The Crossroads

Von Henry Edward Doyle — Illustration from Preface to the First Edition of An Illustrated History of Ireland from AD 400 to 1800, by Mary Frances Cusack, Illustrated by Henry Doyle First published in 1868., Gemeinfrei,

It was January 10, 1824.

A cold, blustery, patch-work quilted day.

The waves lapped against the

Rocky, Irish beach –

Almost drowning out the sand

Before meeting the misty grass.

Gulls flew overhead

Their song a complement to

The rustle of the wind through

The grass and the crash of the waves.

A boy stood and saw all this:

The crossing places of such.

Outlined by the rolling hills

Behind him, he gazed.

He was waiting along the sea,

Accompanied by just a small

Sack and the coat on his

Back. The hat topping it off.

A passer-by would have said he was

Lonely, or bored even.

But one look at his subdued blue eyes

Told the answer.

They were veiled pearls

In which one could see all –

The sadness, longing, and pain as

Only a hardened veteran could have…

He was only 18.

Not still a child, but not yet a man.

He tried to smile in spite of it all,

Trying to hold on to his homeland

Forever. But even that couldn’t

Drown out the yelling of the men from the docks.

The boy shivered from the cold,

His sandy hazel hair flowing in

The wind. He silently took out a potato

He had found, and began eating to keep his strength.

As he sat down, he let his mind

Wander back to his life. A mistake, it turned out.

He bit his lip to keep the tears hidden,

To think of something happier.

But the dam broke, for the memories

That flooded were too strong. The

Boy saw his parents, smiling at the

Dinner table with his brother and sisters.

Then the pain of watching them slowly

Give up their lives for their children.

The starvation became too much and,

Powerless, he watched them die together in his hands.

The boy and his brother and sisters stood

Solemnly as their parents were lowered

Into the earth next to the house.

None of them uttered a word.

Life then became that much

Harder. Left on their own with no

Money, the boy tried as much as

He could to support his family.

Within a week, he was begging in

The town — nobody would hire him

For days he would go hungry himself,

Just to feed his only kin.

And then, another blow: one by one

His brother and sisters came down with a sickness.

Desperately he tried to obtain help,

But more often than not, the local doctor refused.

Crying himself to sleep became a

Regularity. Even when the doctor finally

Came, his only reply was

“They’ll be dead within the week. Help will take two to come.”

Most can never claim to know utter helplessness.

The boy was not most; …but still a victim.

Fraught with despair, the boy cut short his

Begging so he could spend time with

Them. Come five days, his face was the

Last they ever saw.

He was the only one at their funeral.

The boy cried their tears as he lost his family forever.

Yet even sadness and

Unendurable pain couldn’t keep

The incessant hunger at bay.

He returned to begging, but left his heart behind.

One would think, that

Given the boy’s worse situation,

Pity would have been shown.

It wasn’t.

He wanted to die.

He knew he wouldn’t be

Missed. Just like nobody cares about

The baby bird who, on her maiden flight, plummets to her death.

What made him go on?

Hunger. And his last

Testament to his family:

To stay strong.

But staying strong was

Beginning to not matter.

For what good is anything else

When hunger makes you not human?

Finally, the boy was

Driven to desperation: he

Stole a loaf of bread

From the local baker.

For this heinous crime,

He was immediately caught and thrown in jail.

Is death really an escape?

Or a punishment for not staying

Strong? The boy did not know. But

With each passing day his resolve grew.

And one morning when he

Woke up he knew –

His next sleep would

Be his last.

But then God [or fate]

Intervened. The jail keeper let him go

For, his own son dead of typhoid,

He took pity, and slipped the boy some coins.

Life. Death. Lo! how they intersect.

Good is not in the preachers, but

In the doers. The boy surmised as he

Drew his coat around him

To keep out the wind.

His eyes surveyed the boats

Moored in the docks — the way

The sun danced upon each

From its escape from the clouds.

That was his future, but he

Easily turned his gaze: the ocean

Flowing grass and sand

Enraptured him.

There were no clouds there.

Suddenly a whistle was heard –

The reverie ended, and the

Boy began sauntering

Toward the docks.

For while he had been

Spared of death, the boy knew,

He could not stay:

Not here, nor anywhere near.

And so the boy stood at the

Gangplank, watching the ship

Above him, wondering what was

Going to happen on this voyage,

In that new world.

The boy sighed a generation of pain, took that first step committing himself, and collapsed.

He would never rise again.

*originally written 05 May 2011