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The old boatman steered the boat across the water. He was tired of rowing. There was no sign of land anywhere, just rooftops, rotting branches and dead cattle. He looked at the twenty odd people he had ferried the last four hours. They were tired. And hungry. He had picked most of them from the roof of a house, probably the highest roof in their small village, for it was the only one to be seen then. The rest were picked up from the water, clinging on to branches or floating furniture. Most had shouted out to him for help, and he had not received much more than a curt voice of thanks. The boatman only remembered the little girl who had smiled at him as he picked her from the roof. She was now sitting on her mother's lap, looking ahead, hoping to catch sight of land, just like he was. She wasn't sobbing, like the other children. She knew that her mother had enough to worry about, so she remained silent, even though she wanted to cry aloud.

The flood was no surprise. It was due, as it is due every year. First it is drought, then it is flood. It was never normal here. This was their fate. He had seen it since he was a child, when his father used to take the boat and ferry people from the rooftops to higher land. But they all still lived in their land. No matter whether it was dry or submerged, it was their land, and they would continue to live there.

And like every year, they would find land. They would row for hours, but eventually, they would reach the hill. It was a hill normally. During flood, it was their haven. The boatman didn't even need to look at the sun to know the directions to the hill. He could get there with his eyes closed. The hill would be the place where the state administration would put up temporary shelters and give them food to eat. This year, it took a longer time, for the boatman had grown old. Although the men in the boat took turns, it was he that did most of the rowing. It was his job. God had wanted him to be the savior of these people, and he would perform his task with dignity.

The hill was already crowded. The population was ever increasing. He hoped there were enough tents and enough food for everyone. The boat hit land. All the elders scrambled out taking their children. The boatman stayed in his boat. He was too tired to move. He thought he would sit there for some time. The little girl smiled at him as she was carried off by her mother. He smiled back.

The adults all crowded around the officials, shouting out for food. The old boatman walked slowly. He was hungry. He would have liked to have some cooked rice that was being distributed in small bags. But he was too weak to get into the crowd. So he just waited as the crowd fought for the food that was being distributed. His knees felt weak. He sat on the ground. His sight began to dim. He caught a glimpse of the little girl and was glad to see that her mother had got a bag of rice. The little girl was looking at him. She pointed the boatman to her mother. The mother just lifted her and walked away. She stared at her mother in shock. She then looked at the boatman in teary, helpless eyes. The boatman thought, someone cares for me. He closed his eyes.

It was bright. It was too bright. He opened his eyes and everything around was beautiful. He was sitting beside the river, next to a small cottage. Birds chirped and the flowers bloomed. The little girl came into his view, and brought him a bowl of rice. She fed him with her tiny hands. He was weak no more. The old boatman stood up and thanked God. He had reached heaven.




Comments

The following comments are for "The Boatman"
by neenad

I like it
Seriously, I like your story Neenad. It has this lasting effect - even hours after reading it, I still can't stop thinking about your boatman. I guess the words you composed went straight to my heart. I'm no professional critic, but as a reader, I was touched by it. Good job :)

( Posted by: Ari [Member] On: July 14, 2007 )





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