Dear Friends and Family,
I write to inform you that Manpreet and I finally perished at sea. He was five years old, and I was just three. Our elder sisters, Jobina and Gawain, ages 17 and 15 respectively, set us in a boat on the 15th of August 1215 with as much food and water as the craft could contain. I suppose they imagined they were saving our lives and protecting our tribe by getting us out of the village. I don’t know how many days or weeks we were adrift. After our supplies finished, time was as fluid as the lapping waves beneath us.
Most of you didn’t know how we disappeared so suddenly. You may have thought we had been kidnapped. I don’t know if our sisters told the truth of what they had done. They may have feigned innocence and pretended they knew nothing. As you read this story, please do so with a spacious, open, understanding, and forgiving heart. To the best of your capacity, please unplug from judgments of Manpreet, me, our sisters, parents, or even the soldiers. Everyone was just doing their best.
The war had been raging in the land for years. Our village at the edge of the sea had been spared as we were far from the coveted wealth concentrated in the cities. The conquerors were, however, expanding their reach. Soldiers had been spotted sporadically in our settlement.
Gawain came into contact with one of the invaders, despite it being forbidden. She would later claim it was against her will, or that she wasn’t aware of what was happening. We will never really know the truth for she would not speak thereafter. Regardless, her encounter with the soldier had placed our entire tribe at risk. We were all doomed to slavery, or decimation.
Manpreet was our golden brother, the first grandson on either side of our family. He was the most precious child not only for our family, but for our entire village. It was foretold he would bring great fortune to our clan and protect us all from harm. Manpreet was regarded as our savior. He was graced from infancy with intelligence, vitality, and a beatific charm that melted the hearts of everyone whose eyes fell upon him. As an infant he was bathed in fresh, warm milk and raw honey. His feet were never allowed to touch the hard ground, and his ears never heard the harsh sound of denial. Not a feather’s hair was allowed to disturb him.
The most accomplished tutors were summoned to our home to educate him before he even came into consciousness. All his time was devoted to his development. Even at the age of five he was never asked to feed the hens, collect their eggs, or water the pigs. He was, however, allowed to attend to me, his little brother. This he did with great joy. I wanted to learn everything he was learning from his teachers. As soon as I could crawl I shadowed Manpreet in everything he did. He knew how to explain his lessons to me so I could understand. He was a natural born teacher.
We played together as much as his time with tutors permitted. We chased the chickens, pulled the pigs’ tails, and generally horsed around, laughing until our cheeks hurt. We weren’t the quarreling, squabbling type of brothers. We sailed through our small siblingly skirmishes smoothly, without as much as a scratch between us. He laughed with me in my silliness. He listened attentively to my stories and encouraged my talents. He admired me for my fearless courage. Even as the world showered him with accolades, he in turn looked to me, his younger brother, as wise beyond my years. He was open in this way, as in so many others. And I adored him, without question, or reason. We all did.
Though our parents expected our sisters to help care for us, given the age gap, they were in a world far apart from ours. They were always rather cold and distant towards us, as if we were a nuisance, an interference in their lives. Now that Gawain had put the tribe in danger, our eldest sister Jobina surmised the risk to Manpreet’s life was too great. Together they decided the only hope for the entire village was to somehow try to save his life. The sole escape route was the sea.
In the pre-dawn hours of that August morning, our sisters loaded our family’s rowboat with all the food we had in our home. They bundled up our clothes and laid out bedding and blankets for both of us to sleep in. They pointed in the direction Manpreet should row, hugged us each tightly, set us in the boat, and pushed us out to sea before the sun peeked over the horizon.
I did not understand what was happening. When I asked my sisters, they sternly admonished me to be quiet. When I cried in fear, they clamped their hands over my mouth. When I asked them to join us, they threatened to call the police. I couldn’t make sense of their harsh scolding. I don’t know if Manpreet understood any of it. I trusted he knew what he was doing and would take care of us, as he had promised he always would.
Initially we both had fun, laughing and splashing, as if it was a grand picnic at sea. We spotted gloriously colored ocean fish, a flying turtle, and a pod of porpoises. Overhead were sea doves a plenty. I sensed no peril. At three years old, how could I imagine our fate?
Occasionally, I felt Manpreet’s trepidation, as if he anticipated disaster. But I implicitly trusted he would protect us from harm. He had promised me many times he always would. In any case, we had lived at the seaside and were both already fearless swimmers. We played with waves like puppies. We weren’t afraid of water. We hadn’t, though, anticipated lack of water.
After some days we lost sight of land. Our rations grew slim. We wrapped our limbs around each other under our woolen blankets. At first we did so, because we had always slept together that way, ever since I had weaned from our mother’s breast. After the shoreline disappeared, we clung to each other more tightly, from trepidation. I felt safe in his arms. Though the nights were dark and frightful, I knew he would keep us out of danger.
The afternoons were hot. Manpreet would lose his temper with me then, without cause. Maybe he didn’t know what to do, or how to take care of me. Perhaps he felt frustrated and helpless when I asked him for assurance. Even as he pointed a finger of blame at me, he wailed angry words against our sisters too, for placing us in this predicament. We were powerless now, with them, and with the sea and the sun.
Eventually, we exhausted our supply of food and water. Our marine picnic was over. We were hungry and thirsty, scared and helpless. We had trusted our sisters and now felt terribly betrayed. Even if their intentions were innocent, they should have known better. Somebody should have known better. Someone wiser should have intervened and found a better solution to save us.
When the hunger was too acute, I cried a lot. Manpreet cried with me, but didn’t know what else to do. It was as if he had resigned himself. He wasn’t going to even try to save us, and nothing could convince him to put forth any effort. Everything had always been done for him. Maybe he really just didn’t know how.
My lips cracked and bled, my mouth was parched, my skin burned, my flesh was flaccid. Manpreet looked equally horrible. After some time my vision blurred. Strange creatures rose out of the sea, and then disappeared. Our mother visited us at night. She tried to comfort us. Each time I reached out my arms for her to pick me up she would vanish. Sometimes I would hear our father’s voice calling for us, and later I only heard him scolding us for making such a horrible mistake. I yearned to talk to our mother and feel her loving embrace again. I needed father’s protection, and forgiveness. I begged Manpreet to talk to our parents and convince them to listen to my pleas. He did nothing. He sat cold and silent for many days.
Finally, I had no more strength for crying, or pleading, or even needing anything anymore. We both huddled under our blankets now, even in the daytime, for the sun was too harsh and we shivered even in the heat of the day. My heart was broken by Manpreet’s stone cold silence. When he was angry I still had hope for us. When he stopped speaking to me, I had nothing left. I loved him so much and he had shut me out. I couldn’t understand why. In my innocence I believed I had done something wrong, and couldn’t make it right, even if I could know my transgression.
I flew out of my small body first. The entirety of my struggle was alleviated after leaving the boat. I felt light and free, and so peaceful. I could see Manpreet clinging to my body in his sleep. His breathing was unsteady. I suppose he sensed my life leave my body for he stirred with my release, but didn’t have the strength to lift his head to watch me fly. He kissed my forehead in that moment, and let his tears stream into his mouth.
I stayed near our boat, waiting for him to join me. I tried to let him know in small ways that I had not abandoned him, that he wasn’t alone in the world. As I couldn’t access my own body to tell him, I signaled a lone puff of cloud to shade the boat to relieve his burning fever. I requested a seagull to translate my message, to tell him I would wait for him until the end, that he would feel better when we were together again. She told him raucously, but he hardly shifted, as if he couldn’t hear, or didn’t care. I asked a dolphin to swim close to him and make him laugh again with playful antics, the way I always had. No response. I sent a butterfly to the middle of our sea to hover near his shoulder and remind him in soft whispers that I still loved him, no matter what.
Other than his irregular breath, he gave no signs of receiving my messages, or even any other signs of life. Nevertheless, I stood by, with patience as infinite as our sea seemed, knowing he would eventually let go of clinging to something no longer relevant. From my new vantage point, it was clear our kinship was greater than this disaster. When he finally released his grip, we would be together again, free from the horrific mess in that cursed boat our sisters had put us in.
I don’t know what happened to Jobina and Gawain. Maybe they married the soldiers and became princesses in a palace on a hill somewhere. Maybe they were enslaved. Maybe they were now concubines in a foreign land. Maybe all the occupants of the village were annihilated. I don’t know. I tried to make contact with them. I heard nothing back, only the echoes of my own calls. Sometimes I was angry with them, at other times, I felt pity for their ignorance. Once in a while I was given a glimmer of empathy and understanding, and I would feel peaceful again.
I called out to our parents too. I received only the stony silence of empty space in return. If any of you find any of them, tell them I wish they could have protected me and Manpreet, guided us to a safe place where we could have played together forever. Nevertheless, let them know I care for them as deeply as I do the delicate whiff that is the life in all living things.
Heaven is sweet and love is pure. Until we meet again, may peace prevail in all our worlds.