been the first one. A summer before and the one it had followed had brought many such caravans to edge of the river.
The river, well, it was placid. Filled with fish and other treasures water could offer. It was not just a river, it was the lifeline of an entire village. God had blessed a tiny settlement on the southern tip of a southern country with lush waters and the fertility it brought along, a couple of centuries ago. Men, woman and children would bathe, fish and do other things here. They had simple begginings and probably even simpler ends but for generations they enjoyed every bit of their simple lives under the custody of god created waters.
A few boats connected them to the outside world. Technology had made its presence felt but was taking its time to find a place in village homes. Al’s internet café existed in the 2nd decade of the 21st century. A few better travelled men had found gadgets that with a few clicks could connect them to the neighbouring cities and beyond.
Alas! Simplicity suited simple beings. Simple beings are one’s not exposed to the lust of desire. Desire is sprouted by the knowledge of treasures and riches. And knowledge when desired is proliferated faster than the speed of light. In the last 2 decades, this simple fishing colony had seen many of its children depart to occupy bunk beds in rooms filled with 8 such bunk beds in cities leaving behind their rusting playgrounds and aging parents. The few that remained longed to see the sights the cities promised.
One such 15-year-old was Timothy. A rather short and frail looking teenager, Timothy had been sick for about half his life. The village was all he knew. Once he was healthy, he would travel far beyond the river. He had seen one friend after the other depart to boarding schools or sweat shops. Both, seemed like obvious choices to escape their sanctuary.
Once he was strong and had earned a thousand units of currency he would escape. He would leave. Mother and littles sister would be accommodated in a nice flat in a big city after few years of hard labor. He would feel the city breeze against his branded clothes and breathe the scent of industry and development. Such ambitions the fifteen-year-old held.
In fact, dreaming had become a luxury he was able to afford every night as he sat across the caravan only separated by waters. He sat over grass with a bottle of milk and a few nibbles in the company of stars and different shapes of the moon. And every night tunes of artists old and older played. The caravan was blessed with music. He would first listen from afar and then one day have his own.
He had seen an old man, probably in his seventies, emerge from the caravan and sit beside the edge of the river on a foldable chair under a foldable umbrella. He often waved at Timothy and Timothy waved back. That had an unspoken bond.
The old man emerged from his caravan with his chair in hand and the umbrella that went along with it. He sat it down on the same spot that now had impressions to guide this process along. But, before he could sit down and wave at his young companion, the old man fell to his knees.
Timothy called out and called out again but the old man sunk deeper into the ground, until all he could see was a lump across the river. Timothy jumped and sped across a light current. He had not been a natural swimmer and his sickness had something to do with it. He swam with intent, none the less, and emerged on the other side after a good 6-7 minutes of swimming. He had crossed the river! He was finally on the other side. Not how he had imagined it but he was there.
Soaking wet and with heavy breathes, Timothy made his way to the old man. He had started to move. His legs were gently caressing the grass and his palms were firmly against the soil trying to push it down. He was breathing heavily, so much so, that even Timothy’s swim induced calls for air were not able to compete with him.
“Are you, alright?”, Timothy gingerly asked, as he helped the old man roll over so that he could face a half moon sky.
“My pump, in the bbbbb”, he responded. This was both preceeded and succeeded with loud gasping. Timothy ran into the caravan and found himself in the company of many scents of luxury. There was still some wine in a tea cup and the meat that had accompanied it could still be found in bits and pieces on a plate place on top a tiny table. The table bordered a sink and a few cabinets. Those were rummaged.
Timothy knew exactly what he was looking for. Children in the clinics he had visited before, used ‘the pump’. At five he was told that they needed magic dust to cure their flu. He had begged for some himself. “That’s the last thing you need”, was the stern reply he was given.
No luck! Back on the grass. The old man’s breathing slowed down. Beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. Timothy looked out of the window and froze. The river and its bank still visible, he stood there and moved not an inch.
Frank Sinatra was singing.
“Fly me to the moon” he requested in song. Frank continued to sing and slowly Timothy got back to his task.
He scavenged a drawer right next to a well-made bed and he found it! He walked outside to see the old man staring intently at the stars. His eyes were wide open. The pump was thrust into his mouth and a few clicks were made.
His breathing picked up. And, soon with a little help he sat on what was now an unfolded chair, a few inches away from its intended location. A request for some water was made and yet not a single word was exchanged. Timothy obliged. The cup was drained of the wine it contained and replaced with some water.
“Son, you saved my life” were the first words he spoke. He took another gulp of his drink. “So, what’s your name, son?” he asked, his head still firmly transfixed at his cup of water.
“A minute longer and my wishes would have come true” he continued. “All I wanted is to rest one final time on the bank of placid waters in the middle of no-where. Escape the treacherous city pollution and industrial waste”, he kept on going. The few pumps of magic air seemed to have done the trick.
Nothing was heard in response. He felt the summer breeze against his beating heart and then he didn’t feel anything at all. He looked up. Timothy stood there wearing no expression.
With one big heave the man stood up. “You don’t speak much, son?” he asked with wry smile. There was no humoring the boy.
“You should meet the wretched hell raisers back there”, he howled. “Not a shred of decency. No amount of etiquette and not so much as a count of discipline.”
He was now desperate to get the boy to talk.
He leaned in and placed his hand on Timothy’s shoulder. “Your parents raised you well. Simple beings from simple places but with a world’s worth to give.”
The boy was not even looking at him anymore. Instead he stared at the chair.
He turned back to find a lifeless old gentleman sitting on the foldable chair.
“It’s time to cross over”, Timothy finally said and pointed at the river. At its banks rested the body of young boy. He was all of fifteen years of age.
The big cities were left waiting. One had escaped it and the other its promises.