Henry was a coast guard. When other boys were working at a bakery or in front of a computer in a little office, Henry was saving people’s lives.
One night, the cable holding Henry from the helicopter snapped and he smashed down on the rock. He hurt his back.
The people he worked for said he would have to take a break for a while, to get better. So they flew him home to an island called Guadeloupe, where his family lived.
The whole neighborhood and all of their friends showed up for a party. They filled up the whole front yard, and spread into the back, the hill where they could watch the ocean.
And everyone was speaking—well, shouting—in Creole! Hearing it for the first time in years, Henry laughed.
And there was Amelle, her hair braided in one thick braid, her eyes green as the ocean. The two of them spoke for a moment, but then someone butted in and Amelle disappeared back to her family.
”I’m so glad you’re home,” his mother told him, when everyone was gone, “You father’s been having trouble working, and the roof needs retiled. I don’t want him to hurt himself—”
“Me neither. I’ll get to work on it. Maybe in a couple of weeks.”
But he didn’t. No one knew about his injury and he didn’t want them to know. He would hide from people if he saw them at the gas station or at the market in Basse-Terre. He would use his icepack when his parents were already asleep so they wouldn’t notice. No matter where he was, he felt like he didn’t belong.
One morning he took a nap on a beach, and was woken up by a red fish with a familiar face. It spoke to him in Creole and dragged him into the water!
The fish, whose name was Yannick, brought Henry to different places. They swam underneath waterfalls, with manatees; they swam with whales. Henry had never seen them like this—together, with babies and grown-ups.
“When you were nine, you caught me,” the fish told him, “You kept me in a fishbowl at your house. You showed me to your whole family, to your friends. To that girl, Amelle. And then, one day, you brought me back here. I wanted to do you the same favor.”
He woke up that night on the beach, soaking wet. His back ached.
As he walked home, Henry fell, his back almost making him scream. It took him almost all of his energy to get up and walk home.
Back at the house, his mom came in to his room. He told her what had happened to him, and how he had been hiding it from her. She hugged him.
“Henry,” she said, tears in her eyes, “I don’t want you to be something other than what you are. You are our son. Even if you aren’t perfect.”
When people heard, they felt bad for Henry. They brought food to their house for him.
Amelle came by herself, without a present, but with an invitation.
They walked on the beach. The sun was setting, making everything yellow. They talked about their lives, which started so similarly but which were so different. She asked him questions. She listened.
The stars were turning above them in the sky by the time they walked home, and the moon painted everything white. The whales had their currents and the manatees had their mangroves. And Henry had the moon and the stars. And a friend. And his island.
~ Ted Bushman, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania