It was now the third time that Wilom had caught the ferryman watching him. In all his memory, Wilom had never gotten the impression that the ferryman was examining him so closely, and especially not so pointedly.
The ferryman had never really indicated that he found Wilom noteworthy before, if he was honest. He didn’t take that as a bad thing – the ferryman had been attentive, but always gave the impression that there was nothing Wilom could do that would either surprise him or shock him, so there was no need to keep him under watch at every moment. It had made Wilom feel like he had a sort of privacy, even when he and the ferryman were rarely more than fifty metres away from each other.
But now, Wilom felt like he was being watched, and thus he was uncomfortably aware of the fact that he was being judged, and had been judged from the moment he’d first stepped into the boat.
No, from the first moment he’d stepped into the lighthouse.
A chill went down his spine as something in his mind suggested perhaps before, but he refused to entertain that thought. Why would the lighthouse keeper waste his time watching the nearby villages just in case there was one young idiot to catch his eye?
He cut off that train of thought quickly, as he felt the ferryman’s hood turn towards him again. The ferryman didn’t not bother to disguise that he’s watching, at least. Instead of making a show of scanning the River, he simply turned to Wilom at intervals, studied him for several minutes while he poled the boat, and then turned back to the River.
Wilom shifted uncomfortably.
It was the end of his apprenticeship. He could tell. The ferryman was watching him, compiling all the information he had on Wilom, and deciding …
What exactly would the ferryman be deciding? There was no end date for his apprenticeship, no point of time after which he would be forced to either leave or stay. The ferryman would have no difficulty deciding whether or not he was ready, and the answer would be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and nothing else.
So what, then, was the ferryman watching him so intently for?
At the fifth lingering, scrutinising glance from the ferryman, Wilom decided that he couldn’t stay in the boat for another trip. He got out and found the person on the bank, concentrating only on doing his job – duty – right. It was fairly easy to convince the old woman to come with him – she had been sick, and was as well prepared as anybody ever was. Wilom dropped her off on the boat, and the ferryman gave him a moment to climb aboard.
He stepped back instead, not wanting to disturb the woman by implying his behaviour was unusual. The ferryman inclined his head, understanding, and poled away.
Wilom stopped on the beach, walked back to the cliff face and sat down. He leaned back against the stone and let out a slow breath.
The ferryman had been invisible almost from the moment the boat had slipped away from the bank, and Wilom now felt entirely alone. Nobody was near him on the bank, and he was far from where he remembered the lighthouse door to be.
He got comfortable on the sand. He’d have a fair while before the ferryman returned, time to think and relax and forget the feeling of the ferryman’s hood turned towards him.
Then, sitting on the beach, alone like he had been so many times when he’d run away to think as a kid, he suddenly felt very, very childish. He knew the ferryman, he trusted the ferryman – more than anyone else he’d ever known, whether or not the ferryman kept information from him. So why was he feeling so …
It took him a while to realise what the feeling was; it was so long since he’d felt it. Not guilty, not ashamed. Just the persistent, creeping feeling that he had done something wrong, and had been judged wanting for it.
And Wilom couldn’t work out why.
The ferryman returned, and Wilom found the person on the bank and got back into the boat.
Once they were alone again, Wilom finally met the ferryman’s stare.
“Why do you keep doing that?” he asked.
The ferryman tilted his hood, but did not look away. “I apologise.”
Wilom shook his head. “I’m not upset,” he said, and almost convinced himself that it was true.
“Then, you are curious?”
“Yes.” That, at least, was not a lie.
“Ah. I see.”
The ferryman was silent for a long time. Wilom waited patiently for him to start talking. He said, “You are unsure of things.”
Wilom nodded. “I thought that was pretty obvious.”
“Would you like to discuss it?”
Wilom opened his mouth, and then shook his head. “No,” he said.
The ferryman nodded, and Wilom got the distinct feeling that was the right answer, though he couldn’t understand why.
“I shall not ask,” the ferryman said.
He did not continue to stare at Wilom. Or if he did, Wilom stopped noticing it.
Wilom leaned on the side of the boat for the rest of the journey, left only with the feeling that he was missing something very important.