(or read it on my tumblr)
A short story inspired by this lovely picture and the song One Sail by Meg & Dia.
A short story inspired by this lovely picture and the song One Sail by Meg & Dia.
|photo by pketron, Coney Island Beach|
He’s there again.
Gray hoodie, dirty shorts, barefoot, hair blowing in the wind, and I am tempted to run over and splash seawater all over him but I know better.
He is standing on the rock slimy with seaweed and broken fishnets and the red slipper that belongs to nobody, perfectly balanced. He’s stood there many times before and has never fallen, not even a little slip, because he grew up with that rock. He knows every sharp edge, every little nick, and every parasite stuck to that big, gray rock, but I know for sure that that rock knows him better than he knows it.
It’s four o’clock in the afternoon. Not too late, but not too early either, which is why he’s always here at four o’clock and I mean always. It’s a quiet day today, so quiet that despite it not being very windy, you can hear the wind whispering softly into your ear and into your soul and maybe even a message from someone far away. The waves are soft, too, and smooth. The water’s surface reminds me of the silky looking, cheap, three-in-one sachet coffee that they show in commercials, and I like it. I can taste the salt in the air and smell the chipped paint from the little boat some meters away from the shore, and see the young boy in that boat paddling. Everything feels connected and in its place today, and I like it. I like it a lot.
The beach seems cleaner this afternoon, too, or maybe it’s just me. My feet sink into the wet sand with each step, marking the shore finely and precisely. I carefully place one foot after the other as I walk, not wanting to ruin the perfect footprints I’ve left on the beach, the only proof of my being here for today. The prints make me feel as if I’ve left my mark on the world, or maybe it’s just me.
Yes, it’s probably just me, because I don’t really matter right now.
I’m trying to tell you about him, right?
I have known him my whole life, counting the months when we were in the womb. Our fathers were both seamen, his father worked in a shipping company and mine in a fishing company. They were best friends and knew each other their whole lives, too. We both grew up wanting to be exactly like our fathers. We knew how to tie sailor’s knots, swim in deep waters, and paddle our own boats long before we knew how to ride a bike. I still don’t know how to ride a bike, actually.
My mother never approved of me being a sailor. Maybe it’s because I’m a girl and I can sing. She wants me to go to the city with a powdered face, wearing high heels and a nice dress and sing my way to fame, like the other singers we see on TV who come from the provinces and become rich overnight. Everyone tells me I sing well, but I don’t believe them because they base a person’s singing talent on how high their karaoke score is, and everyone knows that the key to getting a perfect score is to sing loud, and even shout. The only person I know whom I can trust is him. And he told me I sing well, so I sing well. But I still want to be a sailor.
He doesn’t want to be a seaman anymore, though. Ever since… ever since his father didn’t come home that Saturday night he was supposed to about a year ago.
I know why. We all do. The shipping company’s owner, a foreigner, had been greedy and overloaded the ship to save money by cutting it down from two trips to one trip, saving and making him money in one go. The overloaded ship had crawled its way through the sea and sunk almost halfway to its destination when it hit a small typhoon. According to the investigators, the ship left no survivors, but there are still a lot of bodies missing. His dad’s is one of them.
He thinks his father is still out there. I want to think so, too, but the idea is impossible. He is the only one who thinks that he is still alive, the only one. Even his mother is convinced that he’s gone, and has tried telling him that a million times, but he always says to her with a stern, sure voice, “I will wait for him, Ma. I will wait for him like vultures wait for bodies.”
I always found him creepy and a little bit deluded for saying that, but that really is the perfect description for how he stands on that rock.
Silent, still, unmoving, dressed in gray.
Waiting, waiting, and waiting.
I reach him. He doesn’t move or make any sign of knowing I’m there, but I know that he knows that I’m there, because every afternoon at five minutes past four, I’m here, too. I climb the rock nearest to his and stand beside him, breathing in the sea, the sand, the birds, the air, everything. I look up and watch him watching the horizon.
The day his dad died was the day he died, too. It seems that all the love he ever had in him went down with that ship and stayed at the bottom of the ocean. It’s not that he became mute or refused to eat. He still talked, but it was empty and meaningless and just not the same. He just wasn’t the same.
His eyes are lifeless, yet full of longing. I can tell that he’s running out of hope. Something inside him is dying, even though he’s already dead. His soul, maybe? I can see it next to the shore. He reminds me of a ship with a lone sail in the middle of the ocean. He is lost and wandering and will soon hit something and sink if no one will hold him down, hold him close.
I can do that.
I can be his anchor.
I’ve always been.
Been trying, at least.
He looks down at me, barely blinking and puts his hands in the pockets of his shorts. I know he’s about to say something.
“There’s no wind today. I can’t hear him if there’s no wind. There’s supposed to be wind,” he says, looking out to the sea once more.
“Didn’t he warn you not to make friends with the weather?” I reply. His dad had always told us this, because he hated how the weather could turn everything upside down in a split second. I hate the weather, too. You can never trust the weather. Never.
“Whatever, I want the wind,” he says.
“You’re a baby.”
So shut up I do. I resist the urge to throw a witty comeback at him and stand there instead, gazing at the horizon. The ocean is beautiful and constant and forever, and I like it. I look up at him to say something about it when I see him slowly rising onto the tips of his toes, as if he is about to jump into the water. I reach up and pull the hem of his hoodie down, forcing him back onto the soles of his feet.
“Watch it. Tita Gigi will kill us both if you fall,” I say, my grip on the bottom of his gray hoodie tighter. “And how am I supposed to carry you all the way back to the –”
He suddenly whips his head toward me and I am shocked by the tears I see filling his eyes. He quickly wipes them away with his sleeve before they spill over and I still don’t let go.
“He will never make it home, and I know it. I’ve known it all this time,” his voice is shaky but he manages to say each word loud and clear. Suddenly, he is like a little boy again, waiting for his dad to come home after work, worrying because it is already dark and the rice on the table is getting cold. His eyes are sad, but they’re alive. He is crying, but there is meaning to what he’s saying. I want to shake him and slap him and cry because he’s come to his senses but instead, I just swallow. I swallow hard.
“No, he will never make it home, but you have,” I say. A fresh sea breeze hits us, cool and lovely. I want to drink it. I take a deep breath and in the wind, I smell the strong, clear scent of spirit and life. He’s come back.
He starts crying and wiping away his bottled up tears, sniffling and body shaking and chest heaving, but he’s alive. He’s an ugly crier, but he doesn’t care and neither do I. He lets me stay, and I let him cry.
I continue to hold onto him in case his tears give him the fresh energy to float away with the sea breeze and disappear into the skyline. I know it’s not possible, but I hold him anyway.
I hold him and hold him.
It’s darker now, and I can see the first stars peeping at us from the sky, telling us to start heading back home. I don’t know how long we stood there, him crying and me holding, but I know that tomorrow when he comes back at four o’clock I’ll be here, too, at five minutes past four, just like I’ve always been.