The river was broad and silent and flowed slowly between stands of pines down to a distant sea. It was a great river, a river old in myth and legend, a river which knew what time could do.
It was a river that had seen peoples come and go, life give way to death give way to life again, a river whose waters had reflected moons long gone by and would reflect moons long since yet to come.
It was a river that knew history, that was a part of history, a river that was seeing history being made now…
The ship sailed steadily up the river.
It was not a big ship, as ships go, but then it was only a river craft. It had no ocean going pretensions.
It was not armed, except for a few old muzzle loading rifles on deck; it had nothing fancy about it, its brass was tarnished, the wood of its decks warped and scuffed. Its crew numbered only a few, but they were picked men. They were picked men because they carried in their holds the future of a nation.
No gold, no spices, apes or peacocks from the Eastern Isles were as precious as the cargo in the little ship’s holds; for the cargo was the key to a dream beyond all imagining, a key to open the door to a future that otherwise might never come.
Only turn that key, and the vast forests would be felled and great cities would spring up in their place; laughing children would swing in playgrounds and throw balls through hoops; great black highways would split the land and bring the world down to the size of a long car ride. Only turn that key, and great riches would be drawn from the earth and the air would vibrate with music.
Such was the importance of the ship’s cargo. Yet the crew did not think about it that way. They had been given a job to do, for which they were being paid well, and they were doing it.
Silently, sails set to catch the night breeze, the ship sailed upriver to bring the smallpox-infected clothes to the Native Americans.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2007