Corporeal Passage: Chapter 22: The Third Son
by Jeff RandLieutenant Manu had prepared for a difficult journey to Hawai'i by packing provisions for six weeks in the outrigger canoe. Initially, the plan involved taking advantage of the counter equatorial current, which flowed in the right general direction. This worked well for the first week, but as the route veered northward, the currents shifted to the west. Now the lieutenant had to paddle throughout the waking hours to keep on course. Then the seas had their own objective.
On July 14, the winds and waves increased dramatically. Manu was on the edge of a large typhoon. Since the vessel was in the northern hemisphere, the counterclockwise motion within the storm pushed the boat northeast. If the lieutenant could keep the boat intact, this would be a great boost in moving it in the right direction towards the Hawaiian Islands. Indeed, it did for a while. Furthermore, the lieutenant's heritage in boat building proved its value, as the BC suffered little damage. However, as the storm passed, the winds and waves shifted to the west.
The BC washed ashore on an island of a small atoll. Manu knew that it was not part of the Marshall Islands, and upon coming ashore discovered that it was an outlying territory of the United States. Johnston Island had a storied history since it was discovered in the 18th century. It was claimed by the US under the Guano Islands Act, and indeed provided the precious commodity until it was depleted of its bat shit. It served as a military base during World War II and continued to be a site for testing nuclear and chemical weapons. During the Viet Nam War, it served as a storage depot for Agent Orange. In the 21st century, all military use was discontinued, and it became a wildlife refuge as part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
In the early part of the 21st century, all temporary human residents had departed from Johnston Island, leaving little of value. The one remaining structure had a hallway with decontamination showers. Manu did not find any food left behind, but was able to catch and dry some fish before departing.
Manu paddled almost continuously for two days making little progress. The outrigger had a small sail which could be raised, but the tacking required would make it impossible to reach Hawai'i before running out of food. Manu made the difficult decision to let the wind and currents take control and head towards Asia.
Over two months had passed since Manu left home on the Marshall Islands, and the fresh water supply being stored in the pontoons had run out three days ago. The solar still would produce less than half a liter per day. Though not strictly proper, Manu's regular prayers were supplemented with a request for some rain. On the fourth day it did not rain, but the answer came in the form of an island.
Manu arrived on the island midday, and upon reaching shore, spread the sajj?da on the beach for Salat al-zuhr. Following the prayers and turning away from the direction of Mecca, Manu observed some wreckage among the rocks.
Manu found the body laying amongst the debris. The body was scarred and burnt from the sun and appeared to have been partially eaten by a shark. The long gray beard and thin frame was that of an old man who had likely starved to death at sea. Observing a wounded limb, the lieutenant reasoned that the shark had decided that there wasn't enough meat on this body for a decent meal after devouring the arm.
Approaching to pay respects, Manu was surprised that the corpse was not yet covered with maggots consuming the flesh. Then bending over to drag the body away from the sea, the reason became apparent. The man was alive.
Although most of the structures had been destroyed, some remnants of the barracks remained. Manu was able to move the man to shelter and gave him the remaining few ounces of the fresh water from the solar still. With that, it was time to investigate the island.
Lieutenant Manu was both pleased and disappointed to learn the truth of the island. It was actually an atoll consisting of three islets. Unfortunately, Manu was back in the Marshall Islands on the Enen Kio Atoll. Of course, this atoll was still far from the starting point on the Kwajalsin Atoll and was claimed by the United States as Wake Island.
September fell during the rainy season, as Manu set about constructing a catch basin. Although there were still some dried fish available, the discovery of a trove of military MREs buried in the rubble brought renewed hope for the journey ahead. Now Manu would turn attention to the dying man, whose recovery was uncertain. Though eager to leave for Asia, it was a pillar of Manu's faith that required helping those in need.
For three days, Manu spoon-fed the man, who remained unconscious. On the fourth day he opened his eyes briefly before falling back into a catatonic state. But on the fifth day, the man regained consciousness and sat up.
"I am so happy to see you are awake. How are you feeling? What should I call you?" inquired the lieutenant. "They call me Lieutenant Manu. Often it is just Manu, since American navy personnel were short on formalities with us Marshallese citizens."
The man struggled to speak without success. Two days later, he was able to stand and feed himself, but still unable to speak.
"Since you can't speak and tell me your name, I will call you Seth, after Adam's third son from whom we descended. I hope you know how to paddle a canoe and will come with me to Asia."
The man nodded his head in the affirmative. In the days that followed, he continued to gain strength. Twelve days after Manu had found him and nursed him back to health, he was able to speak. He approached Manu carefully and spoke, "You have been calling me Seth now for a week and I've grown accustomed to it."
Manu was surprised at the clarity and content of the speech from one who previously had every indication of a mental disability. Then asked, "What shall I call you now?"
"Just call me Seth."
Seth recovered remarkably quickly and helped prepare the outrigger for its trek to Asia, although he preferred to be going in the other direction. Several days later they were ready to depart with a well-stocked vessel. Seth had located materials to add web deckings between the hull and the outriggers. With this feature, they could both sleep in relative comfort rather than cramming into the narrow hull. In addition, the supplies stored in the outriggers could be extracted without having to jump into the ocean.
Seth spoke little of his ordeal at sea or where he came from. Because he had lost track of time, it fell to Manu to re-establish the calendar. Seth was pleased to note the date as September 30, 2031, when they departed from Wake Island. Although Manu was very adept at navigating through island-hopping, Seth seemed to have an extensive knowledge of geography, when he announced that Wake Island was in the first time zone west of the international dateline. Manu was happy to know the date, but Seth spent an inordinate amount of time tracking the position of the sun.
They had intended to reach Guam, and 40 days later Manu spotted a large island. When they landed, it was not the large island of Guam, but Rota Island, which was the southernmost one in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Seth was pleased to reach this territory of the United States, which gave Manu the impression that he had something to do with them landing north of the original objective.
Rota Island provided food and fresh water, allowing for some rest before they left on November 13. The next objective was Taiwan, which they reached squarely on December 24. For the next three days, they paddled to the southern tip. Seth recognized Christmas onboard the outrigger. They landed the BC on the island on December 27 and stayed four days. Although preparing for the final leg to the Chinese mainland was critical, Seth insisted that they engage in some traditional activities before departing.
Hong Kong had been a jewel of human development but had declined as China exerted more control over its population. When Manu and Seth reached the once thriving port, all signs of humanity had been destroyed, save for a large windowless building, which they avoided.
Seth assumed that they would trek across Asia towards Europe. Manu had other ideas, voicing their next objective, "I must go to Mecca and the Kaaba."
"Won't that be a problem since I am not your mahram," responded Seth.
"I am impressed with your knowledge of Islam. True, you may not enter the city of Mecca, but I am of an age where a mahram will not be required."
It would be a hike of more than 5,000 miles to reach Mecca, and the pair spent three days looking through the Hong Kong rubble hoping they would find something useful for the journey. After repeated failures, they decided to ascend Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island for a better view. Amongst the ruins of the peak tower, they found two bicycles, intact and in working order.
Manu turned to Seth, "I don't suppose you can ride a bicycle, old man?"