The River’s Gift – #writephoto
Sanjay grumbled to himself as he followed the path of the stream. The water echoed him in solidarity, a soft grumble of water churning stones against bedrock. Each river spoke with its own voice, and this little stream’s voice was as annoyed as Sanjay.
Every day it was the same. Sanjay, go here. Sanjay, go there. Fix this sewer outlet. Mend that drain pipe. Shore up that bank. Run the same water quality test five hundred times because the folks in the lab accidentially contaminated one of the vials.
Sometimes he felt like quitting, but what else could he do? As Tom had so often reminded him, he had no artistic flair, which meant working in Climate was out. He wasn’t qualified enough to be a Teacher, and jobs in Family Planning came up once or twice in a lifetime. Literally.
So annoyed was he by his status as dogsbody, he almost missed the object obstructing the water flow at the edge of the Dome; the one sensors had picked up not half an hour ago. The one Sanjay had been sent to remove because everybody else in his department felt such menial tasks were beneath them.
Bending down at the outlet mesh, he pulled the object up. Cloth; it was a long measure of cloth, probably white once upon a time, now grey with dirt and wear. At least it wasn’t another drowned sheep. He hated it when sheep got stuck in the mesh. It took ages to get the smell of dead sheep out of his clothes.
“How did you get all the way out here?” he asked the cloth. This was probably why he was still single. Women didn’t want to plan families with men who talked to the things they pulled out of the river.
Well, screw them.
He turned back, cloth in hand, and almost jumped out of his skin at the sight of a woman standing not ten paces back along the stream bank. For a split second, he thought she was a ghost. Then he remembered that ghosts were just fairytales created by his over-imaginative ancestors.
“Jeez, lady! You frightened the life out of me. What are you doing here? Is this yours?” He held up the cloth he’d pulled from the river.
She ignored him. Ignored the sodden cloth in his arms. Her mouth was open in wonder or fright as she stood and stared at the sky—azure blue, thanks to Tom’s input—as if she’d never seen the sky before.
Was she sick? She sure didn’t look too good. Long brown hair was plastered damply across her pale shoulders, and the strangely elaborate sleeveless dress she wore had the same once-white-now-grey look about it as the material he’d pulled from the stream. Fresh scratches were scored into her arms, red and bleeding slightly, not unlike the marks on the sheep that got stuck in the mesh.
Despite her bedraggled appearance, she was the most beautiful woman Sanjay had ever seen in his life. Not because she was preened to perfection and made up with cosmetics like all the other women in the Dome, but because she wasn’t. She was a frightened, sodden mess, and she was raw and breathtaking.
Realisation hit him, a punch to the gut that almost winded him. “You’re from the Outside!” He leapt back, forgetting that he was at the end of the Dome. Its illusionary wall rippled when he hit it. For safety, he made a circular motion in front of his heart with his free hand. Dome protect me! “Who are you? How did you get in here?”
Finally, she realised he was there. She turned her face to him, her doe-brown eyes scanning over him, and he fell even more deeply in love. “Where am I?” she asked. Her voice was different, her words accented, but Sanjay didn’t know what that meant. All he knew was that humans like him were living on the Outside.
Were they friendly? Did they know about the Dome? Did they live in Domes of their own? Was the air still poisoned? Could the land grow crops? Was the real sky really as beautiful as Tom claimed?
Everything would change. Life as he knew it was over. There would be confusion. Chaos. People would want answers. Demand answers. The Committee would want to question the woman. They would keep her somewhere safe and quiet, for her safety, and for the safety of others. Sanjay would go back to his world of ignorance and menial chores until men and women with ‘power’ could make the decisions for him. And he might never see this beautiful woman ever again.
Or… or he could make a different choice. There was no need to take this woman back to the town. Parade her through the street to the Town Hall. Incite that confusion and chaos. Wait for others to provide the answers and make the decisions. He could hide her. Fetch her food. Speak with her. He could be the one with the answers. People would listen to him for a change.
“Sanjay, this is River Control, have you located the source of the blockage? Our sensors are showing the water running freely again. Can you confirm?”
The woman’s eyes widened at the voice over the radio. Hugging herself for warmth, poised against unseen dangers, she seemed on the verge of fleeing.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “You’re safe. Nothing is going to happen to you.” He tapped the transmission button on his radio. “Confirmed. Just another dead sheep. I’ll give it a burial out here and be back in a couple of hours.”
That done, he turned the radio off.
“Come with me,” he said, holding out his hand towards the woman.
She eyed his hand with clear suspicion. What kind of life had she led, to make her so doubtful? “Where?”
“A safe place. Somewhere that you can be warm, and rest. I can bring you some food, and then we can talk about… everything. I’m sure you have a lot of questions. Probably as many as me. Does that sound okay?”
With a nod, she took his hand. It was freezing cold despite the warmth of the afternoon. Had she truly crawled all the way up the water outlet to get in here? It was a miracle she had survived!
“My name is Sanjay,” he said, leading her along the path of the stream. “Do you have a name?”
“Yes.” The corners of her lips curled into a tiny smile. “My name is Eve.”
Today I wrote this story for Sue Vincent’s #writephoto prompt. It’s a sort-of continuation of last week’s short story, which introduces the characters of Sanjay and Tom. Both work equally well as stand-alone pieces. Please check out Sue’s blog for more storties and poems based on this prompt.