Along the River’s Edge

Along the River’s Edge

Every afternoon on my long walks in the river park, I have noticed an old couple, accompanied by a young dark-haired girl of six or seven, walking along the edge of the river, as if they were looking for something. The first time I saw them, I barely noticed them because other thoughts occupied my mind, but as I continued to see them every day, I began to imagine what it could be that they were looking for. The first story I created for my own amusement, after seeing them for the third or fourth time, had them looking for something that they had misplaced from an earlier visit to the river, something that they had dropped or left behind while picnicking, or having sat down to rest, something that they had simply walked off and left behind. And when they arrived home later that afternoon, realizing that they had left something behind, they returned immediately to the river to search for it. It must have been something of great importance to them because they came every day in search of it. But this story was filled with no vitality; it was too dull to hold my interest, so I created other stories, each day a new story.

On the fifth day, a story came to me: they were looking for precious stones, but since they lacked rubber boots in which to wade deeper into the river to investigate the river’s bottom under closer scrutiny, they had to content themselves with walking the river’s edge in the hope that some rare stone might have washed ashore. This story had more depth, but wasn’t ultimately fulfilling. Besides, who was the young girl who accompanied them? I had to explain her presence.

On the sixth day, it became clearer to me that the old couple had lost something irreplaceable, something that had to do with the young girl: her mother perhaps, the old couple’s daughter. The young girl had been left by her mother after her birth, and the old couple had taken her in to raise. They loved the young girl as if she were their own daughter, but still they thought it was important for the young girl to know her mother. But the mother, filled with guilt over giving up her daughter at birth, drowned herself in the river; her body had never been found, however, only her clothes on the river’s edge. The old couple grieved deeply for their daughter, and came here every day in search of her, hoping that one day the mystery of her disappearance would become clear to them. They always brought their granddaughter along so that she would come to know her mother. As they walked along the river’s edge, they told the young girl stories about her mother, how when she was young like her, she enjoyed spending time here along the river’s edge, fascinated by the easy flow of the river on its long journey to the sea far, far away. They told their granddaughter about the vastness and grandeur of the ocean, but also about its frighteningly cold, blue water, and how the fishermen fought against its fury every time they went out to take away from it their bounty of fish and mollusks. The granddaughter wondered about the ocean, and to her it became a place of refuge and hope, where she would one day find solace. At school, she was tortured by the evil nature of the other children who teased her because she had been abandoned by her mother. She defended herself by explaining to them that her parents were alive and loved her as much as their parents loved them. But the children were cruel and made fun of her, telling her that her parents were old and no longer pertinent. She didn’t know the word “pertinent,” but understood that her grandparents were old and didn’t have the strength to attend her school functions, but they always seemed to have the strength to spend time with her here, along the river’s edge. She began to hate this place, she hated the obsession with which her grandparents continually searched for something that she knew they’d never find. She’d rather search the depths of the harsh, furious ocean. That is where she would find her mother, not here, because the river had long ago carried her mother away.

I had become fascinated with this old couple and their granddaughter, fascinated with their undying faithfulness to the idea of discovering the truth about their daughter. How does one take one’s own life? This was a mystery to them, and asked too many uneasy questions of their faith. They only knew one way to believe, and their faith took away any uneasiness about the cruel nature of life. If things got hard, their belief in God gave them peace and comfort. But this mystery of the river that had swallowed their daughter, as the great sea serpent in the bible had swallowed Jonah, continued to plague them and stirred in them a perturbation that they needed to relieve. The river flowed to the sea, and if it had taken their daughter with it, it was God’s will. But still they searched, if for no other reason than their granddaughter’s solace.

The days went on, and every day I would see the old man and woman, with their granddaughter, walking along the river’s edge searching for their lost daughter. Nothing seemed to change, only the weather, as the dying winter lengthened into spring. The trees bloomed and the river filled with rage.

One warm spring day, my fascination with the old couple overpowered me; my made-up stories from the past had begun to lose their hold over me. I don’t know what was different today, maybe it was the unusually warm day, or the signs of new life that surrounded me, but whatever had overcome me, I decided that today I’d stop to talk to the old couple.

I saw them as they approached me, walking along the river’s edge, just as they did every day. I moved off the path toward the river’s edge in order to intercept them. The old man walked ahead of his wife and granddaughter, looking in the direction of the river. He was startled by my sudden appearance in front of him.

“Oh, hello,” he said, apologetically. “I didn’t see you standing there; I almost ran in to you.”

“It is OK,” I assured him. “It was I who blocked your path; I wanted to talk to you.”

The old man looked back at his wife and granddaughter, not sure how to respond to my unexpected request. He hesitated, waiting for his wife to join him; his granddaughter lingered along the river’s edge, several steps behind the old couple; she seemed to feel more comfortable away from them.

“How can I help you?” he asked.

“I walk here, along this path, every day, and I’ve been walking here for a long time, and I couldn’t help but notice that you are here every day, walking along the river’s edge, not on the path,” I said. “And you seem to be looking for something. I have watched you for so long that I have come to believe that perhaps I can be of some assistance to you in your search.”

The old man hesitated. He turned to his wife. He spoke slowly; it was obvious that English was not his primary language. “Looking? But we are looking for nothing.”

“I’m sorry, but it seemed obvious to me since you constantly gazed towards the river, as if you’d lost something there.”

“No, we simply enjoy walking here, along the river’s edge, as opposed to the path. Phelia, our granddaughter, enjoys the rush of the river,” he explained. “Phelia, come here.” She slowly, unsteadily walked toward her grandfather. “Yes, grandpapa?” she slipped her hand into her grandmother’s. By the way she turned her head in the direction of her grandfather’s voice, I knew instantly that she was blind. “Phelia, this young man asked if we were looking for something.” She smiled. “Phelia is blind; she has been blind since childbirth, but she sees so much more than we do. She sees the cold blue color of the river from the way the yellow sun warms her cheeks; she sees the pink blossoms in the sweet apple trees by the crack from the broken branches underneath her feet. She sees so much more than we do, because we have become complacent, seeing only what is right in front of us; we have become blind, while she has been given the gift of pure eyesight. We walk with her here because she sees for us, so that we, too, can enjoy pure eyesight.” In no hurry, but bidding me a polite farewell, he took hold of Phelia’s other hand, and moved, ardently, away from me to continue the journey along the river’s edge.



  1. This is a beautiful story!

    • Thank you, Sara,

      I truly appreciate your kind words. I hope everything is going well for you. I am glad that we were able to connect recently on Facebook, and I hope to stay in touch. Thanks again, it means a lot to me.

      • / Thank you for the sensible Post. My neighbour were preparing to do about that. We got a good book on that matter from our local library and most as influensive as your innromatiof. I am very glad to see such information which I was searching for a long time.This made very glad =)

  2. So intriguing! It kept me waiting for the unfolding. If you wouldn’t have had the courage to approach the man it would have been greatly disappointing. You took a common situation and brought it to surface. I am always making stories up of strangers in my mind too, especially at parks while lounging.

    • Thanks, Cathy! I always enjoy hearing from you. How’s your story coming along? Tell everyone hello for me.

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