I spent a few months wandering around East Africa. A fisherman named Morzina invited me to spend a few days with him in the boat, fishing. All together combined the crew on the dhow spoke about 3 words of English, thus I was stranded to exercising my basic Swahili. Some messages were lost along the way, but the ones I received inspired me to write a story about a fisherman.
I am a working man. A fisherman.
Once every year with the guidance of Kaskazi, the seasonal northern wind, we set sail to Ziwayu. It is a holy place for the fishing people.
To the sea it is a rock. To the birds it is a rest. To fish, it is home.
To us, fishermen, it is a sanctuary.
I am a strange fisherman, though. I think this is why other fishermen are so suspicious of me. I possess an unorthodox trait, one that is very unusual among us hungry lot. Sometimes I decide to let a caught fish back into its salty wave. It happens rarely. And only for the lucky few. Even I think my act is bizzare.
I guess it is all in the eyes. Fish eyes, human eyes, mammal eyes... It does not matter. It is hard to strike someone when you see your own reflection doing it.
I often become an object of mockery after giving the fish another chance. But I cannot change myself. Nor the connection I develop with some creatures. But it makes other fishermen think that there is something fishy about me.
Even skiff mates glance at me like I am bad luck or something.
Eyes are the strangest thing. Things get very personal when you look one another in the eye.
The other day we caught a big octopus. It was behaving very calm and gentle. It had a certain something about it. If I were the one who caught it, I would have let it go. Yet the others did not notice anything special about the creature. Maybe because they killed it without looking it in the eyes.
Sometimes letting fish go costs me dearly. It happens that I will not catch anything for days afterwards. I do not mind, though - bad luck always comes eventually. The trick is knowing how to make it go.
And I thought to have learned the trick.
I wanted to prove to myself that I really hold the key to overcoming bad luck. But to find out whether I knew the truth, I had to push my luck, to push myself, to the limit. I needed a journey that would take quite a bit of luck by itself to accomplish. With the next Kaskazi, I decided to sail to Ziwayu on my own.
Kaskazi came early, and I started preparing my skiff for the voyage. Putting in my heart and soul, I scrubbed it clean, tightened the ropes, covered it in shark liver oil, and tailored the sails.
On the day of departure I woke up at an early hour and headed for my skiff, both of us ready for the dip.
Besides it I met a wise old man. He gave my trip his blessing and watched me raise the sails. As I started distancing away, he continued his stroll alongside on the beach. His gaze was my last escort.
For three days I was adrift in the sea without catching any fish. But as I mentioned, I had a way to deal with misfortune. If it worked this time, I would have known for sure if I had deciphered the Truth.
Let me tell you what I do with bad luck: I welcome it. I set some time aside for it. We drink a few cups of sweet tea together. Then we daydream. At the very end, we simply enjoy silence together.
Basically, I treat it as an uninvited guest. Therefore it never lingers for too long.
Out of courtesy, maybe...
Time had passed. Bad luck and I, we were slowly getting into the routine. We already had drank more cups of tea together than usual. Eye-tracing the skiff's wake in the water, I started feeling sleepy. To clear my mind, I began thinking of my friend who would always keep himself awake by whistling.
In my mind I was listening to his jingles. It kept me smiling.
The skiff continued moving at a steady pace, gently rocked by the waves. I started feeling memories irresistibly consolidating into a world of their own. My mind was beginning to get covered in a thick, moist mist. A dream. I became comfortably numb.
I could not resist. I did not even try. I did not want to.
Taken inside the dream, I looked around. Two good fishermen friends were working alongside me, packing up the nets from the salty water.
After the nets are in, we begun sailing towards land. As we got out of the boat, I heard a loud and continuous friendly whistle. I looked around and saw the whistler besides a bicycle. I erupted into laughter as I recognized my dear old friend. He was watching me from a distance, with a firm grip on his bike. His gaze reminded me of the wise old man that watched me sail off.
He came up to me and sat me on his bicycle. He then cycled us to the beach. A melodious whistle constantly rang in my ears. The friend motioned for me to come closer. He submerged his hand into a puddle of water. When he took it out, there was a creature clinging onto his palm with its tentacles. It looked like a baby of an octopus and a starfish.
It slid back into the water. I was looking at the body of water, when suddenly I noticed that my friend and the starry octopus were nowhere to be seen, but the place started getting thick with smoke. I ran towards the source of it, scared to find a village in flames.
It was a matter of seconds before I got to the place responsible for the harsh smoke. It was a boat, shrouded in smoke. But there were no flames. Just smoke. And besides it stood no one else but the same old man who gazed unto my ship as it distanced into the horizon.
'What are you doing to the boat?' I asked.
'I am blessing it. But the smoke itself is not a part of the ritual. It is merely a signal.'
'A signal for what?' I inquired.
'For you.' The old man took me by the arm and guided me aboard. He himself got behind the rear of the boat and started pushing it, with me inside, to the sea.
'Wait, what do you want me to do?' I was confused.
'Sail. I want you to reach Ziwayu.'
'Why?' The boat was already kissing the waves.
'Because to me there is nothing sadder in this world than wasted potential.'
He smiled, loosened his grip on the boat and the sea took me in.
The salty, smoky aroma stayed with me throughout the journey. The boat cut through the waves without effort, yet with grace. Before I noticed, I hit a rock shelf. I got out of the boat and started walking up the sea rock. Suddenly all fell silent: the sea came to a still, the birds quit their chatter on the rocks, and even the windy Kaskazi himself calmed down. I turned my head around and looked back, mesmerized. I had made it to Ziwayu.
In the face of tranquility, I was finally at ease.
Suddenly, in a different world, I felt a strange beat to my own leg. It was strong enough to rip me out of the dream realm back into reality. Something was forcefully flapping forth and back between my leg and the side of the skiff. A barracuda had jumped on board while I was asleep and was thrashing violently against my stiff leg.
The battle with luck was over.
My mojo was back.
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