Life Plus 2M

Entry by: Briergate

31st August 2016
When I was six or seven years old, my father bought me a present. He’d been away for a while, I think, and as was common upon his return, he’d ameliorate the ache of absence with a gift.

Sometimes, he’d bring me an edible treat, representative of the country he’d visited. I remember the cloying perfumed sweetness of Turkish Delight, and the sticky textured shine of Baklava. Other times, though, he’d bring a keepsake. A lasting gift, to play with when he was away, to help pass the time of his absence.

I kept them all. The shiny foiled wrappers from delicate sugared almonds. The doll, a soldier with arms permanently pointed at the elbow, and a jaunty cap. A tiny wooden ladybird etched and painted which nestles into a faded matchbox. An old map, showing the lay of the land, when there was land to map out.

Even now, I unfold the crinkled waxy paper and pore over the past, whispering the exotic names inscribed in a long-forgotten flourished hand. Australia. Europe. America. The continents, with water marking each as distinct from the other.

The best present of all he offered was a sculpted Ark, shaped and hewn from wood. No more than palm-sized, even for my childish grasp, it nestled into the lifeline and headline of my hand, the thick sanded groove beneath the boat preventing it from ever standing upright. The outside of the Ark was smooth and burnished, with intricate carved curlicues adorning every side. Within, though. It was magical. A series of tiny animals, their detail mesmerising, all paired in twos.

I never tired of playing with it. I’d sit, knees pressed together, to make a dip to fit the grooved bottom in and hold the boat. And then, I’d slowly ease the hinged lid up, and see all the animals in a line. Giraffes, zebras, lions and monkeys each no bigger than the nail of my little finger. For hours, I would lift each reverently out, arrange them, and make them parade two by two up the little wooden ladder to the bow.

My father would laugh at me, yet I knew that my untiring delight with his gift in turn delighted him. My favourite character of them all, of course, was Noah himself. A wizened, bearded caricature of a biblical man, a crook grasped in his hand, while the other hand reached up to the sky as if beseeching his God to cease the torrential rain.

My namesake. Father always said that he had chosen the name, because of what it meant. A rest. Comfort. He chose it when my Mother died following my birth. Noah, the labourer who believed enough in a new world.

I tried to be a stable presence for him. I hope I was. In a world where the earth moved and shifted in riptides and rivulets, he needed a ballast, to keep him afloat.

It’s fitting that my father passed away before the last few patches of land were finally obscured. He had always been a traveller, and he lived for the feel of new earth beneath his feet; the changing landscape of one country to another. This world of rippling tides would have been unfathomable to him.

As for me? I suppose like my namesake, I’m a traveller too. And yet, I cannot mark my journey on any map. Perhaps I travel the furthest distance in my memories, tracing those obsolete continents along long-forgotten trails. Evoking the taste of exotic sweets by whispering out the names from the time before the flood.

The boat I built meanders on and on, perhaps in circles, perhaps in one continual bobbing loop right across the lines I trace. It’s irrelevant, I suppose. Many years have passed now, and I have seen no one, nor has any landmark disturbed the vast blue horizon, which surges to the sky unbidden.

My animals are thriving, in their way. New couplings brought a greater flock for some, while other species fell into obscurity. Like my little carved namesake, my beard is long and white, my hand gnarled, clutching my stave as I move from one animal to the next in a perpetual cycle of feeding and cleaning.

Like Noah, I have my dove. She’s yet to soar and then return with a sign. Each day, I set her free, and yet I know there is no olive branch, nor another place for her to settle. She comes back to me, and while that makes me smile, as I have grown fond of her, the wide arching swoop of her white wings means, of course, that I am alone, and drifting, for one sunrise and sunset.

I still have the little Ark, with the much-worn figures grown smooth from years of play. She stands askew, listing a little when the pull of the moon makes my liquid landscape tilt.

Time, and tide, wait for no man.