The Crossing of the Aliákmon
by Suzie Wilson
Third Place – Level B (5th – 6th grade)
I was entrusted to deliver a package to the other side of the riverbanks when suddenly I was confronted with the dilemma. I was broke. I was a Greek orphan boy living on the streets of Velvendos and had no money. I needed to raise enough to pay for a ride on the cheapest ferry around, the Argo. I heard it only cost five drachmas and only accommodated six on rotten, wooden seats (which often caved in when passengers used them). I would have to earn that money prior to the ferry’s arrival in a week.
Before my father was killed in the arena and my mother died of a strange illness, I made friends with a tradesman. He often sent packages to his friend who lived on the other side of the river Aliákmon. Mr. Perseus was his usual deliverer but was away visiting his cousin near Mount Olympus, fifteen miles away. I needed money to deliver the package, and fast!
The day I learned I was to deliver the package, I began to look for work. I was interested in a construction job, but I was too short for it. I looked into becoming a barber’s apprentice, but it paid too little. After looking at a lot of jobs, I settled in an olive garden. I would earn a drachma a day by picking olives.
I immediately went to work the next morning. After walking about half a mile, I reached the garden. I learned how to pick the olives, clean them, and put them into a sack. Over the next week, I worked hard and worked later than usual some days so that I would have enough money for food, too.
The morning the ferry arrived, I walked the mile to the dock. By the time I reached the ferry, I was covered in perspiration. After paying the five drachma toll to the Argo owner, I sat on a rotten seat, not caring that it was already caved in. Three other peasants boarded, including a boy that looked about my age. After we took off on our journey across the river Aliákmon, I walked over to the boy who was leaning on the rail, watching the birds dive for food. For a while, we stood there watching the birds in silence.
“What’s your name?” I asked, breaking the awkward silence. “My name is Alexander.”
“Mine is Tyrone,” he answered. “Where are your parents?”
“I’m an orphan. My father was killed in the arena, and my mother died of sickness.”
“I’m an orphan, too. My mother died of smallpox.”
“I don’t want to be rude, but what about your father?”
“I never saw my father,” he answered bitterly.
“Where are you going?” Tyrone asked.
“I have to deliver a package to someone’s friend across the river. And you?”
“I’m gonna start a new life,” he replied. “I hope to find a good job and settle down.”
Just then, a crazy idea popped into my mind. “Do you want to come with me? I could split the tip with you, and you’ll have at least a little money to start off with.”
“Okay, I’ll come. It would be good to have a friend with me in case bandits come.”
After getting off the ferry, I had a slight idea where to go. The tradesman’s friend lived right on the edge of the Aliákmon. Upon finding Mr. Jason’s house, we knocked on his door and he opened it. Mr. Jason invited us in. Immediately, I handed him the package, and he tore it open to reveal a small painting of a beautiful, pale young woman. He placed it on a small table set with a bowl of soup. “Who is that?” I asked.
“Oh, she was my daughter. I found out she had given this to Christian, the tradesman, just before she died. She was born prematurely and was weak, which caused her to die in her twenties.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Tyrone said, shaking his head.
Mr. Jason was silent.
“Well, Tyrone, we’d best be off,” I said, disappointed Mr. Jason hadn’t extended us a tip.
“Wait!” Mr. Jason exclaimed, jolting out of his sorrow. “Don’t leave yet! I want to ask you something over supper.”
Tyrone and I sat down next to the fire while Mr. Jason prepared two hot bowls of soup. All the while, we talked about our pasts and shared funny stories. By the time our food was ready, my sides ached with laughter.
We gathered around the table then and over dinner, Mr. Jason told us about his proposal. He wanted us to stay with him. Since his daughter and wife had passed on, it had been very hard for him to manage his small farm alone. He had asked the locals for help, but they had all refused.
At first, we refused, too, but then we learned that he would feed, clothe, and allow us to live in his house. Plus, we would be able to get a paying job at a nearby mill.
After a long discussion, we decided to take the offer. Now, I get three good meals daily, and I go to the mill every three days! Tyrone and I are now adopted brothers, and Mr. Jason is our kind, adopted father. We are very happy here, and the hope is that this happiness will never end.