Limitations

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
March/April 2002

By Tran Nguyen, Illustrated by Natalie Chin
PROLOGUE

 

I am a guardian angel. I am retelling one of my missions to earth long ago. It was my first mission; I was proud of my abilities. And to go to a foreign country made me excited.

*          *          *

The radiant noon sun shone brightly as the cool breeze ruffled the palm branches near the Mekong in Cambodia. It flowed from China and went past several countries and ended in the South China Sea near Vietnam. The Mekong River flowed smoothly, running its course to the ocean; the water glittered like a jewel in the light. A small fishing boat village was huddled together on one side of the four-mile-wide river, the small brown boat homes bobbing up and down. Children swam playfully in the water without a care. I noticed especially one small boat house where a family of four lived. Their living quarters were small and cramped. Like all of the other boat houses, they all looked alike. The boats were a much larger version of a wooden rowboat with a platform overtop and a tent-shaped roof. But this one I noticed was older and needed more repair; there was a thin rope holding the boat from drifting away. The mother and the father and their two sons that lived there were eating their meager dinner. The children were six and four years of age; their rag-like clothes hung loosely on them. Their parents’ faces were tired but happy.

Limitations family on a boat

The catching always reached an all-time low in the flooding seasons

*          *          *

Gloomy clouds filled the sky and a cold breeze ripped through the air. The family was in a small paddleboat heading for the schoolhouse. The parents were dropping off their children at the school and then would go to work after. The paddle dipped slowly in the water getting closer to the school.

*          *          *

The mother and father paddled to the middle part of the river where fish were abundant. The rainy season had started last month and steadily the water had begun to get stronger, and the fish had started to get fewer and fewer. The water rushed quickly past the anchored boat; the gray clouds rumbled threateningly. Both of them cast out their fishnets, hoping with luck this time to catch many fish. A few hours later, they pulled the fishnets out of the water and checked for fish. They had once again caught very little fish. The catching always reached an all-time low in the flooding seasons and the family always went poor and hungry. Sad and depressed, the parents paddled silently home.

*          *          *

Torrents of rain poured down the sky with the strength of bullets. The two boys shivered with a high fever and coughed as a chilly wind swept through the house. They were too sick to go to school. The parents were reluctant to go to work, but they knew they must go in order to make money for medicine and warm jackets for their sons. They crept outside and onto their small paddleboat, leaving their two sick children.

*          *          *

The current rushed stronger and stronger than before and swept away debris. The cloud-filled sky was dark and menacing and rain poured down. The youngest son woke up with a bad feeling welling up in his chest. Where was Mom? Where was Dad? His brother woke up shortly, sweating with fever, coughing and cold. He shivered and took an old shaggy blanket and covered both of them with it to keep them warm.

*          *          *

They sat in their paddleboat waiting and waiting. They had pulled up the nets hour after hour and had caught no fish. The rain battered their bodies. They knew that there would be no fish because of the water that was mounting higher and more powerful. As they sat there, a log floated by. Then the father thought, Why not collect the firewood that had been swept away in last night’s storm to sell and get money instead? They started paddling to collect logs of wood.

Two hours later their boat was laden with wood to sell and the husband and wife were ecstatic to have found so much wood. It was extra hard now to paddle with such weight. The rain was still beating down relentlessly and the current was pushing in the opposite direction when they were paddling. They were in the middle of the four-mile-wide river and it would take lots of effort and strength to get to shore. Tired and hungry they kept on paddling but the current was too strong. Tides of water flooded into the boat. They both started bailing out the water but when they finished another bigger tide flooded the boat again. The mother bailed while the father paddled with lots of effort to reach the distant shore. A big monstrous wave all of a sudden hit the boat. The boat spun, then flipped over, taking the parents with it.

*          *          *

Meanwhile on the boat house the weather was the same. Their home rocked violently back and forth. Both of the boys were ill, worried and, most of all, scared. Without warning, the boat lurched sideways. The rope that had held it had snapped! The youngest son ran out of the safety of the roof and tried to retie it with a stronger rope; the boat would stray away if he didn’t do it quickly. Another violent lurch flung the child’s body into the mighty waters.

“Help!” he screamed, coughing and gasping, as his lungs filled with water.

His body was too frail to swim in the raging current. His brother took a rope and threw it to him. I flew down swiftly and tried to save him. It was not his time to go, not his time to die. I held up his weak body as his brother pulled himself slowly toward the boat, when another wave came and broke his grip on the rope. I needed to retie the boat, but I also needed to help the mother and father, but I couldn’t leave.

*          *          *

The parents floated up onto the surface of the water. They watched their hours of effort and work rapidly pushed away from them as they swam with all their might to reach the faraway shore. The mother was shivering with cold and strived to keep on swimming.

“Do you need me to help you?” her husband asked.

“No,” she said, in an exhausted tone.

It seemed like they would never reach home.

*          *          *

Fifteen minutes later he knew she couldn’t swim anymore; her strength was drained and she was cold. Her husband had insisted that she go on his back to let him do the swimming. She wrapped her arms around his neck. His strokes were now getting slower and he was getting weary. Both of them would never make it home like this.

She knew what she had to do.

“Remember to take care of our sons,” she said, trying to sound happy, “and to buy them medicine and jackets.”

Tears streamed down her face, mingling with the rain.

“Don’t give up! I’ll help you get to shore,” uttered her husband encouragingly.

She had no more strength; her husband did.

“You must live. I’ll always be with you,” she gently whispered, and, weeping, she slowly let go and slowly sank into the water.

“N000!” I cried. I knew what had happened. I had managed to get their son safely back on the boat. I had saved one life, yet lost another.

*          *          *

That night when the father had arrived home, he sat down with his children in silence. His face was impassive, as if still shocked. The two boys ran eagerly up to him.

“Where’s Mommy, Dad?” the youngest said.

“She’s with us from now on, anytime, anywhere.” He tried to explain what had happened and then collapsed and cried. The boys knew now that there would be no one to kiss them goodnight. They knew that she was gone. The husband remembered what she had said, “You must live.”

He carried his two sons, sat near the edge of the boat house and listened to the rushing water. The sky was dark and so was the river water, like their future.

*          *          *

EPILOGUE

When I recall this story, it makes me think about my abilities and it reminds me that even I, an angel, have limitations like everybody else.

Limitations Tran Nguyen

Tran Nguyen, 13
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Limitations Natalie Chin

Natalie Chin, 9
Bellevue, Washington

Related Posts

My fingers crept along, slowly following the pattern–wrapping the yarn, twisting, poking, prodding....

First Place ($50):  “The Pendulum” by Sabrina Guo, 12 Second Place ($25): “The Sycamore Tree” by...

I feel the thrill of the moment as my coconut wobbles, surprisingly fast, past me Illustrator Ester...

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: