She returns unexpectedly. Unannounced. She is laden with some package, something wrapped and concealed. A burden. She has been gone for years — almost as long as you have lived here — and not a word from her in all that time.
Your son, who was just a baby when you all found the caves and moved into them, is now old enough to have pointed questions about this stranger. Who is she? And where did she come from? Why has she come here? What is under her arm? He is nervous and scared and probably rightfully so. (He looks more like his mother now than when he was a toddler bumping his head on the cave walls.)
She just barges right in with her package and proceeds to drag and carry and lug it into the tunnels and down the stairs. (You helped to build those stairs over the past few years. That stairwell feels like you life’s work now. It feels like an affront.) Barely a word of hello. No story to tell. No explanations. She just comes in and start off down the stairs. You are almost certain that you know where she is going.
(You consider telling the boy that she could have been his mother. In another life perhaps. Had things been different. But that would only confuse him. And is irrelevant to the impending dangers.)
You should take off after her immediately. But everyone up here in the upper-most tunnels has seen her now. They have seen — or at least heard — about how she barged in. There are implications. You know that better than anyone. There are already worried rumors being murmured from mouth to ear in these passages. You try to allay fears but you know that there is only one thing that will put minds at ease. (At least that has an easy answer.) You shut the main door. You shut it and turn every lock. You bar the door. You chain it.
“Don’t let anyone else in. No exceptions. No one. Not until I get back. I need to tell Him.”
(But you are certain that He already knows.)
You race down the stairs after her, brushing the walls for balance. (Did you even say goodbye to your son?) The tunnels branch out into these caves, and the caves are intricate network within the cliffs, but you can only imagine she is going to one place. (You must have told him goodbye; you would have wanted him to feel responsible for the locks on the door.) She is headed to the lowest levels, to that cave mouth that opens up to the river, to the rickety makeshift dock. (Isn’t he too young for this kind of danger and intrigue?) Your heart pounds as you race down the stairs; they have been here so long now that you cannot remember how anyone used to go to the lowest levels. (Isn’t everyone too young for this kind of danger?) But you’re too late to stop her, or even shout after her.
From the rickety dock, she and her package are already loaded onto that tiny boat and floating down the river. She glances back and sees you and just as quickly turns away. Anger? Embarrassment? Regret? Something else?
He is already down there, standing on the dock and watching her float away. He hadn’t looked this old when He led you all here. The time in the caves has aged Him more than anyone. In His hands is His usual ornament — a collapsible umbrella that He carries like a scepter. (A ridiculous symbolic act?) You start to tell Him what has happened, but you can tell right away He is listening for your benefit and not His own. He fingers the umbrella around the edges. He opens it up and a beam of late afternoon sunlight shines through the umbrella, casting a blue light on Him. He turns, and for a moment you suspect He will skewer you on the point of the umbrella, but He folds it up and puts it away.
He waves you off. Stops your story. He knows all this. He knew it already. There is no cause for concern. (But you suspect that He does not quite tell the truth, at least not the last part.)
He asks about your son and looks away again, down the river.
You tell Him about the door. You ask Him about what she brought with her. What did she have? Was it dangerous? Where did she get it? What about everyone upstairs? What about everyone not here in the caves? What about the door?
He does not reply and only asks: “This dock has always been our weakest point of defense, hasn’t it?” A rhetorical question.