17th thread: At Sea
Their thighs and shoulders showed under their torn garments, their skin burned by the sun. It didn’t worry them. Mama would say, don’t look. At eleven, you are not a child anymore. Come sit with your sisters. The men uncoiled ropes, climbed up the mast, unfurled sails, patched the oars. Mama would say, stop looking, it will do you harm. My sisters could not stop crying. I did not cry, I was so glad we had left. My mother lectured me, once again.
– If our king had not felt the need to invade the whole world, from one Ocean shore to the other, we would not be on our way to some uncivilized place crawling with scarabs. Your father will enjoy a much better position, but what kind of advantages will I have in a foreign city? At home, everyone knows our family and the prominent place it has held since the founding of the city, without any foreign or commoner blood having ever tainted it. Nothing matters as much, wealth nor connections, nor education or clairvoyance. When you talk, your accent and the turn of your sentences tell without doubt that you were brought here with the attributes of your rank. The superiority of your upbringing will be lost in another city. Why do you think the worst punishment of our tribunals is exile? At least, if we were going to a nearby territory, but instead we will land in a different continent, where, I am told, servants will not speak our language, and are dark of skin, and the ground is flooded year after year. I am disheartened. Every day, before we left, I made offerings to be able to stay. And when we arrive, I will sacrifice for our fast and safe return, even if you do not understand.
It was as if I were betraying her by enjoying the trip. She would look at me in distress, this alien creature that couldn’t possibly have been born of the same lineage as my sisters, that must have been transformed by the interference of a demon. I relished even the simplicity of our daily life, the narrow cot, the modest cushions, the meals of nuts, olives and water tinted by wine.
When we reached a port, the men would go ashore, and we remained on ship. By raising myself over the rail, I could see the odd buildings of wood, which were certainly less beautiful than in our city. Men wore funny clothes. Women worked. They sold food, cleaned fish, mended nets. When they bent, a breast sometimes gushed from their clothes, which they would put back briskly, as if it were just another fish.
Then we would sail off, the port becoming smaller and smaller. I was sad that I would probably never see it again, until we reached another port, where I could peek at yet different houses, different people with odd faces and customs. Finally we left the coast to cross the sea. The land disappeared, only the sun, the sky and the water surrounded us. The world I had known, the world of my childhood, was gone, with its temples and heroes and laws. I was glad. I would have liked never to arrive, but Papa was waiting.