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  • Danny belongs in the bush, away from village comforts like salt, biscuits, and tea, away from the fortnight payments for toils in the nearby oil palm plantation, away from tourist divers’ boats.

    Before Danny there was Francis, Danny’s uncle, who also belongs in the bush. For the past year, Francis has taken Danny to the groundwater where they’ve built a small shelter and sleep on banana leaves. They wake at dawn, load a pack of dogs into a hollowed out trunk of a canoe, and paddle to a nearby island to hunt pig, kapul and wallabee. Then, in the dark of night, they load a spear, a ten-kilo rice bag, and a flashlight into their canoe. They follow the shore until a crocodile’s eye reflects the flashlight’s glow. At about 1 am they return with a bag full of live crocs to sell later on in town. And repeat.

    Danny is seventeen. He stopped going to school last year. “The bush is my school,” he said wryly. He moves with a quiet and intentional surety grounded in a confidence that depends on nothing but his hands and his wits.

    I sat in the middle carriage of the canoe and a pile of pups squirmed behind me. Danny sat at its bow, Arron paddled at the stern, and John squatted down in the hull. Arron and I dropped Danny, John and the dogs off at the island. Danny ran into the thick of vine wrapped trees and whistled. The dogs lurched forward and pounded into the trees behind him.

    Arron and I paddled around the lush island, past sheer cliffs and landslide scars that dropped straight into the water’s green. He told me about the lake – about how his great grandfathers believed it to be the bottomless source of life and about how today’s geologists could not, after two miles of string, find its bottom or our source of life. That it’s home to a creature with the body of a crocodile and the head of a brontosaurus. That French divers returned from an exploration saying that they heard men talking, dogs barking, and birds singing, below its surface. About how its waters heal wounds and sicknesses. About how researchers have traveled here to understand why birds once thought to only exist in the Congo and the Amazon also fly here.

    Arron was cut off by the hounds’ howls and the crashing of the bush giving way to the hunt. I looked up toward the commotion, along the island cliff’s ridge, but Arron saw the pig fall from the cliff top into the water. I saw its splash and looked up to find the dogs barking and craning their necks off the cliff's edge.

    Danny burst off the edge and dove into the water, surfacing quickly and decisively. Arron launched the canoe forward. Danny caught the pig by its hind legs, pulled it below water and held it there as it fought and drowned. We caught up to the site, pulled the pig into the canoe, and steadied it while Danny pulled himself into the hull. He let out a whoop and grinned.

    Danny belongs in the bush.
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