Rain trickled through the thatched roof. Mingh ran to get a bucket and kept it under the exact position from where the water was falling. Rain was a common feature in this part of the coastal Vietnam. But it was not something which would pour down and then be greeted by sunshine. The rain gods seemed to perpetually hang over the land. Pouring all the time. Sometimes it would come in the form of light drizzles and sometimes it would come lashing, bringing down the heavens.
Mingh, Dungh and Giang were brothers, earning their living by fishing and selling bamboos. When lucky, they also got oysters and pearls which fetched them some handsome dongs.
They had lost their parents sometime ago in a road accident. The rains were to be blamed for their tragic end. The incessant rains had made the muddy roads slushy and slippery. They were going to a local market in the town nearby, to sell the fishes on their bike which skided on the deadly bend of the mountain, making them fall deep into the river gushing below. They were never to be seen again.
The brothers had a sleepless night that day. They wondered what took their parents so long to come back from the market. Generally, they would finish their errand by afternoon and reach home towards the sunset. That day, Dungh made some pho for his brothers for supper. He made them sleep at night as well, consoling them that the rains must have caused some landslide and blocked the only way to the town. They should be back by next day.
However, they never returned. But the brothers learned to live and survive on their own.
“Giang, hop on fast. We need to hurry up before the winds change direction.” Dungh instructed the seven year old, as he jumped into the canoe. Giang carefully tiptoed into the canoe, balancing with his hands.
“Keep the tiffin intact in the corner or else it might just get washed away when the river becomes rough,” said Mingh. Once Dungh ensured that everyone was settled he picked up the oars and started rowing. The sound of the water hitting the oars continued to play epically.
“Mingh,” Dungh said breaking the silence. “Today we have some new plans. Giang and you will go for fishing and I will go to the island to cut bamboos. I got news that a factory is being set up. They require bamboos for the initial construction. I think we can get some good deal out of it.”
“But Dungh, the island is very dangerous! I remember father telling us about the ferocious creatures living there! The slimy snakes, the leaping leopards and the creepy crocodiles. Don’t you remember father had always warned us not to go there.” The younger one said with concern.
“Giang, my little brother! Do you still believe in those stories. Boy, father made up those stories for you, to make you sleep at night. There was no iota of truth in it. Of-course the animals are there but the slimy snake and the creepy crocodile …ha ha! Grow up baby brother!” Dungh smiled at Giang’s concern. Giang looked befuddled. He loved to believe in all that father told him, even though if it was in stories.
The boys were making their way to a place which father had shown them. Today was an ideal day for fishing. The sky had no grey clouds from a couple of days and the winds direction favoured them too. So literally they had nothing to fear. They rowed to a small patch, where the river formed a little backwater before merging into the sea. The backwaters were absolutely silent and still, but the way to go there was rough and risky.
Father was known for his perilous nature amidst peers. When the world would go towards the left, he would for sure take the right direction. Take risk, if you win you’ll be happy, if you’ll lose, you’ll be wise. He would often quote this. He was one of those species of humans who could go to any length to explore life and extract maximum experience out of it. It was because of his adventurous nature, that one day he discovered what treasure lay in the river bed of the backwaters. However, to go there was a big risk, and his friends refused to join in this escapade. So, he took his elder son, as he felt that Dungh shared the same fondness for adventure as he did.
The canoe had now reached the middle of the river. Water flowed there with tumultuous speed. There was a small slope there from where the water flowed with an innate force. Dungh tugged the oars inside the canoe safely and the boys held the canoe tightly, bending down. Here the canoe would move along with the force of the water, putting the life of the boys at risk. But the boys had faced this many times and were quite use to this threatening situation. They knew it was a small challenge to go to the backwaters to catch fishes and oysters. And this would bring them a lot of money on which they could thrive for a couple of months.
As soon as the canoe passed through the bend, the boys took a sigh of relief. Giang, the youngest one always had his heart trembling at this point. He would literally lie on the floor of the boat with his eyes squeezed. Opening them only when he could discern silence after the roaring waters.
Gradually when the canoe resumed its gentle movement, Giang slowly raised his head to see if they were with the safe current or not. He was relieved to see the boat making its way through the serene waters now. This stretch would now continue till the backwater where they would easily do some fishing and diving. The only thing they dreaded was facing the bend again while going back!
As the canoe entered the shadows of the dense tree, the boys sat alert. The patch was surrounded by trees and bamboos, growing from aeon ages. Trees around the backwaters were lined with slimy mosses. The bamboos seemed to touch the clouds. The plantation was so dense there that it would rarely allow sunrays to penetrate. An eerie silence hanged there which was either broken by animals in the woods or some creature moving in the still water.
The boys looked for a safe corner to anchor the canoe. Dungh took out the fishing net which he had folded meticulously under his seat and passed it to Mingh. Gesticulating he told Mingh and Giang that they should continue fishing while he would go to the woods to cut bamboos.
Giang came forward showing his concern again. He wanted to accompany Dungh. But Dungh refused to take him along. Picking up the axe and ropes, he hopped out of the canoe. He took brisk steps towards the woods, gradually disappearing into the groove.
Mingh and Giang were not comfortable with Dungh going alone to the jungle to cut bamboos. Rowing the canoe and then cutting the bamboos would make his palms sore. Mother would have never approved of this. They looked at each other trying to draw strength. How they wished they had the same adventurous spirit which Dungh got as a legacy from father.
Mingh slowly waded in the still water and placed the net gently. He did not want to disturb the fishes by making noise. They waited in silence. There was absolute stillness in the air. Not even a single leave moved. Mingh and Giang sat patiently watching the waters rippling at interval as some twigs fell on its surface.
Giang also kept an eye in the direction of the woods where Dungh had gone. Every time he turned there, he hoped to see his elder brother coming back. But all he could see was the grooves merging into darkness. He kept praying to God to keep his elder brother away from ‘slimy snakes’ and ‘leaping leopards.’ He twitched his ears as well to hear the noise of the bamboos being cut, but all he could hear was some cricket stridulating and frogs croaking.
Mingh noticed that the fishing net was gradually becoming heavier. Gesturing Giang for help, he moved forward to pull it out. Pulling out the net was one of the most difficult part of fishing. However, the duo applied their maximum strength and out came the fishes.
They had managed to get a good catch again, like always. There were fishes of different shapes and size, wriggling their tales and gasping for breath. The boys were happy with the catch. Dungh will definitely feel proud of them, they thought as they sorted out the fishes and kept them safely.
They sat waiting for Dungh. It was quite some time now that he had gone.
“Giang, little brother, how about diving into the water meanwhile. Let us check out for some pearls. Dungh will be surprised if we find some.” Mingh suggested.
“Big brother, I will take care of the fishes, in case they go back into the river or some animals eats them. I shall wait here.” Giang said innocently. He hated the idea of going inside the cold water and getting wet. Mingh read his mind and smiled at his brother. Pulling out his shirt he got ready to take a plunge into the water.
“Brother… don’t take too long there. You know I feel scared when I am alone.”
“Don’t worry bro… fishies are here to give you company.” Ming smiled and jumped into the water.
Giang saw the water breaking into ripples as Mingh disappeared. He kept his gaze fixed on the spot from where Mingh entered the water. Not even a minute had passed and his heart started beating with a thought. What if the creepy crocodile eats Mingh! This thought started haunting him. He crossed his fingers and started chanting prayers in his mind.
Giang’s heart skipped a beat. He turned around to see what made that sound. A dry stem had broken and fallen into the river, causing some movement in the water.
Giang looked in astonishment. The still waters were now slowly developing small waves and the trees which had been standing like stone moved making whistling sounds. The boughs of the trees also started shaking and the bamboos were swaying. The clouds rumbled at distance.
The winds were changing direction. And this direction did not favour them.
“Mingggggh… Come fast brother. Storm is going to start.” He screamed on top his lungs bending over the river.
“Dunggggh… Big brother, can you hear me. Come back fast! The winds have changed the direction.” He screamed turning towards the forest.
“Minggggh…. Dunggggh. Hurry up brothers.” Giang kept screaming on top of his voice.
A drop of water fell on his head as he looked up. All he could see was the thick covering of the trees. Probably the storm had already started and the trees were giving him shelter.
He wanted to warn both his brothers before it was too late. He could not understand what to do. Perplexed he sprinted towards the jungle to look for Dungh, screaming all the while for him. He did not want his brother to get stuck in the storm.
“Dungh… big brother… can you hear me” He yelled. But all he could hear was the rustling of the leaves and the crickets and frogs and the rain drops hitting the trees. The rain had now started pouring heavily making him wet thoroughly. How he hated it! But he had to look for his brother.
Maybe I should return and go back to the river. Dungh will come there he had said. What if Mingh was out of water. He would be looking for me. Giang thought felling lost.
He turned around to go back. But he got confused. All the directions seemed to be the same. The water had started filling up the ground and his footmarks had vanished. He could not track his way back. He was actually lost, surrounded by trees which looked alike.
“Dungggggh…. Mingh…. Can you hear me?” He screamed on top of his lungs standing in the middle of the woods. Tears rolled down from his eyes but got washed away with the rainwater.
The level of the water slowly started rising and reached till his knees. It was said in the village that the rains would fill in so much water that the ground would literally disappear in the woods and one would need a canoe to surf through it.
Why did I leave the canoe? I should have stayed near the river. Even if the water level rose I would have been safe in the canoe. Giang stood reflecting helplessly.
“Dunggggh… Minggggh… Can you hear me.” He broke down this time. His voice was hardly audible, getting lost in the pitter patter of the rainfall.
Helplessly he stood there, thinking of his mother. How he would stay with her at home when father took his elder brothers for fishing. He missed her and wanted her to be around him. The water was filling up slowly. He wondered if Mingh was out of the river. The thought of creepy crocodiles again bothered him.
He was now worried for his own safety as well. He looked around wondering if any snake was hanging from the trees. With fear and trepidation he took some steps towards a tree which seemed to be the largest there. Probably he would take refuge in its boughs if the water level rises more.
As he moved there he heard a slithering sound. Snake! His heart leapt even with the thought of it. He stood still. Making sound now meant inviting dangerous animals. For often he had heard from father that animals sense more from vibrations. Standing still in the water under the incessant rainfall, he continued crying. Though he tried his best not to cry but he just could not control his tears.
What a fool I have been. I should have not left the canoe. The more he thought of it, the more the tears rolled out.
The sound became louder. It was getting closer and closer. He tried his best to see if any animals were around, but he could not see any. He could now feel his heart pulsating. Fear grasped him. Any time the deadly creature might attack him. What if the crocodiles come, like in the story which father had told! Yes, he had kept a tree as a rescue haven in that case and climb like the woodcutter did, but what if it was a snake which can climb trees! Would it be a deadly cobra or an anaconda. He wondered.
Giang stood shivering. However hard he tried, he could not control himself from crying and ultimately started howling again calling out for his brothers all the while.
The animal seemed to come closer, as he could hear the water splashing too. Hurriedly he took big steps in the water to climb the tree. As soon as he climbed, he clenched onto a bark and closed his eyes tightly. The sound was getting louder. Drenched completely, he tried to maintain his balance on the bark. He closed his eyes tightly and started praying again. This time he prayed more for his brothers safety than for his own. Keeping his eyes closed he thought of his father.
“Giang.” He heard him say. It sounded so real that he opened his eyes. And was surprised to see Dungh standing on a raft made of bamboos. It was quite magical for him to see Dungh but nevertheless he was quite relieved to have his brother around.
“Big brother… thank God you are safe!” Giang exclaimed with a twinkle in his eyes.
“What are you doing here Giang? And where is Mingh?”
“Big brother, I came here to look for you. To warn you about the storm. But I got lost.” He sniffled.
“Let us get back to the river. Hurry up and come down.”
“Big brother, how will we go? Do you remember the way?”
“Giang, have you forgotten the story which father told! When the leaping leopard attacked the wood-cutter he made marks on the trees… see I have marked the trees.” He said pointing towards one of the tree.
Giang hugged his brother in relief as he hopped on the makeshift raft. Slowly they made their way towards the river which had now swelled. Mingh was there sitting in the canoe, throwing out the water that had filled in due to the rain.
“Giang where did you go? I was worried for you? Dungh, big brother, I had found some oysters but lost it as the canoe had turned upside down due to the storm. We also lost our fishes. The river had become very rough. I am so sorry brother.” He sighed.
“That’s ok brothers! All that matters in the end is that we are together. Pearls and fishes are not as precious as you….” Saying this Dungh hugged his brothers as tears flowed through their eyes. The storm had made their bonding even more stronger.
There was a loud thunder in the sky and the clouds rumbled again. The brothers looked for a shelter. Some more adventure awaited them, it seemed…
Pho – a type of soup
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