Only stars and a waxing moon lit the tour’s descent to the opposite shore of Sheridan’s second island. Another ferry waited at the pier, but the ferryman blocked the dock with a sizable suitcase as he smoked the last of a cricket. He smashed the smoldering butt with his bare heel. He wore torn jeans and a white tank-top.
Michael gathered the group out of earshot. “The second ferryman won’t let us board until we buy souvenirs. I hope the inconvenience isn’t too much trouble.”
Henry scoffed while the others nodded. Michael led them to the ferryman, who called out in Sheridanian. “Oran dora, Michael. [You told them my fare?]” Michael nodded and the ferryman opened his suitcase. It was packed with seashells of all sizes, colors, and kinds. “Cost is buying two shells. Foreign currency only. Children ride free.”
Jay admired the shells. Suzy took two cowries. Craig took coiling worm-snails. The ferryman charged them a handful of yuan while Eva considered some clams.
“I knew this place was a tourist-trap.” Henry didn’t even look at the suitcase. “I got enough shells at the bazaar. How come we gotta buy shit?”
“You don’t,” Michael managed through a gritted smile. “You’re welcome to hike back over the island and take tomorrow’s return ferry to the airport.”
Perhaps to spite Henry, Jay chose the two largest shells: a conch speckled brown outside but rare pink within, and a spiral horn-shell seven inches long. “How much for these?”
The ferryman grinned. “Good taste. Twenty-five US dollars for the conch, fifteen for the horn-shell.”
Jay gave him a fifty. “Can you deliver overseas?”
“Don’t worry, Jadie.” Michael spoke Sheridanian. The ferryman wrapped the shells in butcher-paper and marked them with sharpie. “I’ll ship them to you first-class.”
“Thanks,” said Jay. The ferryman must’ve deducted shipping from the fifty, as Jay received no change. “So, why sell shells here? Isn’t business better in the bazaar?”
Michael translated the questions into Sheridanian and returned the ferryman’s response in English. “He makes most of his money ferrying merchants from the main island to the bazaar. When he ferries for our tour-groups he loses this source of income as we pay him with nights in the apartment. Selling shells nets him pocket-change.”
Jay joined Suzy and Craig on the dock behind the ferryman. Eva paid three dollars for the pearly halves of a clam-shell and gave the larger half to Lilly. They followed Jay onto the pier. Henry tried to walk with them but the ferryman blocked him. “Hey! Buy two shells or swim to the next island!”
Henry revealed two pitiful-looking sand-dollars.
“I don’t sell those shells. Those are currency-shells.”
“You sold them to my wife. You forgot already?”
The ferryman tssk’d and waved Henry through. “[Children ride free.]”
Michael laughed. “Oran dora.”
Below deck, the tour-group shared a cabin of cots. While the others slept, Jay sketched birds in his notepad. He started with a fist-sized fledgling, then a chicken-sized adolescent, then a mature adult. He’d have to show Faith when he returned; the adult looked like the Heart of the Mountain.
“Jadie Jackson!” Michael sat beside him in his cot. “Did you enjoy the second island?”
“Absolutely! I hope that little bird is okay.”
Michael shook his head. “I’m afraid the matriarch usually puts blind fledglings out of their misery. But don’t worry—most don’t survive long anyway.”
“Oh. C’est la vie.” Jay gave him his camera. “You wanted to check my photos?”
Michael smiled at Jay’s pictures of the masked dancers. He deleted one photo capturing a gray bird’s curious head. “Jadie, do you still want to visit Virgil Blue’s monastery?”
“If I can get there.”
“Well… If you can get there, please deliver this letter.” Michael gave him an envelope addressed in Sheridanian. “Monks live there whom I’ve missed for years.”
Michael’s long-strained smile finally wilted as his gaze fell. “My family is fourteen brothers married to fourteen sisters. We once had twenty-eight children who left the family-business to practice with Virgil Blue.”
“Wow.” Jay wrote in his notepad. “I hate to ask, but could these family-ties help me meet Virgil Skyy?”
“Family-ties are why I cannot help at all,” said Michael. “Those children grew up stitching plush birds for us to sell. They decided this was blasphemous and dedicated their lives to monastic study. They believe their family packages religion for tourists, and they want no part.”
Jay nodded. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear from you.” He put Michael’s envelope in his backpack—but as he did, he felt something amiss. He checked each pocket. “Um. Michael, I don’t seem to have my passport.”
“I’ll tell the ferryman to look for it when he cleans.” Michael stood from the cot. “We’ll get you back to America. You’re not the first tourist to lose their passport.”
Jay woke in the night to a figure standing over him. They tossed something into his cot. “No!” Jay bolted upright and smacked the object away.
“Whoa, Jay, chill!” Henry picked the object from the floor. “Don’t wanna lose your passport again, do you?”
“Oh. Thanks.” Jay tucked his passport into his backpack. “One time I lost my passport in South Africa. It took weeks to get back to the states. Where’d you find it?”
“You wanna smoke?”
“It’s fine, I got extras. I bought armloads back at the bazaar.” Henry spread a handful of bug-sticks. That explained why Eva and Lilly shopped alone, thought Jay. “Half the stalls hock these things. That’s why we can mark up the price state-side, huh?”
Jay furrowed his brow. “I’m sorry?”
“Bug-sticks are a dime a dozen here but back home I charge ten bucks a pop or more. Check this out—the assholes running the stalls make change in fucking seashells, can you believe it? It’s theme-park funny-money.” Henry rattled sand-dollars in his cargo-shorts. “But I can’t complain ’cause they got me past the ferryman for free. Bet you wish you’d thought of that, huh?”
“Huh,” agreed Jay. He drew up his covers and turned away to sleep.
“You know, guys like us gotta stick together. Got any tattoos?” Jay said nothing but Henry didn’t mind. “How do you get your bugs past the dogs? Last year they sniffed my bug-sticks through air-tight jars and airport-security grilled me for hours. I’d bribe them but I spent all my cash on crickets and I don’t think they’ll take sand-dollars.” Jay said nothing so Henry continued. “I’m gonna put goat-meat in my bag. If a dog rats me out I’ll show the meat and pretend that’s what the dog wants.”
“I’m not bringing bugs past the dogs,” said Jay.
“What, really?” Henry put his hands on his hips. “Oh, I get it. You’re stashing bugs in the seashells you’re shipping home. That’s smart, Jay. No wonder you blew fifty bucks on that junk.”
“I’m buying souvenirs for friends and family.”
“I bet you are,” Henry smirked. “I bought bug-sticks to make some friends, if you know what I mean. Presidential friends, like Ben Franklin. Am I right?”
Henry shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “You know, Jay…” He pointed at Jay’s backpack. “You said your name was Jadie, but your passport says Jay. How come?”
“No reason,” said Jay.
“Skimped on the fake passport, huh? I’m impressed with the holographic stuff, it looks legit. What’s your real name?”
Jay said nothing.
“I got my `Henry’ passport last year after security banned me from the islands. My real name’s Leo.” Leo stuck out a hand for Jay to shake. When Jay did not, Leo adjusted his sunglasses and the collar of his Hawaiian shirt. “You’ve only got one cricket. Are you smuggling the hard stuff? Centipedes? Can you show me how? This is my first time.”
“How’d you know,” asked Jay, “I’ve got a cricket? It was in an envelope in my backpack.” Leo didn’t answer. “Did you look through my stuff? Is that why you had my passport?”
“We should team up back in America. Like a gang, you know what I mean?”
“Get away from me,” said Jay.
“I said fuck off,” said Jay, “or I’ll shout and wake everyone aboard.”
Leo sneered as he returned to his cot. “Jadie’s a girl’s name, gaylord.”