“Seek and ye shall find,” Matthew advised us in the New Testament, but what he neglected to tell us is whether what we find will be the same thing (or person) we seek. Based on my experience, I’d say the odds were not terribly good.
What was I seeking? A 14-year-old Indonesian runaway slave; a missing wife I’d named Mouse; a way forward; myself.
Nothing is perfect. Certainly our marriage hadn’t been. Just as certainly, the search wasn’t. I was trying to look for my wife but kept bumping up against the case of the missing boy. Mouse and I had always had our separate lives, each going his or her own way. I missed Mouse, a lot more than I thought I would. I had to resist the temptation to sugarcoat our life. I didn’t even know if our marriage would much longer survive its imperfections.
“You learn to love what’s there, not what’s not there. How can you live otherwise?” David Szalay wrote in “All That Man Is.”
Captain Attith and I started off along the beach in the opposite direction from the way I’d gone earlier in the morning. We soon passed the curve of the shore and kept going.
I’d never been this far. I could clearly see the big commercial fishing ship anchored half a mile off shore. But on the island, the strip of white sandy beach and the dense, seemingly impenetrable jungle behind it looked exactly the same as they did in front of our palapa.
The captain led the way and clearly knew where he was going. He marched forward with a military pace, fast, at least as fast as as a slight, elderly man in street shoes can walk in soft sand.
I’d always had a hard time judging the age of Asians, with their slender builds and unlined faces and hair that never seemed to fall out or turn gray. He could have been in his 40s, but his calmness and poise and sureness suggested an older man, perhaps in his 60s.
However, he was certainly fit. I thought of myself as pretty fit for a guy in his late 50s, but I was quickly panting and sweating with the effort to keep up with him.
We’d been walking an hour when we came to a slight indentation in the jungle where there were a few broken branches and trodden ground cover. If I’d been alone, I would have kept going. The jungle still looked impenetrable. But the captain left the beach and turned into the jungle. He pushed aside the overhanging branches and deep brush to expose, on the other side, a narrow but clear trail.
The jungle passage slowed the captain’s pace enough so that I could catch up with him. I’d been puzzling over several things that didn’t seem to me to make a lot of sense. How did the captain know to look for the runaway sailor-slave on this island, in this direction, on this beach, and now on this trail? How did the captain get to the island, for there was no sign of a second boat? Why was a high-ranking police official doing the bidding of what amounted to a foreign slave ship? Why did the Cambodian captain even care what happened to a 14-year-old Indonesian boy apparently marooned on a deserted island in the middle of the South China Sea? It wasn’t as if Cambodia didn’t have enough crime and violence to keep a cop busy. The more I thought about it all, the less it made sense.
I started to question the captain. I kept my questions hesitant, casual and tentative. I didn’t want to alarm or alienate this man. He answered my questions, after a fashion, but the longer we talked, the more puzzled I became.
The captain said the police on the mainland had received an urgent message from the ship requesting help. They hadn’t said what the problem was but wanted a senior officer to visit the ship and help with a search. It was a Saturday and the police station was undermanned. The captain decided to go himself, took a speedboat out to the fishing ship. A crewman drove the captain to the island and returned to the ship to await a call to return to pick him up. That was the story.
It was about as nonsensical as the story of a child who explains his hand was in the cookie jar just to check and see if there were any cookies in it. He didn’t intend to eat them, of course, just to check on them.
END OF PART FOUR. NEXT WEEK, THE LAST INSTALLMENT.