It was almost elusive to her: the pearl clutched in her palm. It was like a tangible manifestation of the hopes and dreams held close to her heart. Attainable and within reach; though her wishes weren’t as dainty nor as small. To those around her, friends and family alike, her dreams were far-fetched and laughable.
For how did she intend to roam the skies and seas? To visit lands she wasn’t even sure existed, without equipment to get her there? They had their carts and small boats; her father refused to let her near their canoe since learning of her desires. But this island and its village folk couldn’t be her only beginning and end.
There had to be something more out there. Like the pearl she’d found on the sand. How many more curious gems and stones were out there for her to see and learn of? People who looked like her but were perhaps different in some way? Did they dress like her, in goatskin dresses and skirts? Did they speak the way she did, or would they have a special tongue? Her curiosity was almost maddening and her deep fantasies of what these other people could be like kept her up long after the oil lamps had been blown out.
No-one shared her enthusiastic wonder and she was often punished for filling her little sister’s and brothers’ heads with foolish talk. They would spread their arms wide and run about the yard, little dusty feet slapping gravel as they chanted how they wanted to fly, flapping about like the soaring birds casting shadows in the afternoon sun.
Her mother scolded her, even while applying ointment to the welt on her arm. She winced, clenching the pearl deep into her fist as the herbal mixture burned into her wound. Beside her, her mother sighed and set aside the clay bowl then tenderly rubbed her back as she sat on a stone slab next to her.
“Your father is only trying to protect you. Whenever you talk about sailing the sea, it scares him. He had brothers who went out and never returned. It’s a vicious monster,” the older woman said, brows worrying close with her frown.
“The sea?” she asked, incredulous. “What is there to be afraid of? It connects us to others who are out there.”
“What others?” her mother questioned, irritation hardening her gentle tone.
“People. People like us, ma.”
“They would be here if they were like us.”
“But what if they don’t know we’re here. What if they’re waiting for someone to visit their land just like us—”
But Xana didn’t stop, she sprang to her feet when her mother did and eagerly followed her down the slope leading back to their home, “Think about how we could become—”
“I said that is enough!” Her mother whirled on her, glowering – a ferocity and undeniable fear brightening her dark brown eyes. “You will stop talking about this dream! You are forbidden! Do you hear me?”
Xana’s indignant glare matched her mother’s intensity, but she shuffled back when her mother took a threatening step forward.
“I said, do you hear me?”
Her other hand tightened into a stubborn ball by her side. Lowering her face, she answered tightly, “Yes, ma.”
The woman huffed and with a sharp, satisfied nod, turned away and disappeared through the door of their home.
Xana didn’t raise her head until she could breathe evenly, her anger dissipating with the calming sea breeze rustling through the loose curls of her hair. She breathed in its crisp, salty aroma. How could her father and mother only come to one conclusion about his missing brothers? Yes, it was possible they may have plunged to unfortunate deaths. But what if they had found homes elsewhere and had decided to settle instead of returning? What if they had written messages, beckoning them to come, that were now lost to the sea?
Xana wasn’t like her parents, unwilling to challenge what she knew of the world just to keep the little she had safe. But for a while, she obeyed her mother’s order that night as they quietly ate dinner of bread, corn and fish. But when the house was quiet, moments after the lingering glow from her parents’ quarters vanished, she crept from the house and grabbed the coat her mother had sewn for her.
She ran to the sea where her father’s canoe was pulled in by a palm tree and placed a straw basket full of potatoes, bread and fruit she would need for her trip. Before she left, she dug the pearl into the straw mat at the door of her home.
She muttered a prayer, held her hands out at her sides, palms up – the way her mother taught her – then she bowed her head and dashed back to the canoe. She pushed it out into the water then climbed in, almost losing her balance and toppling into the water.
Gathering the oars, she lowered them into the water and began rowing. Further and further, her home became more distant and her heart shook with a doubtful murmur. What if she was making a mistake? What if they had been right? What if all that waited for her out was this endless body of water?
But it was that sort of fear and uncertainty that made her family seem so small and stagnant against a world that already proved itself to be so vast and full of unknowns meant to be discovered and shared with the rest of those who lived in it and didn’t know its secrets.
Part of her wished she had kept the pearl, but she hoped her parents would understand it as the promise that she’d return and show them the world.