I slept on the bus ride north to Kenora. I stopped just long enough to eat in a small café, and then flagged a passing taxi that took me as far as Minaki. It was early afternoon when I got there. The town was still an underused railroad stop and work camp for railroad labourers. There were a lot of Ojibway people around, and from what I could see most of them were living in the rat-trap government houses in a hollow behind the upscale Minaki Lodge, which catered to moneyed tourists. I found someone in need of some fast cash with a boat and outboard motor, and I arranged to rent them. I loaded the boat with supplies, extra gas and a small tent. No one asked any questions. The boat owner was content with the handful of bills I gave him, and I saw him in the lineup for liquor while I was shopping. The sun was just starting to slip behind the trees as I aimed the boat downriver, in the direction of Gods Lake.

The river was like I remembered it, black as tea, swirling with secrets. The water level was high and the current powerful, turning the river into a huge, serpentine creature, undulating and curving. I mostly let the motor idle and allowed the river to haul me forward, giving it gas intermittently to stay in the deepest part of the current and avoid the huge rocks that sprang up irregularly in the hidden shoals.

The river opened wide into channels and gaps between spare rock islands and larger wooded clumps of land. The light eased down, giving the river’s edge a mystical feel, and I remembered the stories my grandmother had told about how this waterway fed the souls of our people. The silence was profound. There was no wind. I eased the throttle back and kept one hand on the arm of the motor. I was like a piece of flotsam, borne wherever the current might take me.

As I felt the air chill, I headed for a larger island to make camp for the night. Before long I had a fire blazing. I sat close to it, warming myself as I stared into the flames. The land felt good around me, but there was a hollow ache in my belly now. Thoughts of the school filled my head and I could feel a moan building in my gut. As it escaped me, it frightened me with its ancient sound. I wrapped a blanket around myself, and curled into a ball and pressed my eyes tight.

You’re free. That’s what Father Leboutilier had told me that last time I saw him. Free to go where the game could take me. I shook with anger as I recalled it. I was never free. He was my captor, the warder of my innocence. He had used me. I felt hate, acrid and hot. “You are a glory, Saul.” I repeated those words over and over, until the pressure inside forced me to my feet. I kicked at roots and stones and the jut of logs as I howled, ragged, rough and sore. When I couldn’t scream any longer, I picked up the small hatchet I’d bought and began to whack at a stump. I hit it with everything I had, until my arms and shoulders burned and it seemed that every ounce of fluid in me had drained out through my sweat and tears. I hobbled to the river, waded in up to my knees and splashed water over me. I cupped my hands and drank. When I’d calmed some I walked back to the fireside, spent. I woke at dawn to smoke spiralling lazily from the dying fire and fog settled over the river. I broke camp and aimed the boat downriver.