Origins

Who knows how we arrived here. Or when. Or if things have been how they've been since the very beginning: this island with its rocky complexion, the houses that lean against the wind, the people who live here, the horizon that has always been so vast and unattainable. No one seems to know. We are people on an island and there is nothing but the sea that surrounds us.

I've read all the books in the library. While the others feel that I'm wasting my time, I cannot imagine doing anything else. It's how I I count the days days when I'm not helping with the sewing, picking vegetables in the garden, or cooking, the mundane chores that maintain us.

Most of the books are about boring things. At the end of the shelf is a small book with no title. It's the oldest book and the leather cover has began to turn into dust, starting from the corners, and I have to be careful when I turn the pages because a gust through the window may just make them disappear into particles in the air.

I've read it quite a few times, read what ink remains on the pages that have not faded into the fibers. It's the story of Jonas, the first elder, who towards the end of his life set sail away from here. The people had loved Jonas as much as they loved their fathers because that what he was for the few people who first lived here. He was Father to everyone. They packed bags full of food and water, they bundled the thickest blankets for him, and when the day arrived, everyone cried and waved him farewell on the rocky shorelines. Jonas raised the sail on the boat as Asher, his eldest son, untied the ropes that anchored the boat.

It's what Father and Mother will do when they grow old and are ready. It's what Gabriel and I, and everyone else will do when it is our time. One day, I will hold their hand and walk them down to the old stone seawall and watch as Gabriel will help them step onto the wooden planks and untie the rope. And eventually, our own sons and daughters will do the same for Gabriel and I. What would we feel as they watch us disappear from the land.

There are no books about where Jonas came from and what the world was like before him. Before this place. Nothing about what is on the other side of the sea if there is anything at all. And those who've left have never come back to tell us.

No one talks about the people who left before their time. I asked Mother once, how come we never talk about Gabriel's father.
She was patching the sleeve on my dress and her hands stood still. "We just don't," she said.
"Why? Is it because they've done something bad?"
"No, they haven't done anything bad."
"Then why?"
"We just don't Fiona," she said and held my hand for a very long time, "now let me finish your dress."

Just like questions about what came before, it was the same no matter who I asked and after a while, I stopped asking.

I tell Gabriel about these thoughts and he tells that I'm thinking too much again. Like I always do.

After schooling and when all the house work is done, I take Gabriel with me down to the seawall where those whose time have come, leave from. We sit on the edge and watch the waves slow to a gentle halt.

One night, after Gabriel's grandmother and grandfather left, after thinking about their blank faces as the boat pulled away from the wall and rocks, I told him, let's not wait until our time, "I have to know now. Why can't we just leave tomorrow?"
"But it's impossible Fiona. No one would ever allow us," he said.
"We don't need them to tell us when. Others have done it before, so why can't we?"
Gabriel held my hand much firmer and didn't respond. We could hear my mother's voice carry down to us, calling for us to return home.
"Why do you think about is so much? You care more about what's out there than here and me," he said.
"That's not true, I do care about you. But I'm just scared that if we wait for so long, we wouldn't want to leave anymore. And when we do, it would be because we have to."
"But everyone has to," he said.
"I know, but what if by then, we wouldn't even care about what's on the other side anymore. We wouldn't care if there were more people out there or if was all just water or if there was a giant wall that surrounded us or who knows whatever is there. The sky. We'd be too old to care."

I put my head on Gabriel's shoulder and started to cry. It dripped onto his arm and slid down over our hands, in between our fingers.

The tide began to rise as the calls became louder. We could see a single lantern making its way down to us.