*BLEEP* *BLEEP* *BLEEP*
The blast of sound jolted my aching body from slumber. I groaned as I covered my face with a pillow; arm outstretched and searching for the switch. Failing to do so, I grabbed the alarm and proceeded to throw it out of the room. With a smash, it bleeped its last bleep just as the others came storming down the stairs. “WAKE UP DADDD!!!”
Ugh, this is why I hate Mondays.
Dawn greeted my eyes once again. I watched our Sun rise lazily from beyond the hills, painting the sky a familiar pale blue. I shivered as I got dressed for work, feeling the cold atmosphere against my bare skin.
We set off early that morning, to the South this time. Treaded wheels rumbled down rocky roads, past the muddy paths that lead towards the beach. A pang of nostalgia hit me the very moment I saw clouds above the sea, each swirl resembling whales gracefully soaring through the azure. I swore I could hear the unmistakable squawks of seagulls, but I dismissed that thought; we had to get to work.
The day went by as usual, in a blur of repetition. Rocks were gathered, hills were measured. Kilometre by kilometre, I traced the landscape onto sheets of paper before filing each page into white cases. The valley was our sandbox; hectares of gravel-grey terrain surrounded our five vehicles, stretching from horizon to horizon.
“Mo, might be a stream, 600 metres ahead at 1 o’clock.”
I nodded at the driver, careful not to let my hand leave the map that covered the entire floor of the vehicle. “Set course straight ahead, I’ll let Ward take a bunch of panoramas. We need to plot the next 3 hectares by sundown.”
The driver obliged, and I felt my stomach lurch as he slammed his foot on the pedal.
With each passing hour, the Sun made its way across the sky, eventually reaching the Eastern Mountains. As night drew closer and the plains were plunged into nautical twilight, all 25 of us made our way home.
Dusting off my boots at the porch, I was greeted by the smiles and hugs of generations. The kids clambered upon my back, pleading for me to tell them about today’s expedition.
With a gruff chuckle and faux over-the-top country accent, I proudly proclaimed, “Well, your old man Mo here wants to see all of you showered and ready for dinner before he can start the story.”
3 groans escaped from behind me, but they dutifully obliged, scampering upstairs in a race for the bathroom.
Rachel asked me to bring her outside that night. I initially told her I was busy (this was half true; indeed many things had to be done, though none were really urgent), but after she pleaded for the next 10 minutes, I heavily obliged. Maybe I could use a break tonight, I thought.
Just as Rachel packed up her colouring book and camera, her siblings crashed down the stairs, begging to follow. I sighed.
We headed towards the beach. Rachel stared out the window, camera poised for the perfect shot. Leo and Adam kept quarrelling in the back, and Lyra was fast asleep.
The car trundled along the dusty roads, merely a silvery speck beneath the blanket of stars. Soon enough, the kids were all quietly dozing off. When we reached the pier, I woke them up and led them to a little boat tied to the docks.
We set sail towards the South, though never straying too far from the bay. Rachel was enthralled by the stars, and Lyra had a big smile on her face, though as usual nothing escaped her silent lips. Oh, when that little girl grows up, she’ll have a lot of things to say.
I was stunned to see that even the boys were observing the sky intently, instead of finding ways to push each other off the boat. Just silhouettes above the water, we sailed towards the little island, affectionately named after Lyra. She seemed to love it; we could tell by her warm smile and giggles every time we set foot there.
The five of us trudged silently up the rocks towards the observatory. One by one, I led the kids up the ladder to the observation deck. They all ran towards the telescope, each wanting to be the first to see the stars. After loads of pushing and squabbling, I decided to let Rachel go first.
While observing the stars, she smiled sweetly and asked me a question.
“Dad, which one’s Earth?”
Once again, that pang of homesickness hit me. “There, see the third brightest star? Out in the edge of the Milky Way, yep, there. That’s what I used to call home.”
Home. How I longed to be there again, though I knew I could never return. I knew that it’s been thousands of years since we left, and it would take thousands to go back.
For now, home is here; with the memories of the four who would proudly call me “Dad”.