Authors: Mark Lavorato
Copyright Š Mark Lavorato
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
ISBN 13: 978-1-897381-21-2
Cover design and layout by Mark Lavorato
There were a few people who helped me tremendously throughout the writing of this book. My thanks to Uschi, for her patience in watching the process grow from a consuming pastime to an unhealthy obsession. Larisa, for always being exactly the friend I need, exactly when I need it. And a special thanks to Deonne, for her careful reading, constructive criticism, and unwavering support.
I would also like to thank a man in Switzerland named Walter, who told me his tale of finding a decrepit crow and nursing it back to health, at a time in his life when it would become his only friend. Then let it go.
This is my dying day.
It is that one day that I had so carefully convinced myself would come later on, after the years had stretched out into decades, after my reflection had become grey-haired, hunched over, milky-eyed. And even though I'd always understood that my days were counted - in the same way everyone does - I realize now that I had completely misjudged the way they were being counted. I'd pictured my life as a kind of continuum, as a hilly landscape that I was free to dawdle through, to take my time in. I had assumed that my end was off in some remote distance, and had pictured myself strolling towards it, casually, watching my feet, hands in my pockets. The idea never crossed my mind that, instead, my death could be creeping towards me, skulking as fast and constant as the shadows of clouds crawling over hills. Yet it was. My life was an hourglass losing sand by the second; and it wasn't until the last grain was rolling down the funnel that I finally came to see it that way.
And now that this day is here, and there's no denying it, no running away, I find myself asking a natural question: What is the most fitting thing to do on the last day of your life? Or, rather, what is the most fitting thing to do if, like me, you're strapped to a tree with an unknown number of broken bones floating under your skin, and something trickling down your leg that could be anything from blood, to urine, to gobs of their saliva that they spit onto you just before they left? Seeing as you can't move, and the only option you really have is to retreat into your mind, what exactly should you spend your time thinking about? Death? Should you mull over the details of how they're going to do it, how slowly or quickly they'll drain the life from your veins, and what it's going to feel like when they do?
No. I think I'll have more than enough time to consider my death just the second before they kill me; or begin the slow, agonizing process of it - whichever they find more satisfying, I guess. But until then, I'm going to keep my mind from wandering in that direction. Why waste the last hours I have by giving them exactly what they want, when I could be doing the opposite?
Which is a good point; instead of being ridden with fear, maybe I could set out to lose myself in blissful memories, think back to the few times in my life when everything seemed to fall into place, when I felt that strange, numbing contentment that we all accidentally fumble upon every once in a while, and then spend the rest of our time groping around in the dark for again. I could dwell on every one of their details, thinking back to when I was a child, long before I'd known anything about The Goal, splashing in the green water of the island. Or, later in life, living on the terrace, sitting down between the trees after harvesting some of the fruit I'd grown and feeding pieces of it to the raven - or crow - or whatever kind of bird it was. I could try to bask in those memories, see if I could steal something from a past quietude to reassure myself now. Even if I doubt that would work.
Or maybe it would be more constructive to think of my blunders, to go through each and every one of the decisions I made, or, more often, didn't make, which led me here. I could recall the murky colour of the bubble of water that oozed out from between his lips and streamed down the side of his face, his eyes serene, staring unblinkingly at the sky. I could remember how open his mouth was, and, if I had opened mine and said something beforehand, how he wouldn't have died.
But I also know that if I focused on either of these two extremes - my greatest memories, or my thoughtless mistakes - in the end, I'd feel like I had accomplished nothing with this time. I know enough to understand that my life can only be weighed as a whole, and that weighing it in carefully chosen pieces wouldn't have the slightest thing to do with the truth.
Truth. I smirk to myself at just the mention of that word. Though, considering the relationship that I've had with it, I don't think I could come up with anything more fitting to do with this time than to recount the whole of my tale, as truthfully as I can; to trace the faltering line that squiggles along the ground from the sand of the island, to the soil at the trunk of this tree.
Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to do with this day.
Though, finding where to begin might prove a bit difficult. I know that Coming of Age, when Harek took me into the shelter, sat me down, and walked into the centre of the room to commence his speech, seems like the point when everything started. But if I think about it now, there were a few things that happened earlier on that were just as important as Coming of Age. And probably the most significant of these 'things' wasn't even of a specific nature; it was simply the atmosphere in which we were raised; the illogical rules, the Elders' stifled frustration, the carefully closed doors. The secrets.
If I think back as far as I can, I don't remember faces. There was always an Elder there, but as we could only spend a day with them before being handed over to another, and then another, one of them doesn't really stick out in my mind. Instead, my earliest memory is one of sensations. The sound of waves is everywhere, its low frothing noise never letting up, tirelessly rolling on. I can also hear the sound of the breeze blowing through the palms, but it's impossible to tell where their rustling begins and the churning of the waves ends, the sounds meld into each other and become the same. And just above this cohesive sighing, I can hear the distant moan of a wood flute; though, I don't know where it's coming from, as if it's being played from around a corner, behind a boulder, or hidden in some dark place beneath the trees. The air is sodden with moisture, and the colour of the sky hazy. My feet are bare, and there is sand perpetually stuck between my toes.
After this memory comes a cloud of learning. It, too, is indistinct; but maybe none of us can recall when our education begins, it's just suddenly there, everywhere, and in everything we do. We're being shown how to do things, guided through the steps of processes, people moving our hands to trace the lines on a page, helping our clumsy fingers tie a knot, squaring our shoulders to a slate with some symbols scratched onto it and leaning over us, the reverberations being felt on our backs as their voices drawl out the sound of a letter with slow, deliberate intonation.
And this primary learning, of course, gave way to secondary learning; and I think I loved most all of it. The Elders and I complimented each other perfectly. I was interested, curious, and they wanted to explain everything. Indeed, it seemed there was nothing that they couldn't do, no contraption they couldn't build, no function in nature they couldn't make clear, no animal they didn't know the name or habits of. As a resource they were almost limitless. Almost.
I remember, and at a very early age, being frustrated that they seemed so puzzled by one of the simplest concepts in life: boyhood. Whereas, at the time, for me, it was as easy to understand as walking. I knew that an integral part of being a boy was the act of destroying things - it was that simple. We ripped apart plants, squished insects, threw rocks at the ground to smash them in half, or better, in three, or in ten, or in hundreds of pieces. We rolled boulders down hills and into the water to see how large a splash we could make, or sometimes into trees, watching with wide eyes as the impact shook the branches, undulating out to the leaves, and then running down to inspect the damage, fingering the torn bark, fascinated. I understood that this was normal. Yet, for some reason, it never ceased to baffle them, and then enrage them, until they felt impelled to scold us for our 'random devastation', as they often called it. (Consequently, we grew to be quite secretive about our entertainment; and, generally speaking, the more fun it was, the more secretive we had to be.)
But in spite of keeping as many of our activities hidden from them as we could, they sometimes still managed to catch us doing things we shouldn't. Often this was in moments when our guard was down, when we were sure we had nothing to hide. For instance, three of us might be chatting in the forest - which was the largest number we were allowed to gather in without an Elder present - and one of them would pass by anyway, just to make sure we were behaving ourselves. At first, it would look like he or she was just going to saunter past, but then they would stop dead, looking at the ground at our feet, horrified. We would also look down and see that one of us, without even having noticed, had yanked out the arcing branch of a fern, or some other plant that had been within reach, and had systematically plucked every one of its leaves off, from one end to the other. And so there lay the proof, a scattering of pitiful green teeth on the ground between us, wilting in the heat. Our postures would slump. Great. We would look up at the Elder, who would point a rigid arm at the leaves, and we would follow his or her finger back down to the ground again and look at the leaves more intently this time, trying to adopt gestures that also seemed appalled, but not really succeeding. Then a stern voice would ask: 'Why did you destroy this plant for no reason?' And we would look around at each other, because, frankly, it was a tricky question to answer; apparently, we'd done it for no reason. So the only response left was to gape up at them with sorry, if stupid expressions on our faces, and wait for them to reprimand us. Which they would. After shaking their heads they would scoot us into one of the community buildings where we would have to sit at one of the long wooden tables and think about what we'd done.
Though, truth be told, we wouldn't really think. Instead we would make faces at one another, smear earwax on our neighbour's arms, kick each other's shins until someone yelped, which was sometimes all that was needed to be dismissed. The Elder who had ushered us into the building would stand suddenly, exasperated, pointing at the door and telling us to leave at once, maybe demanding that we go to another Elder, who was sure be more strict or consequent, and explain to them what we'd done.
Whenever this happened, I would purposefully be the last one to leave as we scurried through the doorway, because I'd discovered, quite by accident, that if one turned around and peeked back inside once the Elder was alone and unaware that he or she was being watched, occasionally, there was a mysterious thing that took place.
I knew that adults behaved differently in front of children; I knew that there was a kind of drama where they acted a part that wasn't really who they were, but who they should be. Because, for some reason, children aren't supposed to know that adults are as flawed as they are, instead, they ought to see them as an ideal being that they should strive to become. Of course, children will never become this ideal being, but at least by the time they're adults, they should be disciplined in contorting their behaviour enough to play the role of it, obviously for the sake of other children - who will, incidentally, see through it all anyway. This was one of the strange enigmas of adulthood that I didn't really understand, but nonetheless recognized. Yet these Elders, whom I would lean in to watch, were away from the eyes of children. There was no part to play, no role to pretend. And I think I started looking in on these private moments only because I wanted to find a clue. I was convinced that they somehow knew they had reprimanded us for nothing, that they must also recognize that the fern, which we'd unknowingly dissected, was merely a plant like the ones we ate, and that it had no real bearing on anything. I was sure that once they were alone, I would only catch them grinning, maybe shaking their heads at the folly of us boys, and merrily going on with whatever they were doing. But I was wrong. They would continue to stand, but would slouch over, appearing tired, covering their face with a hand, sometimes pinching the spot where their nose met their eyes as if trying to squeeze the sockets closer together, the fingers of their other hand clenching into a fist, which sometimes trembled. And they would stay like that for minutes.