Free

~ * ~ 1 ~ * ~

Annakpok stood looking down the mirrored glass that extended below her.  Gently she opened the window, just a crack, and suddenly stepped back, buffeted by the gale that whipped her jet-black hair wildly around her.  The cool wind on her face reminded her of home.  Home; she was so far away from her home and everything she knew.  Although the air galloping up the Seattle skyscraper was much warmer than the icy wind that blew through her Inuit village, it still brought back memories of days by the ocean with her dog, Pakak, and her brother, Nukilik.

She remembered when they would fish, enjoying the long sunny days that came and went with a burst of green, that quickly faded as the leaves browned and fell. By early afternoon in the north it was already starting to cool off, so they would return to shore. From all the rowing, Nukilik’s hands were tough and calloused against Annakpok’s as he helped her clean the day’s catch. Pakak, though excited to see his masters, but incessantly hungry, kept trying to snatch the fish for a pre-dinner snack. Annakpok remembered Nukilik holding a fish behind the gills and squeezing its slippery sides to make its mouth move, all the while narrating what he thought the dead fish would say, until they both fell over laughing. The thought saddened her.  How long had it been since she left now? Almost a year? Annakpok left her home, her family, and even her name, and it led her here – to the pinnacle of the corporate world, with the future stretching out like a red carpet, her possibilities endless. She took a step forward and yanked the window shut. There wasn’t time to daydream here.

As if on queue:

“ANNA! I need those abstracts on my desk in 15 minutes!” Annakpok hurried to her office, though the whitewashed walls stifled any creativity she felt. Luckily she had almost finished her work earlier that morning. With a few lithe strokes she put the last touches on the paintings and dashed across the hall to her boss’s office.

“Here they are, Mr. Bush,” Annakpok said as she hand over the paintings of the arctic tundra. He looked over them carefully.

“Good, but I want you to emphasize the rigs even more; it’s better for sure, but we really need to sell these things, make the people believe they belong here.”

“But sir, they don’t belong here.”

“Anna, how many times do I have to tell you, having the oil company in this area is going to help raise the standard of living. You remember why you took this job, right? You’re community is falling apart and needs the money, and you can save it, if you help with ProjectAK.”

Annakpok remembered precisely why she left, and it wasn’t because she could help ProjectAK save her village with oil money. Perhaps her people lack flat screen televisions, but they were happy, much happier than the people in Seattle. That is, everyone thereƒ except Annakpok was, and taking the job was her only way out. Mr. Bush had been the first one off the boat that pulled up on the driftwood-covered shore a few kilometers away from her village. Annakpok perched on a salt and wind bleached log with a set of paints balanced on one knee and her squirrel tail brushes on the other. She and Pakak arose early that morning to gather fresh spring blueberries and ochre to paint the sunrise before she started her chores. The air was still icy coming off the recently melted water, so she had an elk parka on. Mr. Bush saw her paintings and offered her a job on the spot, and she couldn’t refuse, not with what had happened that winter. It was hard to leave, but she quickly wrote a note and tied it around Pakak’s neck with a deer hide cord. Then she patted her companion’s fluffy head, and got on the boat. Although the dog was a little scatterbrained, she knew he would eventually get hungry and head back to the village, where Nukilik would give Pakak some food and find the note. Of anyone, he would understand her reasons to leave.

 

~ * ~ 2 ~ * ~

After work Annakpok walked down to the ocean. The city made her feel claustrophobic, with so many buildings blocking the sunlight. Not to mention her feet ached from being squished in her heels. As soon as she reached the shore she took off her shoes and blazer and untucked her blouse. She picked her way across the beach; the looming shadows of the skyscrapers reminding her how different this was from her village. The humid, salty air suddenly made her homesick; she collapsed on the rocks and started to cry, tears making dark little polka dots. This is when Pakak would usually nuzzle her arm and lick the tears from her face until she started laughing, or Nukilik would take her on a hunt. But those last few weeks at home it seemed like no one, not even Nukilik, her kin and best friend, had time for her anymore, and her husky could only do so much.

With her face in her hands, Annakpok didn’t even notice when a stranger walked up and sat beside her.

“You know, I don’t think the ocean needs any more water. I’m pretty sure it’s rained the past eleven days straight.” The man’s voice was gentle and Annakpok looked over. The man sighed, his breath tousling his wavy chestnut locks. “It’s nice out here isn’t it? I’m from New Hampshire, but I like this way better. ‘t’s much less bipolar. Predictable. So what’re you crying about anyways?”

Annakpok didn’t know what to say. How could this stranger understand why she bolted? Why she left everything she knew and loved to go to a foreign place where she had no friends, and no family. “I hate my job.”

The man’s laughter echoed against the buildings lining the shore. “You, me, and everyone else in this city!” He softened, “But really, what’s wrong?”

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” and that was the truth.

“Ok then, lets get your mind off it. Want to go fishing?”

“Huh?” She looked over, bewildered by the stranger’s kindness. “I just met you, and we don’t have any rods. And the shore here is much too rocky to have anything good.” Annakpok instantly wondered if she should have said that last bit. Women here shied away from anything “manly,” and concerned themselves with the latest trends in purses, a fascination Annakpok couldn’t understand. Though Tim seemed like a nice guy, Annakpok wasn’t quite ready to reveal all her secrets to him quite yet.

“Well, my name is Tim, I’m from New Hampshire–”

“–You said that already–”

“Ok fine, I’m 23, I write for the Seattle Chronicles, I like to read, I have no criminal record, and I have a boat. What else do you need to know?”

Annakpok was aware she should go back to her apartment and work on her paintings for the presentation tomorrow, but for some reason she wanted to know more about Tim. His ice-blue eyes contained a happiness that she hadn’t felt in a while, and maybe, just maybe, he knew a secret way for her to find it in Seattle, or at the very least survive this city. “Nothing. Let’s go.”

Tim helped her up and escorted her down the shore to the marina.

Pulling her to a stop just before the edge of the docks he said, “Wait, you never introduced yourself.”

“Right, I’m…Anna… and I don’t have a criminal record, either,” she said with a grin.

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss Anna.” With a bow and a wave of his hand, Tim directed her to the third row of vessels, then all the way to the end, where there was a little boat tied on the edge of the dark wood.

“This is Suka. It’s Inuit for – ”

“Fast, I know.” English was surprisingly one of the easiest things to learn when she came to Seattle. Mr. Bush brought a translator along the first day, and arranged for a few weeks of English classes, but after that Annakpok was on her own to figure out the unique characteristics of the street language. Luckily she picked up on it quickly. She looked over at Tim, who had a little smirk lighting up his tan features. She panicked for a second; she wasn’t sure she wanted Tim to know about her past, at least, not yet.

“Well, I think Suka’s a good name.” Annakpok breathed a silent sigh of relief. “She pretends she’s fast, but it’s ironic ‘cause she’s actually pretty slow. But hey, fast boats don’t catch more fish, am I right?” Tim chuckled.

Annakpok wanted to counter his remark, but thought that he wouldn’t understand that fishing from a kayak did require speed, from the paddler, to get to the fishing spot and back in time. So instead she smiled back, and stepped forward to start untying the sea-weathered ropes.

It took three tries to get the 1980’s Mercury outboard running, but they eventually putted out of the harbor and accelerated up to speed along the shore.

“You ever fished before?” Tim called out over the roar of the engine.

“Yeah, I used to all the time with my…umm…” Annakpok wanted to say brother, she really, really didn’t want to talk about that right now. “… dog.”

“Your… dog? Humph.” Tim slowed down as they approached a buoy, marking the edge of a weed line and clicked the motor off. He baited a hook with a slippery minnow, and handed the rod over to Annakpok. “So this dog of …?” Tim stopped as he looked up to her face, which was masked in confusion. “Oh, here, let me show you.” He grabbed his own rod and maneuvered the Penn 3000 reel, demonstrating a cast.

“Thanks. So my dog. His name is Pakak, which means ‘one who gets into everything.’” Again Tim chuckled. “I bet that’s an accurate name.”

Annakpok giggled, “Oh, if only you knew. One day I brought him with me on a, um, walk.” What she meant to say was hunt, but as far as she could tell, hunting was definitely on the list of “no-no’s” for proper Seattle women. “He had his nose to the ground, trotting back and forth. He’d run down the trail, then realize I was too far behind him, and come back with this look on his face that was just adorable. It was as if he was saying, ‘Come on Annakpok! You’re so slow; let’s go, there’re squirrels to chase!’ And he’d disappear down the trail again. Then I heard him yelp, so I sprinted up to find him. That silly husky had run his nose right into the tail end of a porcupine! I found him with his tail between his legs and cross-eyed, trying to figure out what in the world was sticking out of his nose. There were so many quills I could hardly tell what was his fur and what was remnants of the porcupine. Oh! I felt so bad sitting him down and plucking them out. He yelped each time. The poor thing.”

“How horrible! But did I hear you right? Is it Ah-knack-a-pock?” Despite his effort, Tim’s intonation was pitiful.

“Yeah, my name is Annakpok, but I go by Anna here. No one can pronounce it.”

“Can I call you that?”

Annakpok thought about it. She just met Tim, but she could already tell he was different from the other people she had met so far in Seattle. He wasn’t just concerned with his job and making as much money as possible, but had personality and passions, like fishing. He saw the hurt she felt, but didn’t dwell on it. Already Tim was assuaging that feeling of loneliness Annakpok had digging a hole in her chest just behind her ribs. She was so accustomed to the feeling she couldn’t keep the smile from her face as he filled the gap, one twinkling grin at a time. She looked at him. With the setting sun, Tim’s face was crossed with dark shadows, his blue eyes catching streaks of light and tossing it back towards Annakpok. His dark mahogany brows complimented his jawline, which was chiseled like his suntanned body. Again she noticed that warm fuzzy feeling in her chest, but put it aside for the moment.

“You can, but not yet. Calling me Annakpok would be a lie right now.”

“What does it mean?”

Annakpok looked Tim straight in the eyes. “Annakpok means ‘Free.’”

~ * ~ * ~ * ~