A.J. Walker


The River's Name

Prompt: MidWeekFlash Week 195 - photo by Silina Lambertini

The River's Name

Benjii had said to keep away from the river. That it was an evil place. But he never said why. Just said I should believe him when he said it. Of course I loved Benjii with every fibre of my being, I really did. But everyone is fallible; that includes Benjii - and me.

He said I shouldn’t go out on my own, he always smiled and shook his head when he said it. “Like trying to hold back the tide,” he said. There were things he felt he had to say out loud. Even if I didn’t follow his instructions perhaps he just felt that he’d done a job by warning me. I’m not sure.

And here I am on the banks of the River of a Thousand Names by myself; as night begins to fall. I muse that there are so many of Benjii’s edicts and instructions I am ignoring to be here. But it is the river which has drawn me. Water always attracts people. It has its pull for many a reason. But I feel to me I have always been destined to be close to a river or a lake: though somehow I know I will never see the sea.

The boatmen sit by a fire chatting and eating. Their working day coming close to an end. Few want or need to cross the water at night. Emergencies only: or midnight escapes, which I guess could be an emergency too.

I’ve pitched my tent a few hundred metres away on the edge of a field of poorly growing maize. The rains have been heavy in the higher lands but seem reticent of travelling eastward to these parched soils. I can see labourers sat in corners of fields and beside the river who are employed solely to dig channels, or more likely to carry water to existing channels, to fields like the one I am in. Hard work. But it must be useful surely. Or else no one would pay them to do it. Would the parched fields be completely lifeless without them? If the rains come what do these men do? Do they always pray for drought?

I walk up to the boatmen’s fire and smile at them. They sign to me that I am welcome to sit with them. I feel blessed. The day is still warm and the fire seems there just for the comforting crackles and its display; no one is cooking with it. But I see the faces turn to it whenever the conversations lull.

These men all day on the water are drawn to the fire as I am drawn to water.

They ask why I am there. I tell them that I just like the river. They ask me what I call it; the river of a thousand names. I tell them I haven’t decided what the river is yet. They laugh and each tell me what they call it. They tell me of the river gods that live in it. Those that look after the river and the boatmen. Those that are gentle or capricious. The usually absent and the usually there ones. They trip over each other to tell me their stories of these river gods. It seems the river of a thousand names requires a thousand gods. One for each name. How does a boatmen know which one to pray to when it is in turbulent times? Which gods get the blame when their friends are taken?

I sit and look at the city over the water. I will travel there in a few days, but first I want to feel its power and majesty as I sit beside it observing and absorbing all I can. The mosquitoes rise up from the silts as the sun drops. Night will be on us soon. I hear the crackle of the fire as more wood is added, the mosquitoes buzz around my ears. The boatmen turn to face the fire, some move closer, and talk turns too. It’s no longer of gods and the river: it is of food and of love. I turn to the river. I will find its name. It has one, not a thousand.

I am not sure about the number of the gods; or who I will pray to when I will cross it. But I will know the river’s name.

WC: 727