Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Day After the Storm (a sailor's tale of tsunamis of the heart)

They said to have seen a heart lingering along the coastline. It was floating on the water as it was being pushed around in circles by the weakened wind, the only air left alive after the hurricane. They said that the heart was pulsing and breathing. They said they even heard it talk with a female voice.

They said she said that she was lost and mistakenly abandoned; that she belonged to someone she feared had drowned the day of the storm. She said the sea seemed so innocent, something hard to imagine after it all she had seen the days before. Like if it never saw its waves, like claws, fetch chunks of sand and shells, dragging everything they could swallow to the deepest ends of the black-blue ocean, taking away the life she was supposed to live for.

They said the heart was pale, that it had the shape of a flower which hasn’t blossomed yet. They said that she was soft and tender, that she was aching as they touched her, when trying to rescue her from the shore. She cried, they said, as she pleaded to be left alone. She had hope that she’d be found again. She said that she was ready to sail to the Island of Ghosts.

They said they were puzzled. That island was doomed and never appeared in their naval charts. Whoever ever reached it never came back. Not being able to understand her determination, the sailors left her alone by the coast. The heart sailed direction north. That’s where they told her that errand island is sometimes found, and just as its name lauds, it was an island full of spooks.

They said she’d be about long mornings and long nights, so many, they had lost count. Under the full moon, under the furious sun, day after day she waited, as the spectres appeared one by one. They all had unfamiliar faces. She’d longed to be recognized by someone or to recognize somebody that would save her, but all they did was to play with her. They all wanted this heart to possess them as they pretended they could implant her in their dead souls, as if they were surgeons or miracle makers.

They said she was exhausted. Tired of being thrown back and forth like a play ball, she had no tears left; she had lost her speech and her heart was beating vulnerably. She pretended dead so they would stop laughing and calling her ‘sweetheart, come to daddy’. But they wouldn’t notice. These ghosts were all frustrated. What a curse it was for them, to live in death, to find a living heart which didn’t match their shapeless chests.

Soon after the ghosts got bored. They made a crown of shells and palm leaves and wrapped the heart with it. They felt they had a trophy, which they knew they couldn’t win and laughing in anger, carelessly placed their new found toy on the top of the reefs. To her luck, they soon also forgot about her. She regretted having sailed to the Island of Ghosts.

They said she was asleep when she felt him approaching. He grabbed her and she tried to scream loudly, but no sound would come out of her. Her skin was burned, her lips were wretched, the pain of his touch numbed her and she fainted before she could look at his face. They said that unlike the others, this ghost was gentle, that he held her against his cheeks and kissed her. They said he cried as he caressed her, mumbling words of love and despair, ‘it’s too late’, ‘its too late’, ‘I will never live again’ he said repeatedly. He sobbed and he cried, so much they had lost count of his tears. All they remember is that at some moment, the unusual weight of his thick teardrops had made the ocean suddenly awake.

They said that the ocean spoke gushingly as he woke up. With waves bumping heavily against the reefs, and with a hollow voice, the ocean told him:

“She’s just asleep. I will take you to another shore where you both will be safe. This island is the wrong place for you and for her. You two belong down south”.

The ghost wrapped his new found heart with his hands and held her firmly against his chest. He jumped from the high reefs into the restless waters as he was rapidly sucked by a fast twirl. They said the last thing they remember seeing was the heart spinning on her way down, almost crunched by the protective arms of the ghost which had turned liquid and transparent.

Suddenly the sea was again calm and everything looked abandoned. It seemed as if nothing had just happened in the Island of Ghosts. The island drifted from the reefs, sliding through the masses of water that would lead it to another place. “The mean ghosts get bored easily from stranding too long in the same place. That’s why the location of the island is never known”. They said.

The next day they said people were talking. They said that a man had been found by the shore down south. His skin was burned and his lips were wretched. They had believed he’d drown. Nobody can explain how he could have survived for so long in the water. They said people heard him talk nonsense, about an island of ghosts, about a sucking twirl, about aching hearts, about the secret promise he’d been told by the ocean, about a woman he needed to find now that he lived again.

They said he almost went mad when they showed him another heart they had just found. They said they believed it belonged to a woman gone missing. But they thought that wasn’t possible, as it had just spoken its last words with a male voice. They said this heart had begged them to be left alone, but they refused it. They believed they could save him. But it was too late. The heart was speechless and looked so fragile. They believed it was dead. They handed the heart to him. He seemed to know better what to do with it. After all he probably wasn’t that crazy if he too said to have found a similar heart.

The man took the heart in his hands and as if looking at himself for the first time in the mirror, he studied it carefully before throwing it into the ocean. Like a pebble thrown in horizontal line, the heart jumped several times on the surface of the water before disappearing in the horizon. They said they believed the heart never ceased jumping, that it stayed hovering above the water. Nobody can explain how a man that just had been rescued could have such strength.

An echo evoked his words incessantly as he screamed “find her!” As if shaken by the vibrant sound of his voice, the sea lost its calmness and violent winds came about from all directions, creating a sudden tempest of hurricanes and liquid tornados. The echo would return like a boomerang of angry screams in desperation, increasing its volume as the wind blew harder.

The people he had just met ran away in panic. But the man stayed, serenely watching the storm which seemed to know he needn’t be touched. The gusts of wind didn’t reach him. He was the only standing figure among the turbulent waters, blown leaves and branches and bended palm trees.

The echo ceased slowly. It soon became dark and it started raining. The man remained serenely waiting, as he felt the sweet pouring water freshen his lips and lessen his thirst.

He was certain they were about to meet. His love, his woman would be brought to the shore and would find him. He felt asleep on the white sand until sunrise. The next morning he woke up in front of a tranquil, clear, whispering sea.

“Today, the day after the storm, you will find her”.

They said it was at sunset when they found her lying on the wet sand. She was almost unconscious and she seemed delirious as she mentioned ghosts and drifting islands. They say that when she recovered her senses she asked if they had seen a missing man who was also believed to have drowned. They pointed to the far right, by the splashing waves against the rocks, where a man was seen sitting on the top of a reef. He was throwing pebbles to the sea, staring with fixation at the horizon. “He’d been there the whole day”. They reckoned.

They said she smiled widely, with a painful gesture as she touched her dry lips. They said they helped her stand up, as she stumbled before she began walking towards his direction.

“She had just found the one she was supposed to live for. Just as the ocean had secretly promised her”.

The end.

Manuela Hernández
9 April 2005

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