There are so many things in this world that we humans take for granted. It differs from person to person. Parents will say that their child takes them for granted while that same child will profess that her boyfriend takes her for granted. As for me, I say that people take their eyes for granted. I would know, for I was born with the curse of night blindness. Incurable, they say. The doctors in my tribe are the best for miles around and yet, they can’t find a cure.
I am not a cynic. Do not misunderstand me. I have learnt to live with my disability and having been doing so quite comfortably for the better part of my eighteen years. I am quite happy with my life, thank you very much; but sometimes, I wish that things weren’t as they are. Sometimes, I yearn for the normalcy of life and hope that one day God will answer my prayers and cure me.
Life – another thing that people take so much for granted, coming back to the topic, if I must. My mother says that I have the attention span of a dragonfly. I think she means it in jest, but with her, I can’t be too sure. Judging by what I have written so far, I must conclude that she is right.
Life, as I was saying, is another one of the many things that is both overrated and underrated at the same time. Not many take it seriously and those who do are too few in number. The tourists that come to our island do not venture too far into our area, as we are a protected tribe in our nation’s Constitution, but since I help man the only tuck-shop on the island, I have a healthy contact with them. I have heard of something referred to as global warming that has been spreading its wings over the planet that we live in.
They say that the people that live in big countries, similar to our mainland, have been systematically destroying our planet’s ecosystem for decades. According to them, my country and China are the fastest growing countries of the world and that both of them are highly populated – overflowing, actually.
For me, it is not hard to imagine, but for my fellow tribesmen, it is like hearing the fables and myths of old. I have been going to the big island up north for supplies and am quite familiar with the outside world. Only I, being the chieftain’s son, have that privilege. No one else is allowed off the island and certainly no one is allowed into our protective area. The tourists are allowed only up to the beaches and that is where the shop is.
I also have a gift, or a curse – depends on how you want to take it. Personally, I think it is a curse. There is nothing worse than knowing how or when people near you are going to die. I can see the nature of death that each person in question is going to go through and even feel it. It is horrifying, to tell you the truth. The worst part is that I can’t do anything to prevent either the visions or the death I see in them. I have the visions during the night and by the time I recover from the ordeal, the person is already dead.
The only positive aspect is that the visions come sparingly. God knows what I would have done if they were a nightly occurrence. I would have gone insane from grief or pain. The more intense the death, the more time it takes me to recover. It took me almost a week to recover from one vision, when that shark mauled Hoki.
The latest, though, knocked me out-cold for a month.
* * *
I had always been shy and kind of an introvert, never letting my inner emotions come to the forefront. That is why no one asked me about my vision when I awoke. They knew that if it were important, I’d tell them. Quite possibly, according to them, the one I had the vision about was probably dead – dying an ugly death. As for me, I needed time to think and so, as soon as I was able to, I grabbed the first chance to get off the island.
I took the small motorboat – the only means of transport off the island – and set off after bidding my father farewell. “Take care of yourself, Arikara, and be back before sunset,” he advised.
I fully intended to return well before that time. I didn’t want to be stranded on the big island when my handicap chose to rear its head. Whenever I had made the journey to the Port, as the island was called amongst my tribe, I had ensured that I was back before sundown.
I enjoyed the view as the boat slowly chugged through the choppy waters. The Indian Ocean is one of the most treacherous oceans on the planet and could be unrelenting at times. Now, though, it was relatively calm.
The boat was a novelty. It was not old and was, in fact, bought when I was just twelve. I remember I had come running out of the hut when Father had announced that the ‘new motor’ had arrived. I was ecstatic, because the old boat was hanging by its last thread and I hated using it to travel.
When I first saw the new boat, I immediately fell in love with it. It was the usual boat, but with a slight difference. The base of the hull was actually reinforced glass. Therefore, as the tiny vessel traversed over the water, one could actually see the vast ocean life beneath.
To anyone who has not seen it, let me tell you that the view is breathtaking. The shoals of fish rushing past in a harmonious and synchronised way, onward to their destination; creatures one can only dream of swimming in the blue of the ocean – it was a sea of life, and a sheer pleasure to be a part of.
By midday, as the wide expanse of the Port came into view, I took out the tribe’s flag from a box kept in the back. Port’s laws required all sea-vessels to check in with the harbour, but this flag gave my tiny boat the...as they call it...‘diplomatic immunity’.
I guided it into my usual spot – a small cove on the harbour that was right next to the moped rental shop. Our tribe had a long-standing agreement with the two-wheeler shop and the owner never charged me rent because of that.
“Hey Rammy,” I said, entering the shop. It wasn’t a shop, per se, but rather a huge shed under which stood about thirty mopeds. In one corner sat the owner’s son and my long-time friend, Ramsey.
“Hiya, Ari. Long time no see, yaar.” The smile on Rammy’s face could literally light up the surroundings and today was no different.
“Just passing through; not much to do on the island these days and business is slow too.”
“Yeah, it’s the same here as well. However, it has been picking up in the last few days. So, you should see some coming your way any time now.”
“Uh-huh...” I was not in the mood for chitchat and, I guess, Rammy caught on to that as well. “I’ll just grab a moped and head out, okay? Be back by the usual time.” I made my way to a nice cherry coloured two-wheeler sitting in a corner.
“Righto, dude. See ya later, then, and take care,” he called out as I waved, without looking back.
* * *
The best thing about Port is that even though it is a huge tourist destination, having around half a million tourists each year, it is relatively untouched from human interference. The natural beauty of the island is still intact to this date. I think it is one of the many features that helps attract so many people from around the world to this place. There is a subtle peace and calm to the archipelago that inspires people to come here, including me.
There is this isolated beach in a small corner of the island that I frequent whenever I need to be by myself. It was well worth the hour’s travel by that slow two-wheeler to reach my place of solitude. Once there, I picked a nice spot, removed my clothes, and lay down to sunbathe.
It is a heavenly feeling, lying down like this in the nude and basking in the glory of the magnificent sunlight. It calms me down and soothes my nerves to the point of unconsciousness. It really helps me think, and thinking was something I needed to do today.
The dream that I recently had was so new for me. Not only did it knock me out for a much longer time, but also it was completely different from what I am used to. It wasn’t the usual premonition about the death of a certain individual. It was, rather, about an event that I was to be a part of in the near future. That, in itself, was an alien feeling to me. I have never, in my entire life, ever had such a dream.
I was in a quandary. Logically, I knew what I had to do, but I couldn’t ask my father to take such a step. It will be a devastating revelation, but I owed it to my family and my tribe to tell them the truth. The consequences of both my actions, and inactions, could be life altering.
I don’t know how long I must have lain there, thinking about my situation. I must have dozed off at some point, because the next thing I know, Rammy was poking me in my side, trying to wake me up.
“Huh?” I asked groggily.
“Thank God! I had thought that you had conked out on me. And seeing you like this, in this position, it doesn’t inspire nice thoughts, mate.”
I turned a deep shade of red, realising that I was indeed displayed in all my glory. I scampered up to grab my clothes, cover myself, and breathed a sigh of relief only once I had my privates safely tucked away.
“Shouldn’t you be already on your way back, Ari?” Rammy asked me. I looked at him in puzzlement and he pointed to the setting sun over the horizon. “You know...”
Oh my God! Yes, I should have been back on the island at this point of time. In another fifteen to twenty minutes, I’d be as blind as a bat with nowhere to go and no one to help me.
“C’mon. Get your backside up, and I’ll take you home.” I looked at Rammy, grateful for his offer and embarrassed due to my shortcomings. He helped me up and, together, we trudged up the sandy path toward his home.
* * *
“Are you sure about this, Ari?” my father asked me in the gravest tone I had ever heard him use. I nodded in response.
“But this is insane!” the tribe’s chief priest shouted. “You can’t expect us to abandon everything based on his silly predictions. So what if he’s your son, you can’t just believe everything he says.”
“Must I remind you that every one of Arikara’s premonitions have come true?” Father said, his tone indicating his rising anger. “Must I remind you that he has never uttered a lie? Must I remind you that I have never doubted what he has ever told me?” His voice rose to a tone that made the priest cower before him. “And above all, must I remind you that I am the Chief of this tribe and I command a certain respect from all members of this community?!”
“No, my Chief, I apologise for my impudence. But I must implore you to give this a second thought.”
“There is nothing we can do.” Turning to the entire tribe assembled before him, he continued, “Arikara, my son, has foretold us of many things in the past. Never before has his predictions turned out to be false. His gift has never let him, or us, down; ever.”
I cringed. His calling my curse a gift was something that I detested. How could seeing someone die, and feeling every part of that person’s death, be a gift?
“What he has just informed me of is a matter of grave concern. I ask you, as your Chief, to let me finish before you say anything. I will not force anyone to do anything against his or her will. You all have a right, as members of this tribe, to decide your future.
“You would remember that, last month, Arikara was unconscious due to his gift. He has come forth with the details of his visions and I must regretfully inform you that they are not pleasant.”
Father paused to let this sink in before continuing, “One month from now, a great wave will strike our islands and destroy everything that surrounds us. It will not spare anything in its path and we will all perish if we remain here.
“My brothers and sisters, it is time for us to make a tough decision. I have petitioned the government to help us with this situation, but I don’t think help will come. They do not have the same faith in my son’s abilities as I have. Even if help comes, it will be too late.
“Therefore, I, along with my family, have decided that we will be leaving our home for the mainland; for higher lands. Everyone is welcome to join us, but I will not force anyone. This is a decision that you, and your families, must make. I just hope that you make the right one.”
Father closed his eyes and sighed. He pulled me into a sideways hug and guided me into our house.
* * *
As expected, the government scoffed at our petition. Father used all our money, and the money collected from the families that agreed to come with us, to buy a boat for our travel. Some people from the Port, who were told about the impending ‘tsunami’, also requested to join us. Together, we set off for the mainland with just a week to spare.
Once on the mainland, we sold off our boat and used that money to buy transportation. We immediately set off for the mountains, hoping that they would be high enough to ward off the tsunami.
The journey was not easy. It took us six days to finally reach the summit of the highest mountain on the mainland, and the better half of the seventh day to climb it.
As I stood at the apex, I looked around. Even though I was aware of the impending doom, I took a moment to admire the picturesque view. Far ahead in front of me, I could see the sun setting behind the mountains surrounding the valley. The orange hue of the sun peeking from the clouds that adorned the mountain tops.
I looked down into the valley and saw a beautiful lake in the middle, surrounded by trees and wildlife. Birds of all kind lazed around the water, enjoying the fruits of Mother Nature. It was a remarkable sight, to treasure for life.
Alas, it was not meant to be. Like a hunter springing upon its prey, I could feel the impending disaster waiting to strike us. I guess the birds down below sensed it too, because they got quiet all of a sudden and then took off into the air, flying away behind the mountains.
A deafening roar could be heard behind us and I turned to look in that direction. From behind the smaller mountains and hills, I could see the water rushing in, filling up the valleys and crushing the life that resided there. The view was very breathtaking as well as gut wrenching.
For the first time, as I stood atop that mountain with my friends and family, I truly felt that my curse was not a curse at all. Had it not been for my ability that foretold this event, most of our tribe would have perished as well.
I looked into my father’s eyes and I saw an echo of my feelings there. Yes, my ability was not a curse. It was a gift – a Gift of Life.
I’d like to thank Sharon for her help with this story. Without her guidance, this work would not have turned out the way it has.
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