River ferry

Water backed up above the second weir. The river a sheet of motion: fat and slow, its surface brown and shiny.

In your mind’s eye this: an overloaded river ferry. A monstrous diesel-spewing rust-bucket crammed to the gunwhales. Thousands of passengers sleeping living cooking partying defecating singing fighting lovemaking on and beneath the decks.

This vessel has been heading downstream for longer than anyone knows. Onboard stories tell of earlier days when there were fewer passengers and a flotilla of small craft. Before that, a handful of people in several canoes or even one alone. The perils of river life were different, the bankside bounty easier to come by. But always the same river, the same current, flowing on into the future.

However it came about, the travellers had multiplied and their means of transport merged. And now everyone was in the same boat, a heaving maelstrom of passion, tedium, horror, joy. Lives beginning and ending. People trading, negotiating, jostling for advantage. Strangers helping out, friends at each other’s throats. Cliques forming and breaking up. Interest groups, clans and alliances. Raiding parties, parleys and peace treaties. Various hierarchies and systems of rules in various corners of the boat. Diverse narratives accounting for the thrills and disappointments and puzzling pointlessness of life onboard. Competing theories of reality taken up by swathes of deck-dwellers then abandoned or superseded. Pockets of prosperity, guilds of specialists, self-appointed leaders…

The engines are no match for the current, or maybe they are but it doesn’t seem to matter because the overwhelming consensus is that there’s only one direction worth heading: downstream. The same direction the boat’s always been heading. No-one can with any conviction say why. If there ever was a destination for this voyage it is long since forgotten.

The river is wide and its banks are now out of sight. It is not the limitlessly fecund source of fuel and provisions that it once seemed. And now an anxious handful of passengers who have studied the patterns of the river are warning about something ahead. They read swirlings on the sliding surface of the water. They note the haze of mist rising on the horizon, a distant rumble on the air. The current is perceptibly picking up pace.

The pilots sense it too. They are uncertain. Maybe it’s time to strike out for the shore. Which way? They try to bring the bows around but the ancient filthy unloved craft barely responds.

The rumbling is louder, closer. The current is speeding up. You feel the prickle of vapour droplets on your face.

On deck, the party goes on.

After summer rain

the trail a passage

of dripping green

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