“Little boy you are healthy, why are you here?”
“I have come for water.”
“Little boy, you have come to the wrong place, this river is death.”
“But I must have water.”
“Little boy,” says the old man pointing, “I too am thirsty, but I will die rather than drink this water. It is abetter way to die. Little boy, go to the next river. It is clean. You are healthy, you have fine feet. You will get your water if you go to the next river.”
“But the water is not for me, it is for my sister and my mother.”
“Then be sure not to drink here, not to take this water. Go to the next river. If you take this water, you take death with you, to your sister and your mother.
“Little boy, go now. Do not drink here. Do not carry death back as your gift. Your mother and your sister want you to go to the next river, or they would not have sent you. If they are waiting for you to return with clean water, go now. Go to the next river. Carry as much as is easy, let your mother and your sister drink all you can carry back, but slowly. You must drink as much as you can, drink it slowly and drink until you think you will burst. You’ll need it for the return journey with your mother. And carry one empty bottle with you. Empty your bladder into this bottle. When the clean water is finished, drink your own water, which is clean. The same for your mother and your sister on the return journey. Return to the river. It will remain clean, its source is nearby. Go as close to the source to collect your water and you will keep your life and that of your mother and your sister.”
“But what about you, old man? Why not come with me?”
“I will stay here. When you have returned to the river with your sister and your mother, then come back for me. In the mean time I have my clean yellow water.”
The boy turned and watched as another body sank into the river.
The little boy has, as you know, a sister. The sister wanted to make the journey since she was stronger and a little older, but her mother said no. “Your brother must go. He must find us water. You are a girl and cannot travel alone. We will wait here until he returns. If he does not return, we will die of thirst. But that is better than this plague.”
The little boy did as the old man had advised. He reached his mother and his sister. They travelled back to the source where many people congregated with their plastic bottles. The little boy returned, alone, to the town where he’d met the old man. He was sitting in the same place as before. His legs folded under him, a small amount of liquid in a bottle beside him. The boy lifted his bottled water to the old man’s lips. His eyes opened, his mouth too. The little boy gave him the clean sweet water which, to his parched tongue, was like rain on drought stricken land.