There were thousands of islands. The curve of the Earth did not limit the expanse of the water nor the innumerable islands. Each one looked hand-crafted, if anyone were to have such large hands, and seemed similar, but not exactly the same. I tilted my head, reaching my hands out, just to feel the salty air atop my own island.
On this sandy getaway, I had a single, leaning palm tree, and a few of its fruit children. There used to be two trees, but I broke one down and carved it into a boat. I took a few of its branches and left them to form a small bed-area, and I used the two remaining ones to make paddles. And today I went out to see the world.
I started out easy. Which is the closest? I asked myself before making my way.
The first island looked quite like mine own, the sand just as golden-white as my own, the few palm-trees resembling mine, except with less coconuts. “Where’d they go?” I asked abruptly before even looking for someone else on the island.
A man stepped out from behind the trees, evidently surprised to see me. “I gave them away,” he said before gesturing to a pile of coconuts near him. He smiled, “And people gave me theirs. And other things, too.” He paused before saying: “My name’s John, but the ‘o’ is like ‘cone’.”
I stared at him for a long second before responding myself. “My name is John, too, but, you know, the regular pronunciation.” John-cone just looked at me. “Well, that’s not very nice,” he said. “Perhaps my name is the regular pronunciation.”
“I assure you it’s not,” I said, dumbfounded by his change of heart. “Of course my way is the right way to say it.”
“And how would you ever be sure of that?” John-cone said, his smile fading away quickly. At this, I pushed backwards, backing towards the open ocean, I hope. Without another word I turned around and paddle away, John-cone’s eyes stabbing into my back.
The next island I go to, I assured myself, will surely be better.
Again, this island was like mine, but again, slightly different. If anything, it was smaller and higher, somehow. It seemed as though the inhabitant had dug up the sand from the perimeter of the island and then piled it on top. All that was visible of the island was the tops of the palm-tree’s branches, and even they were brushing the sand away from themselves. I could hear someone on the other side of the island, perhaps, and it sounded like they were throwing something into the water.
“Hello?” I shouted, trying to get someone’s attention as I scrambled up the side of the island, millions of grains of sand slipping under my feet and falling into the ocean.
“Yes, yes,” someone said from above me. “I’m here, John’s here,” the voice continued– but the way he said John makes me wince at its incorrectness. Much like the previous “John” did not know how to say his own name, this one said it with the “h” like “Bach”.
“John?” I asked as I reach the top and came face-to-face with another person who was feverishly tossing sand into the ocean from the top of the island. So, from that standpoint, I suppose I was not actually “face-to-face”. More like “face-to-top-of-their-head”.
“Yes, that’s me,” he said without looking up, scooping the sand with half of a coconut.
“And… what exactly are you doing?” I asked, starting to feel sheepish about all the questions I asked.
“Digging, adjusting,” he said indifferently, but his posture suggested anything but indifference. He seemed almost uncomfortable in the comfort of his own island, where everyone was happy– weren’t they?
“So, John,” I said slowly, “my name is John.”
“Great,” he said flatly. I then turned back around to find my boat again, unwilling to see how much farther this man was going to go. As I was leaving, I heard a fleeting, “Oh, no, now I want all the sand back on top…”
At the next island I saw no palm trees, to my amazement. He’s cut down all the trees! I thought. How curious…
In their place was a rustic looking house, some kind of shack, something pulled together at the last second.
As I attempted to tie my boat down with sand, someone came out of the house. “Well, hello,” a male voice said brightly. “Who might you be? I’m John.” Once again, he pronounced his name in the strangest way: the “j” sounded more like an “ee”. Eeohn.
“Well, Eeohn–” I started, before realizing my critical tone and restarting. “Well, John, my name is John, too.”
“John Two?” Eeohn laughed; his hands were heartily on his middle as he said so. He looked well fed and well minded, at that. “What a great name! Please, do come inside, John Two.”
I opened my mouth to correct him but there was a certain air about him that made me feel like it is okay to let him carry on like that.
He led me into the hut he created on his island and I am astonished to see a full array of house-hold products: a small kitchen, fully furnished with fine china, a small sitting room and one single door leading off of the main rooms to what I could only guess was the bedroom.
From behind the bedroom door emerged a woman, about Eeohn’s age, and at her hand was a little boy. “And who is this?” the woman asked, her voice sliding through the air like butter on a pan.
“John!” Eeohn exclaimed, emphasizing the “J”, as though he needed to clarify the difference between our names. Which I suppose he did.
“Yes, that is my name,” I said awkwardly, unaware of a word for the strange feeling in the house. Comrade-ary?
“This is John,” the woman said with a smile, gesturing to the child, but of course, his name was pronounced more like “Hohin” than anything else. “And I’m John,”– but she said the “hn” at the same time.
I could not do anything but stare, flabbergasted, at the circumstances I had found myself in. “Won’t you stay for dinner?” Jo(hn) said.
“Please?” Hohin tilted his little head.
“Er… No,” I said, tripping on my words. “I have– boat– the ocean, you know– something about it calling–”
“Oh, all right,” Eeohn said easily, and suddenly an invisible weight was been lifted off my shoulders. “You’re welcome back any time!” he boomed, jolly. He showed me out the door and made sure that I got into my boat safely before walking back to his wife and child and they waved from their dingy hut.
For a long time, I hugged my knees, trying to comprehend what had happened. Who knew there were so many other people out here? And that they all have my name? Or, rather, I have their name?
As I paddled along, my eye caught a ring of sand with a puddle of salt water in the middle, and, of course, a man laying in the middle of it. His clothing was soaked, he was soaked, his eyes were soaked– but that was most likely because he was crying.
“Oi!” I called over to him, bringing my boat close. “What’s wrong?”
He did not seem to hear me, however, as he mumbled to himself. “John,” He says Yohn! “… Why did you do that? Oh, she got away, she did– but it was good, was it not? If she does truly want to stay with me…”
And I kept paddling, trying as best as I could to look casual, normal, trying to not judge him. He had his own problems, and I had mine. Perhaps it was just a culture shock from the previous island I saw.
I started to get bored of all the islands I was seeing, mostly because they all looked just like mine. So I only stopped when someone whispered to me.
“Hey,” they said quietly. “Hey, want to do me a favor?”
I grunted and turned towards him, my boat only slightly adrift as I saw the man. He was much shorter than any of the others, and it looked like he was hiding something behind his back.
“What kind of favor?” I asked.
“Kill John,” he grinned and said the name like “Jooone.” But he did not have a grin like Eeohn, oh no, not at all like that. No, this was a grin of malice, of revenge.
“…And who are you to ask such a thing?” I made sure my boat was a safe distance away.
“John.” Yawn, I thought. That’s how he said it, anyways.
“Okay, Yawn,” I said, completely all right with the sarcasm in my voice. “How would you like me to go about doing that?”
“With this.” Yawn pulled out a rather large branch from behind his back, and by the noise he made doing so, I guessed he had more back there. “Here.”
Almost too fast, almost too quick, I took the branch and paddled out of there. I think Yawn had more to tell me, but he spoke so quietly and unnervingly that I got out of there as soon as I could. And I also had to contemplate whether or not I was going to kill Jooone.
I thought I might give it a go.
The island not ten feet away from Yawn was darker than the rest. Or, rather, the light above it was. There was a small, perhaps “sky puddle” of darkness above that one island, and it looked as though there were stars in it, too. I paddled up to the island and waited there, straining my eyes to see if there was anyone on the shores. Sure enough, someone was laying on the sand, gazing upwards. “All I wanted was to see the stars,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?” I frowned, caught off guard. “What?”
“I just asked to see the stars, you know, because I always fall asleep before the stars come out.”
“…Well, okay,” I said, “so what’s so wrong with it now?”
“Well, now I can’t get out of it,” he said helplessly. “Everywhere I walk, lay down, anything– there’s just more night sky. I can’t ever feel the sun’s rays again, even when I stand right in them…”
“Well, that’s quite the predicament,” I said, floating in my palm-tree boat in the middle of the ocean, so far from my own island that even my lonesome palm-tree was out of sight. “I’m sorry.”
“No, I mean, it’s not your fault,” he said. “And call me John.” Jaffin. That’s what he said. Not John, Jaffin…
“John,” I said, sharing my own name, the novelty of it wearing off. “And is there anything I can do to help?”
“Actually, yes, John. Do tell me, is the sun out?”
I looked up at the sky, something that I had not done for a while. “Uh.. yeah, it is, Jaff– John,” I said. “Yeah it is.”
“Describe it to me.”
What proceeded was, perhaps, too tedious to copy down. I did indeed describe the sun to him, and then he, in turn, described each and every star to me. Although it was enlightening, I eventually told him I had to be on my way, even though the sun had not moved an inch since we started the conversation.
I was getting tired by that time. I almost fell asleep a few times in my boat, I am being honest. My arms were as tired as my head, and my eyelids got heavier with each stroke. “Fine!” someone shouted, making me jump. “That’s how it is, then.”
I looked over at the shouter and he looked back at me. “Oh! Sorry!” he kept shouting. “I thought you were dead!”
“No, I’m not dead!” I yelled back, practically angered at this point– but for no apparent reason. “What’s it to you?”
“To me? The name’s John!” I almost fell out of my boat at his name. It did sound more like mine than the rest of them, but the “J” was said with such gusto, such a gut noise, that I almost flipped over.
Regaining my balance, I called back to JJJohn, “The name’s John! And I’m all right!”
“Great! I would be okay if you weren’t, though!”
I stayed silent at his response and, like many times before, tried to paddle my way out. It worked.
Giving in to my tiredness a few minutes later, I tied up and walked along the closest (and safest) looking shore that I could find within a three mile radius. Luckily, there was one. It was well kept, with two palms trees, as it should have, and plentiful it was coconuts, though they were all still on the tree and clearly not gifts.
“You’re on my island,” said a younger voice than I was expecting.
“So I am,” I said to the omnipresent-seeming speaker.
“I don’t like people on my island.” The longer they spoke, the more flatly they did. Similar to one of the earlier Johns that I had met– Eeohn? John? I forget now– this voice was monotone. But unlike whoever I can not remember, this voice was less demanding and scary, and more, simply, obvious. “You’re lost,” it said. “Or exploring.”
“Well, that’s vague,” I said. “Isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what vague means.” At this, a little boy, perhaps slightly older than Hohin, stepped out from behind a rather tall sand dune that I had not noticed until that moment. “And you’re still on my island.”
Grateful for the lack of emergency or safety procedures to be followed, I relaxed. I could take a little boy if I needed to. I had a huge stick in my boat!
“Yes, I am. And what’s your name?” I asked, trying to lull the boy into a false sense of security.
“…John,” he said, but rather “Jin”.
“John!” I smiled, hoping he could not see any other emotion than a welcoming type, “That’s my name! I’m John!”
“Our names sound different,” he said. “And you’re not happy about sharing names with someone else.”
“…More like other people,” I said, my facade flickering. “And you know, you’re right. You’re a smart kid, aren’t you?”
“You think you’re safe here. You think you can find your way home. You think your boat can withstand this ocean. It can’t. Nothing can. You won’t find who you are looking for. There’s something in your boat you don’t want me to see. You think you have power in this conversatio–”
I cut him off with my sprints, turning around as I had done countless times before, heading back to my boat. I paddled away and again only hoped for somewhere to rest.
As I sat in my boat, I glanced at the large branch in it. I reached down, placing the paddles aside, and tried to figure out how, if possible, to make a bed like the one back on my own island from just this branch and my boat. Unfortunately, my boat ran aground as I was not watching it, and I was shipwrecked from a large wave that threw me over what I hoped to be my last island.
I stayed there on the sand for a long time– minutes, hours, days?– before someone came over to find me.
“Hey,” a gruff voice said, followed by the shuffling of palm-tree branches on sand. “Is this from Yawn?”
The voice said the name with such spite that I was almost glad it was pronounced so well. “Yeah,” I mumbled, my mouth filling with dirt. “Yeah, it is.”
Suddenly, a large hand grabbed my shoulder and lifted me up from the sand, wiping off my clothing with a clear attempt to help me. The hands then rubbed my face rather awkwardly, getting more sand into my mouth than off my skin. “Er.. Thanks,” I grumbled, spitting out what was left.
“Hey, anyone sent by Yawn is an acquaintance of Jooone,” the gruff voice said and I gasped, stepping back. This then led to more sand getting into my mouth and a coughing fit ensuing, but I will leave any more details out.
When I caught my breath, I looked back at my target to see a huge, burly man twice my size; certainly quadruple the size of Yawn. “Just don’t go through with it, yeah?” Jooone said. “Neither of us want that.”
“I mean, he asked,” I said genuinely. Swiftly, before I could say anything else, I was in the ocean, my boat broken in two and sinking. All the people I had met that day flashed in my head:
John-cone, John, Eeohn, Jo(hn), Hohin, Yohn, Yawn, Jaffin, JJJohn, Jin, Jooone…
Then, suddenly, it was all dark.