To the Delta

The sound of rain usually reminded Senin of home. The marsh where he had been born was muddy, soggy, green, cramped, and above all wet. Not all of his memories of home were good, but they all touched a deep and undefended part of his heart.

Not so the rain today. This rain was heavy and, since it followed so many previous days of rain, felt like the weeping of an inconsolably disappointed god. Senin sighed as he tried to find the strength to get out of his bed.

As he got dressed, he wondered about his recent bad luck. He had had no work in the last three villages he visited. Maybe people just wanted to stay in and be alone because of the cold rain. But he felt like he had gotten icy looks from strangers. He wondered whether there were bad rumors afoot about him, or whether he was simply cursed.

He went outside, and tried to think of how he could make today better than yesterday. In the end he decided to do what he did every day: walk the streets of the village and try to find customers. He banged a pot to get people's attention, but soon realized that the rain was drowning out even the noise of his pot. He started to shout, as he had been accustomed to do years before when had just started to practice his trade. "Tin gold copper!" he said, struggling to put his heart into any of it. He walked slowly and felt like every step sank him deeper into the mud.

No work to be had here, he decided. Maybe another tinker had come through recently. He decided to move on, pointing himself away from the village and towards the next one in his circuit.

"Ho," a voice said behind him. A man on a horse brushed by. Senin hadn't even noticed him. The man looked back at Senin, and turned his horse around, doubling back.

"Young man," he said. His accent sounded like he was from the capital, and he looked well to do. "Do you need one of these?" He pulled out a pair of nippers.

Senin thought of his own nippers. They were old and rusty, and didn't cut or bend as well as they used to. Surely they would need to be replaced soon.

"I do," Senin said, smiling a little. Getting a better tool for his collection could be a stroke of good luck, he thought. "How about these for them?" He held out some copper pieces.

The man nodded. "Good enough," he said, taking the copper pieces. He put them and the nippers into his pocket, then turned his horse around and galloped off.

"I - " Senin started. He couldn't believe that a rich man from the capital would bother to rob a poor tinker. The rain felt even more oppressive, and he could felt it starting to soak into his underclothes and chill his skin. He shivered as he thought of the wickedness in men's hearts.

He had only made it a few more steps when he stepped on a rock that he hadn't seen. His ankle twisted as he tried to get his balance. He limped a few more feet before crouching down and then sitting by the road, in the mud.

The cold damp and the robber and the dearth of customers and the bad ankle were all too much for one morning. Senin felt himself start to sob silently. He pulled his hood over his head. Suddenly he remembered his youth, and the times when the other kids in the village didn't want to play with him, and when there wasn't enough work for him to join with his father's business, and when his parents had been disappointed in him and he had thought the only chance for him to succeed would be to leave. And now, he had left, and he was cold and injured and still ignored and nearly penniless. He wept, wishing he could return home and make his parents proud.

He saw a boy walking over the crest of a nearby hill, coming towards him. Who was this boy, and why was he walking off the main path? The boy approached him, apparently curious.

"Where are you going?" Senin asked the boy, not sure what else to say.

"Home," the boy said simply.

"Where is your home?"

"Over there," the boy said, pointing behind Senin. "On the delta."

Senin looked behind him. He had never visited the delta. He had heard that the villages there were backwards and poor anyway. He wondered what it was like there.

"I brought leaves from the forest here," the boy said, apparently interested in being friends. "For medicine."

Senin nodded. "I hope you have safe travels," he said, "and good success with your medicine."

The boy gestured to him. "Come and see the delta," he said.

Senin was surprised at the invitation, and the unearned trust that the boy placed in him. "My ankle is bad," he said. "And I cannot pay you much," he added.

The boy smiled. "My boat is this way," he said, walking on and gesturing for Senin to follow.

The boy's boat was a little sampan canoe that he had hidden under some palm leaves by the banks of the river. Senin didn't feel entirely getting in, but he knew that he had to change something about his life or at least his circuit to get himself out of his recent run of bad luck.

Senin felt better as soon as he stepped into the boat. The flowing water around him felt like a cradle. He even felt warmer on the river than he had on the road. He tried to imagine what he would find on the delta.

He felt the rain fall lightly on his head. There were only little drops falling now, with occasional heavier drips from the bank's trees whose farthest branches jutted above him, covering him and the river as if he were in a secret watery tunnel. The river flowed strong and high, muddy with riches for the crops, pushing him forward, into... what?

He looked ahead and saw the widening river, starting to flood onto the banks. The evening sun peeked through leaves as they swayed, letting golden glints of light fall on the water and reflect back in fleeting flashes. The green leaves and the brown water and the golden sun and the smell of new rain and the gentle wind and the sound of the oar beating against the boat and clapping against the water gave Senin the feeling that he was returning home. He didn't know how he would find work again or fix his ankle or get his coins back. But he knew in that moment that the world was good and there was a god who cared for him and a home he could find. He smiled and looked forward.