In a lone town of Shenon lived the orphans of Gaputa – an island shrouded in mist rolling in across the clear waters of the ocean that caress the blackened sand of the shore. Along the length of the beach one might catch the glimpse of a flickering light, a signal to all of the woes the island provides. But none see the twinkling from aboard their ships adrift in the calm waters, none see the smoke that rises from the middle of clouds as a volcanic ash, none know of the mysteries of the isle of Gaputa or of the orphans living there.
Taking a breath, the children huddle closer still, taking hold of the others upturned palms in companionship – the only kind left to them to endure. Small hands slip into bigger ones to find comfort, bigger ones keep a firm grip on the small ones to share their strength. Nameless faces dance in the reflections of their watery eyes. None remember the ones who once cared for them. They know not what they weep for but they know it is right and so they gather each night to sing a song that resonates through the earth beneath their bare feet.
On a night similar as any other, a boy no older than twelve wanders the shallows of the shore letting the warmth of the water coat his feet as it rushes up only to recede once more to whence it came with the boy’s last wish to do the same. Unlike his fellow orphans whose memories serve as hollow storybooks his own surfaced with the faintest feel of more – more to life, living, and their past.
The young boy steps gingerly, afraid to disturb the natural order of the ground he walks over, till one step is met with a hard resistance. Riddled with curiosity as any child of his age would be, the boy crouched low, running his long fingers over the sand uncertain. Perhaps his mind enjoyed its tricks. The orphans thought so but as his fingers pressed against the hard surface he thought of them to be wrong. He dug on hands and knees into the thick of the sand, scooping handful after handful to the side. Something must be there, something more. At the sight of a leathery corner he no longer cared for patience. His greedy fingers hastened their search in urgency.
Finally it sat in his lap, the mysterious familiar object bounded in leather. His fingers moved over the casing and along the edges till they chanced upon a small clasp. Swallowing back the boiling excitement, he slowed his shaking appendages to undo the mystery. Within the thick rectangular shaped object were what his ghost like memories told him to be books. It was in the pages of one of the books a singular picture rested, hidden, preserved, waiting – but for who, the boy wondered, studying it closely. Though the cheerful expressions appeared foreign at first sight, they soon warmed him, touching a piece of his soul that lay forgotten, unneeded. But as he gazed down at the smiling face of a aging man and laughing face of a equally aging woman, that dormant sliver stirred. As he slid his fingers over the face of a baby cradled in the woman’s arms, it quivered. And as his eyes roamed over the background noise of the photograph, it grew.
Heavy footfalls could be heard rushing towards the town. The older boys stopped in their work of hauling in branches to watch the young boy pass them. They dropped their bundles, following. The older girls paused in their work to mend the minor damages to clothing using thin string of leaves but they too dropped their stacks to pursue the boys. The young ones skidded to a stop in their play and helping of the others to watch the commotion. Not wanting to miss the fun, they too ran after the group.
All at once the boy stopped. He turned to the crowd behind him smiling a secret smile. The others shifted anxiously. What did you have? They cried in a mass of incoherent voices. No words left the boy’s smiling mouth. Instead he offered up the picture, his picture, which showed a small family, a day of rejoice, a time of a tree with colorful and shiny boxes around it. His memories gave no clue to what the boxes were or held but he knew it was good.
And so the orphans conferred in excited whispers about what to do about the picture. Make the tree, the boy suggested proudly. He volunteered to do the job. He knew what to do, where to look. He had the perfect place in mind. But not all wanted to see the coming of something new, something more. They watched on from the outskirts of the crowd in distaste, biding their time. One by one they set out to ruin the plan. They planted seeds of doubt. It couldn’t be done. It was a time of old that left them behind. Why go back to a time that didn’t want them? Their weaving of false truths and rumored horrors connected with such an act turned the orphans against the boy.
Cast out by the family he knew, the boy started walking inland. They shunned his idea. They discredited the happiness it gave him. They ripped the memory into pieces and set it ablaze for all to see. The boy walked on till he came to a clearing with a lonely tree overlooking the town of orphans. He stood next to the towering tree, gazing down as it did, his cheeks heating up and his eyes stinging. A gentle breeze blew, rustling the small branches enough to get his attention. For a moment he stared at the tree wondering if it was lonely too. Deciding maybe it was, the boy promised to visit it every day.
True to his word, the boy did and with each visit he brought with him an object to dress it. He brought berries strung together, balled up leaves, discarded wooden dolls, and discarded clothing. Anything he could find that reminded him of what he saw in the photograph he grabbed.
After two full moon phases, the lonely tree stood donned in shells, fruits, balled plants and materials, and stringed objects. The boy sat on the ground, his shadow half of that of the tree his gaze was fixated on. Though he was unmoving, the hope for more to rescue them all shined in his eyes, his plea silent as the long breaths he took. One day, one day more will come. One day, more will rescue them. One day, more will find them. Till then he’d wait. He’d search the shore for other treasures, he’d scan the horizon for signs of ships, he’d do all he could to escape the reality of Shenon and break free into the dream of more.
Gaputa (c) 2012 by Maura Daniels