Sunday, May 19, 2019

time ...

     Time passed for both Riku and Cierra.

     For Cierra, it crept along slowly.  Each day dragged longer than the previous one.  Summers were especially hard.  She would spend two weeks searching the river where Riku had been lost, marking her progress on a map, alternating from one bank to the other each year.  Since nothing else had ever been found, clothing or bones, a part of Cierra held on to the hope that somehow he had survived.  Although if he had, she couldn't understand why he hadn't come home.

     At night, she always dreamed of searching for him, seeing him in the distance and struggling to reach him.  Some nights he was in the river, and she would be swimming after him, or running along the river bank calling his name.  Others, she would see him standing in a field and no matter how fast she ran towards him, she was never able to reach him even though he wasn't moving.

     One night she dreamt of him sitting beside a campfire with several other people.  She was across the fire from him, but frozen in place and unable to move or speak.  She could hear his voice, his laughter, and watched as the light from the fire reflected in his eyes when he smiled.  He looked strong, muscled as if he had been working out and lifting weights.  Cierra felt the heat from the fire and could smell the wood burning.  Somewhere out of view, she could smell meat cooking and her stomach growled as she salivated.

     When she woke, the dream stayed on her mind for more than a month.  It was the most realistic dream she had ever had in her life.  She continued to smell the wood smoke for several days afterward.  Cierra wasn't a believer in out-of-body experiences, but she thought to herself that if she had been, it probably would have been just like her dream.
    The opposite had been true for Riku.  Weeks passed as quickly as days, and months seemed to vanish.  When he realized he had been with the tribe for nine years he was astounded.  Had it really been that long?  He felt a sense of urgency in everything he did, and a pull to leave but he didn't know where he was supposed to go.  The tribe had welcomed him as if he had always been one of their own, but he sometimes felt like an outsider looking in.

     The blond haired woman haunted his dreams, as did the flowers.  Some nights he dreamed of being in the river, but he knew that was more of a memory than a random dream.  He wondered if the blond haired woman was also from the part of his memories that still eluded him.

     As time had sped by, bits and pieces of his memory would also reappear.  He knew now that he had a Ph.D. in botany, but couldn't remember what university he had attended.  He remembered working with trees but didn't know for whom.  Riku also remembered having family in Japan, and friends in Wisconsin, but couldn't remember names or exactly where.

     One October night as he sat around a bonfire talking and laughing with several of the elders, Riku had glanced up and through the flames, he thought he had seen the blond haired woman staring at him from the other side of the fire.  A log suddenly popped in the fire and sparks flew up.  When the flames dropped back, the vision of the woman was gone, but the image of her face stayed with him.  He knew her.  Intimately.  Of that he was certain.  He knew then that wherever she was, that was where he was supposed to be.

     The following spring he packed his belongings and said goodbye to the people who had rescued and adopted him.  He hitched a ride to Prince Rupert and from there he planned to make his way to the United States.  Stopping into the local post office to mail a postcard to Howard and Margaret letting them know he had made it there and would be leaving in two days for Vancouver, he had glanced up at a faded flyer thumbtacked to the bulletin and stopped in his tracks.

     He was staring at his own face.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

healing ... not

      It was two months before Riku could walk with the assistance of a cane that one of the tribal members had carved for him.  While his legs were recovering, James helped him to relearn English and a little bit of the Da'naxda'xw and Awaetlala tribes' history.  By the time he had been with the tribe for six months, he was able to walk with only a slight limp.  His body had healed, and bits and pieces of his memory had returned, but his spirit and the memory of Cierra and his name had not.

     The village was self-sufficient, and apart from students occasionally traveling to a larger city for a school function, or an elder going to speak to politicians on the tribe's behalf, there were very few members of the tribe that Riku interacted with that actually left small Harbledown Island.

     Over the next five years, Riku stayed with the tribe and began helping their gardeners increase their harvest with a knowledge of plants that he could not explain.  His normally slim frame that had lost weight while he was unconscious, filled out with muscles that were seldom used when he had been sitting behind a microscope and desk.  Now, he chopped wood, dug ditches for irrigation as he increased the size of the tribe's farms, and worked the land.

     During the summer months when he wasn't planting or harvesting, he hiked up-river to the point where he had been found, the memory of a woman with blond hair and flowers tugging at him.
     Cierra had hiked almost non-stop for almost three days to get back to the trailhead.  As much as possible, she had followed the river, hoping and praying that she would find Riku along the way.  When she got to their rental vehicle, she drove immediately to the first town she found.

     A search was started, but at that point in time, there was little hope from the authorities of finding Riku alive.  They knew that someone would begin to suffer from the effects of hypothermia if they were in the water for too long, and while Cierra clung to the belief he was still alive, the search and rescue quickly became a search and recovery.

     Riku's family flew in from Japan to help with the search, as well as all their friends and Cierra's family.  Even his beloved Sōsobo made the trip and while she was too frail to hike the trails, she cooked and prayed for all of the searchers and Riku.

     Finally, after two weeks the official search was called off.  Cierra was inconsolable and refused to believe he was really gone.  She took a leave of absence from work and spent almost three months searching for Riku until the first snow fell.  At every village, town, and city she came to, she passed out flyers with his picture on them and asked the local law enforcement officials to share with their officers and post on all missing person boards.

     Back in Japan,  Sōsobo continued to pray but withdrew into herself.  Within a year she had died, her heart broken by the loss of her grandson.

     Two years after Riku disappeared into the river, a hunter found his backpack wedged in some rocks at the river's edge.  Finding an address on the inside flap of the pack, the hunter boxed it up and shipped it off.  When it arrived at Cierra's door a month later, she finally gave in and allowed herself to grieve over the possibility that he may not have survived.  She wrote to the hunter and asked if he had kept the coordinates of where he found the pack, and he had.  That summer, Cierra and Riku's childhood friends hiked to the area where the pack was found and began a new search, this time looking for any remains they could bury to have closure. 

     While she didn't speak of it to anyone, Cierra still held on to the belief that Riku was alive.