[a short story, by Sha’Tara]
Benny sat by the river that flowed past the house, just beyond the back yard. He was tossing small twigs in the water, watching them float away and he was trying to remember so he’d know who he was.
His memories were all a jumble in his head and they usually frightened him. He thought he remembered a couple, a man and a woman who were very loud and made him scream. He remembered hurting and feeling guilty for that. Then the woman would hurt him more but he never understood why. He remembered being cold, dirty and hungry.
One day when he was alone in the yard and crying, hurting and hungry, a nice smelling woman came to him and picked him up. She took him away from the bad people and he never saw them again. Then an old man came to see him where he played with other children. The old man took him away from there to a house that had trees around it, green grass, and at the back of the house, water flowed. The old man would hold his hand and let him lean over the water. Leaves and twigs floated on the water and down below the rocks shimmered and danced, changing colours.
Benny liked it with the old man. He grew up and the old man said he was his maternal grandfather. He explained about his daughter, who was Benny’s mother, how she was addicted to drugs and drank and how she liked running around with bad men. One of those men was his father. He explained that it was that man who had hurt him and that he was in prison. Benny tried to understand all that when he got older but he liked the water better.
The old man, his grandfather whom he learned to call “granpa” taught him about the water. “It’s called a river” he’d say, “it is very pretty but it is also very dangerous. Even for a good swimmer, it’s a fast running stream and a person can easily drown in it, do you understand that?”
Benny had learned when only a baby to agree, no matter what was asked; to do what he was told or there would be consequences. “I understand granpa,” he dutifully replied.
But the water was more alive than anything else had ever been for Benny. It would sing to him in a language he could understand. It didn’t scare him like people did, or make terrible noises like street traffic. It never hurt him and it was even more gentle than granpa. If he felt thirsty, there was a log that dropped down into the water. He could carefully walk down to the water, then scoop the cold water into his mouth. It was so easy and simple, he’d laugh whenever he did this.
There were very large trees that grew by the river’s banks that bent their heavy, luxuriant tops over the water and swayed in the wind. During the warm seasons the leaves would come, then slowly at first, when still green, they would fall in the water and speed away. Benny liked looking up into the green canopies waiting for a leaf to get tired of hanging on to its branch, let go, and flutter down to the water to be swept away. Later, as the leaves changed from green to brown, yellow or even red and green, more and more of them would fall away from the branches and float down to the water to also be swept away. If a strong wind came up there would be cascades of leaves falling, covering the ground and the top of the water. That thrilled Benny as he stood under the falling leaves with outstretched hands.
Some days when he was really happy, Benny imagined himself a leaf floating down to the water and being swept away. He knew granpa meant well to warn him about the water but if the leaves weren’t afraid, why should he? He though of asking granpa, but that would be like disobeying and Benny remembered what that meant. He felt the deep fear of the pain he had been given when disobeying the man and woman who were his parents. If he questioned granpa, he knew he would be beaten and locked up and made to go cold and hungry. I mustn’t say anything, but if I float away then no one will hurt me.
A leaf fluttered down noisily, landing for a moment at Benny’s foot then sliding down into the water to spin away. Benny followed the leaf and the river took him away.