It soon dawned on Wilom that he wasn’t ever going to leave Jali and Tanim’s house. He wasn’t going to get another house of his own; not in this town, at least, and his chances of being allowed to move elsewhere were slim to none. His job was returned to him, with as many extra disapproving stares as he could cope with, but at least it kept him out of the house. He wasn’t sure exactly why he kept saving money, since nobody in the village would help him with the house now. He tried to set his hopes on going back home and finding a house there, but the thought of everyone’s reactions when he went back to his friends was enough to suck all the joy out of it.
But of course, Jali hardly let him out of her sight unless she had to. He dreaded the day he mentioned moving out of her house – he could nearly hear her. “It’s not so bad here, is it? Or have you thought of something you’d like to do? You’ll need to do some planning if you’re going to move away. Your uncle and I can help with that…”
He couldn’t stomach that kind of help, and he had no ambitions to tell her about, other than ‘live somewhere else’. He made the mistake of mentioning that he wanted to move away from that town once, and that had triggered a lecture about his sister and her ambitions and if he wanted to move towns he should take up a trade and did he prefer carpentry or thatching. He’d not brought up the subject again, but she didn’t seem to be able to let it die.
That was currently the reason he was arguing with her. Again.
“What do you want to do?” she asked as she dried her hands after washing up. The door was wide open, just like she liked it, but Wilom found himself constantly checking outside to see if anybody was listening in.
Wilom shrugged as he put the last plate away. “I’ve got some ideas,” he lied.
“I’ll have a think and tell you in the morning.”
Jali harrumphed. “That’s always your answer, Wilom. I think it’s about time you really did think. Chickens? You seem to like caring for the chickens. Or perhaps you could go to the city and be a merchant?”
“That’s what my sister wants to do.”
“You once wanted to as well. She’s so passionate about it. If you wanted, I’m sure she’d try to teach you again …”
Wilom didn’t want to talk about his sister. “I could travel with the chickens,” he said. “Train the world’s first chicken circus.”
“You might be a little bit more serious about this.”
“I’m not the one who was so anxious to talk,” Wilom pointed out, realising as he did so the precipice he’d just jumped off. Why, oh why, was his mouth always faster than his mind?
“I’m only trying to help …”
“Because comparing me to my sister is guaranteed to make me feel better? It’s not like she’s better than me at everything or something.”
“Don’t take that tone with me.”
“Then don’t use my sister to try and guilt me into doing what you want me to do.”
“Your choices are hardly her fault, young man.”
Wilom threw the tea towel down on the table hard enough for it to make a soft paf. “No, it’s all my friends’ fault, isn’t it? I’d be a nice, obedient boy if it weren’t for them? That’s why I got sent over here, so I’d be away from them, and then I’d change. Right?”
“Sorry, Aunt J, if I’m disappointing you.” He turned away. He needed to be somewhere else.
“Don’t you walk away!”
“Why not? This conversation won’t end civilly. I’m doing us both a favour.”
“Wilom, where are you going?”
“Out for a walk. I’ll be back in the morning.”
He didn’t slam the door behind him. He made very sure of that.
As he passed the pen, several of the chickens looked at him hopefully, like today might be the joyous day they got fed twice.
“Bet I couldn’t train you anyway,” he said to a chicken, which lost interest in him as soon as it realised he hadn’t brought food.
He heard the door open, and Aunt J calling his name.
He ignored her. He wasn’t going back tonight. They’d just fight again.
The night was a pleasant one, at least. The road stretched away from the house. On one side, green hills darkened by twilight. On the other, the ocean, black water interrupted by speckles of white light and foam.
The only problem was he’d have to sleep somewhere. He didn’t fancy bedding down with the chickens, and he fancied begging for a bed off some other family in the town even less.
If he’d been back in his parents’ town, he would have known more than a few places to go. Hell, there might even have been someone willing to go there with him.
Scanning the horizon, his eyes fell on the old lighthouse. It hadn’t shone since long before Wilom was born — not since shipping routes still passed by here.
But now, it was dark, and it was the only building Wilom could see that didn’t hold someone with an opinion.
“Wilom!” He heard his uncle call, and then the sound of footsteps after him, but Wilom had been good at running since he was a child. He lost his uncle before he even managed to get to the edge of the town. From then on, it was free and clear all the way to the lighthouse.
The doorknob turned smoothly, and the door opened without a sound.
Inside it was too dark to see at first, but after a moment, Wilom could make out the shape of a set of decrepit stairs through the moonlight from the door and the few windows. This first room had nothing in it – it was just stone and the staircase. But further up, there would be an abandoned living area for the lighthouse keeper, and there would be a nice open air space next to the torch.
He closed the door carefully behind him and let his eyes adjust to the dark.
And then a voice said, “It’s been many long years since someone last bothered to open that door.”