It is Sunday and I am driving to his house. He is old and frail now yet there was a time that he was a giant amongst the men that went off to the sea in small dinghies in the darkness of night to fish till dawn with no other purpose but to feed families and in the process take the lives of innocent animals. Men that fish are as much hunters as those that do so with bow or gun, the difference not being the task at hand but the amount or perhaps the repetition of that task. It dawns on me as I drive through silent Sunday streets that this frail man sustained many families by killing and calling it fishing. As much as I seek his company and hunger for his stories of things that will not be again, I know of this thirst he once had and I am cowered somewhat - but I move in his direction and as Sunday church bells clang, I continue to drive in his direction and think of him and what it is that happened to him and others.
Rotund since youth he was never called fat. For no other reason than he wasn’t. His body was one of those that had rounded muscles. His hands were always large and it is said that he had to wait till his late teens to have grown into them. Details were not known to him. He painted his life in wide brush strokes of needed movement only. He was a boy that went to school with his shirt barely tucked in and a wide belt that was tied over his pants, never making use of the buckle or the belt loops. By his early teens, his teacher had called him to the side and said to him, “Leave this place, you do not belong here. I am not angry with you, nor am I disappointed, as a matter of fact my boy, I am envious. Please young man, allow me the honor to be the one that set you free, go.” He smiled, left and never looked back.
The story goes that he walked to the ocean one day and asked the fishermen what it is that they did. They told him while he sat motionless and listened to every word they said. More than listening, he absorbed them. A few days later, it is said, that he went back to them and told them that he needed a job and wanted to be like them. He wanted their freedom. He said to them that more than anything he wanted to be by their side on the sea. They took him in and by his early ‘twenties’, he was a living legend and shamelessly in love with everything that had to do with the ocean, wooden boats and the killing of fish. His lust for “The catch” was never matched.
As I get somewhat closer to his small Cunucu house, I wonder if he will be alone or if someone will be with him. It matters not. Lost in the humming of the engine and the running sound of my tires on sand roads I see his small house in the distance. It is a lonely location without neighbors or poles that carry telephone lines or electricity. He is in need of neither. His small yard is clean and surrounded by a low fence made of randomly stacked stones. The only thing fixed to the earth is the pole driven deep to hold his small yard door, the rest remains in place for no logical reason. All the windows are shut with exception of one. It is dark inside and I know that he has been sitting on the inside waiting for me. A thin arm comes to the latch and unhooks it, slowly pulling the window closed. He will have to do other things before he comes out. I stop the car and decide to give him time. Time is my gift to him today.
When in his late fifties and having been on countless fishing expeditions to all parts of the Caribbean, a particularly strange thing happened. It was an event to make him famous and at once bring him to his knees. On this particularly stormy night, the wind stopped blowing and had started howling. The ocean carried more sand than it did water. It was a salty fluid mud. The sea was angry and spit out at the shore, daring anyone to come to her. The fishermen saw this and made the decision to not go to sea. But he would not hear of this and started to shout out his anger at their cowardice. He went to each one and looked at them wordlessly with squinted eyes. Then turned to the sea and took off his clothes leaving himself naked and then walked to the angry shoreline. It is said that he yelled foul words to the ocean and dared the sea to harm him. He spread his arms and said to the dark waters, “Here I am and damn you for your cowardice. And the story goes, that after having said this he urinated on the shoreline. Be it coincidence, be it a change in the wind, be it anything but what the men had witnesses, the sea became calm. He walked to his small dinghy and said to his men, “Come with me, we have work to do.” They followed him and four men went to sea to kill sufficient fish to feed their families and have enough left to sell. They were not even ten meters from shore when the ocean picked up again and threw them all like match sticks on the shore, all but him. He was pulled under by an undertow and dragged across the coral bottom and off into the wild waters. No one is sure how he managed to come to shore but almost one hour later he was found rolling back and forth on the shoreline. His face was swollen and covered with the stings of ‘Man-o-War tentacles . The men tried to clean his face but his screams stopped then so they wrapped his bruised, scraped and cut body in old towels and took him to the hospital where he would remain for some months with his eyes bandaged. He lost weight and was obsessed with his eyes. Every time the doctor came he would ask if he would be able to see again, and when he did, the doctor was kind enough to lie to him until he was strong enough to handle the truth. As he lay in the hospital his body was thinning away and his eyes started to go through the shut down process, he was dying and a new him was being born. His own brother did not recognize him any longer.
The door to the house moves and it is my signal to start the car and arrive at a coordinated proper time. I get there and know enough to not get out to go get him or assist him in any manner. He taps his way to the car and opens the door. Slowly his frail body lifts the cane to me and wishes me a nice Sunday. I greet back and he falls into the seat. “Can you take me to the ocean today?” He asks. I tell him I will and we go to the sea. He wears thick black glasses and trembles a bit. In front of the hotels, he smells the ocean, I see his nostrils flare. He turns to the sea, not able to see the high rise there, and tells me to look out at the beauty of nature. I remain still. He continues with his face in the direction of the sea and says to me, “Do you know how many fish are out there just waiting to be killed?” All the while looking in the direction of a hotel lobby, and then continues. “There are many, so very many.” I take him to his favorite ice-cream place and get him a single scoop strawberry cone. His body is small inside the black suit. His hand reaches out and finally touches mine. He is still then says, “Do you think I killed too many fish? Be honest – tell me”
I am alone now in my car, going home on a Sunday – I have been with a mountain of a man and am somewhat still.
Thanks for your story. While fishing with a local named Banch, in Aruba, I asked him if he ever read The Old man and The Sea. Your story reminded me of that brave fisherman. He said he did not ,but wanted to know more about it. I told him about the big fish and the fisherman's struggles as we fished in the largest swells i've ever been in. When we go out with him we are so happy and always get big fish-the giant grouper off Aruba is incredible. But I have never felt more fear going fishing than off the north end of Aruba by the prison. Such small boats with single men and very, very large sea swells.Not much room for error or help to come and rescue if needed. These men fish to feed their families and sell a little at Zeerovers to make their week. We feel so lucky to know a ture Arubian fisherman.
Thanks for the story,
Sean and Susan