Sunday, 24 November 2013

Hopeland (Notes from Corsica) 20: He Could See Nothing But Shadows

20: He Could See Nothing But Shadows

He didn’t know what he was doing.
There was a humming in his head.
Stepping out of the air-conditioned warmth he shuffled down wooden steps towards the lagoon.
The day was hazy and undefined, but surely beckoned.
Looking out to sea the only break in the silver canvas was a brown strip of sandbank.
He turned and headed upriver following a path until it left the water’s edge. There he stepped onto the sand, past a barking muzzled dog, past the vagrant fishing boats that hosted sleeping gulls. Bamboo and pine brush littered the shoreline; beneath his feet crackled a thousand broken shells, the corpses of crabs and inky cuttlefish were everywhere.
Out in the lagoon he could hear the idle chatter of fishermen digging for clams. They lent heavily on rakes, rocking like dancing bears as they dredged for bounty, sifting shells into floating baskets tied loosely to their torsos. They laughed easily, pausing occasionally to open a clam or two, tasting their catch, poverty’s fruit. As one worker broke into song a heron spread its wings to dry them and seemed to conduct the tuneless mantra.
The wrecks of small wooden boats lay strewn above the waterline like broken promises. A few could be repaired but would ever be sea safe again.
A toothless hag in a headscarf crouched upon an upturned wreck bellowing at a giant of a man who coiled a rope and smiled down at her affectionately.
‘This is what we gain when we learn to lose ourselves’ he thought, and wrote those words in a small yellow note pad before moving on.
A feeding fish broke the water nearby and gulls fell on the shadow. Other than the metallic whiff of seaweed the still air was odorless.
He climbed the pine steps of the sailing club where he’d been promised a bowl of coriander clams and a beer, but pressing his nose up against the window he could see nothing but shadows.
He sat on the top step gazing out across the pale gray and thought ‘if I just sit still for long enough something will happen’.
The heron had followed him and eyed him inquisitively from atop a broken flagpole.
The noise in his head suddenly stopped and there was a silence like he’d never heard before.
Behind him, a sharp bang. A smudge of blood and feathers stained the glass where he had previously pressed his nose. On the ground beneath was a brown bird. He looked down at the lifeless body and couldn’t give it a name. His temple twitched and the humming returned. He set off back towards town, in search of company.
This time as he passed the abandoned boats, they made him think not of broken promises but of forgotten dreams, before he realized that they were, of course, the same thing. He wrote this down and then winced at his dreary insight, ‘Bloody genius’.
The sun was at his back now and everything was so much clearer. Beyond his extended shadow he noticed that the only marks ahead were his own footprints outward bound. The prints he left now were those of a heavier man.
The singing fisherman was now aboard a small turquoise boat, the ‘Maria Alice’, diligently sorting his catch; mussels, clams, razor clams, smaller cockles and whelks. He stopped his song and turned, aware of another presence, maybe a customer. He reached into his muddy bucket offering a handful of shells, ‘Mariscos. Fresco. Saboroso. Quatro.’ he smiled and held up 4 fingers.
‘Please, yes, Obrigado’ he stammered and, reaching into his back pocket pulled out a crumpled 50. The fisherman’s eyes narrowed, he snorted and turned back to his sorting.
‘Always carry small change’ he thought, ‘you get to meet more interesting people that way’.
He stifled a yawn and felt a tightening in his chest. Stepping off the sand and back onto the path he slowly reached down to pick up a heavy piece of driftwood, holding it like a club. His back ached and the hum in his head was thunderous now.
“Fifty, a fifty, nothing but a fifty” he muttered as he moved towards the muzzled dog.
He raised the club above his head and held his breath.

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