The whisper was most insistent on days like this, when the sun was dipping near the horizon and the full moon already climbing the sky. The deep trails of the mangrove trees beckoned, enticing, “Entrar. Enter and discover our secrets.”
Each day Joél joined his father fishing in the Mexican Manialtepec Lagoon, bordered by mangroves. The trees grew tightly together, their long trunks rising out of the water, leafy branches mingling to provide the dense groves. But here and there an animal trail would make a slight opening. Each one they passed whispered to Joél in a language that even he did not quite know.
Today, today Joél was answering that call. Anticipation cut through him even as his oars cut through the green of the water. The deep burping sound of the thin black cormorants echoed around him as he paddled far into the winding lagoon. Nests of Wide-Billed Herons filled the trees, the heavy weight of termite nests covering the trunks below them.
Then he reached it, this pathway that whispered the loudest. The sun was hovering above the horizon, a red path streaming across the lagoon. The water at the mouth of the mangrove tunnel danced with flecks of red among the deep blue and green.
For a minute Joél thought the boat would not fit. Then he was in, bits of the sky peeking through the branches, tangles of vines and trunks all around him, rustling with the movement of the birds.
The tunnel opened wider. He felt suddenly that he was in a tiny cathedral, created especially for him by the hand of the Creator.
He clambered out of the boat and balanced on two spindly mangrove trunks. Turning his head upward, he let his soul open to the Creator. Here, far from civilization, surrounded by nature, Joél felt more of a connection to God then he had ever felt before.
The bits of sky had darkened to a royal blue when Joél slipped back into the boat. The tunnel led beyond the cathedral, though he had a bit of a time forcing his boat into the opening. It was challenging work to weave his way further into the grove, and the growing darkness did not help. But still the mangroves called to him, enticing him.
A long shadow moved across the water in front of him, and Joél felt the first tingle of fear. The boa constrictor paused briefly to eye the boat, and then disappeared among the roots.
Joél shook off the seriousness and paddled deeper into the grove. The path twisted and turned in a delightful way. After a bit it narrowed even more, and the boat would go no farther. An idea crept into his head and Joél hesitated. But he pushed the common sense away and slipped over the edge of the boat.
The water was cold here and Joél shivered, unused to cold swimming. Roots grabbed at his legs. Promising himself he wouldn’t go out of sight of the boat, Joél moved forward, but when he turned, he found that the boat was already lost among the darkness. Night had fallen in earnest now.
Suddenly the water churned in front of Joél. A dark shape moved, and Joél found himself facing the consequences of his own foolishness. He did not stop to verify that it was a crocodile, but turned swiftly back toward the boat.
That is, he thought he was headed back to the boat. Surely he should have been there by now. Joél wondered then if the whisper had not been so innocent. The whole place seemed sinister, bent on his destruction. His breath came fast.
“Dear Lord, save me from my foolishness. Help me find the boat.”
A faint splash echoed behind him, and Joél wondered if he would die out here in the middle of the mangroves. Then he bumped into the boat. With his head. Hard.
Somehow he managed to grab it, spluttering hard. Rolling himself into it, he lay shivering on the bottom. The moon crept into his field of vision, bright and peaceful. “Thank You.”
As Joél passed back through the “cathedral”, he knew that he would return. Next time he would be wiser. He would stay in the boat.
The water glowed with green phosphorescence where his paddle disturbed the water as he entered the lagoon. He turned back toward the opening of the tunnel, answering the familiar whisper.
“I’ll be back.”
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