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A lake crossing seemed perfect. There were too many stories of people crossing by land and getting lost, or caught, or dying of exposure.
The boat looked like it had not been sailed for a long time. There was dirt everywhere, dead leaves in the cockpit, the cabin had black mould on the walls, the wood laminate was peeling. A canoe paddle had been tossed into the cabin, and an extra rope. It looked like there used to be an engine on the back.
The man had placed a one litre water bottle in the cabin. Seeing it, Fonyay realized he was thirsty. “Now or never,” he whispered. Holding onto the tiller with one hand he stretched as far as he could to reach for the bottle. No luck. He let go of the tiller and dove toward the cabin. As he did so the boat rounded up into the wind, the sails flapped wildly as the boat began to turn about. Fonyay crashed against the cabin, then sat back down hard on the cockpit bench, grabbed the tiller and pulled it towards him to settle the boat. The large bottle slipped out of his hand, bounced on the edge of the cockpit and disappeared over the side into the lake.
“No, no, NO!” Fonyay cried out as he watched the bottle drift away in the wake of the boat. He thought about turning around to get it, but realized he had no idea how to do a full circle. He sighed heavily, looked out at the lake ahead of him, and cursed his bad luck. He dipped his hand over the side into the water, and raised his wet hand to his mouth.
With a shock, he tasted no salt. It's not salt water, it's river water! He looked up at the blue sky. “Thank you, Lord!” he whispered. He splashed water over his face, and drank from his cupped hand as he held the tiller. As he did so, he saw a red buoy ahead, red light flashing on top, as regular as a mother's heartbeat: the Niagara buoy, just as the man said.
Fonyay passed the buoy and gently pulled the tiller to turn the boat toward Toronto. “Thank you Lord!” he cried. He could see the CN Tower in the distance. The water was bullying, slapping the little boat around. But the sun shone, the sky blazed blue with big white clouds drifting in from the west. Fonyay smiled. “Toronto here we come!” he said quietly to himself.
The black speedboat came out of nowhere. He stared at it: two men, with vests, and a nest of aerials.
“Please God, no.” Fonyay whispered. The boat was headed right for him. “Please, not me. Please don't come. Please no.” He rehearsed his story: just out for a sail, no I don't have ID, I just borrowed these sails, I came from Niagara. The men wore military camouflage, they looked armed. Fonyay considered how to raise his hands without letting go of the tiller.
The boat sped toward him, then it banked slightly, to cut him off. Fonyay's stomach churned with fear, he froze in panic, screaming inside. As the boat approached and curved ahead of him, Fonyay saw the net hanging from the stern. They're not aerials, he thought. Fishing poles. They are fishermen. The boat cut across his bow about fifty metres ahead. The two men waved to him. Fonyay waved back, warm relief flooding his body like hot tea. Thank you God, he thought. The wake from their boat rocked the Kirby up, down and sideways. Fonyay gripped the tiller and the edge of the cockpit and held on, terrified. He could not swim.
The wind picked up, strong and steady, he closed his eyes and felt the breeze. The CN Tower looked no closer than when he had turned at the buoy. He checked his watch. Two o'clock in the afternoon. He remembered the lunch he had packed into his knapsack. Fearful of what might happen if he let go of the tiller again, he decided against trying to reach it, hungry as he was. He cupped his hand into the lake again and drank, the waves splashing hard against the hull.
He watched a long freighter up ahead, slowly making its way out into the lake, black smoke streaming from its funnel. Rafael had tried to cross on a freighter once. But Rafael had been taken away. Seagulls flew overhead, screaming abuse. A squadron of cormorants sped low across the lake like fighter jets. Two seagulls settled onto the lake off his starboard side. A tree branch floated by. In the distance he saw sailboats.
The freighter was about two hundred metres off his port bow now, throwing up a large wave. He could see no one on board. Sail has right of way over power, he thought. That much he remembered from his sailing course. The distance closed quickly: the freighter was not going to alter course. The freighter was less than one hundred metres away, he could see white level markings on its side, rust on the black steel hull. The bow wave looked terrifying.
I have to act, thought Fonyay. But what to do? He pushed the tiller away, heading into the wind. The sails flapped loudly as the boat slowed almost to a stop, bouncing in the waves. I am in irons, thought Fonyay, frightened. The freighter roared past him, its huge bow wave folding the water and arcing towards him. Fonyay held on to the tiller and the mainsheet, desperately trying to keep the little boat steering straight ahead into the wind, and keep it from capsizing in the waves. Both sails flapped loudly, the ropes dancing all over the cockpit as the huge freighter pushed past him. The noise was deafening: the flapping sails, and the roar of the freighter's engine. The ship's horn blasted twice.
Then it was past.
Fonyay struggled to get his boat back on course. The sails flapped again as he turned back toward the great tower. He settled back onto the bench, his heart pounding. “You should go back to school!” he shouted after the freighter. “You should learn to drive! Take a lesson! What kind of driver are you?” Breathless, shouting, he found himself grinning, laughing as the fear left him. “Ha! Who are you? I am a king! You are nobody! I am a king!”