I liked him the first time I saw him. Gabriel was old. A good-for-nothing, some would say. Sitting on a small wall under the porch, no one could ever tell for how long had he been there. He could have spent there all night, all week, the past month, the many years since his last day at the sea. Gabriel looked at the sea. He did not scan over it with a deep gaze and old knowledge crying out to be shared.
Gabriel was old and looked at the sea. He simply looked, as if waiting for a bus to pass by just to make sure it did. The blue in his eyes was worn off, like an old door facing the sun. No one heeded to his voice, so tired it was, rolling like those tiny waves in a hot day of doldrums. Gabriel had nothing to say, and all he ever seemed to care to hear was:
- Grandpa, lunch is ready!
The first time I saw Gabriel I enjoyed not talking with him.
We were introduced with the gracefulness of a pole being hammered in the beach sand:
- Grandpa, this is V., your granddaughter’s boyfriend.
Each word was vigorously hammered as if screaming at the gate of a castle. Gabriel turned around just a tad, as if trying to reach something on a table, and eventually, whispering like the distant sea, said hello, as he waved at me to come and take a seat on the wall.
Little mattered how much time had passed. That was something we definitely shared from the beginning. Gabriel and I simply were. We could be each one by himself, unafflicted by passions, watching the sand pulling off the weight of the sun, and the stunned sea at noon.
Once I entered the flow of this Iberian yoga, I put an end to it saying:
- Grandpa Gabriel, want some red wine?
He drank it with pleasure; he handled it masterfully.
Then I left, saying the north wind was starting to blow and I wanted to sail it till the very last sunbeam. He looked at me, his eyes now filled with a deep ocean blue, and asked:
- Have you ever shipwrecked?
Struggling with prudency, I excused myself:
We would talk again a couple more times. I would listen, more than I would talk, captivated by his speech, looking blurred like a wide eyed diver.
The third. He told about his third shipwreck as the one of greatest fortune and pain, since not all of his comrades shared of his fate.
I feel sorry for the languages which do not give a gender to the sea. The Portuguese language, born in the northern mist of Galiza, has only known male oceans, like bearded Neptunes with their tridents. Once it reaches the South, the Portuguese language sounds oblivious under the spell of some Moorish word, and the sea of the Algarve becomes “açucena”, or a lily. Yet still…
On that day the lukewarm, gentle and feminine sea went far beyond the usual tiffs of the north wind. The Mediterranean wind storms are pure female rage. Blind, grim, unceasingly violent rage, day and night.
Gabriel sure knew how to read the warnings, the wind shifting to Southeast, warm and hazy, soon followed by hard fury, as a wind wave crossed the ocean tide, leaving the ship dumbfounded.
On days like that, men are unfaithful lovers facing the spite of the feminine sea.
Waves revolve the beach, the sea bed surfaces in fury like a mill crushing weeds and foam, and the air, now heavy and thick, announces the men’s day of doom. Everything is sea!
“The bar. Right there, right at the mouth of the bar, but who can resist the sea’s will?
“We headed to the bar riding the first wave, and by the second one, with the rudder already locked, the wind blew even harder, and we crossed the wave, ungoverned. When the bord kissed the sea, we were already doomed. The sea engulfed us at once. It was by the sheer will of God that I was clear of all nets and ropes. It was each man for himself and God for all of us. It was what it was. And I was holding on tight to the floating rudder, barely at the surface, as each wave washed away my strength and my hope. Then the black-backed gull passed by, gliding the wind of the waves, with wings as slender as the most beautiful sails. He turned around in a gentle tack and when he went by, close enough as to see into its eyes, I asked:
- “Oh Alcatraz, take me on your wings!”
The Alcatraz, the favoured lover of the woman-sea, dives into the sea, whole and deep, time and again. He flies higher to dive deeper still. The Alcatraz, the favoured lover of the feminine sea, does not run away from the anger of his lover. He flies on her billowy tides, gliding with his slender wings. Like a spear, the Alcatraz dives strong and deep in search of the sea’s golden heart. The Alcatraz dives whole until his wings cannot fly, and the lady sea lets him steal silver fishes like little pieces of her heart. The Alcatraz who only likes the sea, who likes that Gabriel likes the sea, who likes to play with Gabriel’s sails, both flying on the waves of their lover. The Alcatraz, the favoured lover of the woman-sea, must have certainly heard Gabriel’s cry. The Alcatraz diving deep and strong into the sea told her what Gabriel told him. And Gabriel knows that the Alcatraz told it to his lover in a single slender-wing flight.
- “Oh Alcatraz, take me on your wings!”
On that evening, all formalities fulfilled, Gabriel came to sleep home.