a short story, by Sha’Tara
I wanted to know him, but I never did. He worked for my parents at the house on the Estate. That’s where I spent my time when I wasn’t in school, or college. Year after year. I grew up, he got older.
I was raised by wolves, you know what that means. So he was my life. And now, they’re all gone. The wolves finally ate each other and their prey died, possibly of boredom.
He cared for them, though he cared for me the more. But he was so careful around me, careful to always have somebody else with us, near us, a witness, so that should something untoward happen the wolves wouldn’t blame him, and eat him. I never blamed him for being careful; for protecting himself. And so, I never got to know him. He was just there. And then like that, and suddenly, he wasn’t.
I won’t try to explain in words what it means for a twenty-two year old pretend woman to be left adrift and alone after swimming her entire life with sharks and being forced to hunt with wolves. I didn’t like either roles but I did not pretend hard enough, meaningfully enough, that I was an exception, an actual human being. Perhaps being alone now, completely out of the limelight, rich, and with only one uncle as would-be guardian – he’s barely aware of my existence – I can finally become what I was born to be. Hello? Can anyone tell me what that is? Listen to my harsh, sarcastic laughter!
In the back of my mind, there is an image, or perhaps it’s a mirage.
A blue-green sea casts its waves upon a dun shade sandy shore. Palm trees move in the afternoon breeze blowing all along that shore. Sometimes I see a colourfully dressed woman with a young boy walking on the sand. The boy bends over frequently to pick up things. Once I watched him from the house’s balcony. He was picking up starfish and flinging them back into the waves. The woman, probably his mother, or guardian, walked on ahead slowly, oblivious of the stranded starfish. It reminded me then of a story you’ve all heard; a story that haunts me today.
It’s about a little girl frantically running up and down a beach after a storm, picking up starfish and flinging them out to sea. A man, watching her, came to her and said, “There are so many stranded, you can only save a few. What difference can it possibly make?” To which the wise girl replied, as she flung another into the waves, “It makes a difference to that one.”
It’s easy to forget that lesson. I’m twenty-two and what do I know of life? I know how to use money to get what I want. But do I know what I want? That’s the problem: I don’t, not really. Sometimes, I think bitterly, if I were a Barbie doll, I could buy myself friends, maybe even a boy friend. But I’m much, much less than a popular doll. I’m a rich no-one with fangs; one who knows how to snarl and chase prey in the shallows.
It is summer now and even in summer, there are storms. Sometimes the waves are cavernously deep and as they approach the shallows, rise in high combers, their wild palomino-maned surf crashing and thundering all along the shoreline. On such occasions I like to run down there and stand just out of reach of the surf as it crashes, runs up the beach, then slithers back for another attack.
Then with heart beating, I walk down, barefoot and bare-legged into the pushing and pulling roiling waters. Of course I’m looking for answers. And in those brief moments I get to put my loneliness on pause. When I see a starfish on the shore I pick it up and throw it back in the waters, hoping it will not be washed up again. Yes, hoping. Then I think about my life, beyond its hellish peacefulness and dulling emptiness. And how it keeps getting washed up on the shore and is as helpless as the starfish to do anything about it. Who would pick me up out of sympathy perhaps, and cast me in my element?
I asked him once about loneliness. He’d noticed it in me and I know it made him sad that a young girl could be so alone in the world. I asked how he could live there, in that… that house, alone year after year. He’d explain that he didn’t just stay there. He had family and friends among the fishermen in the village. I wanted to go with him to meet his friends, or to make my own friends in the village but the wolves forbade it. They’re not our kind of people, said my mother, baring her fangs. You could be kidnapped for ransom, said my father, turning and blocking the exit. The house is safe, and there’s enough space on the estate for you to wander through without danger. We’ll get you a horse, and a trainer. I didn’t want a horse and the trainer would be another short-lived diversion.
Do you have any idea how lonely it is to be property? To be an estate slave with no purpose whatsoever but to fill a void in someone else’s life? A convenience, a trophy, even if never first prize, being of wrong gender? Let me give you a piece of advice before you throw yourself off a cliff, or the fake battlements.
If you ever feel truly alone you want to go down to the sea shore when the wind tears up the clouds as they whip over the half moon, say around midnight, and you want to sit on a wet rock to just listen to the waves crashing in, one after another, and between each one, listen to the water hissing back down into the roiling darkness. That is the sound, and the feeling, of the heartbeat of the lonely; the truly lonely. That is the heartbreaking echo of utter loneliness. Only then will you know, for an inescapable fact that your fate is sealed; alive or dead, it’s all the same and it will not change.
If only I could give my life a purpose. Join the throngs of others going on about their business of struggle, survival and periodic pleasures. Using my own wits instead of my cursed inheritance of family money. Using my own hands to create, or just make, something. Maybe sit down beside a homeless woman and try to feel what she feels. What if my hands could actually hold someone without crushing them? My lips kiss another and my fangs remaining retracted?
These are my thoughts today. You see, it was his funeral yesterday and I’m just now beginning to realize how truly lost-lonely I am. I would like to do something outrageous right now, but my mother said, they’re not our kind, and my father, it’s too dangerous. And the only person I ever trusted, ever loved, was buried yesterday. I couldn’t even attend his funeral, I was afraid.