Just across the water is a whole other world, one I have never experienced.
I have never known anything other than my little island. It’s a tiny bit of land floating in the middle of a big lake. So tiny, in fact, that I can pace round the edge of it at night in less than 15 minutes. I’d never walk around my island in the day though; otherwise the people might see me.
I see them each day. They walk along the paths on the outskirts of the lake. They walk alone, in pairs holding hands, in groups – both big and small. They wear bright colours, and have odd covers on their feet. They’re loud, carefree, and seem at ease around one another. I envy their ease, because, whilst I long to be with them, I am anxious about the moment I meet one for the first time. Sometimes I see them sitting on really odd machines. They’re made up of two wheels and a beam, and sitting on these they travel around the lake really fast. Bizarre.
But they never see me. I keep to my little den made between the tree trunk and the bushes once the sun is in the sky. Mostly I doze in the cool shade of my den, but I much prefer to watch the people.
I don’t know how I got here, but I have been here as far as I can remember. I’ve counted off each of the sunsets with a line on the tree trunk. There are over four thousand lines on there at the moment.
The sun is low on the water, and I haven’t seen any of the people for the last hour. I take this moment of peace to tread through the bushes towards the waters edge. I keep low, just in case. As I approach the edge, I see the same reflection as always staring back. A pale face framed by long, dark, tangled hair. I did try to keep it neat, but after a while it got so matted even my fingers couldn’t pass through it. I use a small rope I made from Butts’ hair to keep it back now. My hair might be a lost cause, but I like to keep my face clean. It is reassuring to see that I look like the others across the lake. The reflection has changed over the years. It has grown thinner. It is hard to tell, as the water is always moving, but I know it’s changing with each passing day. I wonder what it will look like when another four thousand lines are added to the tree. The water is extra cool tonight as I cup it in my hands and rub it over my face. I shiver as it drips down the back of my neck, but the evening is still pleasantly warm. That’s a relief; I haven’t finished padding the den for the colder nights to come yet.
Butts approaches from where he was grazing nearby and playfully thumps his head against my arm. This goat has been my only companion for the many years I’ve been here. Whilst the bleating in the night can get tiresome, I can’t help but smile when he pokes his little sandy-coloured head into the den each morning. Thankfully he’s content to eat the grass and bushes around the island, leaving the berries on the bushes and the fishes in the lake to me. It’s the perfect partnership – I just wish he could answer me when we’re having a conversation.
“Do you think I’ll ever make it over there, Butts?” I ask. He looks up at me for a moment, and then resumes nestling his head against my side. “I mean it. I can’t spend the rest of my life hiding here, I want to know what’s across the water.” I’ve said these words countless times to him; he’s probably fed up of hearing it.
Once the sun has completely set, and the moon high in the sky, I stand to stretch. My muscles spasm and release as I reach up and lean side-to-side. As I’m stretching, my stomach gives a gurgle. It’s an almost constant sensation when the sun is up, but, now it’s dark, I can do something about it. The bushes are starting to get bare, so I grab the tree branch that I had filed to a point many hundred of days ago and lean over a large rock on the edge of the lake. The water is calm tonight, there’s no breeze to disturb it, and so it’s easy to spot my prey. Just as they edge closer to my rock I snap my hand in and out of the water, my hand clasped firmly around the wriggling body of a fish. First try, nice one. I didn’t even need to use my stick. Ordinarily a quick catch would put me in a cheerful mood for the rest of the night, the full stomach adding nicely to the effect. Tonight, however, something inside me feels different. I want more than berries and fish. I want more than my little den. I want more than just Butts.
I am ready to do it. Tomorrow, I’m going across the water.
The sun is just starting to pop its head over the back of the lake, and I’m standing ready. It was impossible to sleep.
Butts is on the opposite side of the island, still asleep, and I am glad that he’s not here. It would be harder to do this if I had to say goodbye. I submerge myself into the water and kick off. It’s time to see what is on the outside of this lake.