Imagine you have been shipwrecked, cast adrift, alone on the rolling sea. There is nothing you can see on any horizon—it’s just you, your flimsy “flotation device,” and miles and miles of open water. You bob along like this for hours, days. As time passes, your situation grows more desperate. Death seems inevitable, the only question being how.
Visions of relief and rescue tantalize and torment you. Anticipation leads to disappointment which gives way to despair. As your life preserver (and your spirits) lose buoyancy, you struggle to keep your head above water. Hope fades, then disappears altogether. You drift in and out of consciousness.
Vaguely you become aware of far-off voices. Can it be? A raft splashes in the distance, propelled by excited people paddling awkwardly to reach you. Eventually, two young voyagers dive in and swim to your aid, arriving just as you begin to sink below the surface. Shortly you find yourself in the boat, surrounded by concerned strangers who make room for you in the crowded vessel. You feel a cup pressed to your lips as cool, clean water passes over your cracked lips and into your parched mouth and throat. It hits you with a rush, incomprehensibly refreshing and divine. In like manner, your rescuers offer bits of bread for your empty, aching belly. Others tend to your wounds as you melt, exhausted, into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Once you have regained some strength, Alejandro, one of your new boatmates, helps you understand your good fortune. There are nine others on board, he tells you, thrown together by similar desperate circumstances. None of them is particularly savvy about life at sea, but they’re making do. They seem to have plenty of provisions, but since no one can be sure how long they will be adrift, they have agreed on some basic rules to govern their time together. Each person has a job, and those jobs rotate on a somewhat fixed schedule. You’ll be starting off on the raft maintenance crew. “For now I’m the captain,” explains Alejandro, “but eventually it will be someone else’s turn. Which is just as well because I don’t know much about sailing or navigation.”
He anticipates your question before you ask it. “We voted you an equal share of the rations. Didn’t even have to discuss it.” Of course you are grateful, but considering that each of them has given up a tenth of their provisions without knowing the first thing about you, you start to protest. Alejandro smiles and interrupts. “Pretty sure you’d have done the same thing for any of us,” he says. And that’s that.
As time passes you come to know the others in the boat. There’s Samantha, who has an opinion about everything; Taj, who keeps everybody laughing; Kendra, the worrier; Mathis, who pretty much keeps to himself; Annie, the fitness nut; Sven, the intellectual know-it-all; and Amira, who connected with you from the very moment you were pulled aboard. You’re pretty sure that you and Amira could have been friends before all of this and very likely will stay friends once it’s all over. The two guys who were the first to reach you? You have trouble remembering which is Jason and which is Jordan, but they’re an interesting contrast: one seems to be some sort of religious zealot and the other as irreverent as they come. But whatever. They helped save your life.
Days pass, and the tight quarters and forced intimacy begin to take their toll. The idiosyncrasies that seemed endearing when you first came aboard start to grate, and at times you wish you could just be done with the lot of them (except, of course, Amira). From time to time someone gets on your nerves, or maybe says something unkind in a moment of frustration. You stop talking to that guy, maybe talk too much about that other one. You grow tired of Jordan’s preachiness (or is it Jason?), of Taj’s jokes, of “captain” Alejandro’s glaring incompetence. It’s all a bit much.
At last you feel that you can take no more. You may not even be able to pinpoint what finally puts you over the edge. Maybe you thought you overheard a couple of the them talking about you, or maybe Alejandro made a decision that you disagreed with. Perhaps it was the feeling that Sven wasn’t doing his fair share of the work or that Kendra was eating more than her share of the rations. Does it really matter? One thing for certain: You feel a growing need to get off of this boat.
You lie there, contemplating your options. You could jump out and make a swim for it, hoping to come upon another boat (or better yet: land!). Maybe you could even get Amira to come with you. And if your plunge into the unknown proves fatal? Let’s face it: You’re probably all going to die out here anyway. Might as well get it over with. Anything seems better than spending day after endless day in this patched and leaky raft, living among those with whom you have almost NOTHING in common. Why continue to pretend?
You drift to sleep, and as you sleep you dream (again) of that fateful day when strong arms lifted you out of the water and offered you soul-restoring sustenance. You awake to find Samantha gently applying ointment to your open sore (the one that just won’t seem to heal) and Mathis tearing the hem off of his tattered shirt to make a bandage. You look up to find Amira looking over you (as always). She smiles, offers a bit of her cracker, and your resolution to leave the boat begins to ebb. Feeling grateful, but still annoyed, you shake your head and whisper: “Why do they have to be so nice?”
“That’s just the point,” says Amira. “They don’t.”