Written in Sand

Sand billowed off the dunes in large puffs of hazy smoke. Shielding his eyes, Satellite stared hard out into the desert. He didn't particularly have a clear idea as to where he was going; he just knew his mother said he needed to leave. She said there was an entire world beyond Ozokierba, and while he thought that wasn't true a couple of hours ago, he was shocked to discover it was true. There was…a desert out here.

"Big surprise, mum," he mumbled, hating how dry his throat felt. At least he'd brought plenty of water with him. Reaching for a small wineskin at his hip, he plopped down in the sand and took a short drink. Even with all the sand floating in the air, he knew it was around midday in the midst of summer. He'd stupidly chosen the worst time to travel, but he couldn't help it.

Loneliness dug at his heart as he remembered the last couple days spent at home. Things had been uncomfortably quiet, even when his neighbors came around to offer their sympathy. Everyone knew what a blow it was for Satellite to lose his mother. She'd been the only one to raise him since he was eight. The small home he'd shared with his mother was so claustrophobic, so alarming and panic-inducing to him. Once her body was taken and buried, there was no reason to stay in the place anymore. Everyone in his family was gone.

First his father had left, but that was ages ago when he was still a child. Satellite thought he was dead, but his mother denied it until her last breath. He'd never wanted to admit it, but only angry thoughts consumed him when he thought of his father.

He'd left his wife and child alone. How could he do such a thing? Did he not realize how hard it had been on Satellite's mother? Didn't he recognize that Satellite couldn't take care of her on his own? Actually, he could…but it had taken up his entire life. He didn't mind, but he was twenty-five now and had no relationships outside of his neighborhood. His mother became so sick in the past couple of years that he barely had time to earn a living. If his father was still alive, then the only reason he truly wanted to find him was to kill him.

But that was why he was out here, after all—he'd promised his mother he would try and find his father. She truly believed he was still out there somewhere, even if he'd be pushing fifty, and that Satellite needed to find him. The only reason he'd never come home, she thought, was because he'd been entrapped or something else was calling for him. She'd worried, sure, and cried more than Satellite thought anyone should ever have to, but she'd never hated his father for leaving.

The day he left… Satellite had just come home from school, and his mother was outside of the house pacing. He lounged on the front steps while she did so, complaining about his day but it was clear she wasn't paying much attention. Finally, his father slowly came up the main path and it didn't take her more than second to wrap her arms around him, as if she never wanted to let go. Satellite knew his mother loved his father, but she'd never acted like this before—not in front of him, anyway.

The two adults talked for a while, half vocally and half with their hands as his mother was mute, and then she went still when he said something about having to journey to the west for trading. He didn't know how long it would take, but he promised he would be back as soon as possible. The trading caravan was leaving that night, so he'd come to say his goodbyes. He'd called Satellite over and given him a brusque hug, asking the child to take care of its mother while he was away.

Being eight and brave, Satellite promised he would, but…he'd never thought it would last so long. His father never came back, and though his mother remained hopeful about the whole thing, Satellite wasn't naïve. He knew his father had abandoned them. There was nothing else to it. Over a decade went by of his mother pretending things would be fine eventually, and then she grew sick and died, leaving Satellite on his own.

And now here he was, abandoning his own home because his mother asked him to. Eyes watering from the harsh sunlight, Satellite wondered where he was even supposed to go. He didn't know. He didn't have a clue about the outside world because…he'd never been. Maps had been drawn and tales told, but he only had the vaguest idea of what was out here. So far, all he'd encountered was the desert sands. His neighbors told him Ogwebe was somewhere near Ozokierba, but he hadn't found it. Apparently he'd gone right past it.

Flopping back in the sand, he had a minor temper tantrum out of spite—no one was here. It wasn't like anyone would laugh. "Mum! This isn't fair!"

It was even worse because he knew if his mother was still alive, she'd just look at him with that knowingly bright smile and inform him that everything happened for a reason. She'd been such a saint; it was horribly unfair to have been born to such a sweet humana. But you're my Satellite, she'd say, as if that'd make everything better. Life isn't fair, but I know you'll get through it. You always do.

Wiping sweat from his brow, Satellite gently traced his fingertips from one temple to the other. That was his name. His father had given it to him because it was a strong word. He was a guard personified because of his name, and he strongly suspected his father had given him such a name for a purpose. His father knew he would be leaving one day; maybe not as early as he did, but eventually.

And now Satellite's mother's dying wish was that he go and find that bastard. Really, the nerve of it all…

"Go west," he said to himself, dreamily circling one hand in the air. "But which way is west? What's beyond the desert? Why can't I be like everyone else? Why can't I just ignore you and stay home, mum? It would've been better that way."

Unfortunately, he knew the answer to that already. There was no reason to stay in Ozokierba. His family was gone, and he was in debt. Just because he'd been working all this time to support his mother didn't mean it worked. If he wanted to escape the seclusion and loneliness of Ozokierba, Satellite needed to leave. He didn't even care if he really found his father, mostly because he suspected the older man was already beneath the ground.

No, he'd left because his mother had been right. It was time to go.

Sullenly sitting back up, Satellite took another drink of water from his wineskin and sighed. He hadn't gotten very far from Ozokierba yet; he could still see the tall ridges of the hills that masked it from the rest of the world if he looked backwards. He had enough supplies to last him a week, but he wasn't sure if he knew what to do with half the things he'd brought. A bedroll? Who was he trying to kid? He worked in the fields in Ozokierba, but he'd never slept out in them. Considering the heroic stories his mother used to tell about his father, they were nothing alike. He doubted it was true, but his father had apparently confronted and nearly killed a god before.

Satellite didn't believe this for a moment, however, because gods did not exist and his father's lack of presence obviously meant he'd never do such a bold thing.

Well, maybe they were more alike than he'd previously thought. Satellite wouldn't have done such a thing, either. But still, he remembered his father as being rough with him. There'd never been much room for error when his father was still around, and even though Satellite hated the abuse, he knew it was to toughen him up. Learning how to talk, how to be a critical thinker, and how to fight had all been so he could protect his mother.

That was perhaps why he hated his father the most—he wasn't a son, but rather a replacement for his father when the older man disappeared.

Maybe that was good enough reason to go find him. To tell him he made a terrible father, and that he'd abandoned the only woman in the world who would've loved him even if he'd come straight from hell. The poor woman who'd had nothing bad to say about her flake of a husband for seventeen years, and who'd tried to remain collected when he'd left. The poor woman who stuck out like a black sheep, yet never once did she complain about living in the desert.

Satellite took deep breaths and smelled the dry desert air. Ozokierbans said it always rained when one of their own died. It hadn't rained in years.

XX