by Kellie Underhill
He woke hours later. Night had fallen over Miramichi and Sammy gazed at all the city lights from people’s homes, cars and street lamps. Bobbing in the water around Beaubear’s Island provided a wonderful view. He drew inspiration from the lights; after all they had drawn him here in the beginning. He needed to believe this quest was leading to something. He knew in his soul that Rachel’s uncle had not steered him wrong. And as suddenly as hope bloomed in his heart, he saw a different kind of light coming toward him. In fact there were dozens, tiny greenish yellow sparks, skimming the water. They came upon him suddenly and zoomed past. Lightning bugs! Fireflies!
“Wait for me,” Sammy shouted as he veered to the right and swam fast to catch up. When they went under a set of bridges, he followed. When the river curved he went around the bend. But the fireflies were too quick. He stopped to catch his breath.
“Psst. Meester, over here.” Sammy jumped, startled as he turned to see a young guy emerging from the shadows of the water below. He was long and lean with a dark complexion and a toothy smile.
“Hey man,” he grinned. “Wanna make a deal?”
“A deal?” Sammy asked.
“Man, I dunno where you be going.”
“I’m lost,” Sammy said.
“I kin see dat, man, most definitely. But man, have I got a deal for you!”
“Yeah?” Sammy felt a little uncomfortable, he’d never run into anybody else in the water before and this guy in particular seemed a little shady.
“Most definitely, man. Today is your lucky day. Today you meet Meester Chico and he going to take you under his wing.” Chico grinned and Sammy felt the knot in his stomach tighten into a little fist.
“Um, I don’t think that’s necessary, really, thank you very much,” Sammy said giving a small wave and starting to swim off, but Chico was quicker and he blocked Sammy’s path.
“Man, where you goin’?”
Sammy gulped. “Well, you know, I didn’t want to keep you, I’m sure you’ve got places to go, people to see. You’re a tourist right? Not from around here?”
Chico smiled and his sharp teeth glowed in the dark. “Dat’s right, man, dat’s right,” he said. “You one smart enchilada, you da man!” Chico laughed. “I come up here every summer, man, they take good care of ya here, you know what I mean?” He winked. Sammy did not know what he meant. He gave a weak smile.
“I kin see from dat look on your face, dat you do not know what Chico mean.” Sammy rolled his eyes and nodded. “I’m talking two months vacation, man! Luxury resort! Free food! Free drinks! A little squeeze! Man, you know what I’m talkin’ bout?” Chico winked again. Sammy didn’t know what he meant, but he knew he couldn’t go on holiday for two months.
“Aye yi yi! Man, it’s no wonder you be lost,” Chico said as he threw up his hands. “Okay, for you, man, I spell this out, one time.” Sammy squirmed. “Chico, he be a, how you say . . . barracuda.” He flashed his teeth. “Dis holiday no want no barracuda, dey be lookin’ for nice lookin’ dudes, like you man!” He slapped Sammy’s chest. “Huh, hey, you be nice looking guy, man.” Sammy blushed. “Da girls in this place, man, va-va-va-voom! You know what I mean, man.” Sammy thought of Rachel and Gladys and the pretty bartender at The Boulevard Pub. He nodded. “’kay! Now old Chico finally gettin’ somewheres. So here’s the deal, man. Tomorrow, the men they come from the resort called Salmon Conservation Centre. They pick a bunch of good looking dudes from the river, like you, man. You help sneak Chico into da net, we get to resort Chico show you all his old tricks. Man, you smile at the people when they come, swim around a little, shake your behind, the men they be happy, they feed you, give you drinks, you find a nice girl, get a little squeeze, they bring you back here in a couple of months. What do you say, man?” Sammy didn’t know how to tell him he couldn’t stay. “Man! Tink about it! Chico, he come all da way from Mexico all by he’s self every year for dis, man! Some good stuff happening here!” Sammy started backing away.
“Um, Chico, that all sounds, you know, really well and good and all . . . but,” Sammy took a deep breath, “it’s just not for me. I can’t afford a two month holiday right now. I’m sorry. I hope you find some other guy that can sneak you in. Take care. All the best. See ya!” Sammy swam away as fast as he could, faster than he’d ever swum before. He could hear Chico behind him. “Awww, man! C’mon, man!” But gradually the voice faded and Sammy knew he had gotten away.
He swam past a sign that said Eel Ground. He knew that was a First Nations community that had a wonderful school. He’d heard people speak of it in the city. But it was late, so he couldn’t visit the school and be entertained by the students’ music and plays. It was a shame because he had heard they were a group of talented kids with a very bright future. He wondered if the community’s name meant there were many eels in the river here. Sammy hoped not, eels made him queasy. He swam a little faster. The more he swam and the further he went the better he felt. He swam the rest of the night and into the morning when he saw some First Nation’s people in traditional dress heading toward a building. He hadn’t actually ruled out that he was Mi’kmaq. He’d only had the one sleepwalking conversation with Joe in Burnt Church and he’d passed through Eel Ground without stopping, so Sammy decided it was worth a try to talk with some people here.
The Oldest Village
“Welcome to Red Bank First Nation, Metepenagiag, Where Spirits Live. For nearly 3000 years, generation after generation have flourished here where the Little Southwest and the Northwest Miramichi River meet. Metepenagiag, the Village of Thirty Centuries, is the oldest village in the province of New Brunswick,” a guide said as Sammy entered the Metepenagiag Heritage Park Interpretation Centre.
If he couldn’t find something in the oldest village to trigger his memory then he’d have to accept that not only was he not of the Miramichi, he might not even be from New Brunswick. He would have to broaden his search. The idea depressed him.
He learned about the Augustine Mound and Oxbow National Historic Site—two of the most outstanding Aboriginal heritage archaeological sites in Eastern Canada located in Metepenagiag. He saw artefacts, tools used by ancestors long ago. And he watched a film that showed the traditional way of life. None of the information tugged his memory. As much as he enjoyed their culture and admired their history, Sammy didn’t belong here either. Close to tears and exhausted he left and started walking. He crossed a bridge. The sign said Sunny Corner, though he didn’t have any hope at all that the sun would shine upon him and his quest here anymore than it had anywhere else. He thought a hot drink would be good, as he climbed a hill and entered an Irving Mainway.
A Ride to Remember
Sammy got a coffee, went outside and sat on the sidewalk to consider his next move. A short balding man with squinty eyes was gassing up his car at the pumps. “Great fishing!” the man said. Sammy nodded. “I was back at the Fourmen Lodge all week,” the man continued. “I’ll tell you we got some great fish this week! Great fish!” The man whistled and went into the store to pay. When he came back out he noticed Sammy still sitting there. “You need a lift?” he offered. Sammy nodded and followed the man to his car. “My name’s Ben,” the man said as he put the car in gear and they hit the road. “Yes, been fishing all week and had a really good time. Heading back to Boston now. You heading that way?” Sammy shrugged. “A man of few words,” Ben said. “I like that in a man, admirable quality. So how did you do with your fishing?” He didn’t wait for a response. “There were five men at the lodge and we had a really good week. I mean, a really good week! Everyone got their limit everyday, if you can imagine it!”
Sammy couldn’t imagine it and he wished Ben would talk a little less and pay a bit more attention to where he was going. The car kept gliding over the centre and into the oncoming traffic lane; the old man would overcorrect causing the car to lurch toward the ditch catching the gravel on the shoulder. Sammy wondered if he could see very well. “I wasn’t actually doing any fishing,” Sammy said.
“Yes!” Ben exclaimed. “I’m telling you it was the best fishing I’ve ever seen.” He also seemed to be a little hard of hearing. “Now of course it wouldn’t be a good trip if you didn’t get out and do other things besides the fishing,” Ben continued as the car suddenly swerved onto the Warwick Road. Sammy grimaced and braced himself for the crash, but the old man managed to keep the car on the road and accelerated. “We went out to the Country Music Opry one night,” Ben was saying. “Did you get to go there on this trip? Well, what a great place! I’ll tell you, they keep that place hopping with all the different performers. If you like country music that’s one place you have to visit while you’re here.” Sammy’s stomach felt a little sick. They reached Route 8 and charged onto the highway. “Could you slow down a little?” Sammy asked.
“Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right,” Ben said. “I’ve travelled Route 118 every year now for a long time and it does slow you down, you need to take it careful, but it’s still a whole heck of a lot shorter than going all the way around. I hear that young Shawn’s going to fix it up though. That’s what I heard. I might have to come more than once a year then. Come down for spring and fall fishing, get to see more of the sights. It’s surprising how much there is to do around here.” Sammy moaned. The man would not shut up and with the needle buried in the speedometer he exited the Highway without looking for other traffic and blasted up the Renous/Plaster Rock Route 118. “Did you ever get to those Napan Days they have?” Ben was saying. “The Napan Agricultural Show I think it’s called. You don’t see many fairs like that around now with the horse hauling and the crafts competitions. It was an amazing thing, just an amazing thing to—”
“STOP THE CAR!” Sammy screamed as loud as he could and Ben slammed on the brakes leaving black rubber tracks and slewing the car sideways.
“What? What is it? A moose? A deer?” The old man looked around frantically.
“Oh, I live right here,” Sammy said, yanking the door open, leaping out, smiling, slamming the door, and waving as he ran into a driveway. Ben looked on puzzled and then finally shrugged, waved and drove off. Narrow escape, Sammy thought, and noticed where he was.
… to be continued …