Pieces of metal attached to long sticks, as improvised axes and spears. It almost looks medieval. With a nagging gut feeling I look at the pile of weapons. I hate violence. I hate feeling insecure. Elisah had been very clear, we weren't supposed to leave the camp alone, and if you left with someone else, at least one of you had to carry a weapon. And you always had to ask for permission if you wanted to leave. I think it's a little over the top, but then again, I haven't seen the native people of the island yet. I don't know how how much of a threat they are. The bachelors really seemed freaked out. And of course Rick hadn't returned yet either.
It's the sixth day on the island. Yesterday they spent all day looking for things to use as protection. I didn't help, I couldn't help them. I'm not going to be complicit to the use of weapons. Perhaps the people on the island could be dangerous. But can you blame them? Strange people crashed on their isolated island in something that must look like a scary, futuristic, iron bird to them.
You can feel the tension in the camp. Just after the crash, all we thought about was getting rescued. Some people are still thinking about that, and undoubtedly, at some point we will get rescued, but most people moved on from dreaming, to acting. We made an amazing camp, especially considering we've only been here six days. I'm really proud at what we have achieved. But now, we're not only trying to survive and get food, there is an active danger. People are scared.
I'm looking at the camp from my somewhat secluded spot. I'm not allowed to leave the camp, but because we were afraid of the tide washing everything away, we set up everything a little away from the sea. So the area between the sea and the camp is free to go to. No one is bothering me here as they're looking for sticks to defend themselves with. I asked Kai to help me finish the fishing rods, but apparently he thinks weapons are much more interesting; he decided to help the camp. So here I am, on my own, with only an unfinished fishing rod and my own thoughts.
Six days. Almost a week I managed to stay positive. But now I'm homesick. I want to go back to the real world. Away from all this angst.
The rods are greased and really feel flexible. I bend one and notice it doesn't feel like it'll snap anytime soon. I look at the few fishing hooks I made from nails. Almost finished now. Only need a fishing line and some bait. I have to admit, I haven't really thought about the fishing line or bait yet. Bait should be easy, I bet there are enough insects in the forest. But the line? I really have no idea.
I notice Milan walking towards me. He waves. "What are you doing all the way out here?
"I wanted to get away from all that craziness."
He laughs. "I figured you would. So, how's it going with the fishing stuff?"
"Okay, I guess. The rods are really strong, but I don't know what to use as a line."
He seems to think about that for a few seconds. "We could ask Jan? The physics teacher?"
"Why would we ask him?"
Milan shrugs. "I don't know. He seems knowledgeable?"
I scan the camp. Many people still are busy gathering weapons, while some are cooking dinner. Every once in a while I notice people staring into the woods, as if they expect to see hordes of natives rushing towards them. I don't see Jan anywhere. "I'm not sure where he is, though."
"Let's look for him." I get up and brush the sand off my clothes. We head to the camp. I try not to look too much at the pile of weapons. I guess that in the end, no matter what, this is what humanity comes down to. Violence. Survival. Weapons.
I never understood that. Take war, for example, what is wrong with us people to go to war with each other? If there is an intelligent alien civilisation out there somewhere watching us, I'm sure they would laugh at our stupidity. A species trying to kill each other. Crazy!
I feel like we could scout out the environment, try to establish communication with the tribe here in some way. We're all human, this should be a thing right? We can make music, we can dance, make art or whatever. We can show them that we're human. That we have emotions. But instead the reaction from this camp is more like you would expect from a doomsday scenario in a Marvel film.
Anyway, I guess I may be exaggerating it all. I know I'm just a kid, and a very sensitive one at that, but still, shouldn’t we look at our similarities rather than the differences between us?
Margareth sees us searching the camp, so she heads over to us. "What's wrong, boys?"
"We're looking for Jan," Milan says.
"Oh, I'm not sure where he is. Haven't seen him for a while, actually." She looks around, as if she has better eyes and is able to spot him when we couldn't. "You should ask Elisah. After the news about other people on the island, she has been keeping tabs on everyone."
I'm not really sure, but the way she said that makes me believe she doesn't completely agree with the new 'regulations'. Maybe she would prefer my more diplomatic view on the matter. I nod towards Milan. "Thanks, Margareth." Elisah isn't hard to find. Even though she is a small lady, William is always close to her. He is almost two meters tall. Oliver tends to stay close as well, I noticed earlier, though he is never involved in any of the discussions, he likes to just observe everything. I spot the head of William above the other people. We walk over. I can't help overhearing them.
"We're running out of water rather fast," William says, a concerned tone evident in his voice. "I'd say we have enough for another three days. If we start rationing, maybe four."
"If we ration now, that means people will start worrying about that too."
"It'll give us an extra day to find water." William notices us. "Hey guys, what's up?"
"We're looking for Jan," I say.
Elisah looks around. "He was in the camp twenty minutes ago or so. I'm not sure where he is."
"We looked all around the camp, couldn't find him," Milan remarks.
The cop frowns. "I hope he didn't leave the camp without telling anyone."
"I guess he knows how to stay safe," I say, already tired of her anxious attitude.
"I'll help you find him, boys. William, we're going to talk about this once I'm back." She walks away, probably expecting us to follow. That is exactly what we do. I guess she didn't believe us when we told her we couldn't find Jan in the camp; she drags us around the camp in order to confirm it. When she finally comes to the same conclusion as we had already told her, she asks us to be quiet. Then we leave the camp. This lady… ughh! She may be a good leader, but for real, she acts as if we're entering a hazardous zone or something. As if dangerous and maybe aggressive natives are waiting for us to cross some invisible line so they can kill us!
We search the area around the camp. Ten minutes later, we notice the man sitting on the dirty pebbles right at the edge of the woods. It looks like he's inspecting some plants.
"Jan!" Elisah shouts. For a woman who acts as if we're at war, she's incredibly loud now. Be careful! We don't want to wake the scary men! "What are you doing outside the camp?"
"I told you not to leave the perimeter!"
Perimeter? You have got to be kidding me. She’s really watched too many police series… even for a cop.
"I know you did," the teacher answers. He had gathered a collection of various plants and leaves and he's inspecting another leaf right now. He didn't even look up when Elisah addressed him. "But I'm trying to help us."
"We don't know what those people can do."
"And we'll never find out if we're not doing research." Jan looks up and notices me and Milan. "Hey boys! Wanna help me?"
"No, we're going back to the camp." Elisah sounds annoyed.
Jan sighs. "I know you're trying to protect us, Elisah, but we're close enough to the camp. I can see everyone from here. I know we're running out of water and I'm just trying to find a solution."
"How are you going to do that?"
He smiles. "Actually, I read the SAS survival guide when I was a teenager. I still remember some things. We're going to try to get water from the trees around us. It won't be much, but it'll help."
"We want to help," I say. "And maybe you can help us, afterwards?"
"We are making fishing rods. We are trying to find something to use as a fishing line."
"Ah! h," he exclaims. "Look at these boys, actually doing something to help us survive. Instead of wasting time making stupid weapons! Of course, I can help you guys. Moreover, I guess we chose the perfect island to be stranded on."
"Why's that?" Milan asks.
"Over there," Jan says and points across the beach, "there is a group of agave plants. Unfortunately we can't extract water from them, but the fibers of the plant are one of the strongest in the world. Even stronger than most ordinary lines used for fishing!"
"Well, enjoy yourselves. I'm going back to the camp." Elisah slumps off looking defeated. I guess that even when you are trying to survive, being in control is important for some people.
"But first we have to make sure we can get as much water as we can. And we're going to need a lot of plastic bags for that!"
"Plastic bags?" I ask.
"I'll explain later. Head over to the camp and look around for any plastic bags you can find. It has to be watertight, but apart from that it doesn't matter what you find. Anything will help."
We dash off, excited to begin our new mission.
"Oh, plastic sheets will work as well. Though we may need to head into the forest a little to make use of those."
"Okay!" I shouted. I'm actually very happy to do something to help. And of course I'm pleased Jan thinks like I do about those stupid weapons. Going to war is not what we should focus on. Not at all.
Kai runs towards us as we enter the little settlement again. "Ryan!" He hugs me. At this point I'm not even wondering what his reason for the hug could be, I know he hugs whenever he can. I raise an eyebrow. "Oh, hey Milan."
"Don't I get a hug?" he jokes.
I laugh. "I'm sure you will."
Hesitantly Kai hugs the boy.
"Thank you," Milan smiles.
"So what have you been up to, little bro?" I ask.
"I made a very cool battleaxe! I can slay monsters now." He giggles. "And what about you? Did you finish the fishing rod? Did you catch something already?" Aaa…and, he's practically jumping around us again. The energy. We could power a whole continent with that energy, if only we found a way to harvest it;, I'm sure.
"No, no. But Jan is going to help us getting a fishing line."
"Oooh! That's the fiks teacher, right?"
I smile. "Yeah, the physics teacher."
I put my hand on his shoulder. "Nothing to be sorry about, Kai. One day you'll have physics classes in highschool, and you'd wish those were fiks classes instead!"
"Wait, what is fiks?"
I laugh. "I don't know, but I'm sure it's much more fun than physics." Milan and I burst out laughing and Kai just smiles.
"Physics is pretty interesting though," Milan adds almost whispering, as if he didn't want me to hear it.
"Anywaaaay," Kai says. "Can I help you guys?"
I frown. "Oh, did making weapons start to bore you?"
The boy frowns. Even though he is only ten, he must have noticed I was disappointed when he chose making violent tools with the camp over making fishing rods with me. "I guess you're more fun than Paul and Elisah!"
"I knew it! Well, we're trying to find all kinds of plastic bags and sheets to help Jan. You can tag along if you want?"
Once again we scout around the encampment, this time not looking for a teacher, but for polyesters. We actually manage to get a whole stack, over thirty bags and some sheets. I'm not sure what size they need to be, but I'm sure some will be usable. I wonder what Jan is planning to do with them.
"Hey guys. What are you doing with all that plastic? Planning on recycling it?" It's Paul.
Milan laughs. "We can't pollute the one island in the world that's probably not polluted yet."
Paul laughs as well. "I guess you're right."
"Nah, Jan has a way to gather water. It'll give us a few more days to find fresh water."
"Hmm, how it he planning on doing that?"
Milan shrugs. "No idea. But he's a teacher, and teachers are always right, right?"
"I'm not a teacher," Paul remarks.
I want to add something to this sarcastic discussion, but I feel this is smart people talk. I know I can't ever add anything intelligent to it, so I choose to remain silent. I love listening to Milan arguing though, it looks like he really likes it, playing with words like that.
"Are you sure about that?" Milan asks.
"Anyway, have fun. I'm heading to the plane this afternoon to look for food and tools. If I stumble across more plastic, I'll bring it."
"Thanks Paul," Milan says.
"Thanks Paul," Kai and I add at the same time.
While walking back to Jan, Kai suddenly starts talking. "Ryan, did I tell you already?"
"Tell me what?"
"I got my driver's license!"
I laugh and I see how Milan looks at us confused. "Where did you get it?"
"I did my driver's test earlier today. Soooooo… can I drive now?"
I smile. Damn, that boy is adorable. How can anyone say 'no' to him. "Okay then. But we're going to leave the camp, so make sure you keep an eye out for dangerous natives!"
I notice a mix of emotions on the boy's face, but in the end his enthusiasm wins over any fear there may have been about leaving Elisah's perimeter. I hand Milan - who is still looking at us puzzled - the plastic bags and I crouch. Kai immediately jumps on my back. Only now the intelligent pompous guy understands what kind of driving we had been talking about. I love how even such a smart boy can be a little slow sometimes.
"So, where are we going?" Kai asks.
"You're the driver."
"But… but I don't know where Jan is?"
I laugh. "You have a driver's license but you don't know where Jan is?"
My little brother giggles. "So everyone in the world who has a driver's license knows where Jan is?"
"Then why aren't we rescued yet?"
Wow. This boy is fast… He's only ten years old, but so witty already.
"Let me be your navigator, mister driver," Milan says. "Straight ahead! Follow me."
So there we go. A pompous Rolex wearing guy carrying thirty plastic bags and sheets, followed by a guy who's with a ten year old constantly giggling boy on his back. Stranded on an island. And even though every adult person now has a function and is contributing something to our new community, I believe we have an important role as well. Maybe the most important role of all. We show everyone there is still joy. There is hope.
I'm not trying to make more of it than it was, Tom, I'm not trying to take all the praise, but I really believed we would never have survived a year on the island if not for us. No, I should rephrase that. It wasn't me or Milan who showed everyone there was still hope. It was Kai. Little energetic Kai. I loved that dude. Everyone loved him.
We run towards Jan. I'm out of breath when we finally reach him.
"You brought help."
I smile. "We sure did."
"And you found the plastic bags! Now, I'll explain what we're going to do. But bear with me, I'm a teacher. Stop me at any moment when it's getting boring."
We all laugh. "We will. Now, let's start the physics class," Milan says.
"It's actually more biology than physics. But it's interesting nonetheless."
"Suuurree," I laugh.
"So, you know trees extract water from the ground, right?
We nod. Even Kai seems to understand that.
"Ever wondered how they do that?"
"Water evaporates from the leaves, creating a capillary pressure in the veins of the tree, right?"
"Oh wait… so we're just going to put those bags around the branches? Damn, that's easy."
Jan laughs. "Science isn't that hard."
"It's rocket science," I say. "Or what was the saying again?"
Milan and Jan laugh. Kai frowns. "Putting a bag around a tree will get you water?" he asks.
"It will. It won't be much, but we have a lot of bags. So we should get some bottles out of it."
"We don't need any bottles, we need water to put in them," Milan says and I chuckle.
"Why did we have to get plastic sheets?" I ask.
"That'll be another trick. So trees pull water out of the ground, way too deep for us to dig. But there is water in the upper layers of the dirt as well."
"And we're going to get that out of there?" Kai asks.
"Kind of. The sun will cause some of that water to evaporate as well. We're going to catch that vapour. We will need some bowls or cans, or whatever to catch the water in. In order to catch the water, we're going to dig a hole. We put those cans or bowls in there, and we cover the hole with the plastic. Then we simply put a stone or something heavy in the centre of the plastic, right above the can. And voilà, vapour will rise, hit the sheets and form droplets. Those droplets will try to fall again, if they're getting heavy enough, but as the plastic will be like a tent, it'll follow it right to the spot of the stone. Do you still follow?"
"Yes. It'll fall right into the can. That's amazing!"
Jan smiles. "I'm not sure how much we'll get, but it's worth a try."
And he was right. Physics teachers tend to be right often, I notice. I'm not sure if the little water we got helped us surviving in the end, but it gave us hope. Not enough hope, but it was hope nonetheless. If only now life was that simple, if only now plastic bags would still assimilate hope, I'd personally swim to the plastic sea in the Pacific and collect all bags I could find. If only it was that simple, Tom.
Thank you for reading!
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