Chapter 4: An unexpected answer
Welcome to the forth and final chapter of the novella titled "Manu of the River", which tells a tale of a humble fisherman and his relationship with the Great River that covers his entire world, and surrounds his island home of Janua. Januian legend is filled with tales of adventurers who had achieved godlike powers after exploring of the unknowable expanse beyond their island home. However in modern times, the Great River has been a deliverer not of adventure, but of crippling fear. With its swift currents and turbulent storms, many have been swept away. None have returned.
Manu was on the open river racing toward Janua, his beloved home. The injustice inflicted upon him by the treacherous Great River had to be undone.
Only, the triumph he'd envisioned felt prideful and uncertain.
"Only a fool attempts to betray the will of the river. And Manu, you're no fool." The words tormented him.
During his two years of captivity in Fallum, Manu had freely confessed his plans for escape to all but one. Why not Sid?
Why not tell the person he revered most in this world? The man he held in equal esteem with his first mentor, the great Dalwean. Why did I never tell Sid!?
For exactly this reason.
To have the certainties he'd worked so hard to knit to be unraveled by the pull of a single casual truth. Have I been telling myself a lie?
Sid was the only person he'd ever met that had life figured out. A man who lived in a perpetual state of effortless joy despite the heavy burden of his vocation. Sid was a man that could see through any fiction. Including mine.
Manu recounted his story, the one where his life had gone wrong. Of course it's the river's fault.
Frantically stamping down the truth arising from the cellar, Manu accelerated his modest motorboat to full speed in defiance.
But, the river pushed back.
At first it spoke in whispers, forcefully rocking him with uncomfortable swells. But now, having been drowned out by willful blindness for too long, it was angrily hurling waves into the cabin
Despite the growing evidence of his folly, Manu clenched his jaw and pushed ahead.
With his future disintegrating around him, Manu needed to behold the land of his happy youth just one more time. Below comprehension, he had an insatiable itch to prove something to someone.
His grit had always paid off, and today was no exception. The familiar outcropping of Janua, his island, was materializing from beyond the misty horizon.
Rather than being lifted into his long awaited dream, the sight felt like a heavy memory that threatened to pull him into the darkest of depths. What's wrong Manu?! This is it! This is what you've been working for!
But, Manu was beginning to wonder who it was that had been craving this outcome. From this vantage point, it was clear it was not the man standing in thigh-high water. The man captaining a boat that was mere minutes away from capsizing. Manu, you are a fool!
His head shook violently in frustration. In a moment of clarity he could see that Janua was most certainly a place he did not belong.
That life's certainty applied even to him, even to his people. Life lives on.
Yes, the people of Janua may have struggled momentarily without him, but they most assuredly had adapted. They didn't need him. In fact, no body and no one did. Life everywhere is bigger me. Even here, the place where I mattered.
Then came the stabbing pain of the most obvious of realizations. One he'd had the strength to keep hidden from himself until now. The people of Janua are meant to be blissfully unaware of the wider world.
His self-indulgence would surely destroy their world. The existence of their glass house that had been standing since time began would be irrevocably shattered. Even worse, the collapse would send waves across the entire Great River. And for what exactly? What are you really hoping to achieve?
He was able to hide from all but two answers to the question he didn't want to ask. Even these were almost beyond his capability to bear.
The first, Manu was not where he wanted to be. The second, alighting in Janua would send him further astray from the place he was truly seeking. Wherever that is... What now?
He was left with two murderous options. Be the destroyer of worlds or the destroyer of self. Where does one look for answers when none are available?
Manu stopped the boat and began to cry.
Looking down through the tears, he truly noticed the waist high frigid the water that surrounded him for the first time. Gazing into his blurred reflection, he had a thought without origin. The river was only doing what it had to.
It would sink him and his boat if it had to. It would never allow him to get to Janua. The river does have a will... Of course it does!
This morning's sun, who was just beginning to say hello, was carrying a bag full of memories.
He was taken back to his ferocious trip downriver. Back to the intense calm he felt despite being convinced he was being brutally swept to his demise.
He was taken back to being shipwrecked in the middle of the river with no hope of survival. Back to the life-sustaining certainty he felt despite the impossible odds for rescue.
He was taken back to living a beautiful life in Fallum surrounded by comfort, companionship and opportunity. Back to the soul-crushing void of being lost.
Finally, he did what he should have long ago. He asked the river. What do you want from me?
He felt the response. "Welcome home Manu. Just wait and listen."