Campua watched the city of mud shacks before him then turned around, greeted by the beaming shimmer of the sea. Many, many kilometres away it merged into the horizon. He watched till the glimmer hurt his eyes. At least their was freedom in turning his gaze away, but the feeling of sea sickness was still there. And thirst.
Despite his city existing on the sea, drinking water was rationed. Behind him towered the huge factory that filtered and distilled the sea water, but it was a lengthy process. He was sometimes shocked at how much sea water was syphoned in, gallons and gallons of it, and how little was distributed for drinking water.
Ajwan, one of the elders, glanced at the horizon too. Sat on a wooden crate, his gaze was steady, as if he become used to not expecting too much. "The oracle predicted this," he said, still gazing.
"The oracle..?" Campua glanced, noticing a scar on old man's arm, snaking through leathery skin.
" You have not seen it ?"
Campua nodded, embarrassed. He was too young to learn the scriptures but rather than correct the elder on this he preferred to be embarrassed.
The old man frowned, a little disapprovingly. "No one believed it at first but it spoke of a time where there would be droughts, then no more land. People would have to survive in mud shacks on floating rafts."
Campua listened intensely, trying not to pay attention to the perpetual nausea he felt. Some part of his brain was always aware they were swaying despite the "city" being anchored. Was there nowhere where it was still ?
"What about islands ?" he ventured to ask, a little too hopefully, wondering if the elder would answer it. Campua had heard of such things from his school teacher despite the fact his teacher never actually promised they existed. Apparently they ranged from being only a few feet wide to the size of a city. They were solid, fixed....and not swaying. The teacher even mentioned some of these emitted spring water that did not require much filtering. Not like distilled sea water that still tasted abrasive.
"Not much hope. The water swallowed the islands. " the old man coughed, not breaking his trance from the horizon. A seagull dove in and settled at his feet, flapping its wings before inspecting something it thought was food. The same gull that, had scratched Campua the week before when he was swimming. Campua could tell that because of the yellow-ish tint at the mane and its tendency to hop lope sided. Most people would have shooed it away but the elder tolerated it. Dumbly, it glanced at both of them.
"I see," he said, absorbing what the elder had told him. Only but his mind was not ready to give in. Perhaps he thought, if the city wasn't anchored, sooner or later they would discover land. Only something in the old man' s demeanour told him this was impossible: the city had to be anchored to keep it from being completely destroyed by storms. He was a bout to say something then pursed his lips, glancing at the seagull, wondering if it realised land was no more. Or cared.
There was that dull headache again. He couldn’t tell whether it was from sea sickness due to the constant swaying or thirst. Somehow, they both complimented each other.
Nonchalantly, he took a solitary bite of dried seaweed. It sometimes helped subdue the thirst. He had water to drink from his ration but wanted to keep enough of it for later.
Breathing in the salt tinged air, he took his leave to the market. It was the only section in the city where there was the least amount of swaying perhaps because of the weight of local produce in huge twine woven baskets. Campua watched the hustle and bustle, the way people acted: as if nothing was wrong. If you could excuse the to and fro movement of the landscape, you would never guess their lodgings existed on sea. His eyes widened when he spotted his teacher sat at a coconut stall.
School was only twice a week: way too little for Campua's enquiring mind. He had to ask something. Something he had to have the answer to now rather than next week. Still, he debated if to wait or risk being a nuisance now. The teacher, a wiry, introverted man wearing spectacles held together by string, glanced once before returning to his book.
" School is next week," he said mechanically, flicking over a sheet.
"I have to know something."
"You mean it can't wait ?" The teacher shut his book, watching him with an analytical frown.
Campua became hesitant, stuttering at first. "Erm, y- y-you know you said w-wood became scarce since the water took over..."
There was a nod.
"If I w-w-were to find wood and make a raft to explore the sea, would I find land ?"
The Teacher scratched his greying hair, as if he'd been asked this before. "No. Land does not exist. If it had, by now we would have found it"
"Not anywhere ?"
"No where. "
Campua fought his hesitancy. "But it must - " his voice trailed off badly wanting the teacher to say yes or at least indicate the possibility.
The teacher's glance was still analytical. " Next week in school you'll find the reason for it. "
Campua paced away, debating if the only option was not to mind the sea sickness so much. Thirst, he could contend with. Still, what of everyone was mistaken? Generations before him had lived on the sea, and generations before that. Yet the city had always been anchored: stuck, glued to the landscape. No one had wondered beyond where the fishermen went. How could they know , really know ?
The first breath of dusk was in the air. In the midst of the stall holders beginning to close up the shutters, he glanced again at the
Horizon wondering what secrets it stowed away. It had become a ritual to see in the dusk. Stood with the others and feeling a kinship with them, he watched how the colours changed before a haze descended and dusk took hold. The sea air now had a tinge to it. A chill.
Perhaps, he thought, there is nothing beyond the horizon except more ocean and cities scattered on top of them. Perhaps it was foollish thinking about land. Was it thirst or sea sickness making him entertain the impossible ? It was no sin to dream he consoled himself and was about to turn around when the same seagull swooped in sctraching him exactly where it had before. Whether it had been in a flurry of confusion or not, Capua felt a sharp scratch at the side of his neck.
There was a commotion with one of the stall holders holding the gull forcibly by pinning its wings at the sides. " Boy, are you okay ?" he asked giving the gull an angry glance. Trapped in the man's grip, it's bony feet twitched in defiance.
Campua nodded. Dis-orientated. "It's a rogue pigeon," another man said thickly. " Always breaking away from it's brood."
"Wait," Campua gained his composure despite the scratch now trickling blood. The stall holder still had it gripped and as Campua went up close, the creature glanced at him without familiarity, as if it had no knowledge of the crime it had committed.
Campua noticed an oddity. The gull had one leg crooked. He inspected it whilst the men shot him odd glances.
"Boy, what is wrong with you ! " the stall holder glared, waiting for campua to decide it's fate.
Campua did not reply but leaned in to retreive something stuck in the gull's foot. A piece of wood, slight but angular enough to lodge itself in and obstruct flight.
“Please free it, " he said, gripping the stone and only then realizing the significance of it. Perhaps it was only foolish hope, but he knew enough to know the stone could only have come from land. Land that existed somewhere where the gull had been. Somewhere.