Back to the River
© Kristine Simelda, 2019, River Ridge Press
The dilapidated aircraft had been up and down at least a half a dozen times since it rumbled into the hot, blue sky above Puerto Rico. But from what Isaiah had seen so far, none of the islands even slightly resembled his home—lush, green Emerelda. No. This was definitely not the Caribbean he remembered from his childhood. Where were the puffy white clouds? A metallic grey haze floated under the shadow of the wing. What happened to the towering green mountains? A monotonous parade of shrunken atolls dotted with a few scraggly coconut palms loomed below. When had the sparkling turquoise water turned brown? Isaiah suspected that climate change was the culprit. The coral reefs were bleached bone white, and the pristine beaches were submerged in primordial muck that resembled lentil soup.
There was no problem getting from California where Isaiah had lived for the past ten years to San Juan. He could have taken his pick from dozens of flights. But there were only a few small planes still traveling among the Lesser Antilles, and it had been difficult for him to book the last leg of his journey, the loop that threaded its way south toward Trinidad and back north.
“Leeward to Windwards, Windwards to Leewards,” the steward complained in a sing-song voice. “Boring, boring, boring.”
Although he hated to admit it, eighteen-year-old Isaiah couldn’t have agreed more. As he stared out at the bland scenery in disenchantment, it was as if the vibrant landscape of his youth had disappeared. No wonder island hopping, once the favorite pastime of the semi-rich and almost famous, was no longer in fashion. Besides the pilot and the steward, the only other passenger was a snoring security guard shrouded in camouflage who was seated in the front row.
At the beginning of his journey down the island chain, Isaiah got excited each time the plane was about to make another landing. But after so many disappointments, he had eventually given up. Lulled into a kind of uneasy geographic trance, he had been daydreaming about his mother, how she died so soon after his family left the island, when the turbo-prop made an abrupt U-turn.
Although his seatbelt was fastened, Isaiah’s body was whipped around like a puppet cut loose from its strings. The present moment came to a screeching halt as his head smashed into the window with a resounding thwapp! A set of high-pitched bells rang in his ears, and he saw constellations of bright, twinkling stars before his eyes. The security guard vanished in a puff of smoke, and a white-robed Mystic with long, flowing hair was suddenly sitting next to him.
Isaiah wondered if he was dreaming, or if he might even be dead. Sensing his unease, the Mystic said, “Don’t be frightened, Isaiah. I’m here to help you find your way home.”
Wait a minute. Was this guy for real, or was he some kind of illusion caused by the blow to his head? How did he know Isaiah’s name, for example? Should he trust him, or was he about to be tricked into stepping off the edge of a cliff into oblivion? On the other hand, if that was what it took to reach his destination, so be it.
Although a reasonable amount of time had passed, his native island was still nowhere in sight. “Right. So, where’s Emerelda?” Isaiah asked.
“Have patience,” the Mystic said. “The place you seek can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.”
What kind of answer was that? The last thing Isaiah needed was double talk at this stage of the game. “I’m seeking. I mean I’m not seeking,” Isaiah snapped. He squinted out the window, intent on making his destination appear by his own sheer will. But naturally he failed. “Okay, Mystic. Keep your promise. Help me find my way home. The sooner the better.”
“No problem,” the Mystic said. He spread a map across their laps and offered Isaiah a choice of four directions to travel on a set of crossroads. “Go ahead and take your pick.”
Isaiah wasn’t prepared for such a crucial decision so early in his quest. Yet wasn’t that the point of his journey—to man up and make a positive choice for a change? But which direction should he choose?
The Mystic smiled reassuringly. “Just remember, Isaiah, home is more than a dot on the map. It’s a feeling that’s deep inside of you.”
With that, the crossroads on the chart began spin like the swirling arms of a windmill—slowly at first, and then faster and faster. When Isaiah tried to follow the hypnotic motion with his eyes, the Mystic chuckled. “That will never work. You have to follow the crossroads with your heart, not your head.”
As soon as Isaiah put his whole heart into finding his way home, the situation changed dramatically. Tropical scenery spun like a top as the plane flipped wing over wing and hurtled toward earth. Slices of mountaintops, snatches of river valleys, and copious coconut trees were sucked down with it like they were caught in a whirlpool.
“Whoa!” cried the Mystic.
“Whee!” the steward whistled.
“Yikes!” Isaiah squealed. It was like being on a ride at an amusement park, terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
At the last possible instant, the aircraft leveled out and floated onto a potholed landing field. Isaiah held his breath as it swerved and bounced several times. Cargo shifted from back to front, and a substantial portion of rubber was burned off the tires before it stopped just short of the sea.
The Mystic applauded enthusiastically. “Welcome home.”