It was all he had ever known. Growing up to the invisible rhythm of the waves, and being weathered by the gusty coastline, the open sea was where he felt the most safe. The fish he caught was enough to support his peaceful but solitary life. He had a family at a time, but his wife felt cheated because his heart had never been fully present around her. After 12 years, all he had left to show for it was a necklace of small shells he had given her in the early courting stages of their relationship; he still wore it around his neck to remind himself he had given it an honest shot.
Now he was facing what was to be his last trip out at sea. His boat had been reliable once, but it was not sturdy enough to make it through the current storm. The savage winds had already struck down his rudder leaving his boat vulnerable to the wiles of the ocean current. Sailing was a dangerous lifestyle, especially to go about on one’s own without a single deckhand, but he never felt fully comfortable trusting the safety of his vessel to another person. Despite the gravity of the situation, the sailor did not seem to be bothered that he may reach his end very soon. In fact, he did not even feel compelled to make significant efforts to keep the vessel afloat or repair the tiny leaks that slowly became more apparent. It was almost as if he had been waiting for something like this his entire life and he was too stunned that it was all finally occurring to be able to act.
As the lightning rolled through the clouds, and he began to feel the water rise past his ankles, a peculiar question floated into his mind that he had never asked himself.
Did he ever want to be a sailor? He could not remember any pleasant childhood tales to be told over the cantina or any celebrated romanticized notions of a life at sea. No, it was a profession he just fell into, not out of a greater meaning or love. There never seemed to be a choice for him, it was a linear path he fell into with no space to move but forward. But because he became a sailor, because this was the lifestyle that became adopted, he grew comfortable in it and afraid of anything else. His world narrowed until all he could see and dream about were the miles of blue in the horizon.
He felt the false warmth of nostalgia momentarily but when it exited him, he became aware of the vacancy in his being and it incited a deep inward anger. “Damn this ocean,” the words were spit out like drops of poison after most of the venom has already reached your organs.
He was not angry because he was about to die. He was not a coward. He was angry because he was about to die for a life he had not chosen to live. He was about to die for someone else’s choices, someone else’s actions, someone else who had set him on this specific trajectory. But he knew that was a lie of convenience. His second oar had been carried away by the waves, and the chill of the water now embraced his hips. The great play would be finished soon and he did not want his last thoughts to be lies.
Responsibility had to be taken for one’s own actions and responses. If he felt like an idle passenger throughout his life, it was because this was the role he chose to maintain, regardless of whether this role had been bestowed to him by others or not. He had never tried to swim against the current of his life. Because then he would have had to take responsibility, because then if he experienced failure or disaster he would need to shoulder it. Maybe he was a coward after all. The sea urchins he had to eat in order to survive when he was stranded for days on Sálvora were bitter, but all these truths were more difficult to swallow.
Yet, the light of clarity at the most opportune moment can fully illuminate even a hall that has been in darkness for centuries. As he accepted culpability in the unfolding of the events that led him to his current situation, and as he became aware perhaps for the first time in his standing in the world as an individual who always had choices, he realized he did not want to be a sailor. For a moment, he felt the true weightless of freedom and the intangible value of being in control of your life, much like the death row inmate given a pardon at the last possible second.
But alas, the guillotine had already been raised.
“I lived by the sea, and now I am about to die by the sea. But I am not a sailor.” The man said these words quietly to himself as if it were a test run. When he noticed the world was still the same around him, he repeated the words again except this time screaming into the very heavens themselves as if to warn them of his impending arrival.
As the vestiges of the boat disintegrated below the man’s feet, and the unforgiving ocean cradled him below the waves, his last thoughts were not of the sea, nor were they of carrying the day’s catch to the marketplace in Viveiro, or how the sun basked everything in a majestic blanket of orange and purple in the evening; instead, he thought of his young wife and how hard he had squeezed her fragile hand the day she passed away. As if by a phantom reflex, he clutched the shell necklace as a reminder that the ocean had never successfully claimed all his emptiness.