It is the earliest hour. The hour or moment that is not yesterday, nor is it today. There is nothing but stillness, yet so much happens. The sun that promises to come is announced only by a roosters calling. All the rest is silent – a pure time – a time when nothingness fills the smallest pockets of the environment. It is a time that is enjoyed by few since we sleep through this marvel while Aruba and her coasts prepare themselves. The sandy shores cleanse themselves with gentle lapping sounds and the trails and footprints of yesterday are smoothed and the shore is left for new feet to claim with small imprints. So much like performers do before another performance, this tiny stone in the Caribbean rehearses what she is to become by awakening and flexing the needed muscles and starting the age-old behavior pattern it has know forever – even before people walked on her. Our island is living through its’ pre-dawn and it is an awesome moment to say the very least.
In a nook somewhere that is a short walk to the ocean is a small white Cunucu house. A dim light bulb has just been turned on and a thin woman opens a window and looks out at her never changing yard and absorbs the view this small opening in her house offers. The small front door is already open and is held that way by the stone she placed there to keep it that way. Moving in the house she lights a small gas stove with a wooden match stick. Water is set to boil and moments later the aroma of coffee floats around her domain.
In the small adjoining bedroom, against the windowed wall, is a bed barely enough to hold the rotund man lying there on his back. This same bed has been there from the start and has held the two of them for the last 34 years. He is gently awakened by the smell of coffee. Roasted beans from some far off land serve as his alarm clock. As he has done since they wed, his arm falls to the side where she slept and he measures the time she has been awake by the warmth that lingers there. Looking over to the small closed window, the rotund man lifts a leg and kicks at it. It bursts open (staying that way due to a broken hinge) and he looks up at the heavens and sees the darkness.
With foot on the window sill, he turns his head and looks to the shelf that is his closet. On that shelf are his two pairs of socks, three folded khaki pants and several white shirts – each in different disrepair. The broken ones are for fishing and the good ones (nicely folded) are for church and funerals. It is his pleasure to not wear a shirt when company arrives, which is seldom. There are two nails sticking out at the end of the shelf. One of them is for his black tie – the color marks the usage – funerals, and the other holds a long wide leather belt. At the other end of the shelf is a small hand-sewn white cloth bag that holds handkerchiefs. He owns them by the dozens since they are inexpensive gifts and are easily made from shirts beyond repair. Off to the side, is another “Closet-shelf” that holds his wife’s things. Joining the two is a steel pipe on which dresses hang. Below the two shelves are two sets of leather shoes (one hers and one his and both black) and sandals for each - hers are not there.
The shuffling in the kitchen continues.
He gets up and walks his naked rotund body to his closet-shelf and grabs a pair of old khaki pants and the leather belt. As he walks through the kitchen and outside into the darkness he pats her on her thin buttocks, she smiles but never looks up or misses a beat in her chores. The pat on the buttocks is his “good morning”. Outside he goes to the well and pulls up a bucket of rain water. Standing alone and on a flat area, he pours half of it on himself – all the while looking off to the side noticing the remaining wetness of his wife’s morning shower. Grabbing a blue bar of soap that sits on a crate, he lathers himself and then pours the remaining water on himself. Never drying, he puts on his pants and straps on the belt. The belt does not have notches nor does it have a clasp. He simply ties it and then goes back inside still glistening with water and the smell of blue soap.
Breakfast is coffee (what else) and heavily buttered slabs of home cooked Pan Bati. He sips the black coffee and eats the Pan Bati bread until there is not a drop of the black liquid left and the aluminum plate that held the Pan Bati is left bare.
His wife notices a slight amount of light trying to appear in the horizon. It is her cue to get her large red shoulder wrap and walk out to join other wives making their morning walk to the Ayo rock formation. Before leaving, she hands him a thermos that has an aluminum screw-on cap that serves as a cup. The cap-cup is dented and scratched on the outside but has a nice brown hue on the inside from the many years of coffee. As she leaves the house, she pinches his nose and tells him to bring home fish. He aims once again for the buttocks but she is too fast and he is left with only the memory that she stood there seconds ago. He smiles, stands and stretches.
Having put on his sandals and an old shirt he goes outside and sits on a rock that is close to a well worn walking path. Just a few minutes after sitting down two friends walk up and wordlessly he hops off the rock and joins them in the silent walk to the ocean and to the small boat that has served them well for the past years.
After arriving to their boat (dingy actually) they put in the needed items and push off to sea. With the small motor puttering they go across dark blue waters on the North shore. At the same time, they turn their heads and look to land and there, standing on the top of the rock formation AYO, are their wives – each waving a colored scarf. They know that this ritual has several meanings. Men have gone to sea and not returned yet many more have returned with boats laden with fish, and in some cases, when the seas were not abundant, they came back with nothing. The scarves are so much more than waving pieces of cloth. They are the message of love and hope and forgiveness and so very much more. Each scarf holds its personal secrets that have specific meaning only to those two that are privileged to know it. There is brief reflection and then these men turn their small vessel into the waters that are almost black in color and they do so with the intention of killing fish. These men in their small wooden hull will brave dark fathoms of sea. Lines will sink into nothingness and come back with food. This was a time when killing was not for sport, even if it was only fish. All is done on purpose with the thought in mind that they are the farmers of oceans – much like those men that till the soil.
At the end of the day, when the gutting is done and the scales litter the shorelines, the oceans harvest will be brought home and prepared for the feeding of the “us” that is Aruba. Fish nutrients will give us the strength needed to allow our minds to explore life beyond just being fishermen. There was nobility in those times. These are surely times lost. Some say for the better and others not.
For me, being a fisherman is a noble and good thing. I think about this in the earliest hours of the day while my family sleeps. I think about this during that hour or moment that is not yesterday, nor is it today. There is nothing but stillness, yet so much happens. The sun that promises to come is announced only by a roosters calling. All the rest is silent – a pure time – a time when nothingness fills the smallest pockets of the environment. It is a time that is enjoyed by few since we sleep through this marvel while Aruba and her coasts prepare themselves. The sandy shores cleanse themselves and the trails and footprints of yesterday are smoothed and left for new feet to claim their small imprints. So much like performers do for another performance, this tiny stone in the Caribbean rehearses what she is to become when she awakens and it is not always what the killers of fish foresaw.