The two towns stand on opposite sides of the wall, just as they have for a century. Hurricanes flooded the lowlands and uprooted trees. Wealthy townspeople retreated inland and put up a wall to protect them against the uneasy sea. On the Leeward side were a grid of streets, regular trams, and shopfronts with every gilded thing: rich jewels, whizzing motors, sparkling dresses. People traded for out of season delicacies and vintage wines from across the sea.
The Windward side terraced from the heights where the wall stood, down to the low marsh plains. Pilings were evidence of fishing piers, where a bounty of fish was caught before the creosote plant flooded and poisoned the seafood. There were maritime forests supplying timber and turpentine for boat-building until the winds snapped tree trunks like matchsticks. A clear-running stream dove off the cliffs in a joyous cataract until the Leeward neighbors impounded it to create a reflecting pool for their swans.
Settlers remained on the Windward side, people who were too stubborn to leave their homes; those who stayed begot generations of scavengers and salvage artists. At the tip of the peninsula was the trash mound, where every week the Leeward side’s castoffs were deposited by a convoy of trucks guarded by a security force. After the trucks rumbled away, empty, residents would descend on the mound to find imperfect apples, broken furniture, and other detritus, which they would haul home to repair, disassemble, and find new uses for their neighbors’ discards.
Above the surface, it seemed that chaos and confusion plagued one side, while order and tranquility ruled the other. But that was not quite the truth.
One summer morning, Daniel, an architect, left his penthouse apartment for a morning run. There were never many people out this early, most preferring to go to the gym during their extended lunch hour. Daniel liked to be out as the sun rose, when he could watch the elegant concrete towers cast shadows on immaculate green lawns. He admired sleek-hulled boats in the marina, imagining voyages to exotic lands. And he wanted to be the first in line to get his coffee at the bakery near the Jardín. He was finishing his last sprint down the allée of plane trees, when he heard a loud “co-co-codet” and nearly tripped over a chicken. A chicken!
How had that humble bird appeared in this beautiful garden? The chicken eye him beadily until a young boy darted across the path, scooped up the bird, and ran away. Daniel pursued the boy, nearly catching the boy before he disappeared into a gap at the base of the wall.
Dropping to his knees, Daniel peered closer. The gap wasn’t as small as it seemed. Clearing some brush, Daniel found the entrance to a tunnel at the base of the wall – a break in the wall itself! The boy and his chicken might be the first to sneak through the wall, but they would also be the last. Daniel skipped his morning coffee and was therefore very cross as he showered in his cerulean tile hammam, dressed in his best suit, and marched to City Hall to make a report.
On the other side of the wall, the boy Ali was shaken by his near-miss. First, his prized Buff Orpington had almost gotten away. Second, he had scraped his knee when he landed in the tunnel, running from the man in the skintight suit. And third. . . well, third, he shouldn’t have been on the other side. He threaded his way through the tunnels, limping, but holding the chicken tightly under one arm.
The Leeward Council gathered at the wall to consider the breach. They shook their grey heads over the potential for violators and transgressors. The Mayor called for a vote, and the Council unanimously approved her measure to close the gap. They also voted to cover the surrounding area with concrete so that anyone trying to dig from the other side would be thwarted. Work began that very afternoon; workmen brought in bright lights and excavators to work around the clock.
Things were in disarray on the Windward side of the wall, too. People used the tunnels at every hour of the night and day: lovers stealing a private moment together, traders on their daily routes, and the more unscrupulous denizens of Windward. Ali was spotted running through the tunnels and questioned by elders concerned that the Leewarders would scrutinize the wall and find it more porous than they had thought. (This was not the only opening in the wall, but one of 17 or 23, it was hard to say exactly, because some opened only as needed, and tunnels were blocked by rock-falls or roots.) One blocked tunnel was inconvenient, but more obstacles could make things difficult for the Windward side.
Ali was ashamed. He fixed the chicken coop from which Buff had escaped and slunk to the water’s edge, hoping to find something of value. All he found was a 55-gallon drum, which he cleaned with sand and seawater and rolled home to add to the collection of rain barrels that captured water from the tin roof.
The citizens of the Windward side could rest easy once the blockade was complete. They threw a celebration, at which the Mayor wore her most elaborate robe and the townspeople drank their finest champagne.
The next day, workers in the Jardín noticed something odd – the level in the reflecting pool had dropped several inches and there was a sulphurous smell. They told themselves that it was unimportant, that the swans must be mating. But the next day, the pool was even lower, and merchants near the park complained of the smell.
No one realized that the artesian spring that supplied the swans’ pond and the city’s reservoirs was now buried under a concrete apron. The first inkling developed on the other side of the wall as the blocked tunnel cracked and heaved. What had formerly been a dry stone tunnel developed rivulets on the tunnel walls and formed a sluice along the bottom; the trickle grew into a stream and carved a channel through the town.
The Windward side was overjoyed to have clear, fresh water again. They filled buckets and barrels, irrigated their dry crops, and drew baths in tubs that had been empty for years. On the Leeward side, things were not so rosy. Water was rationed, and rationed again. The Jardín rosebushes were dying, and the street trees dropped their leaves. Trains delivered glass bottles of water that were pricier than champagne. Jewels were traded for water tanks. The citizens waited for rain but the hot, dry weather continued with no relief.
The tunnel raiders were concerned, their profits drying up as the Leeward side turned its attention from the black market to more pressing matters. They haunted the tunnels’ unblocked exits, unable to sell their wares, unlikely to find new buyers for high-octane alcohol, untaxed goods, and forbidden surveillance devices. They appealed to the elders. Many Windwarders felt a sense of justice in the return of the stream, after being cut off for so many years. Children were overjoyed. The elders were cautious.
Casualties of an unauthorized shipbreaking expedition, Ali’s parents had been dead for many years. His grandfather Sam had raised him, and just like everyone else on the Windward side, Sam had many jobs – farmer, builder, and fixer of broken things – but he was known for building cascading water storage that repurposed everything from hollow logs to hoses and fanbelts. His workshop was a tinker’s paradise of broken pipes and vessels of every shape and size, so it was no surprise that people gathered at his workshop to discuss what might be done.
“The Windward side should keep the water.”
“But we have more than we need – all the excess goes into the sea!”
“Why should we give any of it back?”
“If we don’t give it back, they’ll come and get it – and that means war.”
The factions argued as Sam continued to work, hammering, welding, and fastening. Four of the elders arrived at the workshop, breathless from the climb. Sam served them mint tea in unmatched glasses, and continued to work on a hollow log, attaching brackets to the bottom as the elders sat on rush mats in the shade.
When they had dispensed with the formalities, the first elder asked Sam, “Is there any way to restrict the flow of water from the other side of the wall?”
Sam stopped hammering to look over his half-spectacles at the group “I don’t think so.” He tightened the next joint.
Another elder asked, “Will the water stop flowing on its own?”
“The spring has supplied water for many generations, and will continue to do so for many more.”
The third elder wanted to know, “Why haven’t they come for their water? Don’t they know where it went?”
There were angry mutters until Sam replied, “They may not know for certain, they may not know just yet, but they must be suspicious.”
The last elder said meekly, “Then what shall we do?’
Sam replied, “We shall give some of it back.”
The crowd laughed. “Give it back? That’s impossible!”
“How do you bottle a river?”
“We should send it back in their empty trash trucks.”
“Who would want to drink that?”
But the voice of Ali pierced the noise. “That thing you are working on – is that how you will give back the water, Grandfather?”
The crowd hushed. Sam patted the boy’s shoulder. “Exactly. But I could use some help.”
Volunteers gathered materials, built a mill-race, welded the great wheel, and poured foundations for the viaduct. They worked without generators or arc-lights, without excavators or heavy equipment, but with no less industry than the builders on the Leeward side. In three days it was done, all except for the last piece to be placed with delicate hands by someone so small that they might remain unnoticed.
Ali, of course, volunteered. The townsfolk argued, “Ali got us into this dilemma in the first place. . . . ”
“If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have a stream at all!”
His grandfather agreed that there was no one more nimble or more adept at the intricate fastenings. On the night of the new moon, the bravest and strongest men placed the last section of the hollow log to extend over the wall. Slipping a heavy sack over his shoulders, the contents wrapped in rags so that they would make no noise, Ali climbed the ladder to secure a funnel to direct water from the lip of the pipe down to the reflecting pool. He unfurled the tube with a slinky, coppery sound to hang above the empty pool, and called down that all was in place. The weir was lowered to flood the mill-race, the great wheel spun, cups filled the viaduct, and water raced down the log to slide down the filigree funnel until it was released into the pool with a gentle splash.
Daniel almost stayed home that morning, not wanting to run in the summer heat, but intuition called him outside to see if anything had changed overnight. No clouds promised relief from the drought and there were no ships on the horizon that might carry water supplies. He reached the Jardín just as the sun rose over the barren trees. Was that a boy on the top of the wall? And what was draped in front of it?
An arm was raised in salute, and the figure atop the wall disappeared. Daniel’s feet picked up speed as he drew closer. A fine, conical net was suspended in hoops from a pipe over the wall, from which flowed beautiful, clear, cold water. Falling to his knees next to the pool, Daniel scooped up handfuls to rinse his face and drink deeply. “Water!” he shouted. “Water!” And he went to wake the city.