“At least this is a chance for you. Perhaps to forgive yourself for what you did. Or maybe what you didn’t do,” the old man said to me as we rowed ashore. My eyes stared into the reflection of the rippling water beside the boat, illuminated by the full yet partially clouded moon and a dim lantern hanging over the starboard. The evening breeze whisked through my hair and the salt-scented air filled my lungs as my thoughts overwhelmed me in sheer trepidation. We stopped rowing as our boat approached the wooden docks, gliding slowly to our destination. I threw some rope ashore around one of the many wooden pillars to anchor the boat and gathered my things. I hadn’t packed much for the journey as there wasn’t really much time – a backpack filled with some clothes, a flashlight, a lighter, a knife, as well as a poncho and rope.
“Before you go, you must tell me the truth. You owe that much to me,” whispered the old man. “Swear it on your mother’s grave.” There was a brief moment of silence between us, filled with the noises of water caressing the boat as it cut a path towards the docks. The gentle ticking of crickets resonated into the moon-lit darkness, bringing a sense of primordial tension to the situation.
“I’ve told you. If you don’t trust me, would swearing really make a difference?” I asked him, my arms wiping away the evening dew off my face.
“It makes a difference to me. We both know what will happen if you don’t.” His cold, blue eyes stared into me, as if penetrating the very depths of my soul, moistened with sadness but brightened by a faint glimmer of hope. His slightly weathered skin, pale yet full of life, sulking in self-pity, overshadowed his white beard and muscular figure.
“I can’t do that because I don’t remember what happened. You know that. So what will you do now?” I stared into the eyes of the old man. His eyes gazed into the sea, as if ashamed to look upon my face. “You cannot return home either. You helped me get here and they will arrest you as soon as you get back.”
The old man looked at me and nodded. “But I can’t stay with you either, son. Consider this my last duty to you as a father.” He paused to swallow, as if he had something stuck in his throat. But I knew what it really was. It was his disappointment in everything that had happened. The knot that had formed around his vocal chords was choking him as he struggled to form words. “All I see in your face are the bodies of my grandson and my daughter-in-law. You get off here, and I’ll find my own way.”
I climbed out of the boat and untied it from the pier. I looked at my father row away slowly into the full moon, tears glistening in a subtle yet steady stream running down his face. I stood on the dock for some time, watching him slowly disappear into the horizon. At that moment it occurred to me that I may never see my father again.
I turned around and walked off the docks onto the shore, where the crisp, compact sand pressed up against my old army boots, slightly sprinkled by the very small ripples of waves, baptizing the footsteps I left behind over and over again until there was no longer any evidence of my arrival.
I took a knee on the beach, preparing my equipment to setup a camp until morning. I pulled out my flashlight, placing it in my mouth to maintain both hands free. As I took the poncho and the rope out of my bag, I heard a faint but distinct crackling noise. I looked up into the tree-line, shining my flashlight. My heart was racing as my eyes scanned left to right and back again. After a few minutes of silence, I took a deep breath, and closed my eyes to calm myself down. The crickets were chirping in full effect, the ocean waves were caressing the sand, and the melody of the night filled my ears with a soothing comfort in the face of vast loneliness. I took a moment to look up at the sky. The bright-lit stars were magnificent amongst their sheen and luster, and for the briefest of moments, I thought I saw one of them die. It was as if the heavens themselves had shed a tear for the predicament I had found myself in.
A crackle once again alerted my senses. As if in synchrony, an arch of torches were lit ablaze, blocking off my path from proceeding off of the beach. The torch closest to me wandered closer. A voice spoke to me from the burning light. It was a female voice that had aged many years, calm yet stern in its tone. “We are here to welcome all new arrivals. Yet you are early,” she said.
“Early? Were you expecting to me? I mean no harm, I’m just passing through.” I tried to see who was holding the torch, but the light was too bright and blinding.
“We are always expecting. And we would like to welcome you. Please, you must be hungry and tired. Walk with us and do not be afraid.” She motioned with her hand to come forward, and gave me a firm embrace, just firm enough where it was uncomfortable yet warm.
Was there a choice? I could think of none. I was among strangers in a strange land. Whatever freedom I had died with my past. It died with my family. I had fled to this island to find some peace for myself, knowing full well that I was outside the boundaries of the law. For some reason or another, this island was left to rule on its own, filled with outlaws and undesirables of all kinds. Perhaps this place, where I thought I could find my own salvation, will prove to be instead, my own damnation.