Only stars and a waxing gibbous moon lit the night as the tour descended to the opposite shore of the second island. Another ferry waited at the pier, but the ferryman was not hidden in his ship. He blocked the dock with a sizable suitcase as he smoked the last of a cricket. He smushed the smoldering bug-stick’s butt with the ball of one bare foot. He had torn jeans and a white tank top.
Michael gathered the group out of the ferryman’s earshot. “Ordinarily we arrange free ferries for our tours, but my brothers Gabriel and Raphael claim the second ferryman wants you to buy souvenirs. I hope the inconvenience is not too much trouble.”
Henry scoffed while the others nodded understandingly. Michael led them to the ferryman, who called out in Sheridanian. “Oran dora, Michael. [Your brothers told you my fare?]” Michael nodded and the ferryman opened his suitcase. It was packed with seashells of all sizes, colors, and kinds. “Cost for the main island is buying two shells. Foreign currency only, please. Children ride free.”
Jay admired the shells. Suzy chose two cowries. Craig chose two fargo worm-snails. The ferryman charged them a handful of yuan while Eva considered some clams.
“We shoulda turned back as soon as we saw a bird, like we usually do.” Henry didn’t even look into the suitcase. “I got enough shells at the bazaar. How come we gotta buy stuff?”
“You don’t,” Michael managed through a gritted smile, “but you’re welcome to hike back over the island and wait for tomorrow’s ferry back to the airport.”
Jay chose the two largest shells: a conch speckled brown on the outside but rare pink within, and a spiral horn-shell almost 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-dollar bill. “Can I have them delivered overseas? I’m worried they’d break on the hike.”
“Don’t worry, Jadie.” Michael spoke Sheridanian, and the ferryman wrapped the shells in butcher paper and marked them with sharpie. “We’ll leave the shells on the ferry. After the tour I’ll ship them to you first-class.”
“Thanks,” said Jay. The ferryman seemed to deduct shipping and handling from the fifty-dollar bill, as Jay received no change. “So, why sell your shells here? Wouldn’t business be better near the airport with all the tourists?”
Michael translated the questions to Sheridanian and returned the ferryman’s response in English: “Some days he runs a stall on the first island, but he makes most of his money ferrying merchants from the main island to the bazaar. When he ferries for our tour-groups he loses both sources of income, as we pay him with nights in the apartment. He’s decided to peddle his wares to a captive audience.”
Jay joined the Chinese couple on the dock beyond the ferryman, and Eva paid seven dollars for two pearly pink halves of a clam-shell. She gave the smaller to her daughter Lilly and followed Jay onto the pier. Henry tried to slip by 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 looked to Eva for confirmation, but she just lifted Lilly onto the ferry. The ferryman tssk’d and waved Henry through. “[Like I said, children ride free.]”
Michael laughed. “Oran dora.”
Below deck the tour group shared one cabin of uncomfortable cots. While the others slept by the engine’s relaxing hum, Jay wrote his day’s final notes. He sketched birds starting 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 a miniature Heart of the Mountain.
“Jadie Jackson!” Jay scooted to let Michael sit beside him on the cot. “Did you enjoy the tour of the second island?”
“Absolutely!” Jay gave him his camera. “You said you wanted to check my photos?”
Michael scrolled through Jay’s pictures. He smiled at the masked dancers, but deleted one photo capturing a gray bird’s curious head. “Jadie, you wanted to visit Virgil Blue’s monastery, correct?”
“If I can get up there.”
“Well… If you can get up there, please deliver this letter.” Michael gave him an envelope addressed in Sheridanian script. “Monks live there whom I have not met in years.”
Michael’s long-strained smile finally collapsed as he cast his gaze downward. “My family consists of fourteen brothers married to fourteen sisters. But another group of fourteen nieces and nephews left the family business to practice with Virgil Blue.”
“Wow.” Jay wrote that in his notebook. “I hate to ask, but could these family ties help me meet Virgil Skyy?”
“Family ties are why I cannot help you at all,” said Michael. “When they were young, those nieces and nephews stitched plush birds to sell. They decided such things were blasphemous and dedicated their lives to religious study. They believe their family sells religion to tourists, and they want no part of it.”
Jay nodded. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear from you.” He put the envelope into his backpack—but as he did so, something felt amiss. He checked each pocket. “Um. Michael, I don’t seem to have my passport.”
“Oh! I’ll tell the ferryman to look for it when he cleans.” Michael stood from the cot. “If we don’t find it by the time we return to the airport, we’ll help you get back to America. You’re not the first tourist to lose their passport.”
Jay woke in the night to a figure standing over his cot. The figure dropped something beside him. Jay bolted upright and slapped the object away. “No!”
“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 a backpack pocket. “Once, I lost my passport in South Africa. It took weeks to get back to the states. Where’d you find it?”
Henry did not answer. “You wanna smoke?”
“It’s fine, I got extras. I call dibs on the eyes. I bought an armload back at the bazaar.” Henry spread a handful of crickets. That explained Eva and Lilly shopping alone, thought Jay. “Half the stalls were hocking these things. That’s why we can mark up the price when we get home. Supply and demand, am I right?”
Jay furrowed his brow. “I’m sorry?”
“Crickets are a quarter apiece here, but back home I sell ‘em ten bucks a pop, or more. Check this out—the assholes running the stalls give change using fucking seashells, can you believe it?” Henry reached into his cargo-shorts for handfuls of sand-dollars. “But I can’t complain, cause they got me past the ferryman for free. Bet you wished you’d thought of that, huh?”
“Huh,” agreed Jay. He drew the covers up and turned away to sleep.
“You know, guys like us, gotta stick together.” Jay said nothing, but Henry didn’t mind. “How do you get your drugs past the dogs? Last year they sniffed my bug-sticks through air-tight jars, and I spent twelve hours getting grilled by airport security. 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 tries to rat me out, I’ll pull out the meat and pretend the dog just wants that.”
“I’m not bringing drugs past the dogs,” said Jay.
“What, really?” Henry put his hands on his hips. “Oh, I get it. You’re stashing drugs in the packages with your seashells. That’s smart, Jay. No wonder you blew fifty bucks on that junk.”
“I bought those shells as gifts for friends.”
“I’ll bet you did,” Henry smirked. “I bought these crickets to make friends, if you know what I’m saying. To make 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 was impressed with all the holographic stuff, it looks totally legit. What’s your real name?”
Jay said nothing.
“I got my ‘Henry’ passport after I was caught smuggling last year, and banned from the islands. My real name’s Leo.” Leo stuck out a hand for Jay to shake. When Jay did not, Leo adjusted his dark sunglasses and the collar of his Hawaiian shirt. “You only got one cricket. Are you planning to smuggle the hard stuff? Centipedes? Can you teach me? This is my first time.”
“How’d you know,” asked Jay, “that I have a cricket? It was in an envelope in my backpack.” Leo did not answer. “Did you look through my stuff? Is that why you had my passport?”
Leo did not answer. “We should team up when we get back to the states. Like a gang, you know what I mean?”
“Get away from me,” said Jay.
“I said fuck off,” said Jay, “or I’m going to scream, and wake your wife and daughter.”
Henry sneered and adjusted his sunglasses as he walked back to his cot. “Jadie’s a girl’s name, gaylord.”