When I was little, my father would plunk me down on his lap, and I’d listen in quiet awe as he regaled me with stories about his days as a shipyard worker in Karamja. His voice would be tense with excitement as he tucked my shoulders around his arm, and waved his free hand toward the sky, as if he were pointing at something far away. He told me stories of water-faring vessels sailing back to port swollen with much sought-after treasure, and my eyes would widen at this prospect. “What sort of treasure?” I asked, leaning forward expectantly. “Oh,” he said in a matter-of-factly tone, “all sorts of things.”
He followed up this cliché with an impressive list of commodities: spices, herbs, furs, and even a variety of tree roots. “Tree roots?” I chortled, cupping the palm of my hand over my mouth in an attempt to stifle the laughter. “Well, roots are held sacred in the Natives’ land, in the East where the ships set sail to.” To illustrate, he traced a path with a coarse finger – the result of years spent tending to sea vessels -- from one end of my lap to the other, symbolizing the route the vessels took as they bravely dove through the treacherous winds that besieged many a ship’s sail—or so my father told me; I wasn’t there to experience it.
One night, my curiosity piqued. “Did you ever see the East, pop?” I bleated. “No,” he answered, breathing a heavy sigh, and slumped his shoulders down low enough that I swore his neck lengthened in response. I pushed on. “Will you go?” I asked, with a particular tenderness in my voice, so as to not upset him further. He lowered his head to be about level with his shoulders, and shook it rather slowly, as if going any faster would spill the volatile contents trapped inside it. “No,” he finally admitted. He sat fixed in that position, just thinking. He seemed to regret the conversation we had just had. You could feel it.
A few minutes passed and, without warning, he jolted himself back into an upright position, which sent me jolting upwards in fright, too. He eyed a quick glance at the clock, and then shot me a sort of disapproving look. He sighed, and, taking a firm hand, gently guided me off his lap. “It’s rather late, son,” he began, with a tinge of sadness as he spoke. “Go to bed.” I complied. I sauntered up the wooden steps to my room, which felt curiously hard and didn’t creak with each step I took – which in retrospect, was convenient, since any sound peeping from upstairs probably would have pierced into my father’s smoothly-paced train of thought.
I lay awake in my bed, wondering about what had made him – my father, I mean – so upset. Part of me wanted to accept the possibility that he hadn’t got the chance to explore the Eastern lands, but another part felt it was something deeper. He wasn’t so frail—he could still travel abroad, and without assistance. What exactly did he regret: a choice, a twist of fate? Or was it something else? I eventually drifted off to sleep – but those questions were nudging the edge of my mind all the while, threatening to crack me open.