The Role Not Traveled
Olo, our friend with the yellow body and white limbs, inspired the annoyance of many. A mischievous sort, Olo drummed up tricks and ruses that frustrated humans and Peridots alike. Sure, there was laughter from humans—or more so, the occasional guffaw. Maybe a titter or two. A weekly chuckle perhaps. But seldom a chorus of giggles or chortles. Those who laughed were never the object of the trick. Once they were, they never laughed with Olo again.
Now a teenager, Olo required more from their human keeper. More belly rubs, more games to play together, more trips into the forest. But Olo’s human friend ignored their entreaties. This keeper was, nowadays, a keeper to oneself. She, too, was a teenager, but others deemed her too young to take on important tasks. In the aftermath of the Great Rain, the elder keepers denied her helping hand to rebuild huts lost in the storm. No one saw her promise. And some did not see her at all.
She then bided her time with great indifference. Boring tasks became more boring. Caring for Olo was consistent but impersonal. Food had no taste. Hugs were offered, but never accepted. Anticipating the moment when Olo was to leave for good, the keeper even considered never tending to a Peridot again. Not because Olo wasn’t lovable. (They were!) But because Peridots deserved a keeper with purpose.
In the nearby forest, a hefty tree with gray bark as ridged as a reptile’s skin tumbled over a water spring, nearly sealing it shut. The ground underneath the tree quickly moistened and turned into mud. The water spring was the only one of its kind at the campsite, and it served as the only source of clear water for humans and their Peridot friends. Without water, how were Peridots supposed to enjoy their kelp? How were humans to drink or to bathe? Large numbers could not move this tree. The elder keepers took rocks and, together, chipped away at the wood, hoping to splinter the tree in half. Olo’s keeper saw this from afar and knew that the tree would never split, let alone fragment, at least not for months. She walked toward the tree to warn them, but she met their grave faces and turned right back around.
She lumbered back to her campfire with neither a smile nor a frown nor the vigor that is required of both. Olo tried to entertain her by showing her a few tricks, but she preferred to rest her eyes.
Olo grew restless. The highlands were near and Olo succumbed to the allure of a small mountain range. Two pointy crags flanked an otherwise level ground of stone, about the length and width of two campsites. But it was high up, and its path was sinuous and gravelly. Olo traveled forth anyway. The higher the sinews, however, the deeper Olo breathed in and breathed out. Olo found the walk tiresome, but when they heard the sounds of flowing water, they followed them to a long edge of land. A short distance away stood another long edge of land. In between the edges of these lands, a river rushed forth. The land was not that much above the river. Olo could see deer plucking alewives from it.
A curious sort, Olo walked closer to the edge and dipped one of their hooves into the running water. Its rapid flow rattled Olo’s balance, and after every frantic effort to regain it, Olo toppled into the river.
Its waves were too strong, too forceful. Swimming against it exhausted Olo’s limbs and tail. The river swallowed Olo whole, and when a steep drop in the river approached, Olo did not panic. As far they were concerned, their fate was tied to either a miracle or a tragedy. The mouth of the river narrowed before its fall. Was this the miracle Olo hoped for?
The closer the drop came, the faster Olo’s chest would rise and fall. They unfurled their tail to the left. Olo gripped it with a frenzy of ten Peridots and pressed their right hand upon their chest. Their heart pounded deeper and deeper as the drop neared. Deeper and deeper still …
an outstretched arm from the edge of the narrow river’s mouth opened its hand to snatch Olo’s tail and lift their body, right before the water cascaded downward into a waterfall that Olo was not likely to survive.
Olo’s heart continued to pound. But when they turned their attention away from the water onto the face of their rescuer, Olo fluttered their eyes tenderly. Their keeper hugged Olo, as if a parent discovered love for their child for the first time. For Olo, there was no greater relief than the warmth of familiar arms.
Olo’s keeper had little to say to their Peridot. She too needed to catch her breath. Once the despair shed from her face, she raised her shoulders high. Her eyes and smile embraced a new clarity. Before this moment, she would fret about how to share the discovery of a river with others. Will the elder keepers trust her words? Or dismiss them, like they did so frequently before? These thoughts – these former thoughts – failed to furrow her brow. The rush of saving her Peridot invited valor, not self-doubt. If no one would listen, she would make them.
Possessed by courage, Olo’s keeper marched to the stream of the broken tree. With Olo by her side, she noticed how the men, the elder keepers, helplessly continued to chip away at the tree. She declared, in ancient words and a stentorian voice, that she had found a new water source and that if people wanted to bathe or grow crops, to walk behind her.
Steadily, a queue came into shape and followed Olo’s keeper into the highlands. Those left behind, the elder keepers, continued to chip away at the fallen tree until their arms and hands tired. When they were left alone and thirsty, they realized their folly and followed the tracks of their friends to the highlands. When they arrived, humans and Peridots were setting up new campgrounds along the river. Keepers were playing games with their Peridots. Others went fishing. Some even planted tomato seeds in the grounds near the water. The jaws of the elder keepers dropped in unison. When Olo’s keeper walked by them, they attempted to apologize through words of limited eloquence. She continued to march forward without acknowledging them, but stopped near a cactus. She accepted their apology, turned right back around, and continued walking.
When this group of humans and Peridots needed a healer to mend wounds and make potions, they turned to Olo’s keeper. The Tawnis, they would call her. This was not her name, but her role. Yet, some could not tell the difference between the two. People and Peridots happily bestowed her this role. Not because she possessed the skills of medicine, but because resolve was her guiding light. She would always find a way to cure sickness … and disbelief.