Martin Hooijmans | Lars de Ruyter
Matthias loved the river. Had loved her all his life. Every waking morning as he got out of bed and walked over to the window, he stood and watched the stream for minutes. She was the only constant factor in his life. Cattle grew up and passed away, crops were harvested, farmhouses were rebuilt, but the river was always there.
She liked to change though, with a temper like that of a woman. That was probably the reason he referred to her in the feminine form. Mostly she was calm, loving and a giver of life to everything around her. But every once in a while she would suddenly rage, treading outside of her borders and taking everything she could get a grasp on, until her blind rage subsided once more. Then she would return to her calm self, full of regret, providing the land around her with more life than ever before.
Matthias knew all this very well, accepting it as a fact of life. He had lost entire herds to the river. Entire harvests. Had even lost his farmhouse twice. It never made him even slightly angry. He and his wife knew how to stay safe, knew how to rebuild, and they had taught their children the same thing. Only little Robbie, their five-year old, still had to learn. And he would.
Robbie loved the river. Had loved her all his life. Every waking morning as he got out of bed and walked over to the window, he stood and watched the stream for minutes. Then, after breakfast, after his chores, he would run to the riverbank and play in the reeds, chasing frogs and trying to catch the fish that were daring enough to come close. He knew only the benevolent side of his dearest friend. Only that, until he heard a faint, low roar in the far distance.
Matthias recognized the sound straight away and gathered his family. He was quick to notice the absence of his youngest, and as the others went to scout the barns and fields, he went to the river. For the first time in his life he felt fear for her. She could take away his land, his crops, his cattle, but he would never allow her to take one of his own. He ran harder than he had ever done before, his heart beating out of his chest, heading straight for the reeds his little one liked to frequent. In the distance the roar became louder, on the horizon he already saw the raging waters that destroyed everything in their path. This meant he had only a few minutes left, hardly enough to find his son, a chance in a million that they would make it out in time.
Robbie spotted his father first, screaming at the top of his lungs for him to come. Besting the roar of the river was a difficult task, but as he stumbled out of the reeds, never dropping his voice, Matthias spotted him. He swept Robbie off his feet, lifting him in his powerful, gleaming arms. The river’s roar became deafening, the moistness that scouted ahead of its force settling on the father and son, preparing them for their impending doom. Matthias turned to the river, now a massive wall of foaming, freezing water, far too close for comfort. He had no time to lose. With the terrified cries of his son ringing in his ears he pounded the earth, already in some places a wet, muddy mass that attempted to suck in his boots. His muscles cried in agony, he cried in rage. He could not give up. The moistness turned into rain, the roar bashed his eardrums. He started making progress, steady progress. He regained his proper footing. He saw the rest of his family in the distance, sons shouting, wife and daughter with their hands clasped over their mouths, tears showing in their eyes.
The water engulfed them. Matthias managed three more steps until the ground washed away underneath him, leaving him helpless, gasping for breath as the water carried him along. He never let go of his son, who even in this confusion clasped on tight. Whatever would come, they would be together. They would face the end together. He felt powerless as the water twisted and turned them. The lack of oxygen made him feel light-headed. He closed his eyes, a wonderful stream of colors visible underneath his lids. The world became silent.
Then the colors were gone. The roar returned, but it was fading. His body was still. He faintly felt the slaps of little hands on his face, a distant, crying sound entering his ears. He slowly opened his eyes and, although blurry, saw little Robbie on top of him, dropping tear after tear on his aching body. As he looked around him, he saw the aftermath of the river’s attack. As always, everything had been destroyed. His crops were gone. His cattle was nowhere to be seen. His farmhouse had sustained serious damage. But Robbie was alive. He was alive.
The river had decided to spare them this time. Perhaps as a warning.
Matthias was thankful.
He loved the river.