The warm grip of the Spanish heat loosens with each whistle of the wind, releasing me from its luxurious caress momentarily – bringing me back to my surroundings as though a valium induced haze had lifted. I push back onto my arms, let my hair tickle my back and kick out my legs. The fishermen are still there. More tourists are walking along the harbour wall, ready to do the obligatory turn around the little lighthouse and circle back the way they came. No one moves at speed, here. Only the distant purr of a far off boat suggests that acceleration is possible, that there might be some need for it. Even then, it is washed up with the sound of the waves. Mingled with the wind, it lulls you into an alternative reality. The kind that you dream of but only find in the fleeting moments of your annual escape. You never know where those special spots might be, the ones that offer an inadvertent gateway to another dimension.
This is the fourth day that I have mooched to this place. It’s become a daily pilgrimage. Sliding along the beachfront in my loose sandals, letting my old bag bosh gently at my behind as I master the gait of an individual so utterly at one with themselves that even if a spaceship full of Trump clones landed at my feet – I wouldn’t shudder. That’s right, so centered that even the leftist’s nightmare couldn’t raise me from my mental Lotus position. Perched at the end of the first harbour wall, before the little red lighthouse and its ineffective graffiti, I meditate. It’s not a usual habit of mine, but it is a desirable one. I do it because I know it is good for me. I have forgotten how it feels to be swept around my inner vortex and cuddled on a cloud of consciousness – but I remember that it felt so good, the last time, that the aftermath left me quite literally high-on-life. That’s what I’m aiming for, a piece of quiet and then the rushing energy of my own existence.
A small fishing boat chugs into sight, trailed by a flock of greedy gulls. They’re the same the world over, scavengers of the seas, swatted away like viral pests. It’s a tough life, being a sea bird, constantly battling feral ocean winds and having to share your coastal perch with such ungrateful human beings. I wonder what they think of the fishermen. It could be a love-hate affair: often the only company above sea, but not chosen, like family. They must offer some comfort to each other – at least the sea gulls get to eat the remnants of their catch, albeit the grisly fish heads – and perhaps they share some traits, after all they inhabit the same environments…I’ve always romanticised the life of a fisherman. At least, since sobbing uncontrollably into a snotty sleeve as George Clooney and Ben Affleck battled the ‘Perfect Storm’ on the big screen. I could only have been fourteen, but the epic face-off with the high seas and the anguish of the families left behind made an impression. This was a glamourised version of the reality lived by fishermen and their clan every day, all over the world. Their boats might vary, according to location and technological prowess, but the human grit, the appetite for long stints of isolation and close knit brotherhoods, as well as the acceptance of the risk navigated on each trip is surely the same?
At this stage, I’ve spent a good few hours of my holiday observing the fishermen. They’re so methodical. There’s so much to do. But they’re never in a hurry. All day, the older men sit under umbrellas mending their nets. Prior to this, the whole crew seems to descend on an endless stream of these nets, carefully checking every inch for knicks and snags. It looks like an impossible task, requiring a steady focus and a keen eye for detail. Just watching sends me into a trance, I wonder if they feel the same. I have so many questions and I’ve thought about the scenarios that might arise, in which I could attempt to ask them without getting in the way – or drawing too much attention to myself. I’m reluctant to remove my cloak. I know they’ve seen me. Sometimes they have looked up from their boats, where they sit slowly talking, fiddling and fixing. I’m so far away, I’m not quite tangible, like a mirage – and vice versa. But we’re close enough that our worlds have certainly brushed past one another. They now sit quietly, comfortably side-by-side.
My shoulders start to stiffen. I twist away from the boats, stretch out along the wall and lay my head against my arm, facing the open harbour. The sun bounces off the horizon. I want this moment to extend a while, to stave off the inevitable need to head back to the mainland for food and loos, before hitting the beach. The old tourists with their socks in sandals may as will be spirits in the night, I drift away on a breath and follow the wind. My eyes are heavy, I let the sensations fill me up and then close them…
It may have been seconds, but it could have been ten minutes – something makes me open my eyes. The blues of the sky blur as they reach the stony hues of the far harbour wall and bounce off the brilliant turquoise sea. It sparkles against the rocks, as the sun dances over the small crests. I sit up and turn back to the boats. To my surprise, not even a meter away from me is a man. He’s strung out like Christ on a cross, arms open wide, they hang from the wall with a gigantic joint slotted easily between his fingers. A flash of excitement stirs in my belly as I shift quietly to get a better look. His long brown hair flutters heavily in the breeze. It dawns on me that he is a fisherman. Covered in tattoos, with a thick black watch that has a crass gold skull embossed on its face, he looks like a modern day pirate – I feel my curiosity piquing. Just as my thoughts start to spin, he sits up in slow motion. I cast my eyes up to the light house briefly before meeting his gaze.
“Hola, ” I nod casually.
He nods back, “Hola.”
Taking a deep drag, he pulls his knees up to his body. He’s shirtless, with only a pair of long board shorts on. I can’t figure out his age, but his skin is weathered and leathery. I wonder if he looks older than he is? Exposure does that. I look down at my own bronzed legs, guiltily and consider what will become of my skin.
“Sol” he points upwards, “you like?” Smiling, he pretends to sunbathe.
“Si, mi amor.” I’m almost embarrassed at my Spanglish but the sensation instantly dissipates.
“Meditating” I continue, “Ommmm” and pretend to meditate like the Buddha. I laugh stupidly and kiss my hand like a crazed Italian. Who needs language, really?
He shrugs, nods and smiles at his feet. We fall into silence again, comfortably now, soaking in the moment.
Other faces start to appear, from the nearest fishing boat. One man pulls out a stool and sits on the pier. He watches from afar. I wonder if it’s the long-haired man’s boat, if that’s his crew or if I’ve become lost in my own imagination. To anyone else, perhaps he is an ordinary man, but to me there is something extraordinary about him. Perhaps it is quite simply our difference. I’ve become accustomed to meeting certain types of people and that makes things quite predictable. Whether you mean to or not, you can’t help but subconsciously box people into categories according to their uniforms, their expressions and desired status. We tend to stick to our own and in the end I wonder if we really, truly see each other? There’s something quite thrilling about seeing and being seen fully, for the first time. There’s an element of risk in opening up to an unknown.
The man from the fishing boat has made his way up the steps and is now perched on the wall beside the pirate. His thick brown brows are furrowed, he looks blankly, peacefully up and nods, “Hola”.
I return the greeting. They share the joint and offer me a puff.
“No, gracias”, I politely decline.
But imagine if I did, lounge around here all afternoon and get high with the fishermen, wouldn’t that be an experience? I look back across the bay now, to the stony beach. I’ve always been a collector of experiences, at least since I understood that these are what stories are made of. I’ve declined many, but with the default ‘why not?’ mentality have had my share of adventure. To dare is to live and to face your fears is to be free. I can be a fearful person nonetheless and so there will always be opportunities for me to test myself. The problem is, as you get older you start to rationalise things more. Your survival skills become honed and more risk averse. Pick your challenges wisely, an internal voice whispers – you have nothing to prove.
The fishermen chat lazily, their arms gesture and their faces move like Plasticine. All my unanswered questions disappear. We will never be able to understand each other. I start to slide my shoes back on as my stomach grumbles.
“Pescado?” The pirate pipes up as though he heard me. He closes his hand and pretends to feed himself. His friend nods, eyebrows raised. They both point to their boat. “You want?”
I feel my eyes widen, momentarily caught off guard – yes, actually, but no, thank you.
“Hablo Espanol muy mal” I smile, “gracias.”
I can’t quite believe I have the chance to get on a fisherman’s boat, and eat their catch for lunch and I’m turning it down. Despite their calm, open demeanor, I still imagine the sea gulls pecking at my body as I’m thrown overboard, my mother’s disappointment as she reads about my grisly murder on the front page of the Sun, ‘Costa Blanca Girl Gutted by Javea Fishermen’; and the online trolls, ‘the stupid slag was 30, should have known better – she was asking for it!’. But alas the experience was found in the mere crossing of our worlds, in knowing that they exist.
“Buenos dias”, I say shyly now as I slope off along the harbour wall.
They wave, “Adios”.
Sure, tomorrow is a new day – we’ll meet again. I sigh, imagining an alternative ending.