by Profe Steve
One step. That’s all it would take, just one. Pick up the foot, put it back down over there instead of over here; walk the path to the left for once. Tomás hesitated, his mind whirling as he wiped his palms on the back pockets of his torn jeans. They had been new once; new, crisp, and that deep blue color that he liked so much.
But sort of like life itself, he never really noticed them fading until he woke up one morning and they were suddenly more white than blue, more patches than whole cloth. He never realized the passing of time until one day the face that stared back from the mirror had more lines than a road map.
He paused at the crossroads to catch his breath and stare down into the small valley below, down at the village of Alson that he had called home for his entire life. He turned his eyes toward the left path, the one that led over the hills and to the sea. Something called him, something hidden deep within.
He shook his head. He had never been to sea. That was his father. His father and his grandfather. They had been the sailors, not him. But the nagging itch of an idea was not willing to be so easily banished. He could take that road.
No, no he could not. He would take a deep breath, square his shoulders and plunge on up the right path, the path that back to the small shop where he repaired things for the others. The village needed him. That’s what he always told himself.
He thought of the twins, Lara and Lira, and his heart lurched. They had been a delight to him ever since they were born minutes apart twenty years ago. He raised them alone because Tama, his beloved Tama, had not survived their birth.
The girls were grown and on their own now, his sun and his moon, gone to seek their own way in the world, excited to grab life by the throat and shake it, subduing it to their will. He smiled at the bittersweet memory of that day, that fine, sunny spring day and the light in their eyes and excitement in their voices as they told of their plans and dreams.
He had managed to hold back his tears until they were out of sight. It was the way of the world, and was fitting and proper. Alson was far too small to contain them as it did him. But did it? Did he fit snugly into the village, or was there more for him as well?
One hand reached up to wipe the beads of sweat from his brow, his fingers running through the thinning hair that barely covered his dark scalp. He was no longer young, but his body was still strong and for a moment, just for a moment he thought again about taking the left path. He fought it down again, the pull of habit and duty freezing him in place and pulling his eyes back from the unknown, back to the familiar.
As he clamped the wide brimmed black hat back on his head, Tomás unclipped the canteen and drank deeply. A sudden wave of fatigue caused him to shrug the pack off his shoulders and settle into the shade of an oak tree. He listened to the sounds of the birds and the breeze, inhaling deep gulps of the afternoon breeze. That breeze carried a hint of salt, a hint of what lay down the left path, the one he could not take.
“Tom, you old fool, quit wasting your life.” Tomás jerked his head up and found himself gazing into Tama’s deep brown eyes. Her dusky skin, a shade lighter than his own, glistened in the sun, making the old man ache down to the depth of his soul. “What do you mean, wasting my life?
"I have done what I had to do. I raised our babies and saw that they grew up safe and happy.” He was puzzled. Such conversations with the spirit of his wife were not uncommon, but she never upbraided him, never sounded displeased before
“Yes, wasting your life. I know you raised our babes, and you did it well, just like you promised me you would. Now it is your time. Now it is time for you to live.” “I am living,” he protested, “I do what I like and I am good at it. Alson needs me.”
Tama laughed, a musical sound that made his heart ache, but there was concern in her eyes, “You are not living. You are just going through the motions. You have done your duty, fulfilled your oath to me and to Lara and Lira. Now fulfill your oath to yourself.”
Tomás thought for a moment, and remembered. So many years ago, before the babies came, before the shop, before he even married Tama, he had told her that one day he would go to sea. Ah, how many years ago was that? How young and foolish he had been, so full of spit and vinegar and ready to conquer the world!
He stirred as a squirrel in the branches above him dropped an acorn on his head, and he realized he had dozed. A glance at the sky told him that no more than a few moments had passed, but he felt like he had been talking with Tama for hours.
Determination set his jaw as he rose and donned his pack. He stood for a moment gazing down the hill, and realized that Alson no longer felt like home. Heart light, and a tune on his lips, he took the step, the step that put him on the path to the left, the path to the sea.