Once there was a girl who wanted, more than anything, to sail around the world.
It is a strange wish. A wish for an extraordinary thing.
She stands at the window of her house, at the very edge of her village, staring out into the sea. She waits for her father. But she knows that her father will not come as a man; he will come as a letter, scrawled out in a jagged hand formed by the breakers of the sea. When he comes, he will tell her many things. But mostly, he will tell her about the ocean. He will tell her about the colors that have no form but billow through each other across the water. He will tell her about the fish and the way they swim in a movement that has no lines and no corners but is always perfect. He will tell her about the emptiness that is so full it makes his strong heart break. And he will tell her about the beautiful place, the place that he is always looking for when he leaves. He will tell her that all his merchant stops and trading shops are only detours towards that place that can never be put into words because it is a place far more extraordinary than any word that has ever been written. He will tell her that he will not see her again until he has gone all around the world and found that place.
The little girl knows that he will find the place. He always does, because he always makes it back to her. Every four months her father comes not as a letter but as a man. He comes to the brown house with three windows in the front (where the little girl sits to watch for him) and a small white door (that the little girl opens before he has the chance). When he is home, she sits on his lap and rests her head against him and hears in his chest the beat of the waves against the hull of his ship. Then she asks him to tell her about the beautiful place. But there are no words for it. To find it, he tells her, she must sail around the world.
And so. The little girl dreams. She wants. She wishes a strange wish. A wish for an extraordinary thing.
And while she wishes, life sails on. Her father comes and stays for a while and leaves and comes back again, but she always stays. She is needed at home, because there is much work to be done. She studies her lessons and helps with the chores. She goes to the market with her mother and sells the goods – fish and cloth and spices – that her father brings back from his trips. And anytime she has a moment to spare, she stares off to the edge of her world – to the broad, bare sea – and wishes.
The days turn to months. The months turn to years. She is older now. She does not have lessons anymore, but she works harder than when she was younger. Her mother is older too, and cannot do as much as she did before. Now the girl that is not so little anymore does what her mother cannot do. She cooks the meals and cleans the house and goes to the market alone. And every day, before she comes home, she climbs to the top of a little hill behind her house and looks out across the ocean. She knows that her father is there, somewhere, and he is sailing towards the beautiful place. He will find it, and then he will come home. But these days, when he is home, he his home for seasons longer and longer. He is old as well and, like her mother, cannot do as much as he did before.
Now the days that turned from months to years have turned to decades. She is no longer a girl. She is old, and she lives alone now. She is not married. Her father and her mother have both passed. Life has sailed on and on and soon she will sail beyond it.
A man knocks at the door. He is young, with a kind face and strong hands. He is wanting to make his way in the world. His wish is to be a fisherman. The old woman sighs. He has offered a fair price for her father’s ship. It is no use to her. She has never sailed and is too old to take it up now. Although she has never forgotten her extraordinary wish, she knows that it is nearly…
The old woman’s eyes meet those of the young man. She invites him in and fixes tea for both of them. She has a proposal. He will help her fulfill her dream, and once done, he may fulfill his.
Three days later, the townspeople witness the strangest sight of their day: a young man at the helm of that old sailboat that has been moored to the dock for years, and their old neighbor woman standing at the bow. She is on her way around the world. She is on her way to the beautiful place.
The two travel for weeks, sailing only because of the wishes they carry. The old woman sees for the first time the things her father told her about. These she recognizes immediately. She shows them to the young fisherman: the billowing of the colors, the movement of the fish, the great abundance in the emptiness. Like her father, she feels her strong heart break. She is old, but the wonder of fulfilling a dream wants to makes her young again. Day after day, she scans the horizon endlessly for any glimpse of a thing unexplainably beautiful, far more extraordinary than any word.
Then the storm comes. It comes without lightning or rain, thunder or waves. It comes as an illness, with a young fisherman unable to rise from bed. The illness leaves the old woman to sail the ship alone, following the instructions of the fisherman.
There are doubts now. Perhaps the trip in not worth the risk. Perhaps they will not be able to make it around the world. Perhaps they should turn back. Perhaps she will never see the beautiful place. The fisherman’s health grows worse, and he must return. The old woman knows this.
She sighs and prepares to turn the ship about, prepares to give up her dream. The early morning fog clears, and in the distance she sees the lights of a small town port. The thought comes to her that they could moor there for a while and find healing and rest. As they near the town, she feels an ache in her soul, the sort of ache that comes when you draw near to something you have always dreamt of finding.
And then she sees a beautiful thing.
On the edge of the village is a brown house with three windows in the front and a small white door. And, of course, although the house is very small and simple, it is a place far more extraordinary than any word that has ever been written.