A Story of the Sea

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A Story of the Sea

(Tales from the Mediterranean Sea)

“I have always had a symbiotic relationship with the sea. For us who are born on the coast, it is so. The sea has always been an indisputable protagonist in our lives. It is the place where we joyously liberate ourselves from school by cutting class, the place where we spend the evening with friends.

We always search for the sea, whether we are sad or happy. When we don’t know what to do, where to go, we people of the sea go … to the sea. And for us born in places where there is not much to do, it is always the sea that is the destination of our wandering.

The sea … the sea … It is in our history, in our veins. It is the horizon from which we saw Saracens and cultures of every kind arrive. We saw sails from other worlds catching the wind.

What is there, then, in my blood?

In my blood there is the sea.

That line, far on the horizon, which merges together with the sky at night, is, for us inhabitants of this small province, EVERYTHING in life. It is the poetry of our dreams. It is our fears.

To us, the sea has it’s own soul. It has always given us everything, yet has taken everything from us, too. The fishermen know this well, as do their widows when they stare for days at that horizon, hoping for their return.

I tell you, the Sea has a soul all its own. It can be benevolent or show a violence that only the Gods possess. One does not scorn the Sea. We people of the sea, we know this. The Sea has laws all its own that must be respected without questioning. They have existed since time began and are inscribed in the depths of every man’s soul. We must listen to it, the Sea, because it tells you many things, you know?

I have known this forever. As a child I spent hours on the rocks, watching it. They were beautiful, the things that the Sea said. Above all, it told me stories from far away. I asked myself: what is there, beyond the horizon? Maybe another child like me is asking the same thing, seated on the sands of his shore. And what does he dream of? Maybe he asks my same questions. Or maybe he dreams my same dreams. And maybe we are watching each other right now but we don’t know it.

Then at times when I was too tired to think of the horizon, I immersed myself in crystal clear water. And I went to collect the sea urchins from the seafloor, armed with a small knife.

After, I returned to the surface. I ate the urchins while I tried to keep my head above water, opening them with both my hands. It was a difficult endeavor. I needed strong legs.

One time I had to save a friend that had gotten a cramp while swimming.

I was afraid. I was not good at dragging him to the shore, reaching towards the surface with only the strength of my legs. It was scary, you know? For days I thought about nothing else. It must be terrible to drown. …

But withstanding such harrowing experiences, I still liked to dive and collect the sea urchins. It is an ideal way to fantasize about being a fish. I developed a certain ability to remain under water for many seconds, and during the dives, I liked to brush against the rocky seafloor with my body, like the moray eels do, watching the fish darting about, slipping into coves.

I always wanted to be a fish – to swim free, to feel my body suspended in the blue, allowing me to ignore the forces of gravity. The life of fish seemed to me to be simpler with respect to mine, save for having to navigate between one predator and another. Or maybe I would not have had this problem if I were born a predator. Who knows?

In any case, I liked the idea.

And then all this silence, under the sea. Only a dull white noise.

However, I want to tell you something:

One day a group of boys were diving from a rock that was not too high. They dove for a few seconds and then returned to the surface, laughing.

Taking turns, they repeated the cycle of diving and returning to the surface with a laugh that seemed sinister to me. More than anything else, it was a sort of hysterical, nervous laugh. They had a gleam of fear mixed with madness and recklessness in their eyes.

A few meters below, stuck in the seafloor, was the bloated body of a man. The boys had found it, and they were amusing themselves by diving in to go shake its hand. Then they rose to the surface, full of euphoria. When the police arrived hours later with the divers to retrieve that poor man, I escaped to go throw-up behind the dry brush.

Who was this man? Why was he there? But the sight that truly horrified me the most was the gazes of those boys. They had a gleam of cruel self-satisfaction for the stunt that they had performed. One saw in their eyes an icy cynicism, which they tried to convince themselves was derision and courage.

What had they wanted to prove to themselves?

Since that day, I decided that I did not want to dive from the rock of that drowned man. I searched for other coves, and I continued my underwater explorations.

But something decreased my enthusiasm from previous dives. I swam from one crevice to another, lost in thought; I was no longer able to imagine being a fish.

I was only a man: two arms, two legs, a body ill-suited to the water – a body that should fear the sea.

I began to have visions during the dives. I dove to collect the sea urchins and, scarcely turning my head, I saw HIM. It was him, the corpse, wedged between the rocks and bobbing in the waves!

Many times I surfaced, yelling, and when my friends dove in with diving masks to go and check … nothing, no one. HE was not there. He was simply in my imagination.

In any case, I continued to dive. But I continued to see him. I began to pretend as if there was nothing.

– He does not exist – I told myself. But every time that I dove, he was there, and, gradually, he was not the only one anymore. There were many corpses, each time more. The sea was being invaded by them – corpses stuck on the rocky seafloor, gently bobbing in the waves.

But I was the only one who saw them.

I tried to get used to them, forcing myself to pass close by them while I swam, repressing my anxiety. But when the fish started looking at me with their eyes fixed and appearing human, I left the sea and did not want to step food in it anymore. Yet every day I wanted to return. I sat on the rocks, like when I was a child, to listen to its voice and to watch the horizon.

Who knows that that child from the other coast sees. Does he see me? Do we still have the same dreams?

One day, while I asked these questions to myself, I closed my eyes and listened attentively to the waves. But not like I used to do, with the desire to dream. I needed to understand.

And I felt that while the Sea swelled in my chest, the lapping of the water became something more than a dull white noise. Was that noise the combination of all the sounds created by the drops of the ocean? It seemed to me, instead, that every drop had a voice; and there was one yelling, one crying, one murmuring like a prayer. But I did not understand because it was in a language I did not know.

At this point, I was not able to sleep anymore. These voices had taken away my sleep. Do you hear them too? I’m not crazy?”

“These voices don’t exist. The dead, the screams of the drowned…oh! These are things that they told you in order to make you afraid. Be calm. Place your head here, on my shoulder. Have faith … do you trust me?”

“But … I …”

“Trust in me: I am the Captain. Observe this beautiful sunset.”

On the bow of the ship, Italia, the Captain spoke with a honeyed and reassuring voice to me. By now it was dusk. Shortly the night would descend like a dark blanket on this part of the world, and we would remain there to gaze at the stars.

“Come on, my friend!”

He continued with a knowing smile, “We can stay here, sitting on the bow, to eat a slice of bread and Nutella[1] while we enjoy the view of the stars.”

How romantic, Captain. I sat there close to him. I do not know how long we can stay on the bow to admire the night – how long does it take for a ship to completely sink?

Of the ship Italia, the bow is the only thing still above water.

And while it sinks slowly, the Captain speaks to me about his favorite soccer team. Then he tells me about his women as if I was his beloved friend and we had known each other forever.

“Come on!” Let’s take a selfie!” he exclaims with enthusiasm.

So he turns the smartphone towards our faces while I turn one last time to gaze at my Sea. A sea that gave me fear, that I am not able to admire anymore like I once could.

It could be that it is dusk or, at least, that this is a feeling I have inside, but the water is abnormally red and dense compared to how it usually is. It seems like blood.

THEY are there, watching me. Others silently float. And the murmur of those voices?

Oh, that murmur I hear, all right! More alive, more strong and real like it has never been before…

……….

By now the night descends on this Sea.

The Captain is still there, with his nose in the air, raised towards the sky. He seems so absorbed that he does not notice a distant cry, perhaps coming from some invisible boats hidden by the dark and the waves. The first wail of a child, followed by the cry of a mother that announces the still far-too distant dawn.

He is there, watching the sky, yet he appears unable to see that falling star. I see it. There it is. It separates itself from the others, and in complete solitude, as it moves against the current, it vanishes in the abyss that exists there, beyond the horizon. Gently falling like a tear of hope.

Author: Laura Grimaldi

Translation by Megan Fenrich


[1] The minister of the Italian Ministry of the Interior, Matteo Salvini, is nicknamed Il Capitano by his supporters. For them, he stands as the captain that guides the country. However, he is called Capitan Nutella by the opposition. A few hours after a 4.9 magnitude earthquake struck Catania and immediately after the killing of a government informant’s brother in Pesaro, Salvini posted a selfie on Twitter that showed him eating a slice of bread with Nutella. This selfie provoked indignation from the public.