I tear up as we're waving the group goodbye. Although we crashed on the island a week ago, we have spent so much time together already. We’ve started to trust each other. Now they're heading out; carrying bottles of water, packages of food, and home-made weapons. I don't want to be dramatic, but the uncertainty as to whether or not the people you like will ever return provokes an odd feeling. Moreover, if they do not, the rest of us will be damned. Without any water.
We just had a big collective breakfast. I couldn't help but make an analogy with the Last Supper. With the apostles walking away from us directly into the darkness of the forest. Most people only watch them walk away for a few seconds before continuing with their daily chores. But mom, Casey, and I, keep waving until they're completely gone from our sight. Even after the other women walk away, I remain, staring into the woods a minute longer. They're gone! I swallow. Really gone.
"They won't magically come back."
I turn around. It's Milan. "I know. But it's weird, isn't it?"
He smiles. "We're not alone. Look around."
"You know what I mean. They're our friends. They'll be all alone in the creepy forest with natives probably watching their every move."
A grimace appears on his face. "You watched too much TV, dude. Come on, let's fish some more. I haven't grown tired of mackerel yet."
"Is that what we've been catching?"
He laughs. "I have literally no idea. But it tastes good, doesn't it?"
"I already caught some grasshoppers this morning."
"Nice preparation. And you're right, let's do something productive." We get the fishing poles from my hut and bring cutting tools and wood. We came up with this routine when fishing. Milan looks at the floaters while I work on my carving. Once in a while we swap around, but he always gets quickly bored cutting wood, so we'll swap back almost immediately.
I'm constantly looking at the camp, trying to make the carving as realistic as possible. I already did the outlines of the encampment, but then those people decided to make latrines, so now I have to do one side all over again! Luckily the piece of wood is thick enough to afford some corrections. As I keep glancing over at the camp, I notice that Oliver and Milan's dad are talking with each other again. Even from this distance I know they wouldn't want anyone to overhear their conversation. Mom is surrounded by five kids again, but she's obviously enjoying it, and Casey is taking care of the rations now her husband is gone. Rick is staring at the sky absently, whilst Margareth is cleaning up the stuff from breakfast. Some other people are finishing the construction of the latrines or trying to fortify their huts, but with our carpenter gone, that's going to prove to be difficult. I'm not sure why he had to join the expedition, in the camp he's of much better use in my opinion.
I keep watching the camp and forget about my carving for a second. I notice how Barbara and Deborah are gathering driftwood for the fire. The Russian woman is collecting the little water from our plastic bags and of course Milan's mom is sunbathing. Ronny is trying to carve a little spear out of stick. I involuntarily smile at the similarity between his occupation and mine. Then I notice the adolescent couple who have been very silent so far, secretly sneaking away from the camp into the forest. I grin. Even though I would never dare to leave the camp like that. Now with Elisah gone they can finally have some alone time. They're in their twenties, so I bet they need it. I already wondered if other couples ever did any of that stuff since the crash. I, for one, didn't have an opportunity to fulfill my teenage needs yet. But fortunately I'm not that crazy about it like I know many of my peers are.
I glance at Milan and wonder if he found any privacy yet. If not, I could offer to help him out. Right? I grin at my own dorkiness.
"What are you smiling about?" Milan suddenly asks.
"Shush! You're scaring away the fish."
He smiles. "Just wanted to be involved in whatever is making you that happy."
I laugh, but quickly stop, afraid I made too much noise already. "Believe me, you don't want to know."
He raises an eyebrow. "Okay then. So, how's the carving going?" he asks, still watching the floaters intensely.
"After we get rescued, this piece of wood will be worth tons."
I smile and suppress a weird urge to hug the boy. We really shouldn't spend this much time together, it's getting me to see him differently than I want to see him. On the other hand, as long as I manage to suppress the feelings, nothing is wrong, right? It's actually really nice to completely trust someone for once.
"Your parents must've liked our breakfast this morning," I say.
He looks at me confused.
"They couldn't keep you from having any," I explain. "So much for them boycotting your food."
"Actually I'm very happy they didn't have to find out I'm getting my breakfast separately now. I wonder what they'll do if they find out. Oh shit, I think there is a fish biting at your bait." He carefully hands me the rod.
I stare at the piece of wood acting as a floater. With all the little waves crashing onto it, it's hard to see whether it's going down because of a fish or if it's just the wave. Then it abruptly goes down completely and I give the rod a big haul. I immediately feel the fish pulling back and the rod bends. Got him! The fish feels pretty strong and I have to pull really hard to even get him a little closer. Jan told us to try to pull him towards the rock, followed by giving a little slack. If you pull too hard, he said, the fish will probably manage to break the line or his lips while trying to escape. If you give him room to swim, however, you can manage to get him tired. Then it should be easier.
He was right. We managed to catch three fish yesterday. And this time it's going pretty well, too. Milan is watching me closely as I'm playing with my prey. Walking away from the sea, reeling in the fish a bit, and back towards the edge of the rock again. I continue doing this four times before I notice the fish pulling back weaker.
My breathing is becoming heavier and I wonder if I'm really exhausting the fish or if he's not the one playing with me instead.
"Want me to take over?"
"No, it's my fish," I pant.
Milan laughs. "That's true. You put so much effort into this catch already."
"Well… it's not as if watching a floater is that hard," I remark as I pull the fish in a bit more. It's amazing that the agave fiber doesn't break. I give some room to the fish again and pull in. This time I manage to lift the fish out of the water. It's fairly big, around twenty centimeters long, and still thrashing around as I hold it in front of Milan. He grabs the slimy animal with both hands, I put the rod down on the rock and take hold of the line and the hook. Jan taught me how to remove the hook yesterday, but it was really hard and disgusting. I didn't like it at all. But someone had to hold the fish steady whilst the other one could remove the hook, and I'm sure as hell not going to touch the fish, so I'd rather pull out the nail. I wiggle the hook around a little, notice some blood next to the wound and manage to pull it out quickly. Yesterday Trenton was with us, so he did this most of the time. I hope he'll join soon.
Now the hook is out, Milan tries his best not to drop the fish.
I smirk. "I love helping out by catching food, but I'm sure I'll never get used to these weird creatures."
"They're just fish, Ryan. Not that weird."
We only catch one more fish that morning, but that doesn't get us down. We love the feeling of productivity and each others company. We spend several hours at the beach, most of them in silence. It's peaceful. But then, when it's around three o'clock, my mother decides class is over, resulting in a hyperactive Kai rushing towards us.
"Hey guys! Did you catch any?" He is still a few meters away.
I hide a smile and put a finger to my mouth. "You're scaring the fish," I whisper loud enough for him to hear it.
He immediately stops walking fast, but instead he slowly crawls closer. As if he believes talking loud and moving fast correlate.
"So, how was school?" Milan asks.
The boy glows. "It was amazing. The other kids are really cool. Noah and I became friends."
"Noah? Who's that?" I ask.
He frowns. "He has black hair. And he has flip flops. Which is really cool, I wish I brought mine."
I laugh. "Do you know who his parents are?"
He shakes his head. "But he has a sister. Zoey was her name, I think."
"Must be the kids from Barbara and Chris," Milan says.
For some reason it surprises me that he knows those names. I'm not sure why it surprises me, he already proved to be a nice guy. I think it's just because I know his parents don't know any names and my stupid brain keeps believing deep down Milan is like them.
We chat a little, but we don't catch any more fish. At some point Trenton joins us and I try to teach him some basics in wood carving. He is a much faster learner than Milan. He doesn't say a lot, but Milan and Kai gladly make up for his silence. I can see he is enjoying our company. And he must feel grateful for being able to leave his sister's care once in a while. He told me she had a disability and that he has to help her, but I never really see the girl around. I have no idea what is actually wrong with her. I should ask Trenton once we're alone.
This is how we spend our day. And the next day. It's getting the feel of normal repetitive days like one has on the mainland. I sometimes even forget we are stranded and waiting to get rescued. This groove gets disturbed the next day, however. The day starts just like any other. I wake up early and I watch Kai and mom sleep for some minutes and then I grab my carving and silently continue the tedious creation. I occasionally glance at how cute the two are together. Kai is snuggled up against mom, who in turn has an arm protectively around the boy. I smile. I know my mother really needs him. She needs this feeling of being able to take care of him. She has me to take care of, of course, but she works wonders with someone younger, someone more vulnerable. To really be a mother to someone. I think in some way everyone needs the boy and his energy. Surely I do. He makes the days on this island so much better.
My mother wakes up and accidentally, by taking her arm off the boy, awakens him too. They both look confused at first, then see each other and smile. It looks adorable and funny. I crack up, which causes them both to look at me. "What's so funny?" mom asks.
Trying to talk through the laughter, I explain: "it's really silly, but the way you guys woke up. Both looking around not knowing where you were or something, but then when you noticed each other, you automatically smiled. It was really cute."
Mom smiles, but Kai looks a little embarrassed.
The day continues as normal. I get breakfast for the three of us plus one portion for Milan. I then walk over to their hut to get the guy. Yesterday the Bachmeier parents looked confused at first when Milan joined us for breakfast. I think they really believed that Milan didn't eat anything since they stole away his food. Guess again! So now the boy just has breakfast with us. Of course they didn't like that, but really, what can they do? I have so much compassion with Milan though, having to put up with parents like that. I sincerely hope they weren't this bitchy before the crash.
After breakfast mom gathers the kids for her little school again. Milan and I check if Trenton wants to help out fishing, but his mom had decided to try and help the Russian woman by teaching her some English, which meant that it was babysit duty. I manage to get a quick look at his sister, but she looks back at me annoyed, so I immediately turn my attention elsewhere. So far this day isn't unlike any other day.
It's when we're fishing - or more like: when Milan is fishing and I'm carving - that I notice something out of the ordinary. I'm once again watching the camp while trying to copy it as exact as possible on my wood, when I notice some movement in the forest. My mother brought the kids close to the border of the forest, probably to have them look for firewood, so I'm immediately wary. The movement struck me as odd, even though the trees and groves had been moving all the time, as it is quite windy today. This movement was different though, it didn't correspond with the rhythm of the wind. It's weird that we have this sixth sense to pick out those subtle variances even when we're not looking for them. It must be like our ancestor's survival instinct.
I stop carving and squeeze my eyes, trying to determine whether I just imagined the movement. No, I didn't. It's there again, but this time more prominent. Mother sees it too now, and she calls the kids back to her, while slowly moving away from the forest. One of the bushes gets pushed aside and through the opening two people appear. Some other people in the camp notice it too. They drop what they’re doing and walk towards the scene.
One older guy and a somewhat younger lady are suddenly in our territory. "Milan," I whisper. "Look over there."
The boy turns around. His eyes widen when he sees the duo.
Then I recognise them. It's the couple from the plane. When mom and I were making up stories for people we saw this older man with a young girlfriend. I came up with this story about his wife being sick and this lady being the caretaker. After the wife died, the caretaker and the widower became a couple. I never wondered what had happened to them. I think I subconsciously just assumed they died in the crash.
Milan pulls the line and bait out of the water and lays the rods down. "Come on, let's go there."
"Yes of course. Those are normal people, are they not?"
I nod. "I remember them from the flight."
"Well then," he says. "Let's hear their story."
Oliver apparently decides to do the same, because as we're walking back to the camp, he walks up to the couple, with Milan's dad following him closely. I can't exactly hear what he's saying, but he's clearly asking them a bunch of questions. Why do they even care. I thought he only wanted to complain about things. And I thought Milan's dad only wanted to sunbathe and be served while doing so? When we approach I overhear Oliver asking a question.
"So what did you do after the crash?"
The older man responds. "Can we talk about this later? Can't we just get some rest. We've been walking for days. Do you have water?"
"We're not sharing any of our water with you until we know we can trust you."
A little crowd gathered around the couple. My mother is one of them, surrounded by the five kids. She looks around until she spots me, a sign of relief appearing on her face.
"Of course you can trust us," the lady says. "Why wouldn't you?"
"We don't know who you are. You were on the flight with us?"
The man sighs. "Of course we were. Do we look like natives to you?" He looks defeated and exhausted.
Milan's dad, who is coincidentally at Oliver the Grumpy's right side, speaks up. "You know about the natives? You've seen them. What are they like?"
"Can you just shut up," the lady says. "Look, we're tired. We know you have questions, but right now we're just really happy we found you. Those people attacked us several times. My body hurts. And I just… I can't… And…" She starts crying.
My mother looks at me, then at the kids, and then walks towards the couple. She hugs the woman. I instinctively know she wants me to go to the kids, so I do exactly that. I grab Kai's hand. He hadn't even seen me coming and he doesn't even look up when I touch his hand, he's too fixated on the couple. And on mom, of course.
"It's okay, it's okay. Oliver and Matthew are just being cautious." Mom glances at Milan's dad. So that's his name! How does mom know? "Are you hurt?"
"Just tired," the older man says.
"You should get some rest. I remember you from the flight, so we don't have to worry about you being natives." She smiles at the two. "What are your names?"
"I'm Karen," the lady sobs. "That's Henry."
I feel a touch. One of the boys grabbed my right hand, just like I was holding Kai's hand with my left one.
"Okay Karen and Henry," Oliver says. "I believe you are trustworthy for now. You can get some sleep in one of the huts. Then we want to hear everything. Understood?"
They nod. "Thank you," Henry says. "Thank you."
"Matthew, can they sleep in your hut?" Mr. Grumpy asks.
For a second the man looks like he's about to object, but he doesn't. He defeatedly nods. Barbara and mom guide the couple to the Bachmeier's residence and the others continue the activities they so suddenly dropped a few minutes ago. Everyone seems to accept what just happened. Even Milan starts walking back. I'm still here with the kids surrounding me. Stunned I look at Oliver and Matthew, who have their backs turned against me. They're chatting, probably about what to do next. I don't really care what they're talking about, I'm just confused. Who made Oliver our leader? And why does no one seem to care?
I don't like this. I don't like it at all.
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